I have a huge regard for Australian Catholic
Theologian Terry A. Veling, both from the articles he’s written, including a
brilliant one several years ago on “Spiritual Reading” published in Tjurunga – that introduced me to Ivan
Illich’s book In the Vineyard of the Text.
My first introduction to Veling came via the
Australasian theological journal Pacifica,
specifically the February 1996 issue and his very evocative essay Marginal Writing and Marginal Communities: Between Belonging
and Non-Belonging. Here’s the abstract.
"What does it mean to
live “in the margins of tradition”? Many intentional Christian communities
occupy this space of marginality, living on the edge of a tradition in which
they feel both the need to belong and the impossibility of belonging. Marginal hermeneutics
suggests that the interpretive space of “the margins” is a creative,
productive, vital site of receptive and critical engagement with a tradition’s
enriching and distorting effects, and with our own contemporary questions and
It was therefore a delight to be reminded of the last
book of his that I added to my library, was his 2005 publication Practical
Theology:"On Earth as It Is in Heaven" which
interestingly had my favorite Michael Leunig cartoon on its front cover; a
cartoon that has meant so much to me and my journey.
Who reminded me of this book? Simon Carey Holt in a
recent post. Here’s an excerpt:
“…According to Veling, the discipline, at its best, reclaims the ‘reintegration of theology into the
weave and fabric of human living, in which theology becomes a practice or a way
of life.’ For Veling, practical theology is ‘less a thing to be defined than it is an activity to be done.’ It
is the practice of theology, not a pre-packaged box of propositions, but a
theology discerned and known in the midst of the encounters and experiences of
This jells so much with my own experience. For me, the life-giving
nature of theology has never been in its provision of a speculative and grand
system of thought through which every situation of life can be interpreted.
Rather, it’s about a way of knowing and understanding that flows out of and
into experience—mine, yours, ours. For that reason, theology has always been
for me more fluid than solid, more open than settled, more pervasive than
Veling says it well: ‘Practical
theology wants to keep our relationship with the world open, so that we are
never quite done with things; rather, always undoing and redoing them, so that
we can keep the doing happening, passionate, keen, expectant—never satisfied,
never quite finished. … Practical theology is suspicious of any theology that
is too solid, too well-built, too built-up. Rather it is a theology that is
given over to a passion for what could yet be, what is still in-the-making, in
process, not yet, still coming.’…”
It’s been great
to listen in on a conversation between Rowan Williams and Fiona Sampson about
poetry and religious language.
In June (2012) Archbishop Rowan Williams
met with poet and critic Fiona Sampson to discuss poetic and religious language
at an event organised by the Royal Society of Literature.
“The conversation began with the
relationship between poetry and liturgy, and went on to consider register and
rhetoric, metre and musicality, understatement and excess. Dr Williams spoke
about his own experiences as a poet and translator, and said that growing up in
a home where both Welsh and English were spoken had awakened him early to the
notion that there is always more than one way of saying something.
The Archbishop touched on the work of
fellow poets such as Geoffrey Hill and George Herbert throughout the evening,
and took questions from the audience at the end. Summing up the power of
poetic language, Dr Williams said "a mystery is not a corruptly protected
secret - it is an invitation"…Simone Weil gets a positive mention as well.
It’s a fascinating and evocative 58-minute
conversation. One I’ll need to
listen to again. You can find the downloadable podcast here.
“…These essays are pure gold. Written with all her usual elegance, economy, and intellectual ruthlessness, they constitute a plea for recovering the use of "liberal" as an adjective, and, what is more, an adjective whose central meaning is specified by its use in scripture. "The word occurs [in the Geneva Bible] in contexts that urge an ethics of non-judgmental, nonexclusive generosity" - and not a generosity of "tolerating viewpoints" alone, but of literal and practical dispersal of goods to those who need them.
Psalm 122 is, you could say, the theme song of this vision, and it is a vision that prompts Robinson to a ferocious critique of the abstractions of ideology - including "austerity" as an imperative to save the world for capitalism. She offers a striking diagnosis of the corrupting effect of rationalism: rationalism as she defines it is the attempt to get the world to fit the theory; and because the world is never going to fit the theory, the end-product of rationalist strategies is always panic…
… She has no patience with fashionable complaints about the responsibility of biblical texts or historic doctrine for violence or prejudice - Bishop Spong, Gerd Lüdemann, and, for that matter, Adolf von Harnack and Julius Wellhausen, get short shrift for their dismissals of the faith and ethics of the Pentateuch. As she insists, the biblical record is distinctive in that it gives us the tools for its own spiritual and moral critique; it is a story not of triumphant obedience to the law, but of failure and dogged recovery through forgiveness…”
The book is described by the publisher in the following way:
“Two parables that have become firmly lodged in popular consciousness and affection are the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Prodigal Son. These simple but subversive tales have had a significant impact historically on shaping the spiritual, aesthetic, moral, and legal traditions of Western civilization, and their capacity to inform debate on a wide range of moral and social issues remains as potent today as ever. Noting that both stories deal with episodes of serious interpersonal offending, and both recount restorative responses on the part of the leading characters, Compassionate Justice draws on the insights of restorative justice theory, legal philosophy, and social psychology to offer a fresh reading of these two great parables. It also provides a compelling analysis of how the priorities commended by the parables are pertinent to the criminal justice system today. The parables teach that the conscientious cultivation of compassion is essential to achieving true justice. Restorative justice strategies, this book argues, provide a promising and practical means of attaining to this goal of reconciling justice.”
William Cavanaugh, whose in Wellington shortly describes the book in this way:
"This is how political theology ought to be done. Marshall takes the fundamentally local problem of how communities restore relationships broken by criminal behavior and applies the insights of Jesus' best-known parables. Marshall shuttles back and forth between the biblical narratives and the best of social science to enhance both . . . I felt like I was reading Jesus' parables for the first time, and I also learned to think in new ways about criminal justice."
—William T. Cavanaugh, Senior Research Professor, DePaul University
Needless, anything by Chris Marshall is worth a read, and I shall look forward to engaging with the content of the book in due course.
For those living in the Waikato, Anglican Action are organizing a book launch, with Chris, early next month in Hamilton.
A flyer is attached, as is one for William Cavanaugh’s visit.
An interesting (short) news story in the New York Times about the current conflict between Catholic Nuns in the USA and the Vatican. I for one am grateful to a good number of US Nuns – writers, activists, spiritual directors & theologians – for the ways in which they’ve enriched my journey, and helped me engage the beating heart and attend to the soul within human life and contemporary culture more generally.
This statement from the NYT story captures the invitation of the moment:
“Crisis precedes transformation,” the futurist, Barbara Marx Hubbard, told the nuns. “You are the best seedbed that I know for evolving the church and the world in the 21st century. Now, that may be a surprise to the world. But, you see, new things always happen from unexpected places.”
Carl McColman offers a reflection that weaves together the recent shootings in Aurora (USA) and the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine, the latter being a profound story told in the incredibly moving film Of God’s and Men, my “movie of 2011” (I reflected on it here).
Here’s the closing section of McColman’s reflection:
“…The monks did not ask to be in the middle of a civil war; but finding themselves there, they knew that running away would solve nothing. They offered their hospitality to both government loyalists and the rebels, trusting in God that their silent witness to peace might make a difference, however slight, in the interest of peace. Likewise, we who find ourselves in an increasingly violent society can learn from their witness. You and I cannot singlehandedly solve the problems in our society, any more than the monks could broker a cease-fire in Algeria. But we can, and do, make a difference. We need to reflect on whether the difference we make is positive or negative. Are we advocates of hatred and fear in our attitudes toward the entertainment industry, the gun lobby, or people who kill? Do we make social or political choices based on love and trust, or on anger and hostility? Are we committed to revenge, or reconciliation? Do we know how to mourn the dead and wounded in ways that truly honor them, without demonizing those who directly or indirectly caused their suffering? What steps can we take in our lives to foster values that make life truly worth living: values such as friendship, hope, trust, mercy, charity, caring, and forgiveness? How do we spend our money and our time: are the entertainment and lifestyle choices we embrace life-affirming, or potentially destructive? Yes, like a small group of monks in the mountains of Algeria, we can make a difference, a difference that, however humble, still matters: not in how we die, but in how we live.”
If you haven’t seen the film, see if you can find a copy and watch it. And perhaps a powerful way to watch it is to view it as a double-feature with The Dark Knight Rises. The contrast will be stark and evocative.
Thanks to Chelle for highlighting a fascinating March 2011 article, and to Jason for securing me a copy. The article is by theologian Sarah Coakley and it’s titled: Prayer as Crucible, another installment in Christian Century magazine’s “How I Changed My Mind” series.
Here’s an excerpt from Coakley which resonated, and which Chelle included with her post.
“In a period when there has been a remarkable set of attacks on classical foundationalism by both philosophers and theologians, I have again felt myself to be plowing a subtly different course as a result of the prayer perspective I have tried to outline above… My own response to this philosophical and theological crisis is one that seeks to analyze the dark testing of contemplation as precisely an epistemological challenge. In other words, I continue to reject another false modern disjunction—that between spirituality and philosophy. It is not that contemplation affords just another sectarian theological perspective, which one can take or leave as one wills. Rather, its painful and often dark expansion of consciousness, its integration of thought and affect and its ethical sensitizing to what is otherwise neglected (including, of course, the poor “who are always with us”) all demand that one give an account of how philosophy, and science and politics too, cannot ultimately afford to ignore the apprehensions that contemplation invites.”