Thursday, September 12, 2013

Preacher and Scholar

With fraternal life, prayer, ministry, and school, the occasions for blogging are narrowing. Posts will be coming intermittently, I fear. 

But I continue to do writing, now of other kinds. I am preparing to preach penance using the parables of the lost coin and lost sheep at a United Methodist church this Sunday. I am writing reading responses and reflection papers for my courses on the Second Vatican Council and feminist theology.

If you will pardon the self-indulgence, I will share some of these works, homiletic and theological, with you in the months to come.

I will begin this occasional series with a paper I submitted for my feminist theology class. The exercise was to do a mapping of the world of feminist theologies. The following is an excerpt, with citations omitted.

It is with hesitation that I venture to make a map of feminist theologies. I hesitate, not because I have been forbidden to enter this terrain, although I confess I have disinvited myself simply for being a male, among other rationalizations. It bears constant repeating that feminist theology is not “women doing theology,” as Rosemary Radford Ruether points out. Men may join this enterprise, and they do not need to join a guild or obtain a license to begin. Yet it does feel exceptional for this male religious to be “doing” feminist theology, and so it makes me feel self-conscious, even lonely....I would be interested in hearing more about women shaping men shaping theology, and the males these pioneers have welcomed into their hermeneutic community.

I also hesitate, not because I cannot see as my feminist sisters have seen, although I confess that I have missed many things on the paths they have marked, or have purposely hidden some things from my sight. I hesitate because I have too little practiced seeing and speaking with women doing theology in a feminist form, too little practiced their methods of naming and judging reality. I am loath to make my own map of places in which I have not dwelled.

Could these equivocations be the manifestation of the masculine need for competence, for a preference of mastery over and against the lure of mystery? Must the descriptions a map shows us be taken as literally definitive? I sense that people doing feminist theology are concerned to practice a more limited kind of cartography: God-talk as an indicator of the Spirit.

If I were to introduce someone to the complex of feminist theologies, I would ask them to imagine a constellation or constellations of stars. Each star shines with an inconceivable brightness, with its own unique color and magnitude. Each star illumines the sky and provides an orientation for the beholder. But each star is also known in relation to the stars neighboring it. Seen in such relation, the stars form a constellation; the constellation presents itself to the beholder as an image or as a plurality of images. By the interplay of these bodies of light in their presence and absence, their nearness or distance; in the ways these bodies travel toward or away from each other; in the regularity and irregularity of their movements; and in the traces they leave in their courses, we discover other stars and other constellations and come to see more of the cosmos.

And so I recognize the universe as illuminated by the “leading lights” of feminist theologies: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, secular; assembled, either constructively or systematically, into constellations; and viewed as meaningful images through the lenses of gender, race, class, ethnicity, nation, and sexuality, among others. We use many instruments to obtain a better sight of what we perceive: theory from the disciplines of biology, economics, history, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, and others. Theologians working in a feminist framework are like astronomers of grace, and they have heralded transformations of perspective through a succession, or concurrence, of Copernican revolutions. Kwok Pui-lan, for instance, shows us that feminist theologies did not emerge, like the planets of a solar system, from a single star, but coalesced from common nebulae (i.e., cultures), all of them stars in their own right, all of them sharing in the process and substance of formation. No single body is merely single; no single body is stable, immutable for all time. There are many, many bodies in this universe. No single body of theology is the center of the universe. The universe itself is expanding continually, and it is a lot older than we thought! (Who is the first Christian feminist theologian, after all? Mary Daly? Ruether? Was it not Mary, who “named” Jesus? Or Mary of Magdala, who “named” the risen Christ?) Thus these theologians are also astrophysicists.

The authors we read document the influence of the academy as a space where communities of learners could train their visions, challenge one another to sharper visions, and hand their (in)sights on to new generations. To extend the astronomy metaphor, the seminaries and universities where feminist theologians worked became their observatories. From their place on faculties they could mentor younger seekers “with stars in their eyes.” The observatory where I learned to see by the light of my sisters, seeing what they see and how they see, is Boston University School of Theology. There, the stars of alumnae Anna Howard Shaw and Georgia Harkness give off bursts of light of comparable magnitude to their fellow luminary, Martin Luther King Jr.... [My] mentors and friends destabilized my given perceptions of God, Bible, and vocation, but they also enlarged my powers of perception with high-magnification lenses and sophisticated tools of analysis.

Perhaps it is in this appreciation that we find true cause for my reluctance to map feminist theologies. My sister theologians, vanguards of an apophatic tradition, have helped me see by revealing my “not-seeing.” The question is, do I dare to have confidence in my not-seeing?

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