Expanding the Circle: Dialogue, Theology, and Growth
Poet Mary Oliver wrote, Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? As my 54th birthday approaches, I am keenly aware that my response to this question is a process, a journey, a bundle of additional questions, a vocation (calling) that ever-beckons and never ends. Gregory of Nyssa said that the essence of sin is the refusal to grow. If I understand Gregory correctly, his affirmation included this life and the next; death is but a new chapter in the ongoing narrative. Theosis, according to this view, never ends. In God we live and move and have our being. There is infinite room for us to grow within the infinite Life of God.
I'm starting this blog to challenge myself to grow in theological reflection through dialogue with others. Hindus talk about different kinds of yoga, spiritual disciplines to help one to be yoked to God ("yoga" = yoke). The different yogas are, in part, for different personality types: devotion (Bhakti), meditation (Raja), action (Karma), and knowledge (Jnana). One size doesn't fit all. Analogously, I'm practicing Jnana yoga. I don't claim an exact parallel with the Hindu practice. My point is that, for me, theological inquiry, reflection, and dialogue are spiritual disciplines, ways of connecting with God, not just academic exercises.
I hope that portions of this blog will eventually become a book. The discipline of blogging will help to keep me responsible to others as well as myself to keep my writing fresh, critically reflective, and consistent.
I want my reflections to be reasonably accessible to people with or without formal theological training. Simultaneously, I will use some technical jargon, below, to build a conceptual foundation to explain the purpose of this blog.
Theological reflection at its best is an ongoing conversation, a generative dialogue, among the faithful of a religious tradition. A so-called hermeneutic circle or arc (think Gadamer and Ricoeur) develops in dialogue. This circle is an interplay of questions; I question the other and the other questions me. Insight, understanding, truth, and meaning tend to emerge in the synergy of dialogue. Moreover, the horizon of one world of understanding (in this case one religion) can fuse with the horizon of another. Analogical understanding across religious traditions--what theologian David Tracy calls similarity-in-difference--can emerge. In this light, my theological purpose is two-fold: (1) dialogue with Christians to contribute to Christian theological discourse and, perhaps, a constructive theological project and (2) dialogue with people of any faith tradition, or no faith tradition, to help construct an approach--yet to be discerned--to theologies of religions (plural intended). By the way, no worries if you aren't familiar with Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Tracy. The central point is that dialogue is a back and forth, synergistic dynamic--richer in questions than declarative answers--in which understanding, meaning, and truth have the potential to emerge.
So, I invite you into a conversation. This form of learning is not only an academic exercise; for me it is a spiritual discipline. I don't know where the conversation will lead, but I trust that we can learn and grow together.