Friday, April 20, 2012

Dialogue, Theology, and Growth

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. 



  1. I like what you've started, Dr. Waters! I cannot say I can speak as eloquently or as educated as you, but I'd love to participate in this talk.

    As many my age, we are all the point where we leaning back in our creaky desk chairs and asking ourselves, "What if we're doing it wrong? What if we're making the wrong decisions?" I find myself consumed with the thought of messing up, but then I take a step back and see that we are supposed to mess up. However, as someone who's been there, what does it look like to read our scriptures and to take guidance from these theologians to best find where we are supposed to be? Are we supposed to keep searching forever?


  2. Thanks for the invitation! I look forward to reading more. I'm not sure I'm intelligent enough to participate, but I look forward to learning.

  3. I love it Mark. The pluralism is refreshing and beautiful. Im excited to see what you write and to play a part in this journey you are on. I have always loved to talk with others and have alway thought it was important to have many different views in my life, as proverbs says 'a wise council has many voices', but this year I have really discovered the wonderful property of catharsis that comes from conversation and discussion. The cleansing, healing, knowledge, comfort, and truth that can come from articulating your thoughts is an amazing thing. I hope I can add to your life as much as you have added to mine.

  4. Thanks for your comments Martha, Dan, and Bryan.

    Martha, in response to your question, I think that there is surely a sense in which we keep growing and journeying forever. We will make mistakes and find ourselves on the wrong path at times, but everything belongs and nothing is wasted. I do NOT mean by this that some things are supposed to happen in the sense of being preordained. But that whatever happens can be redeemed and can become part of our enlarged life. Simultaneously, and this is crucial, most spiritual traditions also speak of being fully present now, not living in the past or for the future, but embracing life as it is now. We are on a continuing pilgrimage. On this pilgrimage, being spiritually centered helps us to live fully in the present while, almost paradoxically, journeying into the future.

  5. Mark, I can remember leaving church after each time you preached and feeling generously "fed". So glad to be invited to follow your conversations here as we are all looking for answers to unanswerable questions. The fact that you engage young minds in this thought process should be encouragement

  6. Thanks, Mary. Good to hear from you. I miss you and many of my friends at Heavenly Rest.