Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thinking theology.

I had a drink and some fruit sheltering behind these rocks on top of "my" Mount Cargill tonight. You can vaguely see the base of the radio communications mast through the fast blowing mist.

On my walk I stopped to "relieve myself" and looked up and saw this shrub.

Some other hanging flowers on my mountain. I do a lot of thinking on my mountain.

"... there can never be a final theology." 
While on holiday I read a great book by Desmond Tutu called "God is not a Christian". It really is a collection of sermons, letters and speeches from this very amazing man. Bishop Tutu was a champion for justice and a just, non-racial and democratic South Africa during the apartheid years. There was incredible injustice, suffering and mistreatment of black South Africans and as I read the book I could not help but be impressed by the courage of this clergyman. He has also been a speaker throughout the world campaigning for justice, reconciliation and peace. In one article in the book he speaks about "Black Theology". He says this....

"Black theology makes the proper assertion to which Anglo-saxon theology at least pays lip service: that there can never be a final theology, for theology changes as various ingredients in the mixture change - the life experience of the particular community, its self-understanding, its manner and categories of expression. Anglo-saxon theology tends to lay claim to a universality it can never properly possess. This is because theology is an attempt to make sense of the life experience of a particular Christian community, a community conditioned by time and space, and all of this in relation to what God has done or is doing and will do - the fundamental reference point being the man Jesus."

I like this emphasis. I get so frustrated with reading "old western theology" which seems so irrelevant to where I am at. The way I see it is that our theology keeps on changing. I have a filing cabinet. When I was a brand new minister I put folders in with a whole list of categories. "Christian Education", "Spirituality", "Family & Marriage", "Church Growth", "Churches of Christ", "Discipleship", "Prayer", "Peace", "Poverty" etc. etc. The intention was that in those folders I would gather articles, quotations and references related to that category. These days I seldom open the cabinet! The categories that I see as priorities now are different than the categories I listed off back then. My theology has changed. My world has changed. I am at a different stage in life and ministry. The Church has changed. The issues have changed. In the same way, for the same reasons no theology is final. All I can say is this is how I see it currently. Books that claim finality in areas of religion are misguided.
Black Theology in South Africa during apartheid.
Black theology which Desmond Tutu talked about tended to emphasise God as liberator. The Exodus stories were important. The concept of a God who was on the side of the oppressed was highlighted. A God who demanded justice, was at work for justice and whose will could not be thwarted was a precious picture for an oppressed people suffering injustice. There were other elements to a black theology too. The mention of a black theology and the recognition that a theology reflects the expressions and experience of a particular community got me asking the question "What would I see as elements of a Kiwi theology?"
Four aspects of a Kiwi theology (Well I guess "My theological thinking")
For me there are at least four life issues a New Zealand Theology would address and emphasise.

  1. Consumerism, materialism and capitalism. I believe a big issue in the world and in NZ at the moment is our addiction to consumerism. Whether we are rich or poor we tend to think the goal of life is to spend, to have and to use; that happiness is found in this way. The negative impacts of such values gives us cause to critically question them. The poor are bitter. The rich often find their riches do not bring the satisfaction they thought. I have seen so many bitter breakdowns of friendships, marriages, families and partnerships all over money and possessions. In the present age such values do not lend themselves to due care of the environment. We are in the midst of a fragile world economy and we must, I believe, find an alternative to blind capitalism, regularly it fails us. The gap between rich and poor gets larger with all sorts of consequences. A Kiwi theology must affirm that we "cannot live by bread alone". It must explore deeper reasons for being and address the issue of money's place in life. For me, the purposes of God, the way of Jesus invites me to live with a certain freedom from materialism, not dependent on riches. I can be free with a light attachment to "things". A relevant kiwi theology would explore this.
  2. Meaning and significance. A number of people in chaplaincies have said something like, "Life is a shit sandwich. You are born, and then you die, and what is in between is just shit." Now they are overstating their point, but that is how they often feel. A man once almost screamed at me, "Why do I live? I come here and work my arse off every day, to earn money. My ungrateful wife and kids spend it as fast as I earn it, and that's my life! Why?" People's expectations about life are often low, even of their marriage. The suicide rate in NZ is quite high, particularly amongst young people. Things like vandalism, abuse of drugs and alcohol, destructive violence all point to a deep lack of meaning and purpose in life. Life for many is lived in a superficial way, with little sense of significance. Victor Frankl called it an "existential vacuum". Because of my being a follower of Jesus, I have a deep sense of direction and purpose. I am driven (though not always in touch with my inner-core) to want to be a loving person and live in such a way that I help bring wholeness to myself and others. A Kiwi theology will address this issue of ultimate meaning for life.
  3. Connectedness, solidarity and world citizenship. We live in a very small world. I do not have many skype friends on my computer, but even I can easily link to people in the UK, China, Hungary, Poland and Australia. I once found myself "counselling" a young Muslim man in the United Arab Emirates after his Grandmother, who he was looking after, died. He had to make decisions and we talked it over via skype...It is a small world. There are wide gaps between rich and poor nations and people. In NZ we are becoming increasingly a cosmopolitan country with many ethnic groups walking our streets. There are scary responses made to this situation. Some build walls around their "tribe" and see only the "otherness" of others. So there has evolved a dangerous tension between "Muslim" and "Christian". Often religion is used to encourage this intolerance. In places in NZ there is a racism against "those Asians taking over our country". In some circles there is a tension between Maori and Pakeha. (European New Zealander)  But a true relevant Kiwi theology would emphasis the deep truth of the essential unity of the human race. It would challenge the walls that divide and encourage a sense of world citizenship. It would encourage a sense of solidarity between rich and poor and all the different "divides" that separate us. A Kiwi theology would see the essential sacredness of all, recognise the "great Spirit" who is bigger than our various religious definitions, and encouraging a sharing of resources with a desire to breakdown walls that divide. It would encourage a mutual servanthood and "community".
  4. Encourage a sustainable lifestyle, caring for the planet. A relevant Kiwi theology would recognise a deep need in this day and age to care for the environment. The current lifestyle we are living is damaging our planet, resources are running out and imbalances are occurring. We are one with creation. One of the creation myths in Genesis has humankind being moulded out of mud. We share this planet with other species of both plants and animals and we are called to a proper stewardship of the world we live in. There is a form of "Christianity" that claims our right to do what we like with creation. A true theology would have us caring for that which God cares for. It would explore the theological roots of a sustainable lifestyle.
Anyway that is my "off the top of my head" thinking for now. I did enjoy Desmond Tutu's book, it prompted lots of my own stewing.

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