Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Top theological influences

Aaron is absolutely right – our theology may be influenced by books, but the deepest theological influences are almost always non-literary. These are the things that really construct us and constitute us as persons – only subsequently do we also make a few minor alterations through the influence of books.

Aaron lists his own top 20 influences: the environments, people, and lived experiences that have shaped his theology. I doubt that I’d be able to categorise these kinds of influences (which is really the point, since the deepest influences function tacitly). Wittgenstein famously observed that our language can’t even describe the aroma of coffee – much less can we articulate the experiences and discourses that construct us and give us being!

Still, if I were to try to list some of my own “top 20 theological influences,” I’d have to include (in no particular order):

  • The Eucharist
  • Certain Christmas carols
  • Psalm 23 (I was made to memorise this when I was very young, and ever since I’ve inhabited the “space” created by these words)
  • Walking on the beach (I spent my early childhood living on the bay of a small island, and for me the “meaning of life” is somehow inextricably connected with the sound of waves and the feeling of sand between my toes)
  • The experience of family community as I was growing up
  • A certain family/religious discourse in which the presence and reality of Jesus Christ were always unproblematic, always simply a “given” (I realised much later that such discourse is in fact the presupposition of all theological reflection)
  • Leaving the church tradition in which I was raised
  • Unexpected experiences of generosity and forgiveness
  • Conversations with an elderly Brethren missionary
  • Encounters with people whose theology had made them angry and self-enclosed
  • Holding my newborn child for the first time
  • The rich, diverse and surprising experiences of daily family life
  • Conversations with my wife
  • Reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, which gave me “new eyes” (come on, you’ve got to let me include one literary experience!)

9 Comments:

Steve Robertson said...

Thanks, Ben (& Aaron). Participating in the Eucharist... Having come to ministry late in life (at 50) I will never forget the power of the first New Year's Eve Communion Service following my Ordination when I was able to offer the elements to my wife and daughter as they knelt at the altar. The reality of grace and blessing overwhelmed me in a way nothing else could have. Thank God for words true and well spoken, but you are right: the en-fleshed word is so much more transforming

Steve said...

What a thought proking post. Thanks.

Aaron G said...

Thanks for sharing your own theologically-laden experiences, Ben.

I can especially identify with leaving bad tradition behind, the power of “place,” and angry pseudo-theologians.

byron said...

Thanks Ben (and Aaron for kicking this off).

Amazing place to grow up Ben (both location and family) - what a blessing.

Which carols?

GoobyNelly said...

Magnetic Island sure is a little slice of heaven (I took the ferry over there from Townsville in 2000). I wouldn't mind being abandoned there . . .

kim fabricius said...

What about the "negative", the "shadow-side" of life, where grace is experienced in its absence, or, at best, its traces? Like:

The self-loathing of drug addiction.

The pain of marital breakdown, especially with a child involved.

The despair over a still-born baby.

The isolation of serious aillness.

The sheer weight of the past - missed opportunities, unreconciled relationships, remorse.

Here is the stuff of a lived theologia crucis, which, as Luther rightly insisted, are the bona fides of a true theologian.

Ben Myers said...

You've got that right, Kim: and of course my own list here is the "censored" version, i.e., the list without shadows!

Byron, some carols that have always stood out for me are "Silent Night, Holy Night", "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing", and (my favourite hymn for as long as I can remember) "O Come All Ye Faithful". I've always been deeply moved by the Christmas carols -- and they're still the hymns I look forward to all year. A great deal of the hymn-book simply leaves me cold; but I could very happily sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" every Sunday!

One of Freedom said...

I had to list my own. Som much more personal than just a list of books. Thanks for sharing Ben.

andrewE said...

It hardly needs to be said, but isn't it the case that what is truly formative in all these things, shadowy or full of light, is the process of coming to understand our experiences theologically. It's the struggle to bring our reading and thinking about the church to bear on our experience of this little church, to reconcile our ideas about sanctification with our experience of despair.

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