I have for some time now moved away from using language that refers to life and action as somehow ‘poetic’. This shift has happened for a couple of reasons. First, I had developed a theological writing style that employed a certain type of poetic language. And what I mean by this is that I wrote about theological topics in a style that was simply supposed to ‘sound good’. Theology, along with other disciplines, can afford one this opportunity. No one can really verify if my explication of the Trinity is really valid or relevant. Rather, it is supposed to move or persuade. This style tends to work fine when keeping the conversation theologically ‘in-house’. As I began to expand my theological discourse I found that my language was running aground on folks who simply did not share some of my presuppositions and basically had the refrain of bullshit called out to me on several occasions. This presented a clear intersection in how I was going to proceed. I could entrench my approach and state that the conversation stalled on mutually incompatible presuppositions. Or I could head back into the workshop and take another look at how I was going about things. I decided on the latter.
This experience was part of larger theological shift that saw me move away from theology and practice as a discipline of orthodoxy (yes I can be challenged on how I understand orthodoxy) to theology and practice as a mode of understanding and engaging joy and brokenness in the world. And I should also note that this past year found me heavily influenced by Kierkegaard for whom ‘the poetic’ is a false attempt at immediacy in life which actually puts oneself at arm’s length from life through ‘pretty’ language (I am grossly paraphrasing here).
This process also left a profound mark on how I now read theology. Theology that was once inspiring now came off flat. I don’t think I have many illusions about some neutral or material access to reality ‘as such’. But I am much more interested in beginning from a phenomenological perspective which attempts to describe and not only describe what I see and intuit but also describe my location and perspective. If I could now characterize my theology I would call it something like an existentially minded attempt at liberation theology.
All this to say that I was somewhat taken aback by Tim McGee’s recent post which outlines James Cone’s understanding of theology as a sort of poetic task. Now as I read it I could see that the use of ‘poetic’ was different than the understanding I had moved away from. It still struck me, however, that I had almost completely discarded any expression of the ‘poetic’ in how I express theology and practice. Poetics for Cone is a response to the possibility of liberation. We are creative and evocative because we are free. This is an embodied and holistic poetics.
I had posted a comment on Tim’s blog stating briefly something of what I here stated above. After that comment I went to a hospital to do some visits. At the hospital I encountered what we all encounter at hospitals. I saw bags of urine stacked on a cart in the hall. I saw a bloody skid mark on the floor next to one person I visited. I hear the calls for and saw the silhouetted nursing aids clean soiled patients. I saw a neighbouring patient with a foot bloated literally like a blown-up surgical glove. I heard sounds and moans coming out of doorways; one with the never ending refrain
Deloris . . . please help me, Deloris . . . please help me, Deloris . . . please help me . . .
I experienced all these common hospital scenes and I thought of the pretty words that people hold on to in this time; the pretty words people look to me for in this time. It is many of these pretty words that I am trying to speak less of. I am trying now to understand what theological poetics would look like and sound like taking as its medium the piss and shit of these places.