Sunday, May 4, 2008
Books, Theology and Thinking
There is always a problem when I go to clergy conferences or seminary reunions. There is generally a book store in the vicinity with all the professional books that are recent in my field. The person who said “So many books and so little time” catches my sentiment. I love to buy books. Reading them is another matter. I am constantly reading but I do not read quickly. I have one in the car that I take in with me when I am dining alone. I have one by the bed that I read myself to sleep with. And there is usually one or two in the office that I read bits and pieces of to fill sermons or articles.
We went to our seminary reunions this past week. Cambridge, MA is a “gown town” par excellence. And where there are students and professors, there are book stores. In Harvard Square bibliophile haunts used to be legendary. Now with Amazon.com, it is harder to find those book stores that allow one to dig in bins of remaindered tomes to find a good buy or the out of print volume.
J borrows novels from the library. But I read so slowly that I can never read a good sized book in the time allotted. I end up paying too many fines that I might as well buy them. Our house tilts to one side from all the books that we have collected over the years. Neither of us can give books away. And so we have shipped tons of books from one end of the country to another at horrendous cost. It is time to do some culling.
This trip to “Booklandia” helped me to find some new volumes of favored authors and some new authors. The speaker at this year’s alumnae lectures was a theologian that I had not met before. She is the first woman and the first American on the august Divinity faculty of Oxford. She had much to say and though I am not ready to embrace her theology at present—I need more time to read through her books—it was interesting to not only hear her speak but also wonder at her mind. I love being in the presence of people, especially women, whose minds are constantly working, constantly trying to make sense of their universe.
I doubt if there are too many of my friends, or even colleagues, for that matter, who read theology. Some of it I enjoy. I love to read what others have said about who God is and how they understand how God works in our lives. The writing of theology has changed much since I was in seminary. I don’t find the stilted tomes that I once did. I find theologians trying to tell stories and then highlight the Scripture with those stories rather than making all kinds of logical premises for the existence of God. I think it makes more sense. Theology in the long run is a thankless task. There is no way to describe God and how God functions in the world. We, humans, do not have the capacity to describe it. But it does not stop folks from trying to describe the ineffable.
Fredrica Thompsette, a professor at my seminary, wrote a book We Are All Theologians. And at some level all of those who claim Christ are theologians. We all develop someway to explain how God affects our lives if to no other person than ourselves. The real clue is whether we are attentive to what kind of theologian we are. I generally do not take one person’s theology as my own. I am more inclined to pick and choose the thoughts of varied authors. It makes for a patch-work quilt kind of theology, but it works for me.