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T is for Theology

T embroideredDec 20, 2019 3rd Week of Advent – Day 20 of the Advent Alphabet

T is for theology. The first half of the word, “Theo” refers to God. The second half, “logia” (study) is connected to the word-family that includes “logos”, which means “word”, and “logic”, which suggests a system or method. We are doing theology when we think about God, and the activity, the identity, the purposes of God. “What is God doing?” “Who (or what) is God?” “Can we understand God’s will, or plan?”

We do theology as we read the Bible stories about Jesus’ birth. We seek to understand something about God, and our relationship with God. This is good for us to do, and even better that we do with it with awareness that it is not a simple task.

I remember a lecture during my under-grad years, (I was a philosophy major) about the distinction between “Event” and “Event Meaning”. The professor said: Two groups of people, wearing clothing that identified them as members of opposing sides, faced each other across a wide expanse. There was a loud noise, and then a fairly large projectile was observed flying through the air, from an area dominated by one group, towards an area dominated by the other group. Then there was a lot of confused movement, and more loud noise, and it appeared that members of both groups were quite agitated.

 The professor asked, “Can anyone tell me what I was describing?”

One student made a convincing argument that the scene was a battlefield. Another said it was a football game. A cynical soul at the back of the room wondered if there was a difference.

In order to interpret the description, we needed more information. If that information was not available, we might “fill in the blanks” using our own memories, creativity, or biases. Sometimes that is called “embroidering”- adding our own touches to the story, that are not based in what is actually present in the text. The result might say more about ourselves, than the author’s intended meaning.

An author brings their culture, and beliefs, and language, and biases with them to their work. We as readers are on alert to sift through and get a sense of the meaning. We may be hampered, or helped, by our own education, experience, and attitudes. In an earlier letter I mentioned how important it is to read what is in the text, and not what we expect to be there. (Can you find an inn-keeper, drummer-boy, or cattle in the nativity story?)

This problem of communication and interpretation can crop up with relatively simple documents, like a shopping list or a sales receipt. (I have never learned how to read a baseball box score in the newspaper.) When the subject matter is much more complex, there is even greater need for humility.

I believe that we are meant to use our minds, and ask questions, and think carefully about matters of faith. I don’t mean to suggest that it is a purely intellectual exercise- we definitely need to listen to our hearts, and pay attention to our experience in life.

John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement, drew upon scripture, tradition, reason, and experience when he was seeking theological understanding. He encouraged all Jesus-followers to do the same. Too often preachers have acted as if their congregations operated only from their hearts, and needed someone to tell them what to think.

The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, pastor at the United Church in Harrow, Ontario. Each day in Advent, a different letter of the English Alphabet will be a jumping off place for a reflection. These reflections will be sent out via email to those who have asked to be on the mailing list, and will also be posted to Rev. Darrow’s Facebook page.

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