The Dance of Decolonizing Theopoetics

A guest post by Patrick Reyes who I’m grateful to for reviewing my recent book, Way to Water as part of the Homebrewed Christianity Blogger Book Tour.

What happens when the Way to Water serves as more than just a metaphor? What if it should actually lead to water? Self-ionization may in fact be the right metaphor for how Theopoetics as a field is emerging and that is shown through L. Callid Keefe-Perry’s work. Water is always in a status of transition, and similarly God, as articulated through Theopoetics, is always in flux. However, what about Theopoetics itself? Should that not also always be in flux?

Keefe-Perry’s work demonstrates that when operating on the boundary lines of several distinct fields – constructive theology, process theology, practical theology, hermeneutics, science, art, etc. – one finds that Theopoetics and the definition of “it,” if there is even an “it” to define, follows several distinct historical and theoretical lineages. This plurality is to be celebrated. To have a discipline such as Theopoetics, which is owned and operated by so many different practitioners, that in and of itself is the way to water.

Nevertheless, like all ownership and means of production, Keefe-Perry’s masterful work shows the limitation of the owners and operators to really question why they own, and where their fluidity and freedom originates. While Keefe-Perry is clear to point to new directions, new texts, new ways of reading, gesturing towards these bibliographies, this barely scratches the surface of how coloniality operates throughout the text. There is an allure to Theopoetics, or what he calls, seduction: “Via MacKendrick, Theopoetics can be seen as a way to mark and embody our desire to draw closer to God” (122). For those whose bodies were moved, not simply by seduction but by force, the relationship between Theopoetics and those suffering under coloniality stretches all metaphors too thin. Perhaps it is too much to ask for a text to speak beyond its own boundaries, to include those voices who might not readily make it into the accepted bibliography, to reflect what Octavio Paz had to say about writing on these boundary lines in his 1990 Nobel lecture:

The search for poetic modernity was a Quest, in the allegorical and chivalric sense … I did not find any Grail although I did cross several waste lands visiting castles of mirrors and camping among ghostly tribes. But I did discover the modern tradition. For modernity is not a poetic school but a lineage, a family dispersed over several continents and which for two centuries has survived many sudden changes and misfortunes: public indifference, isolation, and tribunals in the name of religious, political, academic and sexual orthodoxy.

This work traces a particular lineage bathed in modernity that is surviving sudden changes like what is noted by Paz. Keefe-Perry is searching for the way to water in this desert of indifference and tribunals of the divine. For a decolonial practical theologian, searching or finding God through this discourse that resists the temptation to be dogmatic and bathed in prose is exciting. However, to build a decolonial Theopoetics, Keefe-Perry would have to expand the bibliography to include other voices: the lost, silenced, and marginalized. Keefe-Perry welcomes those other voices; in fact, he invites them to dance with him, to seduce us into new being. Those voices though, under the weight of coloniality – the residue and psychological scar tissue of colonialism – subjugates and silences many of those voices he is calling to dance with him.

I hear Keefe-Perry’s call. I desperately want to dance with him. But my feet are tied to the lost cultures and ways of speaking about and to the divine. The world does not allow me to stand. Keefe-Perry’s feet are tied to his own colonial inheritance; so are mine. When we try to dance together with his text, it is awkward and disjointed: both attempting to dance, to express, but always within the limits of coloniality.

He says,

Theopoetics seduces us, leading us away from what is certain … we will be brought back again to where were before we began, required to confront the reality that there are experiences that simply refuse to comply with our vision and hope for the world. Whether through their abject horror and atrocity, through their category-shattering beauty and awe, or the sudden profundity of the mundane, there are experiences that lead us away from what we thought was sure and we must reassess. (127-128)

It is time to reassess. Why are our feet tied? Why can’t we dance freely? For those that can dance, I say – of course, Roland Faber likens Theopoetics to Process Theology; of course, Amos Wilder gyrates towards a new Theopoetic method; of course, there are embodied Theopoetic discourses in practical theology! Of course! These texts and authors were already dancing, free to move about to the music in the way they please. They are simply showing us a new way of dancing.

If we are to take Keefe-Perry’s challenge seriously and bring those experiences that foster our ability to dance freely because of their beauty and awe, then we need to look to those texts, communities, and experiences that escape the colonial grasp.

The Way to Water: A Theopoetics Primer is the way to a particular Theopoetics. The water may be different, but at the mouth of the river are the same theological, philosophical, artistic, and mathematic texts that one would find elsewhere – albeit never on the same dance floor. I believe Keefe-Perry is going to decolonize the Way to Water. Following Alves, who decolonized the bibliography of Theopoetics or Melanie May who enfleshes it, or MacKendrick who seduces us out of our colonial rut, Keefe-Perry suggests in a celebration of Alves, “I have lifted up Rubem Alves as an author who willfully and explicitly subverted the norms of formal theological method so as to create literary spaces that honor fleshly experience” (177). My fleshly experience tells me that The Way to Water is preparing the way for a decolonial Theopoetics, a new Way to Water. The Way to Water gestures towards those lost, subjugated, and colonized narratives by showing that there are multiple ways to water, multiple ways to dance with the divine texts of our hearts and experiences. I look forward to his follow up work where he seeks out those watersheds and sources of life that have been rendered invisible by colonialism and coloniality. I look forward to dancing with him in this new space, freer than before.

For more reviews of Way to Water, visit the Homebrewed Christianity Blogger Book Tour.

I’ll Give YOU a Grammatological Contour – Theopoetics in John Caputo’s “The Insistence of God”

This post is part of a blog tour around John Caputo’s latest book – The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps. Check out this link to see lots of other folks weighing in on this book. My post engages Chapter 4 “The Insistence of God.” I was sent copy of the book as part of participating in this blog tour. It was made out of paper.

As per usual I was too lazy to condense my thoughts into the written word, so a video (in four parts) is what you have.

[These links go into the video itself if you want to skip around]

First Part: Contextualizing this book in Caputo’s trajectory

Second Part: Discussing the broad content of the chapter itself

Third Part: Caputo’s use of theopoetics in the context of his “theology of perhaps”

Fourth Part: My commentary on the nature and Caputo’s (possible) intent for this project.

Von Balthasar and the Body AKA Theological Aesthetics is not Aesthetic Theology

So as part of my mid-sized project to more seriously think about aesthetics, embodiment and theology [Side Note: if you're going to SBL or AAR and these topics are of interest you might want to check this out] I've been reading from Scary, Johnson, the Frankfurt School, and now… Hans Urs von Balthasar. For those who don't know that name, the basic gist is that he was a Swiss Catholic priest (nominated for Cardinal-ship) who lived until 1988 and while he did an ENOURMOUS amount (see his wikipedia entry), the reason I found my way to him was because if you read about Aesthetics and Theology pretty much anywhere you end up seeing his name.  Sooo…

My task was to cut through to the heart of his content about aesthetics and start there. Results in video below.

Things referenced in the video:

The von Balthasar Reader

Elaine Scary's On Beauty and Being Just

Kevin Mongrain's "Von Balthasar's Way from Doxology to Theology"

Von Balthasar's The Glory of the Lord, Vol. 1: Seeing the Form




Mark Johnson’s The Meaning of the Body


This is the next in the series of posts I'm doing about Aesthetic  and Embodied Perspectives of Theology. Here I'm talking about philosopher Mark Johnson's The Meaning of the Body. Johnson is the co-author, with linguist George Lakoff, of the the pivotal text  Metaphors We Live By, which is a foundational piece establishing some of the key ideas in conceptual metaphor