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.

Why Bother with Theology?

The oft captivating Blake Huggins at (Ir)religiosity has prompted me once again.  I encourage folks to go give his post "The task of the theologian: responsibility for God," a read and/or check out my thoughts on a very similar topic below.


What do we Gain with a Doctrine of God? 

What do we accomplish in the development of a Doctrine of God? With ecclesiology we find ourselves left with the suggestions of worship, the role of the church, and the relationship of Church to world. With Doctrine of Humanity we investigate theological anthropology and move towards some sense of our ultimate purpose, how we might be called to be in relation to one another and the world, and potentially, the ground of a Christian ethic. What then, does Doctrine of God provide us with? I believe that the answer lies in the way of C.S. Lewis's comment that, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." The best of our Doctrines of God provide us with a way to consider the Divine in such a manner that also allows us to make some greater sense of the world and our various experiences within it.


Our articulations of the Divine must simultaneously be a commentary on our own condition as well as a means of hope for something more. In some sense, we run the risk of imbuing God with our own ideas, falling into Feurbach's accusation that our constructs of God are always just projections of the values we hold most dear, rendering God as nothing but an objectified and created container that holds our collective virtues. Of course, on the other side, explaining God as somehow beyond everything of this world also runs into problems as it relegates the Divine to a distant and disconnected horizon.


I do not want to locate God solely within the known world and our experience, as we can too easily define God in our image instead of vice-versa. Similarly, I am resistant to the idea that God is entirely beyond our experience as well, a God which would force an articulation of the nature of God to be greater than our experience, a wholly other God. With both of these extremes offering something to the person of faith, and with either possessing its own potential pitfalls, it behooves us to consider how we might incorporate these positions into one articulation of God and God's nature, and in so doing, explore the role and purpose of a well-crafted Doctrine of God.


Divine Resonance

If our explication of the nature of the Divine somehow places God fully beyond human access, then God becomes available only beyond life. If, conversely, it is the case that God's valency is experiential, then our models and articulations of the Divine ought to provide for this to be the case. Those who see this move as heretical often have a sense of the role of theology and doctrine of God that differs substantially from mine. While many feel as if knowing and proclaiming the redemptive truth of God is central to a Christian life, I have some significant suspicion of those who insist on their interpretation as the only valid approach, as if their sense of God is ultimate and complete. I agree with Tripp Fuller that, "in an unfinished universe it is unreasonable to think a theology is finished." What we know of God is contextual, personal, and ever capable of change. To say that God is ever changing may seem to fly in the face of the eternal nature of God, and yet I believe that there is some grounds for it, which I would like to articulate via analogy, of all things, to chemistry.


Asked what H2O is, most people will answer water. They are correct, and there is more to the story than their response. Formed the other way around, "H2O" as an answer to the question "What is water?" is not wholly correct. Imagine two molecules of water, each with two atoms of hydrogen associated to a larger atom of oxygen. What we have discovered is that even in a container of "pure" water, the reality is that a collection of H2O molecules do not remain simply a collection of H2Os. Instead, they begin to interact with one another, resulting in one of the two oxygen atoms taking a hydrogen atom from the other, an event which chemists notate as 2 H2O <–> H3O+ + OH and refer to as the "self-ionization" of water. Essentially, even though water is H2O, that is, two hydrogen atoms and and one oxygen atom, water does not ever actually exist in a pure H2O form: it is constantly in a state of resonance, transition, and relation: that state of oscillation in process between H3O+ and OHis what we refer to as H2O, as water. So too is God: somewhere between transcendent and immanent; personal and eternal; and any number of other seeming contradictions.


By extension then, our task as theologians is not to name God as a fixed God that is and always will be, but to describe God in a such a way that captures some of the Divine nature as it is in the process of becoming something other than what we have named it. This is not to say that God is becoming something ungodlike any more than it is to say that water is not water-like simply because we always thought it was just H2O. The function of a Doctrine of God is to provide a sketch of how it is that God is at some middle point of becoming something more than we thought it was, but not so far afield that it is unrecognizable; two molecules of water do not self-ionize into wombats: they stay water-related, just further afield than we first thought. There is enough sense of continuity between H3O+ and OHsuch that it makes sense to call a mixture of those things H2O, even though what we have discovered challenges our sense of what exactly that wet stuff is.

As we scientifically name water as H2O because that is the state in between its two poles of existence, so too can we conceive of God, with the noted exception that while water "self-ionizes" into two distinct parts, each of which is qualitatively identifiable, quantifiable, and fixed, God seems to be formed of more parts than we can name. Yes Father, yes Son, yes Holy Spirit, and yes also Alpha and Omega; Love and Light; and Living Water and Word. Yes, yes, and infinite becoming yes.


The Truth of the Daily

If I ask someone to tell me what water is and they say that water is something you drink, that doesn't mean they got it wrong. Even though there are other things that we drink as well, that certainly is one of the things that water is. Too often we associate truth with abstract generality so that when someone speaks to the particulars of their experience we discount, or devalue their commentary in light of more totalizing and structural methodologies.


Understanding and/or relating to some aspect of the Divine does not entail understanding and/or relating to the entirety of God. If you ask my wife if she knows me, she is sure to say yes, and you would think nothing of it. Of course she knows me. And yet there are thoughts I think, things I see, and stories I have heard that she has no knowledge of. That doesn't mean she does not know me: it means than I am more than that which she knows. I see no reason why this should not be the case with God as well. We articulate God's qualities not to limit or ascribe finitude to that which is more than that, but as an offering and invitation to others that they might respond in kind, lending their voices to a conversation which is both the echo of ancient words and the renewal of current hope.


I see the task of a theologian as one akin to a poet's: to capture some sense of the moment in such stunning detail — by tone, image, sound, example, etc — that upon reflection, some echo of that moment is called forth in the other. In the writings of George Fox, he repeatedly called for Christians "to answer to that of God in all." As a theologian, I understand my role as an articulator of the Divine that I perceive in the world, an answering call that hopefully encourages other to do the same.  

On the Road Theopoetics

Lots of things in this one…

The QUIP Quaker Writers conference was held to coincide with the release of this book (which I have a few things in).

The Center for Process Studies at Claremont hosted the Theopoetics and the Divine Manifold conference , at which, most academically noteable for me (at this moment), were Catherine Keller, Vince Colapietro, and Mat Lopresti.  

While there I gave a presentation in conjunction with the paper I delivered working with my ideas about a Heraldic Gospel.

Then I spent time at Whittier First Friends Church.

Theology After Google



Via their website:



Why “theology after Google”?

Progressive Christian theologians have some vitally important things to say, things that both the church and society desperately need to hear. The trouble is, we tend to deliver our message using technologies that date back to Gutenberg: books, academic articles, sermons, and so forth. We aren't making effective use of the new technologies, social media, and social networking. When it comes to effective communication of message, the Religious Right is running circles around us.

Hence the urgent need for a conference to empower pastors, laypeople, and the up-and-coming theologians of the next generation to do “theology after Google,” theology for a Google-shaped world. Thanks to the Ford funding, we’ve been able to assemble a stellar team of cultural creatives and experts in the new modes of communication. We are also inviting a selection of senior theologians, and well as some of the younger theologians (call them “theobloggers”) whose use of the new media (blogging, podcasts, YouTube posts) is already earning them large followings and high levels of influence. For two and a half days, in workshops and in hands-on sessions, in lectures and over drinks, these leading figures will be at your disposal to teach you everything they know.


The Theology After Google conference is coming up this week, and I thought that folks might be interested in some of my contributions there. (They're bringing me in as one of those theobloggers)  Particularly: Members of the Religious Society of Friends, folks interested in theopoetics, and hermeneutics nerds. The full schedule is here, and is all set to Pacific Standard Time. 

The main setup is like TED talks, and will all be live streaming here: .

Please interact, and as I said in the vid, shoot me any comments that you think are relevant.  Fun times.

Interpretive Communities, a Request, and a Heraldic Gospel

On a recent video from the Transforming Theology project, Phillip Clayton asked Tony Jones how the internet and Google have been at work changing theology. Jones replied that it allows for a greater, more broad based, access to information, and forum for feedback.  I agree.

In a Dec. 14 post on his blog, Jonathan Brink writes about uncertainty, truth, interpretation, and Stephen Colbert’s interview with the Conservative Bible Project guy.  Those are all things I love thinking about.

In a Dec. 14 post on his blog, Blake Huggins writes about Jurgen Moltmann, Jean Francois Lyotard, and Chris Rosenbrough commented that “… these are first and foremost the questions that need to be asked and definitively answered and those answers are found no where else than in the inerrant and inspired text of scripture.”  Blake replied that “… I think it is impossible for anyone to simple “begin in the text” or pose the question “what does the text say?” I don’t think the text or us as readers exist in a vacuum.”  This reminds me of Stanley Fish’s comment that “”strictly speaking, getting ‘back-to-the-text’ is not a move one can perform, because the text one gets back to will be the text demanded by some other interpretation and that interpretation will be presiding over its production.”

In a serendipitous convergence of things, this very day I finished writing a piece called “Towards a Heraldic Gospel: From Monorthodox Doctrine to Theopoetic Perspectives on Revelation and Repentance.”  It addresses all the things that Jonathan, Blake, and Chris were discussing, and I wonder, if, in the spirit of the Tony Jones and Phillip Clayton conversation, real people are interested in chomping down on some theology with me and giving it a read. That’s my request: given that you are a hyper-extended community of interpretation that might actually be interested in theology, is there anyone out there who would be interested in chatting?

There have been a few great back and forths on The Image of Fish already, and I thought it might be worth testing the waters to see if this larger scale communique would be received as well.

Anyone who would be interested and giving it a read can download it directly here.  If anyone does bite, I’d love to do a back and forth via skype for a few minutes so that it could get posted here as well… Comments are good too though.

“strictly speaking, getting ‘backto-
the-text’ is not a move one can perform, because the text one gets back to will be the text
demanded by some other interpretation and that interpretation will be presiding over its

Žižek, Narrative, and Transformation

Over at his blog, Matt Gallion raised some interesting questions, via a comment from Slavoj Žižek, about the role of narrative in our thinking.  Long story short, the question seemed to me to be about effective and persuasive communication:  Are we best served by prosaic and uber-clear communication, or is there something to be said for subtlety?  Also, should we shy away from narrative, just sticking to the facts ma’am?

My take is that narrative and creative engagement with ideas are foundational aspects of human social life, and while we often have the tendency to like to make everything as reductionist as possible so we know easily who to hate, I think the world is often murkier than we can make it seem.  There is only one white and one black, but an infinite number of grays.

One of the problems of course is that liking narrative for narrative’s sake, and believing in the transformative power of language can once again but you (singular and plural) on the slippery road to unhinged subjectivity.  For example, while I like much of this sermon I found online,  it contains the following, which I think can become problematic:

Some people are very concerned to know whether [the events in the Bible] actually happened, and they will either believe it or disbelieve it based on whether it actually happened to an actual person at a real time in a real place. Curiously enough, these people are sometimes found in the pews of fundamentalist Christian churches, and sometimes in the pews of humanist Unitarian Universalist churches. I respect their desire to know what really happened in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. But I am not personally interested in it, any more than I am interested in whether there was ever a real King Lear or a real Mary Lennox. That question seems rather beside the point. These people are real and Jesus is real insofar as their stories, the lies that were told about them, tell us some very important truths. The truth the story of Jesus tells, like the truths in all of these stories, is born of its lies, its beautifully, skillfully told lies.

While I think the power of story is such that it can transform regardless of its historical-critical veracity, I think that routing one’s faith in something that even the believer understands to be a lie is risky business to say the least.

Though I think that the power of theological inquiry is greatly supported by a creative and imaginative quality of thought, I don’t think that doing away with the whole notion of truth in text is the way I would want to go.  I believe than we can simultaneously embrace transforming narrative and tradition.

Books Mentioned in Video:

Amos Niven Wilder’s Theopoetic: Theology and the Religious Imagination

Sandra M. Schneiders’ The Revelatory Text