Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Liz's Question - or Why I Don't Do Theology

Over at the CrossLeft site,a new participant, Bud Stark, has written several interesting posts on issues of theology, designed universe, science, and first things. God vs Stephen Hawking's Unbound Theory, Richard Dawkins, Witness to Eden, and Weinberg vs a designed universe.

A fundamental point is that there's no good scientific explanation for why anything exists. But the problem extends farther than that.

My daughter expressed the issue in its most unsophisticated and unanswerable terms when she was 6 or 7. She was riding in the back seat with one of her brothers and with another in a child's car seat in the front (this was before child seats were mandated to go in the back seat). My wife, running late on errands, was making a left turn at rush hour at a particularly busy intersection (N. Mills, along the railroad tracks, and Fortification, for anyone who's familiar with Jackson MS). As she finally started to pull out into the intersection, Liz piped up, without any preliminaries, with "what I want to know is who made God?" Janet kept her eyes on the road and the oncoming traffic.

Liz's question pretty much says it for me when it comes to trying to deal with the concepts of infinite time and space. So I don't do theology. Instead, there's action. For example, in anthropology, there's a term for one variety of Applied Anthropology. It's called Action Anthropology and implies activism by anthropologists in using anthropological knowledge to try to solve societal problems. And that kind of activism also implies commitment to the people and community that the anthropologist is working with. So that's where I wound up when I was doing anthropology.

Similarly, I like the idea of Action Christianity -- following the Jesus Way without theological speculation. It has much in common with Liberation Theology.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Stevie's song

"I could fly like a bird. I could bark like a big black dog. I could sleep like a baby in a crib."

Not much to this little song sung 50 years ago by my oldest son when he was three. It was, I think, the only song he ever made up, music not being his great gift. (Logic and computers are his major things.) The tune was simple and chant-like, with asymmetric accents on each indefinite article. And I still remember it. His song struck me at the time as a neat little expression of what people are looking for; a summary of what the child (and the child in us) feels and wants to keep feeling.

Stevie sang this as he and I walked east on W. 95th St. in Manhattan, towards Broadway, on a bright cool morning. A pigeon had fluttered up from the sidewalk in front of us and flew up and away over the brownstone rowhouses. Then a dog started barking quite cheerfully from a first floor window in a brownstone on the other side of the street. His tail was wagging; there was no hint of aggression in his tone. Just announcing his presence.

It was a good time to be out and about in the world with Daddy right there for protection.

The symbolism is trite and obvious -- soaring birds are a stock image of aspiration and freedom, of cutting loose from mundane constraints. (Steve went on much later to get a license to fly small planes and then to become a glider pilot and, for a couple of decades, a volunteer trainer of glider pilots for the Gliding Club at the University of Illinois.)

And the barking dog was a perfect exemplar of assertiveness without aggression. Just making his statement and claiming his place at the boundary of home and street.

And the sleeping baby. Pretty simple.

Stevie neatly covered the emotional range of his world: growing into freedom, becoming a sociably assertive individual, and feeling secure. Who could ask for anything more?

That's a good foundation for moving on to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly -- no matter what one's belief system might be.