Theopoetics and the search for a Community of Grace.

Posted: September 2, 2020 in Uncategorized

Matthew 18:15-20

Theopoetics and the search for a Community of Grace.

Some scholars are suggesting that the time of theology as a primary approach to the search for an understanding of God is over and that a theopoetic approach offers a way forward. But what is theopoetics? Well we can start with a simple one that says theo equals God and Poetics equals the fine arts of poetry, song and metaphorical prose. Or we can grapple with a poem I compiled to help me.

Before you do it might be helpful to say that I am no brilliant English language scholar but I think this approach puts things like rationality, belief, creed and doctrine into a back seat and seeks to find the cadence and the flow and meter of the text in what I think is a different form or structure.

God as Art

A theopoetic definition

An expanded understanding of primary text

it goes beyond what is written

it embraces music, visual art, poetry, once bitten

 sculpture, film, dance as lived experience next

the natural world takes life a-smitten

 its primary goal is both art and written

many ways of knowing its primary text.

be it verbal, mathematical, or musical,

kinesthetic, empathic, bodily, introspective, 

imaginative, contemplative

no privilege it gives to verbal knowing alone as primary analytical.

socially engaged it seeks its own transformation imperative

the creation of creative, compassionate, communities to live

to be participatory, humane to animals, and ecological.

Some thirty years ago, the first in a series of movies was released. It is entitled “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” It is a clever comedy yet with profound messages. One of the stories in the film is about an African tribe that lives in the Kalahari Desert in the southern part of the continent. This tribe is a community in collaboration and cooperation with one another. The tribe lives well in its work, play, and prosperity. This life is attributed to the favour from the gods from above. Favour from God is both undeserved and unearned and called Grace. From a traditional Christian and Western viewpoint, one may describe this tribe as having attributes of a community of grace.

inclusive of diversity, and spiritually satisfying

it leaves no one behind. 

It partakes of the prophetic imagination as kind

saying “no” to injustice and “yes” to compassion edifying

 an ultimate hope of ecological civilization to find

a beloved community with ecology an added bind.

multiple forms of spirituality and emotional wisdom a-plying. 

It affirms the subjective worlds of emotion and feeling

They being at the heart of lived experience. 

It understands “spirituality” and is the activity of becoming beyond expedience

fully alive and awake, in the immediacy of ordinary life appearing

it recognizes many different spiritual modes of appearance

attention, beauty, and being present adherence

compassion, connection, devotion, enthusiasm, faith and meaning.

However, one day a glass bottle is thrown from an airplane and falls unbroken to the ground. In the movie, the bottle is found among the tribe. Initially, the bottle is seen as a gift from the gods, albeit a strange artifact. However, it quickly becomes a tool in the tribe. The bottle is used in cooking, working, and even play. Nonetheless, this tool becomes a temptation. Since there is only one bottle to go around, there begins competition for use of this tool. This leads to difficult experiences for the tribe. They succumb to moments of envy, jealousy, anger, enmity, and even violence. The tool becomes an evil thing. Their community of grace is threatened with turmoil and trouble.

forgiveness, grace, gratitude, hope, hospitality and imagination,

joy, justice, kindness, listening, love and nurturing,

openness, peace, play, questing, reverence, occurring

welcoming of shadow, silence and transformation,

unity, vision, wonder, mysterious X-factor and yearning,

self-affirmation and zest for life burning

materiality and physicality in affirmation.

Affirming of the material and physical side of life

the bodies of people and animals, hills and rivers, trees and stars 

interfaith theopoetics no distinction between body and spirit as pars

but instead sees body in spirit and spirit in body in unity rife. 

open to the possibility of life in a multi-dimensional universe of avatars

in which “spirits” and “ancestors” are more than pillars

 a continuing journey after death becomes possible as fife.

we understand “body” very widely as respectfully confessional

yet beyond it can be uniquely Christian, or uniquely Jewish,

or uniquely Muslim, or uniquely Buddhist, or uniquely Hindu-ish

or uniquely “Spiritual but not Religious positional

an interfaith theopoetics understands that we live in a world awash

with multiple wisdom traditions no trash

all included in beloved community processional

our wisdom traditions include humanism, secularism,

and spiritual independence as well

as traditional forms of religious affiliation do tell

its reflective side, experimental and exploratory prism

imaginative and sometimes playful, not didactic an argumentative sell

it welcomes and explores different ways of thinking about God and hell

personal and transpersonal it includes all forms of ism.

  open to the horizontal sacred of felt relationships

as well as the vertical sacred of something more

​it is practiced by academics and non-academics who implore

and by many different people from many walks of life and kinships

of various ages, genders, races, religions, and sexualities explore

a definition and a poem to adore

theopoetics as the art of craftsmanship.

The protagonist in the movie, Xi, offers to take the evil thing and throw it off the edge of the earth. Xi sets off on a quest. With bottle in hand, he is exposed to more of Western culture than just a glass container. One sees his experiences and observations from his viewpoint. Xi learns a number of lessons about the outside world, himself and his tribe. 

Jesus offered teachings as lessons to the disciples and the crowds. Jesus teaches that discipleship is to build a community of grace. What does it take to build a community of grace? Matthew 18:15-20 addresses difficult circumstances that confront the life of a community and calls those who follow Jesus to respond when there appears a strange artifact, such as a bottle, which threatens to harm the community.

forgiveness, grace, gratitude, hope, hospitality and imagination,

joy, justice, kindness, listening, love and nurturing,

openness, peace, play, questing, reverence, occurring

welcoming of shadow, silence and transformation,

unity, vision, wonder, mysterious X-factor and yearning,

self-affirmation and zest for life burning

materiality and physicality in affirmation.

Affirming of the material and physical side of life

the bodies of people and animals, hills and rivers, trees and stars 

interfaith theopoetics no distinction between body and spirit as pars

but instead sees body in spirit and spirit in body in unity rife. 

open to the possibility of life in a multi-dimensional universe of avatars

in which “spirits” and “ancestors” are more than pillars

 a continuing journey after death becomes possible as fife.

we understand “body” very widely as respectfully confessional

yet beyond it can be uniquely Christian, or uniquely Jewish,

or uniquely Muslim, or uniquely Buddhist, or uniquely Hindu-ish

or uniquely “Spiritual but not Religious positional

an interfaith theopoetics understands that we live in a world awash

with multiple wisdom traditions no trash

all included in beloved community processional

There were plenty of bottles in first century Palestine. Jesus the Teacher names the misused bottles in order to break their power over the people.

“If another member of the church (i.e. if someone in your community) sins against you…,” follow these instructions. Jesus refers to a previous source of education known as the Old Testament, the Torah, and specifically the books of Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Jesus confirms and fulfills the teachings of the Hebrew Testament for those who follow his words.

“Sins against you…” The word sin is transliterated in the New Testament Greek that describes sin as that which Judas does when he betrays, A translation of the Greek word for sin in this case is ‘Miss the mark’ and it is a mission of the mark that leads to difficult circumstances in the life of a community. Miss the mark is a translation for that which threatens a community of grace. Here sin may manifest itself as misguided beliefs and misdirected behaviour. A miss in life! Miss the boat. Miss the bus. Miss the Appointment. Miss the ball. Miss the shot. Misunderstand. Miscommunicate. Miss you! Missing! Miss!

Matthew 18:15-20 encourages us to ask the question, “What have I missed?” What is my bottle? What quest do I take? The quest or journey is usually walked one step at a time.

It is said that there are five R’s to address missing the mark in a community of grace. They are Repentance, Resolution, Redemption, Reconciliation and Restoration. These five R’s are a spiritual path to build a community of grace. We might note here that they are not actions to be taken systematically to do away with anything, they are tools to build community, in this case a community of grace and not one of right belief. I might even go as far as to say that they can be tools toward forgiveness which in its nature highlights the simplicity of grace.

Everyone one of us has missed something. The teaching of Matthew 18 is to look inward and examine our conscience in order to build community of grace.

our wisdom traditions include humanism, secularism,

and spiritual independence as well

as traditional forms of religious affiliation do tell

its reflective side, experimental and exploratory prism

imaginative and sometimes playful, not didactic an argumentative sell

it welcomes and explores different ways of thinking about God and hell

personal and transpersonal it includes all forms of ism.

Then take the residue in a bottle and throw it off the edge of the earth and let Heaven reign. Lift up your hands, Lift High the Cross, Lift up the Name of Jesus, Lift up the Community of Grace.

In conclusion I want to go to another story or two and to our African one.

Dietrick Bonhoeffer of whom many of us have heard taught at an underground seminary during the rise of Nazi Germany. In 1939 he wrote a book entitled Life Together. Life Together is a way to describe Community of Grace. Life Together in the early Christian church was named Koinonia in the Greek language. In his book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer wrote: “Nothing could be more-cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to sin. Nothing could be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a sister/brother from the path of sin.” Consigning one to sin as a sinner destroys a community of grace. Being compassionate toward one who misses the mark is through accountability to the community of Grace.

The next story is of a mother in her 80th decade of life and who had had, little formal education was very wise. In her wisdom she always took care of anything that could hurt her family. Whenever one of her eight children had a bottle issue she would employ some of the principles of Matthew 18. When two had a tussle, she would admonish them to deal with it themselves. If needed, the bottle was brought to her for resolution. If necessary, it was to be taken that when their father came home from work then everyone in the family would know about this. The spiritual motivation for the two warring children was to find resolution and restoration before Dad came home! In this way Mom kept bottles of a very large family from missing the mark!

In the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” Xi returns from his quest. He comes back illumined about the Western world. He learns some difficult lessons about dress, trucks, property, law, and what he sees as dependence upon “strange magic.”  Xi returns to his tribe with gratitude and celebration for he knows a Community of Grace.

We who are disciples in Jesus have a labour for our lives. Our life and labour is to build Community of Grace that we have called the church but know as the Kingdom Kindom or Realm. This Community of Grace is not founded on strange magic but on the bountiful mystery of God.

To build a Community of Grace may be trying, yet ultimately rewarding; it may be challenging to understand, yet finally satisfying; it may be difficult, yet in the end joyful.

open to the horizontal sacred of felt relationships

as well as the vertical sacred of something more

​it is practiced by academics and non-academics who implore

and by many different people from many walks of life and kinships

of various ages, genders, races, religions, and sexualities explore

a definition and a poem to adore

theopoetics as the art of craftsmanship.

Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.