Over at AUFS another lacerating post and comment thread has been levelled against possible symptomatic trends in theology that divert attention from the ‘flesh and blood’ powers that actually affect people (the target this time is a post by Ben Myers). I particularly appreciate the description of powers as flesh and blood. I am becoming increasingly convinced of the need to teach and demonstrate the practice of description, a phenomenology of sorts. This position is not incompatible with a discursive interpretation of situations but it demands an account of how discourse is constructed. If we move simply from discourse to discourse we begin trading in unreliable fictions which is how I understand APS’s critique of Myers’s post. This was a feeling I also got from Myers’s earlier post on writing. The sentiments were pleasantly structured but they never seemed to ‘touch down’ (this of course being a personal response unformulated as a criticism at the time). I suspect I am entering theoretical waters I am unable to swim in but I want to work out at least this thought.
What we are doing in theology or any other discipline or perspective may be the manufacturing, editing and recycling of discourses but this does not mean there is no evaluation and no resources outside of discourse. The trouble with theology tends to be something like a multi-layered discourse on incarnation without someone’s flesh touching fire, experiencing ecstasy, or willfully sacrificing. In this way theological discourse becomes a layering and protecting of nothing; and so an engagement with nothing but postures and prose. APS called Myers out on this and demanded that if he look (at least in Europe) one will find matters quit to the contrary. Theologians do indeed need to step back and simply look at what is going on around them and describe it, not as though they will arrive at some homogenous neutral view but that they become engaged in flesh and blood. And here APS’s response also falls short (as all descriptions do). In his description there is no account for ‘progress’ under right-wing policy. If someone would come to Winnipeg’s West End and ask about Harry Lehotsky you would soon be inundated with stories of man whose vision of dignity and quality of life for a forsaken community changed countless lives and all this based on a right-wing approach to government and economics that was the result of repeated frustrations with left-wing approaches to social support. In this description I make no meta claims about economics only that a man engaged the flesh and blood powers of oppression found tools more readily available under a right-wing government (this description of course needs to be contextualized within the Canadian context and historical which greatly affects its possible transferability). In any event I struggle with over the top claims like the ones made by APS. I take them to heart as a theologian or Christian (as I have become increasingly grateful for the overall contribution many of the folks at AUFS make) because they are needed but then his post must be further problematized or at least nuanced because of the varied stories of engagement. An apparent global perspective does not trump and cannot trump a local engagement with flesh and blood. This, again, should not be read as an attempt to overturn APS’s post but simply to add description which may allow resonance with others for getting on in the task of ‘progress’.