Organic theology . . . no, wait, don’t click to another site!

The term ‘organic’ seems to be moving quickly into disfavor among many philosophers and theologians.  The impression I get is that the term is most often evoked with a sense of nostalgia and naivete with respect to how we can best understand and respond to situations (and the co-option of the term for less than desirable purposes cannot help).  Whether this reaction comes from the pushback against ‘localism’ over at AUFS or the apocalyptic theology of Doerge, Kerr, Siggelkow et. al. it seems that ‘organic’ is not the right mode of engagement.  This is a reductionistic preface but a preface that should indicate our ongoing desire to find the next and better mode of inquiry.  That is fine and I am not looking to go back.  I am just setting this up for one simple observation.

I was given a plant.  It is in my office.  This plant seems at once to be both dying and regenerating itself.  At times it has beamed with robust health and at other times it teetered and I have not known what will come of it (though I know what should come of a plant).  More often than not I do not know what to do.  At one point branches were snapping.  The giant leaves seemed too heavy or was it that the branch was too weak or was it that they had simply grown to completion.  I would grow anxious.  Too much or not enough of any number of things can spell the end.  I rushed to the Sunday School supply room and came back with pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks trying to create splints to see if they could heal.  But I had to let them go.  Out of the three only one sprouted a new leaf.

This all reminded me of my childhood on the farm.  I could not farm.  In my bones I despised farming because I would work an already too wet field and see dark clouds roll in from the West miles away on the prairies bringing more rain.  It made me ill.  So I left the farm unconsciously thinking there were places where I could have more control.

And I found these places in regular paychecks and relatively clear job expectations.  But now several times a day I look over at that plant and I do not know its fate.  Again, I am trying to be very conscious of nostalgia or paternalistic tendencies in my thinking.  I suppose the only point I am trying to make is that if someone wishes to move beyond the organic metaphor they should have made sure they sat long enough with it in all its precariousness and anxiety . . . and beauty.


9 comments on “Organic theology . . . no, wait, don’t click to another site!

  1. Halden says:

    For the record, I like plants.

  2. Thanks for clarifying I thought they might have too much continuity for you.

  3. Halden says:

    They too shall be transfigured, in a manner so utterly singular, so concretely irreducible, so impeccably unpredictable, that something as indescribable as “trees clapping their hands” will become an apocalyptic reality on the great day of the Lord!

  4. Well until that day I’ll walk along in solidarity with my struggling plant . . . care to push the metaphor further?

  5. Halden says:

    Well, the last comment was really just a joke. I’m not sure that that the organic metaphor is a helpful one theologically, but I also don’t think that an apocalyptic orientation requires or engenders and antipathy towards trees and the like. Really is precisely about affirming the world, not the world in-itself as it is, but the world as the object of God’s transforming, transfiguring love.

  6. It was certainly taken as such and I just couldn’t come up with anything more clever in response. What really struck me though was the anxiety around precarious forms of life. We know the ‘telos’ of many particular forms of life but there is no guarantee and so my concern is that certain modes will bypass a sort of necessary anxiety (that this is necessarily essential to the modes) that I think is fundamental for love. Not that we remain in the anxiety but that it must be given its due respect.

  7. I was going use the plant as a metaphor for humour in the blogosphere but fortunately cooler heads prevailed.

  8. Halden says:

    What exactly do you mean by anxiety here, and how do you see apocalyptic (I assume?) potentially bypassing it? Sorry to just now be getting back to this…

  9. I am not sure I can really unpack what for me are still impressions. I am not so concerned with ‘apocalyptic’ as such but with our ongoing attempts to ‘go further’. Here I am riffing a little on Kierkegaard who cautioned against those who move too quickly beyond Socrates. Kierkegaard knew that it is necessary to go beyond Socrates but if the conditions were not right then going beyond Socrates was not in fact going beyond Socrates. Maybe all I am talking about is the perennial temptation (to slip in an organic term) of ideology. That is, to be encased in an orientation that does not have some immanent continuity.
    At the end of your thread on continuity/discontinuity Doug Harink stated that the parent/child relationship is organic while Sinai/Christ is apocalyptic. This distinction fell flat for me. It was meaningless. The relationship is one of repetition as I stated. I then asked if repetition was continuity or discontinuity. Doug responded by what I took to be a clever ‘yes’. So it is both apocalyptic and organic or something else entirely? I don’t know. What I want to guard against is movements that lift people up and out of ‘anxious’ realities, which I am beginning to wonder if apocalyptic theology does (though I am in no position to claim). Anxiety I take to refer to the appropriate response to the paradoxical reality of faith. Or more mundanely to my response to my plant. I can care for that plant but I cannot secure its growth, therefore I am anxious (which is also not a final state)
    I guess I view ‘organic’ as constituting a precarious continuity that at one point I was probably quick to discard. I don’t want to be as quick.

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