GALEN HOLLEY: Theology keeps us in mind of the larger themes in life

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
to behold the junipers shagged with ice,
the spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves
from “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

Perhaps it’s sentimentality, or what my wife calls my natural inclination to darkness that makes the world seem like a cold, solitary place.
From unwed mothers to people consumed with their careers, down-sizing, revenue-maximizing and globalizing are creating what often feels to me like an increasingly frigid, lonely atmosphere.
A theology professor in graduate school once told me that one of the buzz words that had crept into the German cultural lexicon was “Wohlstandsmull,” or “affluence garbage,” meaning those who were the victims of others’ prosperity.
In a world increasingly divided between those who scratch and claw in poverty, and those who wallow in splendor, the temptation for us in the middle is to shrug our shoulders in resignation.
Membership in mainline churches has been declining for decades. We’re living in an increasingly secularized world, where concern about religious matters is declining.
Why theology, a colleague asked me recently. Why indeed, I sometimes ask myself.
The philosopher Paul Tillich referred to it as a question of ultimate concern. Human beings naturally want to step back and try and make sense of it all, no matter how depressing it is.
Contemporary American culture has become this insidious machine of mindlessness, but theology, at its best, serves as a reminder that there are larger themes out there than profit, pleasure and entertainment.
Theology isn’t easy. Never mind the solipsistic rabbit chasing and proof-texting and that passes for theology in some circles, real theology wrestles with hard questions, and a real theologian admits that sometimes – often, perhaps – he doesn’t have an answer.
The real theologian recognizes that she owes it to posterity to ask questions of ultimate concern.
Christian theology is no longer a new practice, because Christianity is no longer a young religion looking forward to the imminent coming of Christ.
Christian theology should be a thoughtful, sober practice, carried out in a world fraught with absurdity and ambiguity. It should provide perspective on our current situation as well as a a guide on how to live meaningfully in a world that usually isn’t concerned about meaning.
galen.holley@journalinc.com