My Journey to Theopoetics
(This article is the introduction to my paper, “Metaphoring Manifold: The Plurality of Theopoetics.” I wrote in the spring of 2019. It’s one of my favorite papers to write so be kind to me despite how shitty it is!)
“Before the message, the vision; before the sermon, the hymn; before the prose, the poem. The discursive categories of theology as well as the traditional images of sermon and prayer require a theopoetic.”
Amos Wilder, Theopoetic
A Nomad’s Journey to Theopoetics
I stumbled upon the term theopoetics through my introduction to theologian Catherine Keller. At the time I was new to academic forms of theology, and, like a newly excited religious convert, I was prepared to soak in all I could. I first came across Catherine Keller via the trailblazing podcast, Homebrewed Christianity. Keller was featured in multiple episodes where she elegantly chatted with podcast host Tripp Fuller about her work in process theology, ecofeminism, etc. It all went over my head. Again, I was a novice–the categories and language Keller and Fuller used in their conversations bewildered me. Yet, in the little I could understand, I was intrigued by what she had to say. By the time I stumbled upon Keller, I had already listened to many other Homebrewed Christianity episodes, sorting through the theological closest. Out of the many theologies represented on the podcast, radical and process theology seemed to look best on my theological neophyte body. However, radical and process theology seemed quite different–asking different questions and responding to different historical situations. While both looked best on my theological neophyte body, neither was like the bride’s dress that felt right.
I hid it for far too long. While sports certainly enlivened me growing up and I worked tirelessly to be the best I could at them, my heart longed for music. I never had much of an interest to play music, but by the later part of my elementary school years, I quickly became a connoisseur of alternative Christian music. It was not until I met the person who eventually became my best friend in the later part of my middle school years that I had someone to share my unique and alienating interest. Needless to say, I was inspired by music–so much so that after years removed from my evangelical days, I realized music perhaps inspired me more than the Bible!
However, this was a disrupting realization, because I grew up engaging with the Bible as a text to be taken only literally. “The Bible says it, that settles it.” This was my only engagement with the Bible until I heard this bizarre, for a lack of a better word, band on a Christian music video countdown show. Their music video played, and I never heard of music quite like it. It was heavy (which was not new to me) and melodic (which was also not new to me), but I had never heard a band so seamlessly integrate the two together. Even more, their lyrics contained biblical imagery and text–but not in ways I had ever heard biblical imagery and text used before in Christian music. The biblical imagery and text in their lyrics were poetic and narrative. From listening to their lyrics, it briefly crossed my mind that it was almost as if the Bible was also poetic and narrative! Little did I know, as a fourth grader, that mewithoutYou would later become such a salient item in what felt right in my theological wardrobe.
While aimlessly throwing on theological and musical outfits for years without much luck in finding what felt right, I began to feel quite dejected. I cannot exactly recall in what episode I heard her say it, but there was a moment in which Catherine Keller, on Homebrewed Christianity, simply uttered the term, “theopoetics,” and I knew that was home. Music and other forms of art had such paramount influence on my theology, yet for years I attempted to suppress said artistic influence because of the suspicion many theologies have for delegating authority to such things. However, the moment I heard Keller speak the term “theopoetics,” I knew I had found my outfit; I never had to suppress the influence music and art had on my theology ever again.
I could have begun this paper simply stating my thesis before diving into the meat of it. Yet, if I were to explore the plurality of theopoetics, it would be inexcusably remiss of me to neglect that my journey to theopoetics itself is guided by the North Star of plurality. Strictly theologically speaking, on my journey to theopoetics, I took a wrong turn down hyper-Calvinism in high school. However, I found my way back onto the path through the emergent church in college. Fortunately, the path did not end there, as Catherine Keller, Peter Rollins, and Monica Coleman aided me early in my seminary experience to where I am currently today on my journey to theopoetics. It is taking a multifarious village to guide me well on my journey. In addition to this theological multifarious village, a manifold of bands have also been critical in accompanying me, with mewithoutYou being the vanguard of my wayward journey to theopoetics. Therefore, the exploration of theopoetics as a pluralist theological project is not of just intellectual interest but of existential insistence…