Schneider’s keen, subtle sense of narrative, of which Clayton made an astute comment a couple of days ago, is especially clear in this chapter devoted to the theological significance of narratives, of narrative’s significance to theology. Her resistance to the stasis of a frozen theological content, as discussed in last chapter’s reading of Dante, carries over starkly in her resistance to a kind of blinkered theological discourse so self-consumed that it, in effect, brackets out the the very stuff that constitutes its (theology’s) vitality and significance. “It is,” she writes,
“past time for theologians, storytellers, and poets to listen again to each other and inspire one another. The disenchantment that the logic of the One now requires along with various estrangements between belief, imagination, story, and credibility in the telling of Christian theology have weakened theology, particularly those theologies that have turned away from poetry, tears, laughter, and deep (or tall) tales.”
It is striking to note that theology, in Schneider’s presentation, is weakened most by its refusal of those elements of experience that highlight contingency, frailty, and error. In short, theology is most weak when its attempts at systematization are most rigorous and/or complete–when it (provisionally) attains the self-perfection toward which it traditionally strives.
A theology that separates myth and poetry from its so-called big questions (in her words, the “ontological engagement with divinity”) is weakened because it fails to own up to its place in the world from which it emerges. Such a theology might give lip service to “context,” with cosmetic and metaphorical tweaks here and there to make it more culturally palatable, but there is something disingenuous about a contextual/metaphoric adaptation that is uni-directional. Life, however, does not work like that: when A adapts to B, it is simply not the case that B remains wholly unchanged. Similarly, contextual adaptation and the implementation of metaphor, the very building blocks of narrative, change everything–from the storyteller to the audience. And, indeed, the stories themselves. Because once you admit to adaptation and metaphor, and thus to the telling of stories, they (and the stories they ride in on) all tend to mount endlessly–like when you lie, and find yourself creating lies on top of lies, even those that are only tangentially related to the original lie, which often has been largely forgotten. Adaptation speaks to an ever-growing (or, in Schneider’s preferred imagery, ever-deepening) stack of tall tales, where intention and ownership are not so much inconsequential as they as just another story. Of course, in the view of theology held sway by the logic of the One, this is sufficient warrant to separate the promise of truth from the present reality of fiction. The One, Schneider emphasizes, echoing the previous chapter, like any good storyteller should, cannot countenance fluidity.
A value of a theology of multiplicity, she writes, is that it owns up the fractured, heartbreaking, amorous, and hilarious experience of being embodied in the world. Inasmuch as it is open to the old stories as stories (those of any religious tradition, not just Christianity), that is, stories that are to be repeated in such a way that leaves far more room for error and humility than dogmatic defensiveness, such a theology is capable of “help[ing] people to experience and to be open to the creating, loving, and evolving divinity that flows in the world…”
Schneider concludes her chapter with two “Tehomic” examples that highlight the fluidity of storytelling, and that illustrate the weakness inherent to pursuing strength.
Thoughts for Reflection: My thought for reflection here relates to the one from yesterday. Namely, to what extent does knowledge that the monologic of traditional theology rests on a repressed narrative somehow betray its repressive power (in defiance of the vulgar reality of this repressiveness)? Or, alternatively, if our hope to activate a theology of multiplicity rests in the will, that is, our will to be tellers of tales, does our hope lay in a critical mass of people doing so? And, if so, what does a community of infinitely unfolding tales actually look like? How do we prevent narrative improvisation from spilling into the incomprehensible stasis that is noise? The answer, I think, is a kind of trial-and-error–the stuff of more stories–whose successes are perhaps spectacularly momentary and fleeting–the stuff of legend.