In the Bleak Midwinter

Labels. They can be problematic. Given our human brain structures, we are predisposed to patterns and categorization. Is it edible or not? Predator or prey? Like me or different from me? We constantly scan our world, categorizing as we go, holding our people, experiences, and places in a temporary, floating mode of immediate recognition. I’ve had people who read my blog ask me, “What are you?” My guess is that they want a simple, pat answer: Christian or not, religious or not, dangerous or not. The more specific the better, since the more precise the label the better fit the box we stuff you into will be. Given the trajectory of my unorthodox career, it is common for me to be labeled as “theologian.” It is a categorization I deny, but since the study of ancient texts and myths generally falls under the rubric of “theology” it is not entirely inappropriate. I prefer to leave theology to those more intelligent than myself.

It is with great joy, therefore, that a new blog has emerged from a worthy theologian. Bleak Theology makes its premiere today. I have known the talented writer, Burke, for some time. And I know that some fantastic things will appear on this blog. In its own words: “Bleak theology is anxious, but not despairing. It is pessimistic, but not hopeless. It is materialistic, but not idolatrous. It doesn’t always have hope, but it certainly would like to have that hope… It’s a theology that gazes troublingly up at Mt. Moriah; that sits in sack and ashcloth and resists cursing God and dying; that cries out that everything is meaningless (meaningless!); that sits by the rivers of Babylon and cries; that staggers away from the crucifixion disillusioned; and, after seeing the stone rolled back and the dead vanished, leaves the tomb and tells no one.” We have great things to anticipate. Melancholy is its own variety of joy, as some of us are continually discovering.

Labels. Some people make a lot of the alphabet soup one is legitimately able to put after one’s name. A friend once told me that he’d heard a Ph.D. insist on being called “Doctor” by the attendant when he pulled into a gas station. I have a label for such people, and it fits better than the one they prefer. I have known and worked for Ph.D.-bearing individuals who just as dumb as the rest of us. Sometimes even more so. Theology is not a discipline where advanced degrees are required, for either those who have them or those who don’t. The fact is we’re all thrown into this same world together and, like it or not, no one has the answers. Some may don their papal tiaras or their fancy academic robes with striped sleeves, and claim hegemony, but the truth is we are all seekers. The best company one might hope to find is with the person who honestly struggles. Embrace bleak theology and eschew easy classification. There may be no hope for us yet.

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