Experience as a component of theology is, I think, the grounding factor. The places, the spaces, the faces of any life, both as an individual or as a part of one’s total historicity will ultimately alter any source or tradition.
It has always been interesting to me to hear persons appeal to their experience in stating their point of view: “Live long enough and you will know!” “I’m not telling you what I read, I’m telling you what I know!” “I’ve been all over the world and I’ve seen it time and time again!” My mother’s sister, Mama Lodie, with only a junior high school level education to speak of, was one of the smartest women I have known in my lifetime. She called it ‘common sense’.
My mother’s brother, Uncle Buddy taught me to play a card game called ‘Coon’ when I was very young. He said, among other things, “cooning and schooling”. Later in my life while riding Amtrak between New York and Atlanta, I met a man in the club car who will never forget that I ‘cooned him’ the entire trip while folks watched and marveled! Experience really is the best teacher.
The experience question must include the ‘human predicament’ which has as a vital part the fact of our experiencing the world from ‘inside out’. The individual, ‘I am’ the center of the universe in that we are stuck in this body. We see ‘out’ of our eyes (at best those things in front of me, never behind my back). The event is real for me only if ‘I am’ present. It is no small thing that the very first criteria for faith, as Jesus puts it, “If anyone would come after me… deny self…”
Experience is it’s own knowledge base. To be sure it is the participation in the event, the exposure, the involvement that determines the knowledge or skill gained in the experience. When you consider the fact that the African’s birthright as American was defined in a context where education was outlawed, the assimilation of culture was only by experience. The value of experience is now being recognized by Colleges and Universities in their offering of credits and programs in Life Experience. We not only experience life mentally and physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.
No discussion of experience in the context of systematic theology could be complete without an introduction to the work of Paul Tillich. He identifies two poles which he thinks that theology must move back and forth between: eternal truth and temporal situation. It is the creative interpretation of experience that is critical.
This week, I engaged in quite a dialogue in a post that was an excellent “academic’ expression of the current American climate. Even with the fact of never having met her, I could see clearly that she was a very good student during her study years. In the mix I wrote: “The Academics of Theology; and Philosophy as “The Queen of Sciences”, pales against Life Experience and Cultural InDOCTRIN (e)NATION. We live in an America that has emerged GODLESS; in that the THE ONE, THE MOST HIGHest OF ALL gods) CANNOT BE SEEN because of the SWIFTLY Changing number of “gods”; even individuals who have, as the Last Poets proclaimed: “A god Complex”.
Even with a separatism of ‘THEISM’, your thoughts here on RULING SYSTEMS gives rise to the most Confused and Blurred Lines that exist in the American Psyche; in that the TRUE system of government is no longer definitive or identifiable. i.e. Each of the “-isms” that you name as well as those unnamed (LGBTQism as it has such a fierce belief system operating as a FORCE against even the Nation’s “Value System”, which, in and of itself has drastically re-defined the “Moral System” or lack thereof; have a role “in the heads” of this ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’.
Here’s the REAL. We as the “Talented Tenth” are stuck now with our life striving for Education, Logic and Understanding in a society that no longer Values or CARES about either. The challenge then becomes How do we reach The Masses short of “Pacifism” in our Religious System to even begin to affect change?
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Reprint #8 – May 11, 2007