The Safety of Abstraction

As much as I was engaged by the content of Dr. Alistair McFadyen’s seminar, I was even more engaged by his method of embodied reflection. As both a theologian and a police officer, he is uniquely situated to discuss “Loving our Enemies,” such that his experiences mold his theology and his theology molds his lived experience. This dialectic seems to strengthen both his ability to think in a way that humanizes others and to act in a humanizing way. When he thinks abstractly about how to treat someone who wants to do him bodily harm, the mettle of that abstraction is testable. Theology should be able to pass through the crucible of experience—not that experience should determine theology—but a theological paradigm which cannot be lived seems to be a valid criterion for revisiting its coherence.

Though I am only in my first year in my Ph.D., I can already feel my tendencies to relegate the experiential to the category of “irrelevant” and to try to pursue some “objective” truth. The problem is: I’m embodied. I live among the embodied. And, my theology is predicated on the embodiment of a certain Person a couple thousand years ago (who called himself the “truth,” oddly enough). This radical condescension dignified the human person and the human body in a fresh way. Not only that, but Jesus physically moved among the discarded, the tainted, and the unclean. What do we see him doing? Touching them. Healing them. Teaching them. Dignifying them. He perfectly united his theology about the Kingdom of Heaven with his embodied experience. Ultimately, this unification cost him his life in the radical expression of loving his enemies.

While I’m studying here I hope to do solid theoretical work, but I also hope that I am not lulled into the safety of abstraction. I want my final project to bear the tiny fingerprints of my little girl, to echo of the voices of my friends who have been alienated by some theologies, and to advocate for those disadvantaged both near and far. I want an embodied theology—and I want this to simply be Theology.

Christa L. McKirland

(Views expressed in this post are my own and not those of St. Mary’s College.)

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