Independence Day was hard for many Americans to celebrate this year, and Therese Patricia Okoumou, who climbed up to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty on the 4th, demonstrated succinctly in word and deed exactly why that is.
“In a democracy we do not put children in cages,” she said in remarks after her arraignment.“Period.”
“There is no debating it,” she added emphatically. “Nothing you will say to me will justify putting children in cages.”
That this not only needed to be said, but needed a public act of political protest, a singular act of courage by an individual with a story of her own to tell in her own words to drive it home, reminds us that we are in a moment that requires acts of courage from all of us. That requires us to radically change the course of our own stories.
One reason I’m so interested in Bonhoeffer is that his life story is the search for how we answer a radical evil in word and deed. His is a political theology. There’s a lot that I don’t know that I agree with in the nitty-gritty of his theology, but my agreeing with it or not (and there is literally no agreement among Bonhoeffer scholars about his theology, so no pressure) certainly doesn’t change the fact that Bonhoeffer was a genuine badass, and his theology was absolutely central to his badassery.
I have read just enough of theology to realize already that there’s really no such thing as Theology. Whether we would like or not, there are only theologies. And these theologies themselves are dynamic, each a living narrative, each a life. Bonhoeffer’s biography was his theology, his theology was biography. I think that’s why he remains such an object of fascination: you simply cannot separate the two, and the implications are positively vexing.
Such is life. And the capital T Truth of all theologies must be lived. But that dynamism shouldn’t frighten us. In fact, it’s what propels us forward, into experience, engagement and encounter. Deeper and further into life in all its vexations.
So there really is no theology outside of experience, in my thinking, and experience is therefore not merely incidental to our theologies, sola fide (more about which later) be damned.
Bonhoeffer’s theology was as extraordinarily dynamic as his times, because, again, there is no theology outside of living relation and encounter. There is no Truth that does not lead back to encounter.
Our theologies are not really there to give us answers, they’re there to give us courage.
They are not there to provide the certainty of reward in this or a next life. They are there to give us courage to act in this one without any thought of reward.
Here’s where I’m going with this, and I’ll expand on it going forward: the presumption of certainty has brought us manifest evil, and we need dynamic theologies of courage to combat it. And not only that, we need to recognize and acknowledge the sanctity of these living theologies of courage, and challenge ourselves to engage in authentic encounter with them.
To have courage to be transformed by them, and thereby transform the world through them.