This ten-part A Deacon’s Musing series will explore the intersection between the change philosophy known as Appreciative Inquiry and a Christian theological orientation grounded in diversity. I am most grateful to be co-shaping this conversation with my mentor and friend Maureen McKenna. We sincerely hope that the definitions, metaphors, theological reflections, images and videos help impart the significant generative potential that is centred in appreciation, gratitude and abundance.
As this Appreciative Inquiry series of theological reflections unfold, you can find each blog on the Tabs above.
Where we look is what we will see. When we focus, we will see more clearly. What we want hope, desire and want influences the way we will see an opportunity. If we look for what is broken and inefficient, inadequate and flawed, then that is what we will find. If we look for what is robust and vibrant, refined and exceptional, then that is what we will discover.
As with all questions that arise at the beginning of an inquiry, it is helpful to know what you are seeking and what do we want answered? The question, which can unlock our own or collective potential, is only as liberating as knowing what and how you want to explore what the unlocked door might reveal (your intention)
As I was reflecting on how to connect the Poetic Principle from my Christian vantage, I realised there were many ways I could do that. I could, for instance, talk about Jesus’ teaching about the Roman Emperor and how he understood who held power. Jesus, through parable and rhetoric, subverted that image – poetically – so that his listeners’ perspective shifted, especially in relationship as to who actually held power over their lives: The Emperor or Creator?
Another way Jesus moved his listeners’ attention was to shift the conversation from suffering or oppression to a perspective that the Kingdom, the fruition of God’s justice, began now and in this moment. The subsequent choices that arose from that spoke to that which the people might attend: greed or gratitude? Despair or joy?
These are just two examples – but where I thought I would go was the Song of Solomon. The reasons for this are both illustrative and subversive. I will begin with the latter …
For most, whether they identify as Christian, seeker, agnostic or atheist, the reality is Christianity is often framed through very specific lenses, especially in traditional Western media: judgemental, intolerant, austere, intolerant and self-righteous … Perhaps I have missed a few things. Unfortunately, I do not think I am over-stating. Furthermore, the more secular the context, the less relevant Christian faith seems beyond its own walls. What people think, therefore, when they hear ‘I’m a Christian’ is often predetermined …
The Song of Solomon, however, challenges that assumption both within and beyond Christian culture.
- Would you be surprised to know that the Song of Solomon is a most erotic celebration of human sexuality?
- Would you be surprised to know that the text is filled with poetic metaphor about physical love that would make one blush if they were uncomfortable with the human form as something to celebrate?
I do not believe these are rhetorical questions. In my experience within the church, this text is too often read in a leaden manner and the poetry and imagery gets lost because of those ‘things’ that frame how Christianity is understood as well as internalised within the tradition.
If, on one level, the Song of Solomon acts subversively, in that it points to a glass not filled with this, but with that, what is that? How does the Song of Solomon (and the other examples mentioned about Jesus’ teachings) serve to illustrate the Poetic Principle?
Well other than being a rather impressive piece of poetic expression, it is one that has a history of utilising the imagery of humanity’s most intimate relationships as a metaphor for our collective connexion with the Holy. The Song of Solomon, however, finds its origin outside of the Christian context and, as such, it is not often seen as a metaphor or allegory. For Christians, however, this act of metaphor takes on a richness that tantalisingly invites us to engage with it. In turn, the dance between passionate acts and the subversive layers of the text becomes a fertile opportunity to create and imagine.
Robert Alter says this about the poem in that it represents “the voices of two lovers, praising each other, yearning for each other, proffering invitations to enjoy.” If, therefore, the allegory extends to the human/divine relationship, what might that shift in attention do as faith communities begin to engage in these changing times? How might it help to remind faith communities that they get to choose what to ask, what to study, about what to inquire? More pointedly, how might faith communities see themselves as being in an intimate relationship with the Holy? In turn, how they interact with one another and the world might take on further significance.
For many mainline Protestant congregations and denominations, the reality is the glass is often seen as half-empty: diminishing attendance, financial concern, missing generations and sacred spaces that are in need of repair. Deficit-thinking may be pervasive, but central to the subversive aspect of Christian Scripture and Jesus’ teachings, after all, is not a glass of too little, but one that is so very full that its ability to quench thirst is only limited by the degree to which we focus …