First of all, I “felt” at home in our reading this week. I realize just how much I have been and am being shaped by Contextual Theology. It just resonates. This is no small matter for me, as I have not seen it quite in the same manner as I did this week. The surprise came as I realized just how pertinent Contextual Theology is in speaking to my dissertation research, those that have left the church, but are maintaining their faith. I hadn’t made the connection until this week.
The relevance of our readings within the sphere of public theology, including civic religion was also noteworthy this week. Once again I am recognize just how muddy the water can become when the bottom is stirred up. President Obama was criticized for his remarks made at Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast. The sound bite, as it made its way around via Facebook, “Seriously? At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama compares the Crusades of 1000 years ago to ISIS of today.” Preceded by an Obama quote, “Remember that during the Crusades … people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” In reference to civic religion, Christopher Marshall writes, “Society worshipping the image of itself, from the bottom up.” This is sobering and the image from Facebook somehow landed the meaning in a new way. “In the United States of America, this unifying civil religion could be called ‘Americanism’… For historical and cultural reasons, American civil religion has been baptized by Christianity, though a baptism by sprinkling rather than by immersion.”
If there is hope it may rest within the dialog and possibility of public theology. “The task of public theology, accordingly, is to identify the ways in which God’s restoring initiative in Christ impinges on society as a whole, coaxing it to move, albeit unawares, in a direction that is consistent with the redemptive priorities of God’s reign and never shrinking, where appropriate, from naming its ultimate hope.”
This hope also resonates in another place as well. In my research I am studying why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. In the early stages of qualitative interviews I was surprised to hear that those no longer attending church on a regular basis had not left their faith or even lost their faith, but rather were maintaining their faith. What and how faith is expressed does vary, as do the reasons for why church is no longer a fabric in their lives. In referring to context, Stephen Bevans writes of social location. “Social location can be a limiting factor in some ways, but it can also be a position from which one can ask questions never before asked or entertained in theological reflection.” In the beginning stages of my research I am realizing that the contextual focus of church leaders and even researchers is to bring those that have left the church back into the church. Consider one of the more recent developments from sociologists Josh Packard and Ashley Hope as they seek to understand those that have left the church, the “de-churched” or “Dones” as author Thom Schultz recounts, “The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.” The alarm over the continuing increase in “Nones” has generated interest in blogs, articles and church programs. Schultz as authored, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore: And Four Acts of Love to Make Your Church Irresistible. We seem to want to fix it.
However Contextual Theology and within it, the Praxis Model might offer another vantage place. “It is reflected-upon action and acted-upon reflection—both rolled into one. Practitioners of the praxis model believe that in this concept of praxis they have found a new and profound way to do theology, a way that, more than all other, is able to deal adequately with the experience of the past (scripture, tradition) and the experience of the present (human experience, culture, social location, and social change).” Seeing our reading through the perspective of one who has left the church, who is “done” the praxis model brings a different vantage point. “God’s presence is one of beckoning and invitation, calling men and women of faith to locate God and cooperate with God in God’s work of healing, reconciling, liberating. We best know God by acting in partnership with God.” I wonder if those that have left the church might hear those words as ones not aimed at them, but at the Church they have left. I wonder.
Yet there is another aspect relevant to church leavers, one I would have missed a year ago, Stephen Garner asks: “To what extent does a loss of religious or biblical literacy within wider society make the doing of public theology harder, where particular categories of understanding and common ground based upon well-known cultural resonances with biblical narratives and theological concepts might no longer exist?” Whether rightly or wrongly Gardner reminded me not of what might be lost within the church of those that leave, but rather what our risk might be if we do not understand a resilient faith, what and how those that leave might nurture their faith and develop their relationship with God. A learning “leaning into” type of question, how is the biblical narrative kept alive among those that leave the church? If the narrative is lost, along with it the imagery and metaphor will faith be cut adrift?
Within the viewpoint of context I am seeing what I have not seen before. Nuances relevant to my research as well as to my church context within the city of Tacoma, Washington. “The social construction of space therefore calls for an interpretive geography—a hermeneutics of suspicion for space, if you will that might uncover the history power dynamics, and cultural biases materialized there.” Interpretive geography is reverberating within me, within my context.
 It appeared on my Facebook News Feed because one my friends commented. Fox and Friends https://www.facebook.com/foxandfriends/photos/a.113848842036054.27704.111938618893743/801572429930355/?type=1&comment_id=801824339905164¬if_t=photo_reply. It appeared on my Facebook News Feed because one my friends commented.
 Ibid., 27.
 Ibid., 43.
 Thom Schultz, “The Rise of the Dones” Holy Soup, November 12, 2014, accessed November 13, 2014, http://holysoup.com/2014/11/12/the-rise-of-the-dones/.
 “Nones” are persons that have identified as having “no religious affiliation.” For reference: The Pew Research “Nones on the Rise,” October 9, 2012, accessed February 6, 2015, http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/
 Bevans, 72.
 Ibid., 178. Garner mentions the concerns of Gary Burge, “Burge argues that while the Bible is still used as a starting point for personal piety and meditation…actual reading of the biblical text that engages with the narratives, metaphors and imagery of the Bible has been lost. This he argues, leads to a faith that has been cut adrift from the foundational source of Christian life and faith, hence open to other influences that appear ‘biblical.’”
 Kathryn Tanner, ed., Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004), xi.