Pastor Ron was a Lutheran pastor in the Salishan/Eastside area of Tacoma, known for its gang affiliation, poverty, and high crime rate. He saw himself more of a parish priest who emphasized the strengths and assets of a community when they rallied together over yet another gang shooting. He ministered all over the city from visiting inmates at the local jail to attending services of significant public figures. Later in life, he was a recipient of the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize. One of my more significant interactions with him was when we, along with two others, stood outside the home of a woman who had been murdered by her husband. At that spot, we participated in a “Moment of Blessing” whereby we prayed as a way to reclaim the space where the homicide occurred. In the gated community (20 miles west on the “other side of the tracks”), someone called the police on us, nervous that we were trespassing. Pastor Ron laughed, recognizing that the demons on the eastside aren’t much different than the demons on the westside of town. To me, he was the living example of practical/contextual theology, even before I knew that something practical and theological could be in the same sentence. His line, “when hope and despair meet, that’s where transformation occurs,” continues to lead me in whatever context I operate. Hope by itself doesn’t change lives, neither does despair. The meeting of the two, that’s where I want to live, recognizing that the intersection cultivates an environment where the Spirit can work in powerful ways. It’s in this kind of embrace that I find myself holding paradoxes, a place that I call home as a practical (and spiritual, but that’s for another blog post) theologian.
In fact, as I try to assimilate the assigned sections from the three texts, I find myself becoming more of a poet than a typical doctoral blog-poster, something that seems very practical to me.
Here’s what comes to mind:
Practical Theology happens in the intersection of….
action and reflection
God’s yes and our desire
public theology and personal relationship
transcendence and immanence
practical application and theological understanding
hope and despair
interior and exterior
incarnation and divinity
“the not yet but will be”
culture and religion
sacramental and ordinary holiness
faith seeking understanding and faith seeking intelligent action
justice and love
“collaborative action” of God’s divine will and human participation
relational reality and biblical justice
welfare of the city and proper liberty
compassion and deliverance
dialogue with life and lived out truth
listening in the public square and efficacy of a Christian identity
honoring identity of origin and valuing theology of place
theologians and culture experts
newspaper and the Bible
top-down source of revelation and personal convictions in community of faith
awakening society’s consciousness and living/practicing “higher obedience”
subversive communication and imaginative responses
leaving and coming home
ideal place (City of God) and urban landscape
the city and ourself
cultural and religious matrix
public discourse and careful reflection
commitment to common good and truth-claims/convictions
restoration and biblical tradition
gospel and tradition and culture.
Seven years ago, I started working in a downtown non-profit (where I first met Pastor Ron) that believed in the social and spiritual renewal of the city. Seeing the city through a theological lens was the underlying foundation by which everything was done, whether in conversation, reflection, or action. Little did I know that theologians around the world – Max Stackhouse, Christopher Marshall, Robert Gascoigne, Stephen Garner, to name a few – were already having these conversations. It was new to me as a concept, but came naturally. However, it wasn’t until this last semester, at the insistence of a wise advisor (:)), that I was finally able to name my theology as both a spiritual and practical theology, a way of understanding God as he intersects our world. Just as Public Theology “strives to offer something that distinctive, and that is gospel,” I too hope to live into a place that offers a distinctive, culturally responsive, personally aware, and living-out faith in both my actions and essence for the greater good of my community and world. In that intersection, practical theology becomes a way of living that can change the world.
 Stephen B. Garner, “Public Theology Through Popular Culture,” in The Bible, Justice and Public Theology, ed. David J. Neville (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2014), 176.