grounding god-talk in bread and feasting...

As I have begun to outline and research my exploration of a spirituality of tenderness, I came
across a brief but insightful article by the Finnish theologian Paulina Kainulainen entitled:  "Tenderness and Resistance: Women's Everyday Wisdom Theology."  One of the many insights she shares has to do with living into an activism of resistance that embodies alternatives to consumerism, the technologicalization of everyday life, and violence. This, she suggests, might be called a "quest for the Kingdom of Tenderness."

+ Such a way of thinking honors feelings as much as reason, values on an equal basis as facts. This is wisdom theology - sapientia - a forgotten and too thin tradition in the West, but one revered and practiced in the Eastern church. Wisdom theology is different from an academic theology that is built upon sciencia - hard facts and formula - what the Reverend Dr. Kainulainen calls a "theology of sure knowledge." "Theology as Sure Knowledge is interested in forming definitions and constructing systems to explain the world and faith."  It creates a specialized language and seeks precision and intellectual comprehension. Wisdom theology, however, looks towards integrating the head with the heart and celebrates speaking of the sacred in ordinary language that real people use everyday. In this, she moves towards the sacramental vision and language of Jesus who spoke of God's kingdom like a wedding banquet. Quoting the Brazilian theologian and activist, Ivone Gabara, Kainulainen writes that wisdom theology is decidedly this-wordly. Never dismissing or ignoring the transcendent truths of our faith, the expression of a kingdom of tenderness remains grounded and concrete:

Salvation is more than a promise ---. Salvation is a get-together, an event, a kiss, a piece of bread, a happy old woman. It is everything that nourishes love, our body, our life. It is more than happiness in the hereafter, even if we hang on to the right to dream of our eternal tomorrow.

+ In this, Kainulainen evokes the wisdom of tenderness articulated by Jean Vanier. In an interview with NPR's Krista Tippett, Vanier says: "The big thing for me is to love reality and not live in the imagination, not live in what could have been or what should have been or what can be, and somewhere, but "to love reality and then discover that God is present" right here and right now. Vanier also speaks of resisting the commodification of relationships as well as the importance of unplugging from unnecessary technology. The Internet, he notes, creates the illusion of a small world but it also robs us of the ability to care for it with compassion. This excerpt from the program's transcript is illuminating:
MS. TIPPETT:  This is another conversation I have with people all the time in different contexts that the world's pain comes to people in Western cultures often through their television sets or through reading some horrific story in a newspaper or seeing an absolutely heartbreaking picture, you know, like a picture I saw of an Iraqi child crying at a funeral the other week that haunted me for days. And yet, there's nothing I can do for that Iraqi child, you know? He's thousands of miles away. I think I'm also aware that it's not only that I can't touch his pain or the sources of it directly. It's that I don't know his sources of solace. I don't know what's going to help him get up the next day and somehow start to heal. I'm just, I'm throwing that out

MR. VANIER: You see, we are in an incredible world of technology, the global world. And yet, with television and even with cell phones and Internet, we can cut away from relationship, you see? To get an e-mail, you don't see the eyes of the person, you don't see the face, you don't see the smile, you don't see the hands, you don't see the tone of voice. And we have to come down to small is beautiful because small is where we really …

MS. TIPPETT: Isn't it funny that global technology may bring us back to small is beautiful.

MR. VANIER: Possibly. Or take us away from it. As I had said, you see, I mean, as you look at that Iraqi child and you were wounded and wanted to do something, yet, you were confronted by your incapacity because the child was not in front of you. If that child was in front of you, you could have taken the child in your arms. So we're going into a world where the imagination, the virtual, the long distance, see things far away appear as close. But you can't touch them. They're close to the imagination, but they're not close to the body. So let's come back to the reality of the small.

Intimacy requires reality not abstraction. Love is concrete and ordinary more than it is ecstatic. The way of Jesus and the kingdom of tenderness can be tasted and touched, embraced and smelled, not merely imagined. This is a way of living and praying constructed on relationships rather than goods and services; the celebration of cooperation and recognition rather than just competition that creates adversaries but rarely allies.  I know that I resonate more with Carrie Newcomer on "I Believe" than the abstractions of the Nicene Creed (which I love but rarely use.)


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