What's with the Name (Part 3): Awkward
Outside of a circle of social media friends, very few would know why, of all the names to denote the lofty heights of the task of theology, I would choose the name "Awkward Asian Theologian". I could give a completely self-referential answer and say that it is simply who I am.
I AM an a theologian.
I AM Asian.
And I WAS awkward as a child...was...
But over time, the label has come to represent, not just one theology nerd, but a way of doing theology, one that I hope can be relevant to the well-balanced, non-asian, non-theologians out there (whether or not they be Christians...or believers...).
I thought it would be best to use the first three posts to explain what the project is all about, with reference to the three words that make up the name.
On top of the other aims laid out in my first and second posts, this blog was also a response to arseholes. By this I refer to websites that, claiming to speak for the Christian faith, find their reason for being in branding and sniping its enemies, feeding social media’s logic of generating outrage. I wanted the ground of this blog to be the line from Psalm 45: grace flows from your lips.
Thus, when I was thinking about a tag line for the blog, the first thing that came to mind was “Arsehole Free Theology”. Then it dawned on me…I become the very arsehole I sought to oppose. Then I felt awkward.
Whilst a good number of blogs that speak for Christianity aim for providing the seamless answers, I wish to show through the blog the zones of awkwardness that emerge in the light of the great tradition, for these zones are legion.
They can be found in the morass our interior persons who, as Origen says, is stricken by sin and comes out as a complex and often agonistic multitude. We see this multitude arise particularly in the face of our experience, and the many emotional rollercoasters they often evoke. We can see it in the way we try to make sense of our circumstances, whilst at the same time wishing we could be in another.
Awkwardness can also be found in the organism of the Church, which St Paul says is a body of many parts that could often bicker with one another, saying to the other that they are not needed. In the face of this bickering, trying to find the points of unity via the great tradition of the Church can be incredibly awkward, especially when those points fail some political, cultural, social or ethnic test.
A third area of awkwardness are the seeming inconsistencies, paradoxes and bizarre phenomena that we find in the cultural forms that make up our social scene. It can be the secular appreciation of angels, finding oneself in the moshpit or turning oneself into a goddess (sometimes with the right mode of shaving) in the age of the death of God. The blog is working off an intuition that secular culture is actually not really secular, but trying to act out a theological vocabulary without its object (ie God), which is why the blog will not only locate the awkwardness but try and travel through that awkwardness with a more robustly Christian theological vocabulary.
A final area of awkwardness is one that excites my inner theology nerd, because awkwardness can also be found in the crossover points between theology on the one hand, and various forms of social theory on the other. Whist I still say that the discipline of theology lays the best map for negotiating the culture we live in, it can only do so within the culture and the disciplines that make sense of it. Therefore, insights from those disciplines are not only incidental but vital in coming up with a cultural critique. However, this appropriation cannot be done uncritically, for there are presumptions within social theory that might work against not only theology, but also the human persons and cultures they are trying to study. Working out the faultlines honestly will lead to many mistakes, both real and those perceived by those who have an investment in keeping those presumptions within social theory intact, whether it is for political or cultural reasons.
The hope here is to show that theology can make the world interesting by first making it awkward, breaking through the thin veneer or simplicity and inviting the reader to wade through the complexity, and perhaps even locate themselves somewhere in this strange landscape.