What's with the Name (Part 1): Theologian
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...
Over time, however, the label has come to represent, not just the identity of 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...).
So, what I want to do in the first three posts is outline what the name of the blog and the other manifestations of the project represents. In a twist, I think it would be better to begin with the last word in the name and work our way backwards.
Friends have asked me what got me into theology, since I did not begin my studies in it (like most good Asians, I studied law). Was it a desire to serve God in the Church as a priest? Yes, it is a question, and yes, I still get this a lot when people asked me what I studied.
Actually, what started me on the path to becoming a theologian was an early music video by the English electronic rock band Arkarna, entitled “Future’s Overrated” from their album Fresh Meat. Sadly the music video itself is no longer available, but it featured a whole army of youth dancing on several floors to the electronica provided by the band down below. There were lights, energy, and exuberance pulsating throughout the club. Only the club was a giant cage. And right through the video the refrain punched through the exultant dancing, the exclamation that the future was overrated.
Call this a right brain moment, but that video synced in with an interest about how modern institutions work not just in the mechanical sense, but in the way they infuse modes of thinking into people. This then became a conference paper that later became my first international academic journal article in theology, entitled “Reason, Politics and Evangelisation”. This later led to my switching my discipline from international relations to theology in my doctorate, and later to getting my License in theology in Rome.
Switching one’s postgraduate study, which already is a risky project, into the discipline of theology, however, was fraught with risk. Theology gets a bad rep. It gets a bad reputation not only because of those who think that every question can be solved by quoting Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica out of context. Like many academic disciplines, academic theology can - ok, has - become a hermetically sealed zone of biblical citations, greek phrases and pinhead-dancing angels exchanged by bearded geeks in tweed.
Having spent a decade in academia, first in getting my doctorate in theology in Australia and then my license in theology in Italy, I know the allure of suddenly having a body of knowledge that many others either do not know or care to know. The only thing is that theologians - assuming they were well balanced human beings before they began their studies - in the main do not become theology nerds to make themselves obscure.
Many choose to learn theology beyond undergrad because of a fascination with the discipline and the belief that the discipline speaks, to themselves and to others. Many learn theology because they are convinced in its vocabulary lies the centre to which all other vocabularies take and hold shape. It gives nothing less than what Monty Python tried to offer all those years ago, the meaning of life.
The only thing is that, as with most academic disciplines that end up speaking only to its experts, many people stopped giving a shit. More harmfully for the Church, many people in the pews stopped giving a shit. Many faithful have come to view theology as an "autistic idiolect" (to use the words of the English theologian John Milbank), speaking to nobody except itself. Consequently, many faithful have now come to see theology as incapable of giving an architecture to their lives both individual and communal. That is unless it becomes in the form of
a mechanistic instruction in a narrow range of activities, with the range of activities framed in turn by our political, cultural, or social preferences;
a spiritualism that seeks escape from their lives here on earth, rather than a deeper immersion into it or;
an emotivism that goes no further than their individual feels, which is the flipside of spiritualism and just as insidious
And under each of these headings comes a tsunami of shlock, which often substitute theological depth with the creation of outrage-inducing clickbait to boost traffic.
Awkward Asian Theologian seeks to respond in two ways, with two audiences in mind, namely the theology geeks and the person in the pew that wants to know what theology has to do with them sitting on said pew. For the theology geeks, Awkward Asian Theologian seeks to keep the theological tenor high. The person in the pew, AAT also seeks to make theology accessible that may not have the formal training.
If there is a golden thread that will run through the work of AAT, it will be this: theology has good news to bring to experience. Believe it or not, giving more flesh to this is where the Asian bit comes in. More on that in the next post.