Series Editor's Foreword
Songs from an Empty Cage
Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace

God never wrote any theology. All theology was written by people in an effort to say something about God or related matters.” The speaker was a well-known womanist theologian that I had invited to address my class. Her comment came in response to my question whether there were any creeds or theological formulas that applied universally in all times and places. I approved her answer. It allows the theologian to find new ways to express theological truth in ever changing contexts. Jeff Gundy most certainly agrees with my guest and the implication of her answer, as would many theologians, at least in the abstract.

But Gundy approaches the understanding articulated by my guest, not from the side of theology but from his stance as a poet who has thought deeply about some of the big, deep and perplexing issues of theology. Precisely because of Gundy’s approach all theologians, particularly those like myself who strive to write with convincing clarity and logic but whom Gundy suspects of claiming to know too much, should read Songs From An Empty Cage. If there are any doubters, this book makes quite clear that all theology is, as Gundy quotes Gordon Kaufman, “human construction.”

Meanwhile beyond theologians, poets, and other writers who already know Gundy’s work will relish this book—its humor, its rich language, its poetic imagery, its processing of images and ideas, and much more that a non-poet cannot describe adequately. As one of the anonymous reviewers wrote, “My reaction to the manuscript was one of rapt suspense and then eventual rapture.”
Gundy has written in the relatively new genre of theopoetics. A non-poet’s definition of theopoetics might be that it is a hybrid of poetry and theology. But to call it that misses the mark. It is an entire way of thinking. From the side of poetry, it shows that ideas are more than abstractions. They have form—verbal, visual, sensual—and are thus experienced as least as much as they are thought.

What one learns from the theology side of theopoetics has at least as much importance. One observes that theology is more than an abstraction. It is a way of thinking, visualizing, and sensing images of God. And at that juncture, theologians should become aware that traditional theology—which Gundy fears is too often bound to efforts to bring closure to arguments—is a way to think about the divine but is only one of multiple ways to consider God. Thus for theologians, theopoetics will underscore their (sometimes reluctant) admission that theology is one form of truth but ought not be confused with TRUTH itself.

Traditional theologians will certainly be interested in Gundy’s theopoetic interaction with John Howard Yoder. The resulting view of Yoder depicted in theopoetics is not quite the Yoder that I see, but then again neither are the other “Yoders” depicted in recent efforts to describe Yoder theologically.

One of the engaging elements of Jeff Gundy’s theopoetics is his acceptance and use of the sense of many poets that they need to challenge established orthodoxies, thus his embrace of the category of “heresy,” his support of the “transgressions” of poets, and his interest in ancient writings deemed heretical. Gundy is aware, of course, that merely adopting as true the opposite of what is presumed orthodox still allows the dominant view to determine truth in a back-handed way. Thus this book’s discussion of what some have deemed “heresy” invites every reader to self-reflection about what he or she does accept as the basis of truth from which one can live. It is an invitation to a reflective life of living for rather than a mere reactionary life defined by being against.

I have enjoyed working with Jeff to implement suggestions that came from the anonymous reviewers of the manuscript. It is a pleasure to welcome this volume to the C. Henry Smith Series. I am grateful to Bluffton University for its financial contribution to the publication of this book in the C. Henry Smith Series.

—J. Denny Weaver
C. Henry Smith Series Editor
Summer 2012

 

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