Editorial by Steven Shakespeare
from Modern Believing Vol 59:4 - October 2018
Poets often put things with a clarity that those who use supposedly ‘rigorous’ language can only dream of.
Academic theology and philosophy of religion has sometimes searched for a kind of systematic consistency; but it can come at the expense of those searing insights which refuse to be tamed by sterile concepts.
Far from leading us away from thought, the poetic word deepens, complicates, and enriches it. Of course, there can be bad poetry – trite, moralistic, decorative. But the best poetry is stunning in its intricate simplicity and resonance. It bears with the world and bares the soul to its intensity.
It is therefore welcome that we include a significant exploration of the poetry of Emily Dickinson by Daniel Bosaclijon in this issue. Calling us to a deeper immersion into the flow of life, Dickinson writes that
Apprehensions— are God’s introductions—
To be hallowed— accordingly—
There is no escape from this clarity into obscure promises of certainty based on fantasies of revealed truth. Boscalijon argues that Dickinson’s work helps us stand in awe of the world, perceiving God without the guarantees of dogma: ‘this approach to liberal theology allows its performance, the embrace of the unverifiable, in everyday life’.
Everyday life, as we know, is fragile. That fragility echoes traumatically in times of war. We catch glimpses of it in the mediated images of Syrian suffering under barrel bomb attacks from their own government and Russian allies, for instance. But those who experience it directly may be compelled to fathom the depths of what life may be, what faith might be able to bear. Michael Brierley, our reviews editor, offers a sustained reflection on some of the work that has recently been published exploring the impact of the First World War upon faith. It is the centenary of the end of that war, and an apt time to learn new lessons from its horror.
The works Brierley critically reviews raise issues of memory, creativity and the incomprehension of suffering. Among them, there is a new edition of The Hardest Part by Studdert Kennedy, a text which demonstrates the vitality of British theology in that era (readers will recall that Studdert Kennedy was the subject of an article by Robert Slocum in issue 57.3). And Brierley ends with an account of the only clergyperson to win a Victoria Cross in the War as a combatant. The tensions which only war can evoke are fascinating, and still speak to us today.
We also have a wonderful piece of creative theology by Alan McGill, which focuses on the afterlife. If life is fragile, is death merely the end? Do religious promises of life after death amount to no more than wish fulfilment? McGill offers us an account of the afterlife which rejects the dualism of spirits leaving bodies, something that seems to make heaven utterly unrecognisable. Instead, he develops a model of ‘the divinised dead’ present in and through creation. It is a rich, holistic vision, sacramental in its orientation, and should inspire deeper thinking about the words we often let slip by in scripture, creed and funeral service.
A final note from me: this will be my last issue as editor of the journal. Initially, I hoped that my tenure would be five years, but personal issues have made it increasingly difficult to do justice to the role in the way it deserves. I know the Trustees are in the process of appointing a new editor, who, I am sure, will take the journal from strength to strength. Certainly, a voice for serious liberal and radical theology is needed more than ever.
I am hugely grateful to those who have supported me in the role. Katharine Sarah Moody has gone above and beyond the call of duty in her assistant editorship role. On top of the hard work of securing reviews of articles submitted, preparing files and proofreading, she has been creatively involved in getting special issues off the ground. She is an inspiring champion for radical theology in her own right. Her predecessor, Anthony Freeman, was a great source of wisdom and efficiency when I took over as editor. And Michael Brierley continues to manage the huge and necessary task of organising and editing book reviews, which keeps us in touch with the leading edge of theological thinking.
I am also thankful to the all the guest editors, contributors, reviewers and members of the publishing team at Liverpool University Press, without whom we would be faced with the impossible task of creatio ex nihilo.