Some things take a lifetime. More or less.
It took until a few days before my 75th birthday to become clear about my lifelong quest. Some would call it my “vocation” in life, my “calling” as we say. Others might call it an obsession. In either case, it’s taken this long to say a word about it.
In a nutshell, my life’s occupation has been, and still is — are you ready? — theological anthropology.
“Whoah! What’s that?” my 11-week-old grandson Elijah is asking.
Theological anthropology, like all anthropology, is the search for understanding of the human species. The term ‘anthropology’ is the combination of the Greek words anthropos (human) and logos (word). Anthropo-logy is ‘the word’ about ‘humankind’.
Theological anthropology is the study of humankind in the context of ‘theos’, i.e. ‘G-d’ — which Paul Tillich translated as Being-Itself, the Ground of Being, that which is ultimately Real.
Anthropos is contingent; Being-Itself is not. Like all species, ours has a very short lifespan in the aeons of eternity. We are a small part of the All or the Whole (Friedrich Schleiermacher), creatures of time with the rest of moral nature who can be understood, if at all, only in light of this larger timeless Whole.
The Psalmist question –“What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:4 KJV) — is my life-long question.
Who are we as a species? Who am I as a member of it? Who are the Andrews, the Tituses, the Campbells, the Stewarts among the vast assortment of homo sapiens? Who am I in relation to Barclay, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel friend, the forests, the flowers, the birds, and the rest of the species of dust and ashes holding our breath before the majesty of life itself?
Why theological anthropology?
You can take the human species out of the universe and the universe will go on as it did aeons before anthropos came along. We can’t say the opposite. Essential to the human experience is the terror of contingency and the wonder of of it all, what Rudolf Otto called “mysterium tremendous et fascinans”.
The idea of “man (the human species) over nature” is a deadly illusion, a flight from reality itself, an escape from the trembling that comes with our vulnerability, our transience, our mortality, the final limit of all human creativity (the “image of God”).
After only one cup of coffee on my 75th birthday, that’s the best I can do.
This afternoon I’ll be in the Philosophy Lounge at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN at the invitation of a philosophy professor, a long way away from the delivery room and the loving, laboring mother who pushed me into the world (the philosopher’s lounge) back in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Thanks, Mom!
– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 10, 2017.
It’s great that you will be in Atlanta. It would be great to see you. I’m what part of town does your nephew live?
Hi, Cynthia, I haven’t a clue, but we’ll make it work somehow.
Gordon, I’ll invite you to go to Central Presbyterian Church if you’re here and if you’re not committed elsewhere. The only time I won’t be here is Nov. 20-30 because we are going on a cruise to the Panama Canal. There will also be a stop in Cartagena (and a couple of less interesting ) and I am really excited about this!!
And I’m looking forward to seeing you again before the 60th reunion!!
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Hi, Cynthia. Sounds good all around. Love to join you at Central if the timing is right. Wish i could join you on the cruise.
I truly believe that most other mammals, and maybe all other species are ‘nicer’ than we are. I don’t have your way with words, nor your education, and in my lifetime I have seen such wonders from ‘animals’, and I must be fair and say a few from the 2-legged types.
Barb, I believe it too. I can say, I think, that I not only believe it. I know it. So do you. But then, there are people like your folks, Bart Hipple, Carolyn and Barb.
Wow! “Theological Anthropologist” is the exact same phrase I used a few short years ago to define my life’s undertaking. I don’t think I had heard it before, and here you are confirming I wasn’t crazy, and you weren’t obsessed…or we both are.
Wow is right, Ken. Yes. We both are! 😳😳 How weird is that?
Theological anthropology makes sense to me. Studying humankind in context of a religious framework – and vice versa. Is there another way to study anything religious? Chickens and eggs — if there is a God, but no one worships Him … is he a God?
I think, Marilyn, that some things just make sense to the senseless? Gad it makes sense to someone else!
I think it’s important to mention that I was born in the same hospital about three months later. Later I will add another comment with a little more thought!
Happy, Happy Birthday, Gordon! I hope this is a wonderful day for you. And, I’ve hard that the Dutch always celebrate the mothers on a child’s birthday.
Cynthia, Are you serious? You were born in Mechanicsburg? And I’m that much older? Are you Dutch?
Yes, I was born in Mechanicsburg. I remember that our mothers discussed it at graduation. And you are way older! No, I’m not Dutch. A Dutch friend told me that.
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Cynthia, how could I not remember that our mothers discussed that? Did I know of our common hospital of birth back then? Did I know that our mothers talked at graduation? My mother was quite shy. Amazing that they talked. BTW, my other and I have some Dutch blood.
Gordon, my mother was very shy also, so maybe they didn’t frighten each other and were able to talk to each other. No, I don’t think we knew then about being born in the same hospital.
Interesting that the two shy mothers found each other. I’m going to be in Atlanta sometime between not an early January and hope we can catch time together. I’ll be there to tape an author interview and sermon for later broadcast on Day1.org and will be staying with my nephew Parker. Doesn’t make sense to go to Atlanta without spending time with the baby born in the same hospital in Mechanicsburg or with the Georgia girl who’s all Joy.