Saturday, October 3, 2009

What is "restorative theology," anyway?

Hello friends and strangers, and welcome to my attempt at articulating and bringing clarity (for myself, hopefully others) to a few threads of study that I find myself immersed in as a grad student at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in lovely Harrisonburg, Virginia. Those two threads are theology and peacebuilding, and they represent the two graduate divisions I am studying in at EMU: the Seminary and the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding (CJP). In the process of discerning a call to ministry and learning all this wild and crazy stuff, I'm actively seeking how these threads will converge and shape my vocation after grad school. That won't be until at least 2013, so I have plenty of time to think and write about it here. You're welcome.

So why "restorative theology?" Well, my emphasis in study at the CJP is restorative justice, a field pioneered around 30 years ago by folks like Howard Zehr, who is now my professor and academic adviser (and friend; he's a great guy) at the CJP. Restorative justice saw the criminal justice system in the West as being almost exclusively focused on crimes against the state (violations of law) and punishing the people who violated those laws, while simultaneously leaving the needs of the victims of wrongdoing going unmet. Restorative justice practitioners came along to restore (get it?) balance to the responses to wrongdoing and address the needs of all parties involved: victims, offenders, families, the community, and even society at large. This is my off-the-cuff answer with no citations, but it will do for now. A seminal book in this field was written by Howard in 1990, called Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. I've linked to his blog above, and it's also listed to the right in "The Well" section.

So that's "restorative"; now for "theology." Without going into excessive detail, I feel comfortable saying that I've loved theology since I was a little kid. I grew up in a rural Church of the Brethren congregation in central Iowa where there were tons of Protestants of many stripes, particularly Dutch Reformed and Methodists. I was best friends with a boy whose family was Catholic and we used to compare notes. I remember getting into a theological discussion with his dad on the way to Des Moines from our hometown of Prairie City, discussing the fine points of saying confession before death. My friend was bored out of his mind, but his dad and I were having a blast. So when I came to the seminary at EMU at the age of 29, I felt right at home.

In "The Well" section at the right, you'll see a link to a site called Peace Theology, which is written by Ted Grimsrud, a professor at EMU's undergraduate division of Bible & Religion. He and my seminary theology professor, Mark Thiessen Nation, are both pacifists in the Anabaptist and Mennonite tradition, which I also place myself in (a Brethren sojourning w/ Mennonites).
[Update: "The Well" is now called "In conversation" and Ted's and Howard's blogs have rotated out of that list which changes quite often. -bg 3/11/2011]

That's a bit of the historical context for this blog, "restorative theology." Now let's look forward. What am I going to do with it?

Well, one of the first things I have in mind is a very specific class project for a research methods class I'm taking this fall at the CJP (taught by Howard): Research as Art and Transformation. I'm planning on interviewing four EMU professors about theology and peacebuilding, taking a few photographs, editing the video, typing some words and posting the finished product here. If it's engaging to the people I interview and anyone I badger into reading it, hopefully, interesting dialog can take place in the comments sections. So that will be coming in the next two months (before the end of the semester!).

In addition to that, I have the hope of honing the craft of theological writing in various ways. My emphasis of study at the seminary is academics, and I will be focusing on theology and ethics. Theology is, among other things, an academic discipline with a loooooooooooooooong history, and one that I have yet to be initiated into (until next spring). But theology is also, more generally, a way (or ways) to think about God and the ultimate purpose for this life of ours, individually and collectively. So as I exercise both the general and formal practices of theology, I will use this blog for that adventure.

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