III By Contrast . . .
[Continuing the article by Michael Downey. CSQ, 45.1, 2010]
We find ourselves within a world context marked on many fronts by disillusionment and disappointment. The reason for disappointment is not hard to find. Efforts in the bygone century to present a persuasive picture of a future filled with promise have failed so many. Ours is a time marked by interruption and disorientation wherein the center no longer seems to hold, and where there is increasing doubt about the trustworthiness of claims to any objective or absolute truth, especially those put forward on the basis of authority alone, even divinely ordained authority. The Church's position in the current world is not as secure as it once was. The recent sexual-abuse scandals and the ostensibly incomprehensible decisions of Church leaders in the face of the sexual misconduct of its members has not helped to safeguard the Church's place as an authentic voice of good news addressed first and finally to the vulnerable and the weak, the last, lost, littlest, and least. Even as the Church continues unabated in an effort to convey a coherent, all-encompassing global vision into which everything fits, there is widespread recognition that it is foolhardy to try to establish a solution that is perennially valid, self-evidently true, and intelligible to any reasonable person.
The French term bricolage suggests how to face complex matters in a chaotic, fragmented world marked by plurality and ambiguity. Bricolage is a lining up of whatever is at hand, gathering bits and pieces, pulling together strands from here and there in the way one would stitch a patchwork quilt, or construct figurines from pieces of scrap metal found in a junk heap. The term describes an approach to a particular matter or concern that gathers insight from whatever is at hand, assembling insights in the way of a conceptual beggar in order to provide some small perspective, recognizing that this is necessarily partial and limited. Bricolage is best done not in strict adherence to a plan set in granite, but to the creative dynamism as it unfolds and gives direction in interaction with the materials at hand.
The theologian must be a sort of conceptual beggar, looking here and there for scraps of insight, hunches and intuitions that impel the desire for an answer to theology's prime question. The theologian strives for a coherent, if not comprehensive, view. But for all our striving for comprehensiveness we know that there are facts in each and every "here and now," in this or that "time and place," that don't fit. As a consequence, the adequacy of the theological system itself is called into question. Necessarily each and every theological system fails to answer theology's single most important question: "Who is God?" and so we begin again. And again. This is unwelcome news for the convinced.