As a stamp collector I take great joy in bringing order to random messes. Just tonight I took a couple envelopes of Dutch stamps and sorted them by stamp into a book so that I can fill up my album and trader cards. I am thinking about this as I recall a talk with my friend Sarah regarding methodology. One of my pet peeves with academic life has been the pervasive insistence that one have, name and know ones method. But I feel that no one really takes a methodological approach to helping one name, describe - heck even know ones method. I am pretty sure I have a handle on method (on good days I think that) but I still am wanting it to be neater, tight little defined categories into which I can bring order to the madness that is study.
Sarah was talking about this method of letting the data evolve its own categories. I forget what she called it, but one had to resist the urge to evaluate but rather let the categories emerge as one explored the material in a certain topic/genre. It sounds good for what she is doing - reclaiming the voices of a specific group of women. While it isn't exactly what I need, it does remind me of what happens so often in incipient theology, that is theology which emerges in the actual faith life of believers. The night before another friend commented on how in churches she had attended they had some good ideas they were working with theologically but no idea where those ideas came from let alone how to aptly evaluate those ideas. In fact I think that many Christians have quite naive ideas about where theology comes from which means it is even harder to address incipient theology in any sort of critical way. But theology evolves in communities - it doesn't drop down from heaven (unless you think God is the sort that likes to drop random and incompatible ideas into various religious communities just to see how screwed up they can get - my friend Lori would say that God's not an asshole like that) it rises up from the experiences, readings and traditions of people trying to live lives of fidelity and faithfulness to God. So in a sense the categories emerge for folks in their faith lives. That doesn't mean they don't have good insights or that there is really no true faith or doctrines. But it kills the presumption that we have the market on those things. Stumbling around we tend to get some things right. And if we believe that God is in this process then we should also be confident that stumbling around we get more right than we get wrong - even if sometimes we misconstrue some of our right assumptions.
So here we are back at a mess. And me, I like order. Perhaps that is why I love theology so much - it brings order to chaos. Not simple order by any stretch - and if you saw my stamp albums, you'd wonder why I have so many extras in there. Well order is complicated - it means taking on variance, respecting and even enjoying diversity, drawing lines as to what you will and will not keep, and what you will do with what you want to keep. It is a collection, and a collection follows internal and arbitrary rules - but that is its beauty. The collection is unique. It is wonderful and has an inner logic that brings joy to the one who organized it. Theology, that project I undertake, has that for me too. That is my method.