Wishful Thinking

I asked Rev. Diana for some book recommendations on contemporary liberal theology. Her first recommendation was Wishful Thinking – A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner. It’s a miniature encyclopedia (only 100 pages), and when I opened it, my first thought was “I don’t need to read this – I already know what these terms mean.”

But after reading just a few pages I realized that Buechner was explaining his theology through his definitions. Here are a few excerpts:

Doubt: Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.

Theology: Theology is the study of God and his ways. For all we know, dung beetles may study man and his ways and call it humanology. If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise.

Angels: Sleight-of-hand magic is based on the demonstrable fact that as a rule people see only what they expect to see. Angels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well. Since we don’t expect to see them, we don’t.

I told Rev. Diana I was looking to theology to help me form a framework for understanding Life and the Universe and all those big questions. I think Buechner’s theology isn’t a framework, it’s a story – the Christian story. And he has interpreted that story in a way that is both honest (he doesn’t ask you to believe things that don’t square with known reality) and open (he realizes the limitations of human knowledge and our ability to know). Taken as a whole, it makes a story to live by that is useful, helpful and inspiring.

In reading this book, I became very aware of my own desire for concrete definitions. As I like to say, I’m not just an engineer by profession. Although intellectually I know that “real” means more than just “material,” I think I will struggle for a long time – maybe all my life – to truly understand that meaning comes in many forms.

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