Dear readers, I hope that wherever you are reading this, you are safe and well. Here’s a short reflection on my reading, writing and thinking in 2021, and a big ‘thank you’ for reading the results.
My theological reading this year has crystallised around three themes: black theology, liberal Quakerism and eschatology.
Black theology: I’ve been expanding my understanding of womanist theology (written from the perspective of black women) by reading Delores Williams’ ‘Sisters in the Wilderness’, Kelly Brown Douglas’ ‘The Black Christ’ and Wilda Gafney’s ‘Womanist Midrash’. I’ve also read James Cone’s phenomenal ‘The Cross and the Lynching Tree’, Jarel Robinson-Brown’s ‘Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer’ and Willie James Jennings’ ‘The Christian Imagination’. Books that aren’t specifically theological that have helped my understanding of race are James Baldwin’s ‘Notes of a Native Son’ and ‘The Fire Next Time’, Angela Saini’s ‘Superior: The Return of Race Science’ and David Olusoga’s ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’. If I had to pick the most significant book I’ve read this year, it would be between Jennings, Gafney and Cone. The shifts these books have made in my thinking feel so significant that I can’t believe I only read them within the last 12 months!
Liberal Quakerism: I’m increasingly focussing on the beginnings of liberal Quakerism, the period 1890-1920 and the various theological and philosophical streams that fed the thought of influential liberal Quakers like Rufus Jones. One of those streams is a 19th century movement in New England called ‘Transcendentalism’, and I’ve now dipped my toe in by reading Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ (1854). Rufus Jones was heavily influenced by the philosophy and psychology of William James, and so I’ve read James’ ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ (1902). I’m also trying to immerse myself in Jones’ writing, and have read his ‘A Boy’s Religion from Memory’ (1903), ‘Social Law in the Spiritual World’ (1908), and his Swarthmore Lecture ‘The Nature and Authority of Conscience’ (1920). Alongside all this, in order to grasp the influence of secularism on liberal Quakerism, I finished Charles Taylor’s massive tome ‘A Secular Age’ (although I can’t say I understood all of it).
Eschatology: The theology of ‘final things’ is my first theological love, and so I’ve continued to explore this, reading Jürgen Moltmann’s ‘The Way of Jesus Christ’, David Gee’s ‘Hope’s Work’, Victor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and Richard Bauckham’s ‘The Theology of the Book of Revelation’.
Reflecting on this hefty list of books, I’m both not sure how I found the time to read them all, and filled with gratitude for books and the people who write them.
I haven’t written as much on the blog this year, compared to previous years. I published 13 posts (2020 had 16 posts) and many of those have been announcements about my writing elsewhere rather than original content. Of the small amount I’ve blogged in 2021, my favourite posts are the series on Edward Grubb’s Christology (work which has continued to inform my writing and teaching throughout the year), my posts on theology as ministry, what Quaker Faith and Practice says about sin and evil, and my review of Jennings’ ‘The Christian Imagination’. My most-read post of the year is my piece on ‘Institutional Racism and Quakers’. Strangely, my post ‘What is “that of God in everyone”?’ from 2019 is the second most-read post of 2021. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever written, but perhaps the title is a popular question to ask. In terms of reader numbers, this year has been the most successful yet, even with less posts. The blog has 245 followers (up from 215 in 2021), and this year received 5950 visitors (up from 5920) and 11’784 views (up from 11’055).
The main reason I’ve written less on the blog this year is because I’ve been putting time and energy into some significant writing projects elsewhere, both of which I’m immensely proud of. The first is my article for Friends Quarterly, ‘Why Do You Call Me Good?: Whiteness and Quaker Theological Fragility.’ This article formed the basis of a talk and workshop I ran for Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering in the summer. From the feedback I received, this seems to have been a very useful piece of work which is giving Friends a lot to think about. This pleases me no end! The second project is my book ‘Quaker Shaped Christianity: How the Jesus Story and the Quaker Way fit together’. I began writing the book in January, and to now be in a position where it’s being published is just wonderful! I’m so grateful for all the glowing endorsements I’ve received from those who read it pre-publication, and I can’t wait for the book to be read more widely (and I just LOVE the cover!). I’ll be announcing the publication date in January. Hopefully you won’t get tired of me talking about it over the next 12 months.
So, it’s been quite a year! Many, many thanks to you for engaging with what I write and giving me encouragement. Knowing my theological work makes some kind of difference, no matter how small, keeps me going. It gives me the confidence to claim theology as my calling.
Thank you dear readers! I wish you a year of wisdom, faithfulness and no small measure of joy.