The reasons that I seek to articulate a Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology are numerous. But here I want to explain briefly why trauma and human suffering is not a helpful framework in which to craft a systematic theology, and yet is an indispensable component for ecclesiology.
If grace has the power to reshape the imagination, then theology is the language that both describes that power and evokes it in the lives of people by telling grace-filled stories of new imaginings. But just as the shattering effects of trauma are painfully particular to each person who suffers them, so the healing power of grace is specific to each imagination it soothes and heals. Recognizing this fact led me to abandon the project of writing a systematic theology of trauma and grace. Rather, what my own writings on trauma continue to seek is a glimpse of grace at work in the interstices of imagination. (22)
The universality of trauma and human suffering, and the need for trauma-informed systematic theological reflection, results in a Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology. My larger project operates within three presumptions:
(1) That the byproduct of all systematic theological reflection (whether formal, anecdotal, or unreflective) is in fact, ecclesiological. Ecclesiology should not be seen merely as a section or unit of systematic reflection but as the resulting embodiment of the community’s theological commitments.
(2) Ecclesiological practice is the location in which most who are touched by the Christian tradition will find their experiences of trauma and human suffering addressed, admittedly with varying degrees of effectiveness and fidelity.
(3) I reject the presumption that theological reflection unilaterally shapes embodied practice. There is a dynamic interplay between practice and formal reflection, my contention being that embodied practice has done more to shape theological reflection than vice versa.
We must find ways to appropriate the deep wells of the Christian tradition for addressing questions about trauma and suffering, redemption and grace, our present reality and our eschatological horizon. And all of these reflections, the articulations that come from them, and the embodied life of grace and solidarity of hope and lament, must come from within the life of the church. Therefore, if we are to speak meaningfully to questions of trauma and human suffering, we must do so from within a robust ecclesiological ecosystem.