DOING THEOLOGY IN THE CITY
by Paul Fitzgerald

PAUL FITZGERALD, S.J., is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University in California. He recently published L'Eglise comme lieu de formation d'une conscience de la concitoyenneté.

The author invites students to walk with the poor and to learn about their faith amid their struggles to survive.

The task of theology is often a lonely endeavor. The hush of the library or the archives, the still of the chapel, and the quiet discipline of one's desk are places where theological research and writing unfold, most often in solitary concentration. The classroom on the protected college campus or seminary, the academic conference in large hotels, and even the cherished conversation in the homes of colleagues do open the theologian to other minds and hearts so that theories and insights may be tested in dialogue. However, these exchanges are often located in affluent social contexts which cannot reveal the full import of the self-revealing Word of God. Certainly, the tradition holds that Christian theology is always done in the context of the thinking and worshiping Church, so the theologian is never alone in her or his work. More recently, theologians have become more intentional about the social and cultural contexts within which they theologize. Following the original example of Jesus and the more recent examples of Liberation Theology, Christian theologians have been moving among the poor, especially the urban poor, in order to discover and articulate a new word about God.

There is, I believe, a scriptural invitation to this type of socially contextualized theology in the seventeenth chapter of Matthew's Gospel, the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. In an isolated place, high above the tumult of the towns and villages, Peter, James, and John accompanied Christ to a divine summit meeting. There they saw him in glory, and with him were Moses and Elijah. This epiphany gave the disciples a glimpse of the Word's relation to the Law and the Prophets. Perhaps in order better to investigate and contemplate this, the three disciples asked Jesus' permission to set up tents, that they might remain in splendid isolation on the mountaintop of revelation. Their request was left hanging on their lips by the voice of the Father, who identified Jesus as the beloved Son, the favored one, the one to whom they should listen. Awestruck, they fell to the ground. When they opened their eyes, they saw only Jesus, and at once he set off, back down the mountain. In order to fulfill their desires both to remain with him and to understand who he was, the disciples had to leave the epiphany on the mountaintop and follow Jesus down into the villages. To make