Piglet's Process (Bruce Epperly) - A Review
PIGLET’S PROCESS: Process Theology for All God’s Children. By Bruce G. Epperly. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2019. Iv + 92 pages.
Process Theology has its attractions, but it can be difficult to understand. Most expositions of this particular form of theology make significant use of the ideas of British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). Whitehead wasn’t a theologian by trade, but over time he moved from mathematics to the philosophy of science and then to metaphysics. It is this last stage of his development that contributed to the rise of Process Theology. Rooted as it is in a scientific/mathematics based philosophical system, you can see that it will be somewhat untraditional in its presentation of ideas. While I am not a Process-oriented theologian, there are aspects of this system that are attractive. This is especially true of its vision of an open future. It has also lent itself to concerns about ecology/environment. The challenge is making Process accessible to a broader public that may not understand the process vocabulary of Whitehead and his disciples.
One proponent of Process Theology who has found ways of making this relational form of theology understandable is Bruce Epperly. Bruce has been writing about Process Theology for many years, but in recent years he has focused on making this particular vision of theology accessible to a broader public. Many of these presentations have been published by Energion Publications in its Topical Line Drive series, a series of books that are no more than 12,000 words in length (I will note here that I have also contributed books to this series of books, as well as other books for Energion). Regarding the series of books dealing with Process Theology in that series, I would say they are worth looking at, especially since they tend to be topical in nature.
In Piglet’s Process, Bruce takes this attempt at making Process Theology accessible by turning to children’s stories. As a grandfather who has given significant time to the care of his grandchildren, he has a feel for children’s stories and the way in which they can convey spiritual truth. In this book, he turns to A. A. Milne’s stories about Winnie the Pooh and his friends. In this case, he specifically engages with the Milne character of Piglet.
In the Milne stories about life in the Hundred Acre Wood, the imaginary world that Christopher Robin inhabits, Piglet is Winnie the Pooh's closest friend. As Bruce notes throughout the book, Piglet is not only Pooh’s best friend, he is a "very small animal." The characters in the Pooh stories are in reality Christopher Robin’s stuffed animals, but in these stories, they come to life and inhabit the "100 Aker Wood" (Bruce uses this alternative phrasing). One thing about Piglet is that he has a tendency of becoming anxious about things, and this anxiousness provides the foundation for Bruce's conversations with Piglet about Process Theology.
Having a conversation about a rather dense theological system that even theologically trained persons find challenging with a stuffed animal might seem rather odd, but Bruce makes it work. He writes that "We need the wisdom of simple and good-hearted stuffed toys to help us find our way through the dark wood and reveal the foolishness of the powerful and wealthy. We need the harmony of the Wood to remind us of the beauty of diversity" (pp. 2-3). While he occasionally draws quotations from the actual Pooh stories, for the most part, his conversations with Piglet come from his own imagination. In the course of these conversations, Bruce introduces us to "Twelve Principles of the Process Way." These principles speak of creativity (divine and human), relationality, friendships, beauty, and more.
As one would expect with a theology that denotes process, this is a theological system that emphasizes change. Bruce addresses that in full in the book. Bruce writes about a conversation with Piglet about this very issue:
Piglet, who’s been looking over my shoulder as I type, interjects, “but wouldn’t that be kind of boring, never to change or grow and day after day and have everything the same. An unchanging god doesn’t sound very interesting. If God’s complete, and doesn’t change, then God seems stuck to me—God keeps experiencing things over and over and over again—bad things and good things. It’s like hearing Pooh sing one of his songs day after day, and over and over. It’s nice the first three or four times, but every day and all the time, even Pooh needs to sing new songs and make up new stories. Wouldn’t God get bored? Wouldn’t God envy a Small Animal who can do new things and experience new days? (p. 27).
In my experience with the Pooh stories, I wouldn’t expect Piglet to be this insightful. Owl maybe, but not Piglet. Nevertheless, this isn’t a book about Owl or even Rabbit. It’s about Bruce’s conversations about Process Theology with a Very Small Animal who tends to be rather anxious about things. Perhaps that’s the point. A relational form of theology can address our insecurities and anxieties and offer us a way forward. While I’m still not a Process person, through Bruce’s insightful exploration of Process Theology I’ve become more comfortable with it. That’s especially true of the relational part of the system.
Process Theologians tend to get caught up in philosophical jargon, including words and phrases to describe God like “primordial nature” and “consequent nature,” as well as the word “dipolar.” In this presentation, much of the philosophical and theological jargon has been removed. We see it in child-like language, but not in dumbed-down language, that allows us to see the attractiveness of the vision. As Bruce writes in the concluding chapter, “we are meant for relationship. Even God needs relationships. That’s the heart of the process vision.” Relationships form the heart of life in the “100 Aker Wood,” where Piglet dwells with his friend Pooh, along with Rabbit, Owl, Kanga and Roo, as well as Eeyore. If you’ve been wondering about Process Theology, or theology that is relational and open, this might be a good entry-point. If you like the Pooh stories, you’ll like this one. I’m just wondering what Bruce might do with Eeyore!