Monday, July 9, 2012

the invitation of theology

Last year I taught a course in Christian Spirituality to first year university students.  It came as a bit of a surprise to me that the students who had the most difficulty engaging with the material were those who were devout Christians.  It was not the agnostics nor the persons curious about spirituality in general that showed resistance to exploring the topic; it was those who were heavily invested in their own Christian traditions.  In one class, I even had to halt an argument between two Christians which escalated into personal insults and threatened to derail the whole class.  Sad, really sad.

This afternoon, I watched part of a talk from the Wild Goose Festival (Soul of the Next Economy). Pamela Wilhelms works in leadership development and one of the aspects she is involved in is helping companies shift from old paradigms which use mechanised systems to embracing living systems models.  She mentions that it is much easier for her to sit with executives from Google and talk about body life as a model for leading their organisation than it is to broach the same topic with church leaders.  Interesting.

What is it about our Christian traditions that makes us so resistant to exploring other viewpoints or new models of engaging with God and with each other?  Jesus encountered the same rigidity in the religious leaders of his day, and it appears that not much has changed.  It is embarrassing how unteachable we as followers of Jesus can be.  We begin our journey with Jesus desperate for transformation.  We are attracted to new life and committed to ongoing growth, but somewhere along the way, we seem to lose these values.  Are we so convinced that we have found the truth that we are no longer moved by it?

I went back to studying theology several years ago because I thought I would find it interesting.  It continues to be an incredible adventure.  It challenges me to see things in a new light and invigorates my appetite for exploration.  It humbles and confuses and mystifies me.  It makes me ask questions instead of assuming I know the answers.  It reminds me that I have only scratched the surface of what it means to engage with God.  It has also brought me into contact with many voices from the past who have much wisdom to offer, both by their mistakes and their successes.  I believe that followers of Jesus should be the most eager learners on the planet and the most humble and faithful students, pursuing truth while recognising his complex, dynamic, and loving nature.

Here is something I wrote after I finished my first year of graduate studies in theology:

"A lack of love results in premature, biased conclusions.  A lack of love allows us to categorise theories and opinions without coming face to face with the truth that we need to be examined every bit as much as the data or the text.  Love and humility open the door to genuine learning that is not only enlightening, but transforming. 
Theology is an invitation.  It is a welcome mat.  It invites us to come and bring all our thinking about life, about meaning, about truth, about unity, about justice, about the Divine, and to submit it to careful, courageous, sometimes slightly messy, but always loving, interaction.  It invites us not only to study the grand story, but to give it a place to grow in us.
I believe that a skilled theologian is able to explain profound concepts to a scholar as well as to a 5-year-old.  And a good theologian knows that she can learn a thing or two from a 5-year-old as well.  Children appreciate mystery more than we adults do because they do not feel the need to explain things that only ask to be wondered at.  And in the adventure that is theology, one must always be willing to be surprised by wonder:  wide-eyed, wordless, reverent, and loving wonder." 
-Matte (trying to be a life-long learner)
the photo:  looking out from a friend's apartment on the day she moved into her new place.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. What I seem to encounter most in closed minded Christians in this context is fear. In these conversations I think and feel that there is a very strong fear of getting it wrong, which creates a very strong need to be right. The cost of getting it wrong in many Christian circles is to be 'out' rather than 'in'. Very high stakes indeed. I have felt this fear myself on occasion. "What if I get it wrong, and then I find I am actually not a 'sheep' but a 'goat', when it is too late? What if I find out I am one of the deceived?"
    It's really sad actually, because the existence of this fear means we really have missed the gospel message completely. That in itself is very scary!

    I myself have steered clear of 'theology' for the most part, having encountered many very nasty conversations in this context,as you describe in one of your classes. In bible college I knew guys who refused to share a room with someone they disagreed with theologically. Count me out of that!

    The older I get (yikes!) I think the Pharisees were not just a one-time group of supremely arrogant, mis-guided bunch of white-washed tombs that we love to hate in the gospels. I think they are in there because they are a (still) accurate depiction of human nature with regards to what we make out of religion and faith. Our need to be right and our fear of being wrong turn us into controlling, arrogant, closed-minded, religious, death-creating people.

    The gospel turned everything on its ear, and it still does. This message of unearned love, grace and forgiveness flies in the face of our own abilities. It's a God-send, truly, when we are completely drowning in our own failure and inadequacy, but it is a very humbling message to hear in the face of our own intelligence, creativity and success. How difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven...