Final paper aside, I’ve made it through Systematic Theology I. Today’s challenge was to revisit my first blog post (click HERE to read it) and discover what’s changed or what’s not changed.
I was challenged about everything…and nothing. How can one’s theology be challenged if one has already lost everything and is still in the process of trying to figure out God, Jesus, the world, and myself? Challenges did come from authors I had not yet read or viewpoints I had not yet considered: postcolonial, process, womanist, queer, Asian-American, African-American, and indigenous theologies.
The challenge became not to gorge myself stupid because I was so hungry for something meaningful. More than that: I needed something safe. Not that any of these theologies are safe in the sense that they are static or humdrum. Rather, they are safe because I can immerse myself in them and be relatively assured that I won’t be dehumanized in my immersion — my baptism.
My “AHA!” moment (or rather my “Oh SH**! moment) came as I sat up front in chapel last week waiting to deliver a sermon. As we all sat there during the readings, I realized that I really was starving, and in my starvation for meaningful, loving theology, I really was gorging. And in my gorging, I had come to understand even more how damaging and deadly my former theologies of childhood, youth, and bible college had been (and for me, still are). Yet as I gorged, thinking I would never be healthy unless I took it all in, I was confronted with unhealed parts of myself who shrink and hide away from people who still hold to traditional orthodoxies that have caused physical, spiritual, relational, sexual, and theological harm.
And in true evangelical fashion, I was responding like a good evangelical girl: defend and contend. While I was not defending and contending for the gospel (as defined by American evangelical movements), I was responding in defensiveness and contest trying to prove my own points at all costs because I was terrified of those theologies ever coming near me again. My professor would talk about Anselm, Augustine, Luther, and Barth, and all I could hear was: MacArthur, Piper, Packer, Walsh, Driscoll, Wright. My chest would seize up, my breathing would turn shallow, my palms would go clammy, my stomach would lurch, my heart would pound, and it was all I could do to keep from running away from class. A classmate would make an innocent comment, yet the places the comments hurled me to were dark and abandoned. I was shocked at the instantaneous movement from relative inattention to sheer fear. Black or white. Right or wrong.
That’s all it took to trigger fear: proximity to traditionalism. And yes, there was a panic attack or two.
I talked in class. A lot. It happens when I get scared coupled with gorging on life-changing ideas. It leads to a severe sense of over-exposure for a week or two afterwards, but life will level out. I will be in my small cabin, sit out by the fire pit with Trelstad, Althaus-Reid, or Cone, and breathe. Read and breathe. No other humans here. No need to talk. No want to talk.
I’ve gone well over my word limit, so I’m going for broke. What I’m trying to say is: my terrifying moment of clarity has led me to construct a final paper that will help me begin to construct forms of conversation with people who hold theologies that have hurt me or others. It won’t be an easy paper to research much less write. But if I’m to embrace the kind of inclusive love espoused within these newfound theologies, I need to discover my own language about how to communicate this love to others, even in my deepest fears.
On to Systematic Theology: The Next Generation (aka Part II). Make it so.