Learning to Unlearn
Saints, front-loading washers, belonging, and Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
As I begin to gather the books I want to read next year, the stack is growing high with books like The Quickening, a book on climate change and scientists, and Leaving Church, a book by priest Barbara Brown Taylor, Where the Light Fell, a memoir by Philip Yancey and The Life Council by Laura Tremaine. There’s also the classics Women Who Run With the Wolves and The Sand County Almanac. Last week I began Elise Loehnen’s On Our Best Behavior and I have Elisabeth Eliot’s biography on a side table in the living room waiting to be read.
There was a time in my life when at least half of these books would have been categorized as problematic for me. I may not have said it aloud, but there would be an internal and unacknowledged bias in me that blared Warning Warning Warning as I opened the cover. I would have found them problematic because they weren’t written by someone from my camp or because they were by someone who didn’t profess Jesus or by someone who held to a different point of view on theology than I did.
But mostly, you know why I would have found them problematic from their onset? Because someone somewhere told me that XYZ was true and all good Christians also believe XYZ was true.
So much of the past six years of my life has been unraveling all the things I took for granted to be true, unquestioningly true about God, the Bible, Jesus, the Church, politics, culture, the world, and then following the unraveled threads to see what I actually believe is true or untrue. I would not characterize this work as deconstruction, though some might. I really appreciate Brian Zahnd’s description of renovation periods of our faith. As in, sometimes we need to repaint a wall, sometimes we need to replace all our appliances, sometimes we need to put in a whole new kitchen, and sometimes, well, sometimes the whole house needs to be gutted.
If I were using that description for the work I’ve been doing in my own spiritual formation, I would say I’ve been replacing some appliances. I’m doing some research, I’m reading the reviews, I’m considering my budget, I’m trying to think long-term, and, let’s be honest, I care about aesthetics and I don’t think that’s wrong.
I admit without shame that so many of the perspectives I took for granted to be absolute and true (on things like gender roles, voting, sexuality, divorce and remarriage, baptism, war, communion, and so much more), I landed there because the community of people around me—my social security, my sense of belonging, my ontological soundness—required sameness or at the very least no loud dissension. We signed papers saying we wouldn’t question various things as covenant members of a church, we carried voter registration cards identifying us as part of a party, we all read the same version of the Bible, we listened to the same teachers, and so much more.
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