My recently redesigned Myspace page has made me plenty of new friends and has received many warm comments and messages from people who are enjoying a glimpse into my appreciation of the Christian mystical tradition. For this, I am most grateful.
Ironically, I’ve also received several messages from people who want to check out my theology and/or my beliefs. A few of these people have even gone so far as to say “before I add you to my friends list I want to make sure _____.” Fill in the blank with any of a number of theological concerns. These persons want to make sure I: adhere to the authority of scripture … have accepted Jesus as my savior … believe in the atonement wrought by Christ’s crucifixion … regard mysticism as subordinate to the necessity for repentance … reject “new age” perversions of Christian mysticism, etc. etc. It all boils down to the same question: am I orthodox enough to be their friend?
Questions like these, from strangers who are trying to size me up theologically, evoke two somewhat opposed responses within me. One part of me wants to hasten to assure the person that yes, I really do deserve to be their friend, I really am good enough. That’s the part of me that secretly doubts whether I am worthy of receiving love, and because I doubt it, I’m always trying to earn love — from God, from my wife, from my boss & co-workers, from strangers who aren’t entirely comfortable with the theology of my online writing. But another part of me wants to lash out at the person who questions me; wants to say, “How dare you test me to see if I am worthy to be your friend! Is this Christlike behavior? Is this really about my theological rectitude, or is it about your anxiety and judgmentalism?” But that’s the part of me that is, on my part, anxious, judgmental, and not very lovingly-Christlike. Projecting my own shadow stuff onto other folks (whether trying to please them because I don’t think I’m good enough, or judging them because I don’t want to be judged) solves nothing.
But why do I feel such feelings? I think it’s because I know, deep down inside, that once someone starts asking me to defend my theological position, we’re playing a no-win game. For the truth of the matter is, I value multiple theological perspectives and therefore my own theology — my own relationship to Christ, the church, and the Christian tradition — is a messy amalgam of such multiple viewpoints. And what this means, practically speaking, is that in the eyes of conservatives I am probably too liberal, even though in the eyes of liberals I am probably too conservative. It also means that in the eyes of Catholics I am likely not Catholic enough (i.e., too influenced by Orthodox doctrines like deification as well as Protestant ideas like the emerging church), even though in the eyes of Protestants I am too Catholic; evangelicals are likely to think I place too much emphasis on the sacraments and not enough on cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus, even though my focus on fostering a loving, heartfelt devotion to Christ might make many Episcopalians squirm. Meanwhile, all Christians who are critical of mysticism will certainly find me too mystical, even while the advocates of the more heterodox strands of contemporary “Christian mysticism” (such as the “Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ girlfriend” folks and the folks who believe that personal experience always trumps dogma) will be troubled by how much I insist that Christian mysticism must be grounded in scripture and tradition.
In other words: anyone who asks me about my theological perspective will likely, sooner or later, find a reason to reject my perspective. It may be a small reason, or it may be a big one, never matter: I’m sure it’s deep down inside me somewhere. And even though I know better when I’m at my highest functioning, that insecure part of me tends to believe that when someone rejects my perspective, they’re really rejecting me.
So I don’t think I’m going to engage with any more emails or messages that simply try to take a reading on my theological correctness. If someone has a direct problem with something I’ve said, so be it; I enjoy receiving honest and thoughtful criticism of my work. But for those who just want to find out how I would answer questions that I don’t even address in my writing (whether on MySpace or anywhere else), I think I’ll just refer them to this post. I can’t go through life trying to convince people that I’m orthodox enough to be their friend. All I can do is express my theological/spiritual convictions as honestly as I can, and then try to graciously reflect on and respond to whatever criticism I might face as a consequence. That, it seems to me, is what a lover of Christ (who also dares to publish his or her thoughts online) ought to do. If that’s not good enough for those who need to evaluate my perspective before deeming me worthy to be their friend — well, sorry. I learned a long time ago, you can’t please everyone.