Tony invited feminists to post on his blog, and since I consider myself one, I decided to write something. It’s not about feminism, however, because what I want to write about goes much deeper into each of our Christian identities than whether or not we identify as feminist or not, emergent or not, evangelical or not, or any other facet of identity that we hold close in our hearts.
In my brief time in seminary, one of the classes I took was “Method and Praxis in Theology”. I still have a stack of flashcards I made to help myself memorize and understand theological terms. I did well in the class, A through B+ on all of my assignments, and I earned an A- on my final paper on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The problem is, I don’t really remember most of what I read and learned in that class. My flash cards have terms such as “law of universal causality” and “theodicy” and “teleological argument”. I don’t remember what any of them mean. As I look at the definitions on the back, there are words in the definitions that I don’t understand anymore. And so, often, when I read theology blogs, they are challenging for me to understand. This blog is challenging for me to understand.
When Tony posted about being accused of racism, I didn’t even know what “regnant” or “nascent” meant in the statement that had come into question. I didn’t understand parts or all of the criticisms I read. I’m not a stupid person, but sometimes, I feel that way when I can’t follow the arguments or conversations. Sure, I have a BA in English Literature. But it’s been 12 years since I received it. Sure, I took some classes in seminary. But it’s been 8 years since I quit. Since then, the majority of my time has been spent taking care of my two children. I’ve worked part-time, here and there, but primarily I have been a stay-at-home-mom.
Unfortunately, though, I have realized that I sometimes have made others to possibly feel stupid as well. At the time when I was in seminary, I also participated in some discussion boards and I loved showing off what I was learning. I loved the feeling that I was winning the argument. Looking back, I was proud that I had more knowledge than the people with whom I was arguing. There are times when I got–or still get today–angry, disdainful, arrogant, and don’t listen to what someone is saying. My pride in my own intellectual ability sometimes wins out over how I treat people.
Over time, what I have seen in Internet arguments are accusations of not listening or not trying to listen or understand another’s point of view.
Often, when there is disagreement and contention, someone will level a divisiveness charge, that if we all love Jesus then why should we argue about anything? (See what I did there? I used my flashcards.). There are charges of not being loving, of not working for unity. But it’s hard to be unified when we disagree, isn’t it, and unity doesn’t necessarily mean automatic agreement.
I’m reminded of a sermon my friend Steve gave one day called “Be in Agreement in a Place Like This?”, about Paul’s call to Corinth to have the same mind among themselves. Steve’s point was that then, and now, it was pretty much going to be impossible to be unified, except in two ways. He said, “whatever any of us think about any particular doctrine or practice, we are all still sinners, and the only hope there is for any of us is to be found in Christ and his cross. We are all united first in sin. Our many divisions are a testament to the sin that unites us. The other source of our unity is Christ and his cross, his suffering and death for sinners.”
There are things that I learn from Tony. There are things that I learn from Tony’s critics. And everyone, regardless of what “side” s/he is on, doesn’t always act in a mature manner. Sometimes, we’re all rude and dismissive of others with whom we disagree, or of those we–knowingly or not–consider beneath us because they don’t know as much as we do. Sometimes, it seems, that we want others to listen, not for the sake of listening, but so that we can convince them to come around to our way of thinking. I know I feel that way. Isn’t that partly why we have blogs in the first place, so that people will listen to us and we can convince them to believe or think as we do? It’s really hard to actually listen to someone with whom we disagree, and sometimes, I think, we use the idea of “conversation” not to have conversation itself, but to be able to put forth our own point of view.
Is the Emergent Church perfect? No. And I don’t really know enough about its theology to critique it. But which branch of the church is perfect? None of the branches are–only the vine is perfect. And, yes, it does seem academically-oriented, theoretical, and somewhat removed from the general Christian population. Many people I know in “everyday life” are probably not going to be reading books by Tony Jones, Peter Rollins, Brian McLaren, or Jay Bakker (and, to be honest, I’ve only read books by McLaren. Sorry you other guys–one of these days I’ll get to it!).
Since I have entered the blogging world and have been introduced to so many new voices, I find myself constantly wondering how I can help bridge a gap between the academic theology, not only of the Emerging Church, but other branches of Christianity as well, with the folk theology of many people in the church (there’s those flash cards at work again).
In the last couple of years, my primary interest has changed from wanting to try to figure everything out and get all the right answers so that I could be sure of my faith and explain everything to other people to wanting to be led by the Holy Spirit in discipleship/spiritual formation. To me, this doesn’t mean forgetting I have a brain and not using it, but rather, I need to not idolize it. I need to use it in conjunction with my heart and soul.
And I think we all need each other.
I think that there are going to be Christians who are geared more towards being emotional, some who are geared more towards being intellectual, some that are geared more towards social justice, some that are geared more towards meditation, some that are geared more towards music.
And I think we all need each other.
None of us is complete in and of ourselves or the group with whom we most closely identify.
I know that I won’t fit into any one group. I’ll probably be too liberal for some and too conservative for others. I probably take the Bible too seriously for some and not seriously enough for others. I like praise music that some will think is bad music, and I like hymns that some will find too old-fashioned. I like “contemporary” worship and Catholic mass. But I’m coming to terms with being ok with that. This people-pleaser has to realize she can’t please everybody.
But most of all, I don’t want to find my identity in any one particular group or position on an issue. I want to know what it means to find my identity in Jesus Christ, and to be taught, filled, and guided by the Holy Spirit.
And some people might not like that. But isn’t that what we all should want? Isn’t that what, as Christians, we are called to do?
I forget, sometimes, when I think that I have “arrived” at the answers I need that other people do necessarily need those same answers. I forget that I really haven’t arrived and that I am still on a journey that I will be taking until the end of my life. I forget that even though I have some knowledge, there are people who know more than me. I forget that when I learn something new that speaks to my soul and I am frustrated that nobody else cares about what I have learned and what I know, I have to be patient.
And so, I think we all need each other, the body of Christ, to help us remember that we are united in our sin and in the cross, and that when we have disagreements, to remember to find ourselves there first, because the life that we have, entwined with one another, begins there, in death, and in hope.
Kelly J. Youngblood has worked in the legal field, in the church, and in non-profits. She’s currently a stay-at-home mom who is in the process of discovering God’s will on her life. She blogs at Renewing Your Mind.
This post is part of Christian Feminism Week at Theoblogy.