Hostile Territory

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By Erin Thomas | @erinthomas_123

“What theology challenged or inspired you during the year’s courses?”

The question came during my annual comprehensive oral exams for seminary. I defaulted to my usual answer, and explained how I was a post-evangelical.

The seminary panel returned with another question:

“We know what theology you’re against. But what theology are you for?”

Ouch.

That question hurt. They had just crossed the boundary into enflamed territory—one I devoutly protected. I was stumped for words. I wanted them to see the depth under my argumentativeness. I needed them to understand that certain theologies did so much damage to me that even using similar language was difficult. I wanted them to realize the suffering fundamentalism had caused in my life.

I needed them to understand my theology of deconstruction.

It’s taken years for me to articulate and justify why I needed to remove Christian descriptors from my music, my yoga, my meditation practice, and my literature. Previously I lived in fear that if I practiced anything not explicitly tagged as Christian, I’d somehow be unfaithful to God or ashamed of Jesus. Fear and privilege had driven my need to participate in Christian pop culture and I needed out.

In college, I lapped up artists labelled as godly alternatives to mainstream musicians without actually acknowledging the prophetic words and instrumentation in what I judged secular artists. The same went for meditation: as long as I inserted Christian-God-language into my practice, I could claim it as safe, as clean.

Living under so much fear and shame demanded a complete and wicked overhaul.

Being LGBTQ+ was only one small part of this massive life shift. And while the homophobia and transphobia in my prior evangelical traditions was and is still painful to deal with, it was only one of many soul-crushing teachings that kept me from actually living while alive.

Peeling away these old layers became a holy act. Recognizing damaging beliefs was a daily practice; I gorged on articles, books, and authors about deconstruction, the toxicity of evangelicalism, and the psycho-social damage of religion. These were necessary and valuable rites of passage on my life’s journey. The road of deconstruction is often riddled with pain. When damaging theology is preached using God as the ultimate authority, the pain manifests in more than simply ceasing church attendance.

Lashing out against my previous belief systems was a part of the healing process and I discovered an incredible amount of broken trust. Deconstruction became my theology.

In the moment where I was asked what theology I stand for, I realized that I’d entered a realm of identity based entirely on breaking away. To save myself and what was left of my relationship with God, I set up hard boundaries, determined my enemies, and kept vigilant watch. Without realizing it, I had begun to determine my entire self-concept based on my rebellion against fundamentalism. In protecting myself from future pain and suffering, I had closed myself off to anything else that might actually be life-giving. Deconstruction is a needed process, but it is not the end territory for a new way of being.

Opening up my world doesn’t mean denying all that caused this mess in the first place. It means that I can move the suffering in my world to a space where it won’t dominate the landscape. I can explore God where God is found without having to attach the moniker “Christian” to it—of course I can!

I can sift through theologies of hope, of inclusion, of radical hospitality, of wonder, of music, of expression, of sleep and rest, of work and life. I can allow myself to be inspired by the heretics of every age and society. I can wrestle with nuanced and painful areas where privilege and suffering intersect. I can walk through murky areas between spiritual maturity and spiritual appropriation. I can be faithful and intentional about the kind of theological language I use, discovering what brings me life, and what brings my community life. (They aren’t always the same thing.)

After so much work breaking down old thinking, broken trust, and broken ways of seeing God and the world around me, I can finally start to rebuild my theology. I can be free.

_________________

Erin ThomasErin Thomas is a Masters of Divinity student at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, and reluctant mystic. She’s also blogger, poet, and proud auntie to three adventuresome nephews.

Blog: Reluctant Mysticism

 

 

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Comments

  1. Erin, this is so wise. I feel like I could go through, line by line, agreeing. You’re absolutely right – there is such nuance as we wrestle through faith.

  2. From another friend on the reconstruction journey, thanks for putting words to this. I love what you say about sifting different theologies. There is definitely a shift from being defensive to seeking out the good and beautiful.

  3. Madeline Twooney says:

    Erin, such an enlightening article! Thank you so much for your honesty!

  4. Sandy Hay says:

    WOW Erin 💜. I had a sweet chat with my 15 year old granddaughter yesterday. She also identifies within the LGBTQ spectrum. She asked me aboutt the church I go to , the one she used to but can’t anymore. We talked about God She told me the one thing she is assured of us she hat God loves her… no matter what 💚

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