Looking back on where I’ve been

It’s weird sometimes reading back on where you’ve been and wonder why you were there. I guess that’s easy when you’re in a different place. Sometimes empathy is hard, even with yourself. I read what I have blogged and wonder why I was the way I was. But then I remember the feelings. I didn’t feel sure of myself or my place. I felt unsure of how I fit in with my family, church, sexuality, and work, all huge sources of identity. That liminal space where nothing is truly defined allows one to ask questions of everything because the givens that were formerly given are no longer given.

It gives me space for grace, though, to extend to others in similar circumstances. If I have gone through things in which I didn’t have the answers, how would I want to be treated during such a time? If I wasn’t sure and someone else was overconfidently, I didn’t want to hear them; I doubted the very foundations of their surety. But I enjoy leaving my blogs up as is. I can say I was different then and still accept myself.

People change. It can be scary, because I want people to treat my current incarnation the same way as they had treated me insofar as they knew me before. Change is a risk. Sometimes others welcome the change. Sometimes, I find, one loses trust, even friendships. Sometimes others can’t handle the change, or at least their change in perception of you (you may have been constant all along, just not presenting yourself authentically). I could find it sad that it’s taken me 32 years to learn that, but I’m thankful that I know it now. I can use it in how I approach relationships. I can use it in helping my children learn the ropes of the world.

If you feel you need to change (or you already have, but you want your public presentation to match what you are in private), take stock of yourself. Make definitive plans, because change has effects that lie outside your control. It can affect your job, your romantic relationships, your family relationships, your friendships, your access to social resources. However, the other side, as difficult as it might seem when you’ve taken stock, is liberating. People know you for what you have presented, and then can know you in a new way that may differ from what they thought they knew of you. Identities are funny things. Sometimes I want others to remain stable so that I can explore new horizons, but that’s not fair to them. Life is sometimes an unstable mess and that’s what makes it an adventure.

What I Learned This Year

Here are some things I’ve learned this year in school:

  • I am capable of a lot of work when I put my mind to it, but I also recognize my finitude. I have sometimes taken on too much to the detriment of my family. This will require that I plan my time better in adopting a consistent sleep schedule and study plan. My family deserves better than I gave them this year.
  • I had an inkling of this, but it got fleshed more out in my research of Gordon Kaufman’s theological method: all theology is constructed, from beginning to end. It does not exist “out there” to be discovered and exegeted but emerges out of a thinker’s use of sources. This means that one is responsible for what one says; one cannot just blame something on God.
  • Because of what I discovered with Kaufman, I am giving Christianity not another try, but a different try. I will be actively engaged in the process, not just uncritically accepting certain things. In a sense, Christianity exists “outside” the person because it is a social phenomenon. However, Christianity does not exist above and beyond the individual, because it is always embodied and expressed by individual persons. It shows up socially, too, social or political movements. I’m still working out what this even means.
  • I’ve come to realize more and more that I cannot universalize my personal experience and call myself a responsible person. I don’t call what I do “common sense,” “the way things are,” etc. I own what I do, say, and believe to the point that I recognize I have to demonstrate to others how I’ve come to some of my conclusions. I can’t take for granted that people share certain elements of experience with me to come to the same conclusions. And so this gives me room to hear other people’s stories and how they’ve constructed meaning on their journeys and not dismiss them out of hand; those are their experiences, as important to them as mine are to me. True dialogue can occur after each person recognizes this in the other, once we accept that we are not the same, and then attempt to find shared spaces or possibly create them.
  • There’s a world full of religions (one could just as easily say cultures since “religion” and “culture” intersect so seamlessly sometimes) that have worked for peoples to organize their societies. It’s interesting to learn how diverse understandings of religion arbitrate the relationship between church and state, individual and group, secular and sacred, what actually constitutes “religion,” male and female, or beyond binaries in more recent thought.
  • The word “religion” means something obvious to everyone else besides religious studies scholars. Ninian Smart outlined seven elements that most religions of the world have at least some of: doctrine, ethics, narratives/myths, ritual, experience, material culture, and institutions (here is a picture showing the interrelations of six of those dimensions, minus material culture). Some religions will denigrate others for not emphasizing what they emphasize. Some emphasize ritual and minimize ethics and doctrine, while others do the complete opposite. Both wonder at each other as a foreign, exotic “Other,” which is nonetheless wrong. Religion can also be defined in other ways: functionally, essentially, descriptively, and normatively.
  • There are lots of smart people in the world. I no longer feel the impulse to be the smartest in the class or see myself in competition with others to do better. I’ve adopted a more cooperative attitude that feels better. When I treat my classmates as fellow scholars or collaborators rather than as competition, we all benefit. I don’t glean nearly as much as when I share with others and they with me in a dynamic relationship. I just do my best and hope for the best.
  • Facebook and other internet activities waste a lot of my time. So does Netflix. Not to say these aren’t wonderful things in limited quantities, but they kind of contribute to me being a more passive than active person, making my brain feel kind of mushy after indulging for too long.
  • After reading an article by Richard Godbeer (his writing is as cool as his last name sounds), I encountered the idea that discourses of sex are always present in every sex act. One never “just has sex”; one is playing a script, like it fulfills a biological need or emotional desire, acts as a means to bond with a lover, a duty to fulfill, a peak experience with another involved, etc. He was drawing his ideas from Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality in three volumes, some of which I’d like to read this summer. The class I was in, Sexuality and American Religion, has actually given me some ideas of possible minors I’d like to pursue alongside the major of religious studies, like gender or sexuality studies and their presence in religions.

That is all I can think of for now. If I think of other things, I’ll edit this post and add them. Ask questions or comment if you want.