‘Theology’ is a word that, for most of my life, has been better described as adopted or borrowed rather than owned.
I grew up in a Christian family, went to church regularly, and attended a Christian school for 13 years. All my friends were ‘saved.’ I was saved like 17 times myself, so I knew a lot about being born again. Again.
I thought a lot about God because he felt heavy on my shoulders. Looking back, I think I asked him into my heart so many times because nothing ever seemed to change within that space; and I couldn’t figure out why Jesus sucked at saving me. I believed he shooed me into the “Book of Life” (whatever that is) because he stuck his foot in his mouth and decided to get overly cute—welcoming everyone to Life—forgetting that I would show up in the 80’s and need to get in on that, too.
Something shifted like an earthquake along the way. So much of what I believed fell to the ground, shattering in a thousand fragments. I think things still fall down, even now; but I am not so afraid of the broken places. As I walk through all the crashed down beliefs and answers to the questions I never really wanted answers to, I have found that this God I feared for so long is actually a Reclaimer of all the broken things. Part of me likes ‘hippie-Jesus’ imagery, because He really does upcycle all things into beauty again.
Broken theology seems like a bad thing to admit; like, maybe I should have my crap a little more together after being born again 17 times. I think if I were a disciple, I’d have been Thomas, the doubter. Because I hardly get through a day without doubting so deeply, I can feel myself demanding Jesus’ palms face up, running my unworthy fingers over my redemption over and over. Just to be sure it all exists; that I exist. These are the broken places I inhabit more than not, where I am echoing my favorite tattooed, female pastor:
There are times when I hear my name, turn, and recognize Jesus. There are times when faith feels like a friendship with God. But there are many other times when it feels more adversarial or even vacant. Yet none of that matters in the end. How we feel about Jesus or how close we feel to God is meaningless next to how God acts upon us. How God indeed enters into our messy lives and loves us through them, whether we want God’s help or not. And how, even after we’ve experienced some sort of resurrection, it’s never perfect or impressive like an Easter bonnet, because, like Jesus, resurrected bodies are always in rough shape.
Rough shape seems to be the only place I’ve authentically encountered grace. Little by little, in the shifting theology, the reading into early morning hours, the questions, the fear of slippery slopes until I finally just closed my eyes and allowed the slide into muddy places, the encounters with dark and holy things, the Sundays I don’t know if I believe the words I sing, and the Sundays I cannot imagine anything else as true but those very same lyrics… in it all I find the edges and textures to my faith. It is rough, honestly. God feels like sandpaper some days, rubbing everything hard-to-understand against my finite space-time existence. But these are the troubling spots, the uncertainties, and the doubts where I’ve been given an invitation sealed with grace to adventure into mystery. To know what it means to love a God who no longer feels heavy on my shoulders, but who sets me free. To find space to listen and love others, having learned that theology might be more about grace and less about black and white answers. To believe in the process and struggle; because I think there is something God loves about the mingling of dust and holiness~ like maybe something about being his image bearer means that I should not ever want to shake my humanity away while I become the very thing he made me to be.
One of the ‘favorite people I’ve met in my life’ persons is Sarah Bessey. I went to Haiti with her two Springs back, and I remember how she genuinely seemed interested in my story. She looked at me like I mattered and something about her resembled Jesus. She says smart things all the time, and she writes books that everyone should read. Recently, she posted a quote that made me want to fly all the way to Canada and hug her (and God knows I hate flying…):
“Theology belongs just as much to the rest of us—
the mother folding laundry,
the father coaching basketball,
the university student studying to be a nurse,
the construction worker,
as it does to the great scholars.”
Theology belongs to the individual. It is our opportunity to know the God who we proclaim, and to not know him, too. To see him more clearly while never finding his lines or edges, allowing him to exist outside our back pockets and tiny God-shaped boxes. I believe in this truth like I believe I need my next breath. I want even my children to search and struggle, feel allowed to ask everything hard and scary. And I don’t want to answer it all. I want them to hear tattooed Lutheran lady-pastors preach about crappy doctrine and a redeemed church, to believe every truth in Genesis while never feeling tethered to a historical or scientific interpretation of it, to see the bible through the lens of mission—and know that the Author of stardust and universe pursues them their whole lifelong existence, to wrestle with the gracious inclusion of all misfits and sinners- because we are each those exact things. I do not want to define God for them; I just want to invite them to his table. Theology belongs to the children, too. To all the innocent hearts, all the magic and imagination, all the creativity we lose along the way in our growing up. I want mine at his dinner table, even a little rowdy with laughter, questions, and story. Because if they learn to be comfortable in the process, they will know freedom and joy. And grace.
They will know his presence and find he is never heavy on the shoulders.
Theology is my favorite place to be.
It feels like home; and like journey.
Like a table full of delicious things and hunger, too.And I’m thankful to be exploring beside my two littles, Phil, and all my friends who believe in the same invitation to love and know the One who completes their souls.