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I Am Not My Theology


Just after our small family Thanksgiving dinner, the lighthearted conversation randomly shifted to debating the inerrancy of the Bible. That quickly led to topics like the nature of God, heaven and hell, whether or not all sins are equally wrong, theories of atonement, who is “saved” and how someone becomes “saved” and, “wait a second, rescued from who?” It was the theology conversational equivalent of a pinball machine with all its gizmos and lights, and the machine is eating your coins and you can’t ever really “win.” I felt a bit hollowed out afterwards as I questioned myself, my family members, and the religious systems we were each trying to defend. I hadn’t been involved in a theological debate like this in years — which I know is surprising for those of you who know I’m an Enneagram Eight — and it felt oddly foreign. To be sure, we disagreed well. Each of us was struggling to put words to our convictions, as if words could adequately articulate the deepest of felt truths. I don’t think there were hard feelings, but still the conversation pained me (and I’m sure them) in some ways. The majority of the debate jousting was between me and a family member I only see once a year or so. We share a lot, but so much about the two of us is different: our upbringings, what we appreciate about faith, the ways we read Scripture, how we order the world, and how we interpret our spiritual experiences. It made me wonder what Jesus meant when he told his disciples not to stop others from performing acts of service in his name. “Do not stop him… For the one who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). Do I have eyes to see those who disagree with me as companions on this faith journey? I am acutely aware of how most of us are still figuring this theology thing out. When I consider how the disciples were confused and misguided while standing next to Jesus himself, I’m not surprised when we struggle with massive questions of faith and life. I don’t think religion was ever meant to fully answer these questions, but I do think faith provides us all a way to connect despite them. Jesus did not seem to differentiate those with “right” opinions when he told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” I’ll admit that when my faith was younger, I was obsessed with “order.” I was always ordering religious ideas in their safe and well-organized places. My perceived identity was wrapped in my correctness or the correctness of the tribe I aligned with. These associations used to feel so definitive of who I was. My righteousness felt tied to absorbing their “rightness.” While I certainly have theological opinions, the grey areas in my faith seemed to grow as I am stretched in new ways in new environments. I no longer feel like the answers to those “big” politicized theological questions pertain to my identity (who God says I am). I’m less interested in debating who is “in” or “out” or what Jesus would prioritize in today’s world and more interested in who you and I are. I forgot this on Thanksgiving night. I got momentarily caught up in an old pattern, and it felt safer to defend my tribe’s rightness than again embrace the grey. I forgot that I am not my theology. I am Conor. Sure, I like discussing theology, but my religious convictions are not what define me (or my family or my friends). That has been a difficult but freeing realization. Fortunately, Christmas is coming, which means another meal with my family and a chance to approach our time together differently. I hope to nurture more discussion of who we are and our shared identity as salt of the earth. - Conor McWade

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