Friday, November 9, 2007


Derek (oh so kindly) asks:

I majored in photojournalism. And though I don't work in that area now, I can always seem to find metaphors that track back to that. Web design is like photojournalism because it's all about eye tracking and telling stories visually, etc.

So my question is, what life lessons have you taken from studying theology?

This is one I'd love to hear all my readers address on their blogs.

I decided that I needed to study Christianity because my first academic classes in the subject, taken my sophomore year of college, revealed an entirely different world from the faith that I thought I knew. The study of Christian history, doctrine, and theology became as urgent to me as breathing, because I could not hope to understand myself, my times, my family, my community, and most of all, my past, without the help of scholarship and academia.

As much as the specifics of the field, then, it's that sense of a hidden world waiting to be illuminated that has infected my entire outlook on life. I believe that reality is complex but knowable, that the truth lies in history and must be checked against human experience, that the traditions that give shape and direction to our lives are rich tapestries of long-forgotten meanings -- problems, solutions, and human responses that represent deep aquifers of virgin, untapped resources to help us know ourselves and our times.

The realization that most of what we believe comes to us and is transmitted by us in ancient codes whose frameworks of plausibility have long since crumbled leads me to search for new ways to express the insights of those ancients -- the experiences of community and transcendence that they called the gods. Yet those traditions, foreign and incomprehensible as they may be, inhere in our own times and lives in powerful ways, never to be fully left behind or updated.

The lesson I take from theology is that meaning never stands still. If it is grasped once, it slips away in the next moment, as a new situation demands new thought. Theology is the constant reinterpretation and reconfiguration of that tapestry of experiences of meaning. It does not change because it has failed in the past, or because it is striving toward completion, but because every new experience demands its reconsideration and revision. We build and we never stop building; as rooms become uninhabitable we move on to new ones. Occasionally we return to the ruins to sift through the remains and understand those that lived there, maybe taking something back to our time.

The lesson I take from theology is that originalism is an empty pursuit, an illusion. There is nothing in the beginning; everything starts in progress. To try to discover what it all was at the first moment is to chase a phantom.

The lesson I take from theology is that we search together, and we find veracity in our meanings alone. Only if we fail to attempt communication, or forget that our seeming uniformity hides inexhaustible diversity, can we be untrue to the human quest.

The lesson I take from theology is that we will never be done searching. There will always be new insights and the mandate to discard what is no longer meaningful. I enter the conversation already in progress, listen long enough to get some of the gist, participate, then leave with the discussion still ongoing. The most important contribution I can make is to say what I have to say honestly and clearly, demonstrating as best I can that I am not deluded about my part, but am determined nonetheless not to lose this opportunity.

The lesson I take from theology is that the future is open, that hope is the greatest of all virtues, and that God is bigger than my religion, our shared past, and our finite human future. The lesson I take from theology is that every moment of beauty, creativity, and heart-piercing truth expresses the nature of reality better than all the entropy, cruelty, and paralyzing indifference the universe will ever muster. The lesson I take from theology is that all will not be lost.

Thanks for the question, Derek. Who has another one?

1 comment:

doafy said...

Alright Donna, I took you up on this one and addressed it (sort of) in my blog, with a link back to you.