From the Agnostic Minor Leagues to a New Construction
In conversation with an older congregation member last Sunday I arrived upon an unexpected moment of introspection. I was asked how much my Divinity education had rendered my previous beliefs asunder. What the older gentleman was implying was that the process of learning new things and deconstructing / reconstructing one’s religious beliefs is a good one. Certainly, I agree with him. And he told me many of the things he learned in theological education and PhD work (that atonement theology is horrible, there is no reading of scripture distant from interpretation, etc.). But when he asked me what I specifically had once believed and did not any longer, my response was not what he likely expected.
Many students come to the School of Divinity with concrete convictions: ideas about who God is, who Jesus was, how to treat scripture, what Christians ethics should be and so on and so forth. Then, as students make their way through their years in the School, most are significantly changed in some way. For a large number of students, life and God no longer look the same; when they leave, beliefs have been enriched and enlightened. This process can entail the shedding of many old beliefs for new ones. This phenomenon is one of the most rewarding parts of our program and it can be one of the most difficult. But my own experience has been a bit different.
I did not come to the School of Divinity with concrete convictions. My time in undergrad was essentially a four year stint in the Agnostic Minor Leagues. Fortunately, I only made it to double-A and never really went pro. That was a surreal time in of itself. So, when I came to the School, I literally believed only one thing about God, and only six days a week, at that: God exists. I was so distanced from tradition and conviction that I felt, often, as though I was operating in a different universe than many of my classmates.
Slowly, through all the aspects of the program (classes, internships, jobs) and in building relationships with members of this community, I began to change. For me, the process has been one of construction; I came with very little to lose in the first place. I have had a great deal to learn, and a great deal of catching up to do. But, I believe I have been transformed in very similar ways to those experienced by many of my classmates. I have learned, through experience, sustained by the grace of this community, to re-situate myself amidst Christian faith, tradition and commitment. What that means may be unique to me in part, but it is also shared with those who have helped me so far.
As it turns out, the School of Divinity is a place where all are invited to be who they are, walking alongside others through an embracing process of growth. I am grateful to have begun a process of construction grounded here and look forward to all the future may contain. And when I told the older gentleman all this he was a little surprised, but voiced a deep appreciation that this place exists for students such as me.