Distance Can Be Healthy

Sometimes creating some space and separation between yourself and others, or between yourself and something, is the best thing you can do.

For some, getting away from people that are a negative influence is the key, for me more recently, a key for my growth and health has been stepping away from theology proper. This includes reading books and blogs, participating in theological or doctrinal conversation, being a part of a church small group, or digesting sermons and other teachings on a regular basis. In many ways, theology is still a passion of mine, but we needed some time apart to redefine our relationship with one another. It's been challenging, and I am convinced it has been for the best.

I used to live in the realm of theology. My brain was always spinning and sponging. I searched the scriptures for "truth." I read what the latest and greatest theologians had to say. I deconstructed and reconstructed and repeated what my theologies were. Speculative metaphysics were an obsession. While my own truth-projections were in flux, so my identity in crisis. This only elevated the study of God for me. I felt inadequate for not being read-up on the big names, not being conversant with more perspectives, frustrated at how totally bound up in Christian theology I was while afraid to look to other traditions. I was a voice in the wilderness accusing others for their own small thinking while in a black-hole of my own self-preservation. I knew how to—in my own mind—dismantle the beliefs of others, while remaining unsure of what constituted my faith. My desire was to be in the process of unearthing the hot, molten core of belief (what some call faith), while most of my mental and emotional energy was actually devoted to criticism, analyzing declarations and affiliations and deciding who to listen to and how to listen (also known as religion). Only rarely was I able to voice how alone I felt. I was drawn to "liberal" literature, be it a blog, an academic textbook, or a book by an ancient mystic or contemporary theologian that was "taboo" in my more conservative circles. In reading these works, my heart was thrilled and fed by possibilities that seemed beyond my realm. Simultaneously, this stirred up the angst and cognitive dissonance, as I projected judgments onto people around me and onto myself for not looking more... different. I won't deny that there were ways I was treated poorly, times where I was misunderstood. I also know that my own mentality shaped my instability and energy around others. Recently I have joked that my occupation as a theology major is criticizing and labeling, while my vocation as a theology major is reconciliation. That distinction is a bit overstated, but it rings true in many ways. I certainly experienced my share of dealing with feelings of arrogance, doubt, pretentiousness, judgment and inadequacy. I also learned to love the people around me. While I was immersed in judgments and speculations about the afterlife, it was all a game of opinion. My study and experience and imagination compared to others. As I kept turning my attention to books or to blogs, those conversations of authors and theologians would expand to fill my mind and guide other conversations. So on and so forth. The cycle continued. How did I break the cycle? This is where the distance comes back into play. 

I started by catching my impulse to tune into other voices and choosing instead to be quiet. 
If all I want to do right now is read Rachel Held Evans or a Jurgen Moltmann book, that's great, if it is in fact out of genuine desire. More often for me, it was a discomfort with space and a retreat to a realm of speculation and input where I escaped the moment rather than facing what was on my heart. I didn't binge on TV, I binged on theology. Seeing my addiction and choosing to make space were the first step out.

I acknowledged my judgments and moved forward with distinctions. 
 People (individually and en masse) are shaped by the ideas they espouse, but people are not merely their ideas or belief systems. This is why theology is still fascinating to me and also where this distinction becomes crucial. My conservative friends aren't stupid because they are conservative, nor my liberal friends glorious by nature of identifying as more liberal. We're all a mixed bag of ideas and inconsistencies, and we're all beautiful, inspiring, capable and powerful human beings. I stopped judging people for thinking a certain way and started accepting them for who they were. This came naturally to my more divergent friends, and has been more challenging for my more conservative, evangelical friends. I had to distinguish people from their ideas, acknowledge my own judgments toward them, and choose to simply love people for who they are, where they are.

I began seeing my speech and interests as a blank canvas instead of an a-la-carte menu. 
When I was only a consumer and a parrot of information, the best I could do was synthesize with what was available. As an artist and contributor with no boundaries or required affiliations, I could express myself with whatever language I chose. I have always excelled at making connections, but I have been increasingly free to let my obsessions with certain kinds of talk subside as I let go of my imagined theological boxes.

I stopped trying to be holy, right[eous] and God-fearing, and started simply being a person.
Much of the foundation for my theological navel-gazing came from a desire to be "right," but much also came from a desire to be right with God. Was I really living a life of obedience and devotion? Did I have accurate ideas about God? I doubted my own ideas and I doubted the ideas of others. Rather than trusting the innate wisdom of my spirit and God within me, I felt like I needed to be validated by some external voice. In letting go of that impulse, that need, I already feel way more validated in my relationship with God and others and much more able to acknowledge my contributions and limitations with objectivity. I already belong to God, I'm already inextricably connected to others. I don't need to earn it, think the right thing or get someone else's nod of approval.

Suffice it to say...
Creating distance between myself and theology actually served to close the distance I felt both within myself and with others. I'd say it's been worth my while. 

Benjamin FaderComment