Last night, as I attempted to finish the book I was reading, I found my eyes wandering from the sentence I was finishing to the toddler on the TV screen. One of my wife’s guilty pleasures, and mine too, is watching trashy TV. In this case “trashy TV” manifested itself in the form of Toddlers in Tiaras. This episode was particularly intriguing to me because of one the parents insistence that her “conservative Christian faith” plays a pivotal role in pageantry.
I couldn’t help but scoff throughout each scene when this woman espoused her fanatical fundamentalist perspective. I about lost it when the woman uttered the following… “I had to pray real hard about the spray tan.” I could not stop laughing. This was the apex. She prayed about everything from the costumes to the routines her 6 year old daughter would do and it reached its zenith in the spray tan. I had to share my awe with people and so I tweeted/posted a status on facebook relaying the hilarity of the situation I was witnessing.
Immediately though I was confronted with the arrogance of what I had done because after my tweet I went back to reading that book. What book? Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margins of Error by Kathryn Schulz. **(To watch a short video about the ideas in the book click here) Ironic to say the least. Here I am reading a book about how embracing error helps to fundamentally change the way we interact with ourselves, the world, and others because it opens us up to new possibilities and I am delighting in the (perceived) error of another. I say (perceived) because who is really to say that she is wrong in that notion? From my perspective she’s an idiot, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees her that way but that doesn’t mean she really is an idiot.
This is one of the ways Kathryn Schulz describes how we treat people when we think they are wrong. We either think they are ignorant, idiots, or evil. If I take a minute to think about people I think are wrong I tend to put them into these three categories. This is especially true when I think people are wrong theologically. I am notorious for being a smart-ass and in college I was even more notorious for being a condescending smart-ass when I disagreed with you. I can think of several scenarios where I labeled someone ignorant, idiotic, or an evil piece of… work.
For good or for bad theology is the discipline I have found a home in. For the last 7 years I have studied it at both the undergraduate and graduate level. I have the ability to interact with the text in its original languages. But all of that training does not mean I am going to get everything right. Even those with more letters after their names who have even more training than I do, they too will not get everything right. Being someone who is perspectival I have, at least over the past few years, grown in my appreciation of other perspectives. Still though, not every perspective is one I embrace and I still find myself calling people idiots or ignorant because of their inability to see beyond their own perspective.
This is not their problem though, its mine. Theology as a discipline prides itself on being right, on having the truth or at least being able to explain it. It is no wonder then that people speak the way they do and it is also no wonder that I become so frustrated by their (perceived) wrongness. So then what can I do? I can either keep getting pissed or condescending because they don’t see things way I do or I change the way I interact, not only with people, but with the discipline itself.
Being wrong is something we run from because from an early age we know that being wrong is a bad thing. This is the notion that Kathryn Schulz challenges. Rather than seeing wrongness as something we should shy away from it should be something we embrace. Think of it this way, when we are kids everything is an adventure because we dont know everything. Wrongness puts us back into that same position. Being wrong opens us back up to the adventure that is life.
So what does this have to do with the theological task? First, I am not right about everything. Second, neither is anybody else. When it comes to theology this is most certainly true. Not Luther. Not Calvin. Not Walther. Not Zwinglii. Not Even Paul. Or John. Or Peter. And rather than shy away from this or try and justify some longheld belief we need to enter into theology as a kid enters the world. Not with knowledge but a sense of adventure. I know I am going to be wrong about a lot of things. But this is not something I should fear because being wrong doesn’t mean I’m evil, it means I’m human. So rather than approach theology as a place where truth reigns, I want to approach it as a place where adventures are had . As a place where I’m surprised by what happens. A place that doesn’t see wrongness as a thing to be avoided but sees it as integral to the discipline as it is to life.