A branch of the WFU School of Divinity keeping you informed
Nine years ago I didn’t believe women should be pastors. Eight years ago I didn’t believe anyone but Moses could have written the Pentateuch. Seven years ago I didn’t believe someone could be gay and a Christian. Six years ago I didn’t believe people who weren’t Christians could be “saved.” Five years ago I didn’t believe I needed to change my eating practices in light of factory farms.
It’s a cliché to compare life to a journey, but there’s some truth to be found in the simile. However, unlike most journeys, we don’t usually know where life is taking us.
Most people tend to think the opposite. In general, people think that in ten year’s time they will pretty much be the same person. Unfortunately, they are way off. Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard University, recently published the results of a study that indicates “many people underestimate how much they’ll change in the future.” This failure of prognostication reflects what Gilbert terms “‘the end of history illusion,’ because it suggests that people believe, consciously or not, that the present marks the point at which they’ve finally stopped changing.”
The problem is that we are always changing: our looks, our values, our friends, our tastes in music, and—God-forbid!—our theology.
This has enormous implications for a divinity school that calls itself ecumenical. Over my year at Wake Forest I have heard numerous conversations and complaints about the various conflicts that divide our school. We are segregated and grouped by gender, race, sexual orientation, marital status, politics, and theology. And for many of us it has been difficult to navigate the chaotic waters that separate us.
An understanding of the fluid self offers a way forward. In recognizing that we are all changing, that we are all works in progress, the divinity school community can learn to listen and share from our own experiences, never didactically demanding that someone conform to our particular viewpoint—no matter how just and clear our conclusions might appear to us. As a rule, people don’t respond to shouting and name-throwing.
In fact, I recall attending a conference in high school at which a group of earth-friendly Christians forcefully argued that all Christians should adopt vegetarianism. I laughed at them and then proceeded to indulge myself with a fat piece of red meat for dinner that night. Many years later I moved to South Dakota and became good friends with a woman who faithfully practiced veganism as an ethical response to food injustice—not the easiest thing to do in “beef country.” She was never didactic and took a good deal of ribbing for her commitment to veganism, but her incarnational witness to another way of eating remained with me until last summer when finally I adopted a vegetarian diet.
Graduate school requires that we open ourselves up to new ideas and perspectives—some of which we will initially find unfamiliar or even disagreeable. If we all make the commitment to both listen and share in humility, perhaps conversation and change will become possible. There’s no question that life will change us; the true question is whether or not we’ll open ourselves up to that change.