In-groups tend to develop their own language. American Evangelicalism certainly has its share of insider lingo. The organization we worked for, Wycliffe Bible Translators, was non-denominational (not based in any particular branch of Protestantism), but because it was founded by Americans and because the majority of its members are American, American Christian culture is often the default setting even in international contexts.
Our branch of the organization located in Uganda and Tanzania would meet once a year on the Kenyan coast for a week of business meetings, religious services, and recreation. A central component of the weekly schedule was a sharing time in which each person or couple would briefly speak about their highlights and low points over the last year. We were given a set of questions to guide our talk, the last of which was: “What has God been teaching you?” This question vexed me quite a lot for two reasons. First, for some time I had already been feeling like an outsider in Christian circles, and this question assumed that everyone in the group was an insider. Second, the question assumed that it was obviously self-evident to the group who/what ‘God’ is and that this ‘God’ would be ‘teaching’ us in a way analogous to how a person would be teaching.
In the following entry, dated July 16, 2008, I attempted to answer the question:
What has God been teaching me?
He has been teaching me to hang on in faith while most of the comfortable, familiar elements of my childhood faith have been effaced. In the last couple of years, I went through grad school studying subjects like cognitive science, linguistics, anthropology, and philosophy and acquired powerful tools to analyze other people’s worldviews, beliefs, and presuppositions. Many students, especially Christian, stop short of turning those same tools on their own belief systems. I did not. As a result, a lot of the Christian language and concepts our Christian religious lives are built on, I’ve seen come crumbling down.
In some sense, you might say I’ve lost my faith, but I haven’t lost FAITH. I’ve lost a lot of my religion, but, in the words of C.S. Lewis, I believe in a ‘deeper magic’ still.
A personal motto of mine has been that if truth is truth, then I need not fear that what I find in my pursuit of truth will endanger truth.
So, God – whoever or whatever that may be – is teaching me about the silent abyss beyond language. There he is silent, and I am silent because there are no words in the world beyond language. Because the house of my religious linguistic self has been demolished, I have the opportunity to witness the infinite divine intention embody itself in other discourses: ecological, pluralistic, animistic, scientific, interdisciplinary. While I am still numbed by the dissolution of my religious self, standing at the threshold of Infinity feels both terrifying and exhilarating. I have a fuzzy idea of how I got here but no idea where the path will lead.
If you can call that ‘learning’, then that’s what God is ‘teaching’ me.