Wednesday, May 1, 2013
On the Monday night, during one of the first conversations that I had with other participants at this retreat, I was asked, ‘What’s your background?’ and I said, ‘Religious Studies’. But that wasn’t what the person asking the question meant. She wanted to know more about me and my life, specifically about my religious background, so that she could put some of the ideas about the nature of faith that we’d been talking about over a pint of Guinness into some kind of wider context.
For better or worse, as an academic, I rarely get asked how the ideas I have and the theories I talk about relate to my life, so this personal question made me quite uncomfortable. I hadn’t been expecting to be asked that and I neither wanted to answer nor really knew how to (although many of us ended up sharing our personal stories last week because Pete and Adam created such a safe space for us to do so).
But already on the first day I was faced not only with a question that signalled the difference between the academic conferences that I was used to and this event as a personal retreat but with a question that also hinted at a problem I experienced and thought about a number of times over the week.
Billed as ‘academic Katharine Sarah Moody’, I’d been invited by Pete to bring ‘depth and direction’ to the event through my ‘expert knowledge’ of his work and of its significance within radical theology and contemporary Christianity. So I hadn’t been expecting to have to share much about my own life with the other participants – whereas they had all chosen to be at this retreat about breaking their addiction to certainty and satisfaction, knowing that they might have to place themselves in the vulnerable position of confronting their own brokenness, doubt and disbelief. But I was starting to realise that I might have to put myself in the same position that the other participants had chosen to put themselves in.
I might not just have to answer participants’ questions about Pete’s work, but I might also have to let Pete’s work put me in question.
Photo credit (I think): Adam Turkington, Seedhead Arts
I’ve heard Pete talk a couple of times about how, if we turned off the music and turned up the lights in a nightclub, everyone in there – who until that point had ostensibly been enjoying themselves – would be in tears within minutes, confronting their own and each other’s brokenness. I think the same thing would happen if you ‘turned the lights up’ at an academic conference. Just as clubbers can be enthusiastically engaged in the various rituals that are expected of them as a way of disavowing their brokenness, so too can academics – who engage in a variety of ritual mechanisms that can enable us to avoid confronting ourselves in our own broken humanity.
One of the ways in which I think that, as an academic (as what Kierkegaard called a Critic – see yesterday’s post), I can disavow my experiences of doubt, disbelief, addiction and brokenness is through reading for information rather than for transformation.