Forgiving the past

Lots of change is in the air here at Accidental Tomatoes headquarters these days (read or jump to the end to learn all about it), and our regular rotation for the blog had to be adapted this week to accommodate some extenuating circumstances.

In the life of a content-rich site like ours that kind of thing can and does happen from time to time, and the last thing any of us want to do is get worked up about it and spit out an article just for the sake of spitting out an article (whether I’m doing that now or not will certainly be up for debate!).

One of the things I often do when the schedule gets disrupted or we just hit a creative wall is to go back in the archives of some previous incarnations of my blogging life and re-post a piece that was particularly popular or for some reason holds some timely and/or timeless importance.

So yesterday I dug through some old posts from when I first started blogging way back in 2008 to see if I could find something I hadn’t already re-used that seemed relevant to our current conversations.

Only I ran into a problem.

I realized as I read a couple dozen old posts on topics ranging from theology to ecclesiology to social justice that I no longer agree with almost anything I wrote more than about two years ago.

Emergent, divergent, or enmeshment?

When I started blogging almost a decade and a half ago, I was pretty early in my return journey into church and faith. At age 45, I had spent the better part of my 20s and 30s mostly avoiding those things and had only recently begun to wander back in and discover my place.

At first I started writing mostly as a means of public journaling about the things I was learning about faith that I felt had been missing from what I had been taught as a child and what I had picked up from the edges of Christian culture as a young-ish adult. In hindsight it was almost certainly the public beginning of my deconstruction journey.

Although I didn’t have the language for it then that I have now, I viewed myself as fairly progressive theologically. I think at the time I would have called my views more “emergent” than progressive, because that was the popular term in those days.

What surprised me when I dug back into the archives, though, was how much influence evangelicalism had on my thinking, especially since I had grown up in the mainline tradition of Methodism.

I suspect a big part of that was that I was reading and listening to everything I could get my hands on as I explored the renewal of my faith, and Christian publishing and broadcasting was (and largely still is) dominated by evangelical voices.

I was very anti-legalism and anti-fundamentalism, which I thought put me more on the cutting edge of divergence from that world than I really was.

But in hindsight, I can see how a lot of my thinking was still rooted in very evangelical concepts: a “personal relationship with Jesus,” a very individualistic view of God, the habitual use of male pronouns to describe the Divine, a penchant for extolling the virtues of Christianity, and, sadly, a fairly (albeit subtle) antisemitic view of the Old Testament informed by what I now know to be embedded Christian supremacy narratives.

A whiter shade of pale

Since a big part of what I’ve been doing since launching Accidental Tomatoes in 2019 has been to document my deconstruction journey, it shouldn’t shock me that my thinking has evolved on a lot of those issues.

But the realization that I simply no longer believe a lot of what I used to believe was a bit more jarring than I expected.

And it made me think of all the other things I once held as deep truths that now seem almost antithetical to who I am today.

Of course, that’s how growth works. As we learn new things, we evaluate our old beliefs to decide what needs to stay and what needs to go. It’s the natural path of development.

What really got me, though, was how what I thought was edgy, forward-thinking Christianity was really just a slightly different flavor of the evangelicalism I thought I was critiquing.

The path to enlightenment runs through forgiveness

The point of all of this goes to a conversation I’ve been having on and off with some close friends and colleagues over the past couple of years.

When we recognize things from our past that were once deeply embedded in our identity but have been discarded—either gradually over time or abruptly due to events or circumstances—our instinctual response is often to reject those “old” ideas and berate ourselves for holding them.

But for whatever discomfort or pain or even trauma those old beliefs represent, they are still part of our journey. We couldn’t be who we are without them.

One of the challenges of deconstruction, especially the deeper one experiences it, is to learn to forgive our former selves.

Which, by extension, should lead us to be kinder and more forgiving to other folks who are not in the same place we are, wherever that might be at any particular time.

Bending the arc

I still believe that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, to paraphrase Dr. King.

I also believe that awakening and enlightenment is a process, not an event, to quote one of my dad’s frequent refrains from my childhood.

It may be aggravating to realize how uninformed some of our previous beliefs may have been.

It may be frustrating to see so many other people who still cling to beliefs from which we have long since evolved.

But while it takes wisdom and patience to live in this world as part of the human race, it also takes persistence and urgency to pursue the values of justice and liberation that I believe are the ultimate goal of the human experience.

The key for each of us is to figure out how to live in that tension most effectively, to learn from our own experiences as well as those from other (especially marginalized) perspectives, and to play whatever part we can in bending the arc forward.

The times they are a-changing

As I mentioned back at the beginning of this piece (thanks for sticking around!), we’re in the midst of a few changes here on the Accidental Tomatoes website that I’d like to share:

• First, we’re sad to say goodbye to Brandon Wood, who has served as the co-host and engineer for our podcast since early 2021. Brandon is pursuing some exciting new opportunities in his musical career, and we can’t wait to see what comes of his new creative ventures!

• Second, Accidental Tomatoes was recently selected by the nonprofit organization West Virginia Can’t Wait to be part of their 2022 Citizen Media Program. We’ll be in a cohort with a dozen other independent media outlets helping to catalyze important conversations about issues that are important to folks in our home state as well as across the Appalachian region and around the country. Stay tuned for more about that in upcoming posts and podcast episodes.

• Third, if you haven’t seen it yet, we recently introduced a new channel here on the site for curated content where our team is sharing the various articles, essays, videos, podcasts, etc. that are influencing the way we think and the work we do. Check it out!

• Finally, if you’re looking for a community of people where you can feel safe and supported in exploring your own deconstruction or just voicing your doubts or questions about faith and spirituality, feel free to check out the regular Sunday night Zoom gatherings of New Wineskins, a nontraditional, post-denominational online faith community for folks who identify as spiritual exiles. You can participate as much or as little as you like, you can lurk with your camera turned off, or you can dive right into the deep end if you feel comfortable doing that. Click here to learn about our community, follow this link for the latest news about our weekly gatherings, or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates (including links to the latest content from our Accidental Tomatoes team!).

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