THE EFFECT OF SOCIAL LOCATION AND EXPERIENCE
As a theological chef, my social location and distrust of power and authority are, undeniably, ingredients in my theological constructions. Additional ingredients also come into play, however.
My position in the middle class is informed by a childhood lived in extreme poverty and part of my adulthood lived in considerable wealth. My classification as educated relates not just to pursuing a degree, but is also conditioned on being raised as a “learning machine” taught primarily by an abusive self-educated father, being defensive of the lack of an undergraduate education, and also being self-educated in the disparate fields of mathematics, philosophy, business law, finance, economics, and physics.
My image of self is grounded not just on whom I am now, but incorporates my experiences at various times with chronic depression, self-medication, substance abuse, attempted suicide, rejection of dominant culture, and the lack of a sense of home. While I am a “new person in Christ”, I am also an amalgamation of all my experiences in this world that have caused me to reject most of my tradition, and that color my theological views and concepts of what is authoritative in regard to theology.
As a cook, I bring a lot of seasoning and individual taste to the dish, as do we all. Not surprisingly, then, I have the most suspicion of tradition as a theological source. I hold scripture very highly, albeit as interpreted through my own lenses using original languages as much as possible, and place a lot of emphasis on reason, revelation and experience. Tradition I mistrust as it generally develops in order to promote or defend particular stands on particular issues – tradition is conditioned on the experiences, power structures and worldviews of prior generations. Tradition is a primary tool of dominant culture and, as a result, my immediate response to tradition is, “Who developed it and why?”
As theologians, and if we think about God at all we are indeed theologians, it is incumbent on us to identitfy how social location and experiences affect our particular theology. A common response is to claim that they have no effect, since we hold only the standard, right beliefs that everyone should. That statement alone shows a life lived in conformity to tradition, and seeking full benefit of dominant culture. Theology, as the expression of our faith, requires wrestling out in fear and trembling. To do otherwise is not to worship God, but a static tradition – and that is idolatry.