I am presently considering taking a hiatus from blogging for an indefinite period of time (3 months? 1 year?), at least when it comes to Biblical studies and theological topics. I picked back up blogging as I transitioned into an academic environment, with one purpose to be to help me to work through various ideas and work through my language skills. However, as I am preparing to return back to the pulpit, I am wanting to give my focus to that. While I anticipate that I will return to blogging about theology and exegesis in the future, I want to take time to focus on the intersection of my learning these past three years into ministry. While I may decide to blog about the task of ministry (I am on the fence about that at the moment) and the life led by the Spirit, I feel it is good to give my mind a rest from the three years of relentless intellectual work. I will continue to do some work in exegesis and theology, but I will not be as focused on those tasks as I was the past three years.
With that said, there is one final idea I wanted to write about before I come to the hiatus: about the self. These past three years have been a Spirit-led journey where I have had to come to grips with my pain, my struggles, my fears, and my traumas in light of the God who had grasped me so many years ago in a way I never could fully wrapped my head around. While I still haven’t ‘mastered’ understanding God, and none of us ever will, I feel that I have come to a theological “framework” around the Trinity that has integrated the strengths of my Wesleyan theological background with the theology of Karl Barth, all while building the integration based upon exegetical work. What I always thought about extensively at the same time was about the self and identity.
All our worship, all our theology, all our studies of the Scripture inevitably are an engagement of the self and yet, paradoxically, we are invited and called into a way of life that goes beyond ourselves towards God and for others. The life lived faithfully by the Scriptures entails what seems like a paradox on the surface: we are called to be for others and yet we can only be ourselves. How can this be?
I hope the following provides a way forward for me (and others) to think on the topic: there is a difference between egotonicity and egocentricity that is important. Egotonicity is a fancy way of saying that we inherently interpret the world from our own biological, cultural, and individual givenness. All my past experiences, all my fears and my desires, all of it impinges on the way we understand and know about the world around us. We literally can not escape it, no matter how hard we try. We may say that egotonicity is the basic, epistemic base for all that we come to know.
On the other hand, egocentricity is a hermenutical activity: it is to interpret the world around us with reference to the self. Whereas egotonicity is where we start, egocentricity is about where we end up in our understanding. I may unconsciously love a piece of art, but if in my analysis of it, I ask the question “What is it that makes me love this art?” and I find something within myself to answer the question, I am interpreting the art egocentrically.
Egocentricity isn’t inherently bad. It is only through moments of egocentricity that we can actually come to understand ourselves as human beings, what it is we want, don’t want, that we know, that we get wrong, etc. The problem, however, is when egocentricity gets entrenched, where the sole focus of our concern is unrelentingly about ourselves, that we do not stop to interpret the world around us with regards to other people’s lives or, even more importantly, with regard to God’s will. Egocentricity is necessary to understand ourselves but it isn’t the secret to happiness or living well, because our lives are wired to be for others. Sans some sort of neuroatypicality, we are wired to have a deep craving for relationships, which begins to be fulfilled to its best when our worship, faith, and love for God orders our loving relationships with others.
This distinction between egotonicity and egocentricity is helpful, I believe, because most of us are trained to think about our selves with one idea in mean “being selfish.” We treat the relationship of ourselves to others in terms of this single moral idea by which some of us come to feel guilty if we ever do something for ourselves, because we think of it as “selfish.” Or, if we don’t understanding something about someone and we may feeling guilted for being “self-centered,” even if we were never told anything about it.
However, the distinction between egotonicity and egocentricity allows a little more nuance to recognize that our own selves are a necessary given, but that we don’t have to always be about ourselves. Egotonicity does not automatically lead to persistent egocentricity. But, egotonicity does not mean that we are not selfish simply for not knowing how other people feel, but that we are being entrenchingly egocentric only if we are unwilling to hear and respond to another and interpret their words with reference to their own thoughts and feelings.
I would say that privilege can make us entrenchingly egocentric, where everything is about our rights, our wants, our dreams, etc. Privilege allows us to make it about ourselves and not consider what happens to others. It is those who are disprivileged, those who are on the outside, who tend to be less entrenched in their egocentricism. This doens’t make them automatically more virtuous or moral, as sin is universal and not simply the monopoly of the privileged, but only that by virtue of their being on the ‘outside’ are they more apt to be focused outwardly, to understand others, to even seek and pursue after God with their whole heart. No wonder Jesus’ Beatitudes starts off with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They can receive from God in Jesus Christ the way of the kingdom of heaven that others may not be so readily open to hearing and receiving.
To be clear, privilege doesn’t automatically make us purely and unescapably selfish. If one has learned to love others in a way that it has become an engrained habit, privilege will not tear away what has been sown deep in a person’s heart. In fact, ‘privilege’ may even become something people use to help others; not as a upper class hero who pours down “blessings” on those below them,1 but as a servant who seeks to raises others up to be able to receive what they themselves have received. It is the servant who has learned the secret between when to be ‘egocentric’ so as to interpret and understand oneself and when not to be so as to understand and raise others up. Even the Servant of servants Jesus was ‘egocentric’ in that he would take time alone for prayer to be in communion with the Heavenly Father, even when he could have been ‘less selfish’ and healing more people.
Maybe with this in mind, I will be able to understand what self-care is. It has always felt like such a “selfish” thing, and it can certainly turn that way when self-care is used in a privileged way, but self-care is to make good use of the thing God has given to us, our bodies with its (affective) heart and mind.
We will see what the next few months have in store for me. But with that, I am letting work of the the past three years go to rest for a little while,2 with the hopes of dreaming sweet dreams and to wake up refreshed and ready to get back to task when the opportunity for academics rises up again, God willing.
- To be clear, this is a reference to Louie Giglio’s very unfortunate statement about “white blessing.” I certainly don’t think Louie meant it with racist intentions, but it certainly merits that we who have white privilege need to think more intentionally how we think of our own privilege in relationship to others.
- Sans turning in my revised dissertation and whatever may come from that.