Open to Change: Identity and Ambiguity

Emergent Village will be hosting its annual Theological Conversation this year in Atlanta, GA from Nov. 1-3 on the topic of “Creating Liberated Spaces in a Postcolonial World.” This year’s conversation will feature a global panel of theologians- Musa Dube of Botswana, Richard Twiss of the Lakota Sioux tribe, and Colin Greene of the UK. This blog post was written as my personal response addressing why it is vital for all Christians to engage in the postcolonial conversation. For more information about this event or to register click here.

What postcolonialism signifies is that the future is open and the past unstable and constantly changing. -R.S. Sugirtharajah

There is something almost innate in human nature, in which people are just simply adverse to change. I definitely have my little routines and habits – the little traditions – that somehow anchor me in this reality. Everyone does. But, I have never experienced reticence or full-out opposition to change more than in the Presbyterian church (and that goes for all that I have been a part of in my life so far). But, maybe it’s this way for any mainline religious institution…afterall, they are made up of people.

Change can be difficult to navigate in one’s life, one’s family, especially in one’s community, but it is a phenomenon – and necessity – to all of life. At the Emergence Now conference back in January, Philip Clayton talked about (paraphrasing here) the inevitability of change in nature, and how it is necessary for everything from organisms to eco-systems, and that in fact, change actually produces stability. Change is certainly something I have lived with my entire life with my father moving our home around to follow better jobs for him and better school systems for us – I was in a new school district every few years. In some ways, change became…an adventure for us.

What does this have to do with postcolonialism and liberated spaces? I think that the experience – and acceptance – of change can impact our ways of perceiving and knowing the world. Wonhee Anne Joh writes in her book :

…Postcolonial theory [has] argued foremost that any and all knowledge is situated, historicized, limited, fractured, and always under change.

Nobody has a monopoly on reality and truth, though there are always groups of people who have certainly tried to impress their own special knowledge onto others. Accepting this knowledge becomes a form of legitimation for the oppressor and subjugation for the oppressed. What is liberating though is realizing that inherent in “knowledge,” is change, and it is those hybrids that find themselves straddling various worlds whether because of displacement, pseudo-assimilation into another culture, or any other kind of marginalization that can teach us this way of being in the world. But, to be this way, Kwok Pui Lan reminds us of the necessity of imagination in Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology:

What is imagination? How does the postcolonial’s mind work? I have written that to imagine means to discern that something is not fitting, to search for new images, and to arrive at new patterns of meaning and interpretation. But I have become aware that the process of imagining is more complex…I have attached more importance to the cracks, the fissures, and the openings, which refuse to be shaped into any framework, and which are often consigned to the periphery.

It takes imagination to see the gaps, what are to me those “liberated spaces,” and I think it is those gaps that lead us to being open to change. Those ambiguities, those blurring lines and borders, those gray areas become a part of one’s identity, and we realize that even our inner lives are subject to the phenomenon of change, a widening of sorts, and it’s good. It isn’t something to fear, but something that will help us live more faithfully. I remember I heard someone say: “When our understanding of God becomes bigger so does our understanding of our neighbor.” The reverse is true too, though – when I understand that our neighbor has as many ambiguities and mysteries as I do that enlarges my vision of God as well.

But, it’s challenging, when it feels like I am in a place where everyone around me has one view of the world, and I can’t even begin to imagine anything disrupting that vision…and then I see that maybe that’s my job. I just have to try to do it without seeming or feeling bitter and angry.

Ultimately, no matter what is going on around me, when I seek to be open to the constant shifting in reality, and turn my eyes away from the center (and those supposed anchors) to that which is just outside of my vision, then I discover something freeing…a new way of seeing and being…and journeying…and all I can do is share it. And then, I realize that I’m not sticking around…that home is in journey. Sure, the terrain is varied the whole way, but isn’t that right? Who wants to be on a plateau the whole time, or even solely on top of peaks or valleys the whole time? What makes this life richer is looking up and seeing others walking the same way, those who also realize that nomadic piece to our journeys…it is an experience of that strange and lovely grace…


Other participants:
– Annie Bullock at Marginal Theology
– Julie Clawson at onehandclapping
– Nelson Costa (in Portuguese) at
– Natanael Disla (in Spanish) at
– Carol Howard Merritt at
– Dave Ingland at
– Jonathan Brink at
– Katie Mulligan at The Adventures of Tiny Church
– Ann Pittman at
– Danielle Shroyer at
– Crystal Lewis at Jesus was a Heretic too

4 thoughts on “Open to Change: Identity and Ambiguity

  • September 2, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks for participating in the Big Tent Synchroblog.

    I hope you are able to participate in the upcoming synchroblog “Christians and The Immigration Issue”

    Here’s the info:

    CHRISTIANS AND THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE – 9/8/2010 (second Wednesday of the month) As Congress debates how to handle undocumented aliens already within U.S. borders and how to more effectively handle hopeful immigrants in the future, Christians will need to consider what it means to love these new neighbors in our midst.

    Please email your name, name of blog, title of post and link to: Sonja Andrews at by close of business CST on 9/7/2010 if you would like to be included in this synchroblog.

    Here’s a link to help keep up with monthly synchroblog themes and dates:

  • September 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    ooops – I meant to say:

    Thanks for participating in The Emergent Village synchroblog

  • Pingback: 2010 Theological Conversation hosted by Emergent Village « Heady (Ir)Reverence.

  • September 8, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Hey Mihee! Are you planning on attending the event? I just registered. Hope to see you there!

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