You May Be a Heretic
Heretic: a person holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted.
I had a post several weeks ago where I described myself as a heretic. Some readers were confused, put off even, saying I went too far. I suppose we're always entitled to our opinion, and perhaps further clarity could help. What do I mean by "heretic?" Why use that word instead of a safer, more acceptable word? Great questions. To answer, here are my 5 ways to know if you're a heretic followed by the power of embracing that word for yourself.
1. Faith>Religion: You have a deeper commitment to belief than you do to institutions.
Form follows function, but in the western world, we have been so obsessed with form. The heretic is one who judges a tree by the fruit it produces, not by how it looks. In being committed to loving and seeking God, there will invariably arise a conflict of interests between faith and religion. Faith will open up, inspire, lead, empower, and religion will seek to redact, refine and produce a final form. I'm not saying religion is bad, rather that the heretics are one whose commitment to love and generous spirituality will be deeper and higher than their desire to see particular institutions thrive. Do you have deep abiding belief and struggle to see how that plays out in our churches? You just might be a heretic.
2. Relationship>Rules: Your love for God and people can call into question the established ways of being.
I've been accused of letting "relationships run my theology, instead of the other way around." I suppose I am guilty as charged. A heretic is conversant with people because they care about people. Deep, abiding, agape love will rub some people the wrong way, but, as Jesus said, they will know you are my disciples if you love one another. Heretics, or at least the breed I'm interested in, take meaningful and healthy relationships more seriously than the rules we put upon them.
3. Pursuit of Truth > Being Right: Following truth is a journey, not a fight.
Being committed to the truth is not static, it's dynamic. As the authentic scientist will follow the evidence to a conclusion, so will the person of the spirit follow the crumbs of truth wherever they lead. This means that my initial conclusions may end up being far from true, but they matter insofar as my search for truth led me to that point and beyond. It means that each stage of my journey can be celebrated for what it is, a penultimate moment of encounter with God. I am not looking for the final idealogical destination to live forever, I'm interested in ongoing discovery and growth with God. The real heretic is so committed to the truth that they will risk being "wrong" in the short term in pursuit of a bigger discovery.
4. Mystery > Systems: Embracing the ineffable is more important than containing it.
We all have our paradigms, our boxes, the biggest difference between the orthodox and the unorthodox is how willing they are to shift. For the heretic, or even just the mystic, God is real, and God is mysterious. Many are interested in reducing complexity rather than inviting others into mystery, the heretic advocates for the latter. Systems are comfortable: Rules are defined. God is logically fit into a formula, and we know who the good guys are and who is bad. Mystery doesn't work like that. In a mysterious God, I lose myself and I find myself. In a mysterious God, my faith comes not as the result of a merely rational assertion, but as the sum total of my being. A mysterious God is bigger than my particular brand of religion, or any religion for that matter, and yet is expressed in the unique particularity of each and every being. The heretic embraces the openness, the risk, the tension of a mysterious God and the mystery of faith rather than defending just defending their particular brand.
5. Secret Misfit: You've hesitated to share what you thought could put people over the edge.
If you find yourself holding back from sharing in a context of faith because you fear what others will think, you may be a heretic. Do you feel different? Misunderstood? You might be. That's okay. Many heretics I know aren't interested in starting a fight, in fact, quite the opposite is true. We care more about the thriving lives of others, and have hidden our own questions, doubt and even faith in an attempt to make space for others. I don't think that way of being is ultimately sustainable, but I know firsthand what it is to hide things that matter to you out of consideration for others and your own perceived survival. Heretics do that all the time.
But it doesn't have to be that way. You don't have to hide. You can let your light shine and invite others to do the same.
This is why I think the concept of heretic can be one to embrace, not avoid.
I'm not interested in having people walking around self-identifying as heretics. I'm interested in seeing people move in freedom and power, communicating the ideas that matter to them and having an impact in the areas they are passionate. Embracing yourself as a heretic is not about a word or creed, it's about courage to be in the midst of pressure to be quiet.
Here are three reasons why being a heretic can be powerful:
1) Move past fear of rejection.
What can people do to you anyway? Kick you out. Put you in prison. I guess they could take your life. Sounds like there may be some risk involved.
I fear rejection, but no one can kick you out if you acknowledge being a part of something bigger and yet you are totally unique down to the thoughts you think about God. This gives you a sense of power, and can help you be more open to what God is saying to your heart rather than what your heart is nervously saying about other people.
When I was so afraid of what people thought of me, I spent countless hours being tormented and conflicted internally. It's not healthy, it's not sustainable, and the person it hurts most is yourself. Accepting yourself and becoming comfortable with rejection opens up a whole new realm of possibility. That's powerful.
2) Be yeast in whatever dough you choose.
Once you know that ultimately no one can harm you, there's nothing to get kicked out from and God is for you, you're free to play with God and others and live in full self-expression. I like to call this being yeast in the dough. Whatever communities you belong to and care about, you can have a say in the shape, scope and impact. By relaxing and opening up, you can be the change you want to see in the world. It might mean moving to a different place, choosing a different community. It might mean starting over. It also could mean that you stay right where you are and just inhabit the same space differently. People still might not know what to do with you, and that can be a powerful thing.
3) Deconstruction makes room for the new thing emerging.
Even the majority of doctrines in the Christian religion were formed in response to the people who took the risk, who were audacious, who stepped beyond the bounds of comfort. Ultimately it is heretics who should be credited with improvements to systems and rules, because it is always the heretics who destabilize the status quo and make room for something new. Jesus. St. Francis. Martin Luther. Heretics. We've sainted them or deified them now, and in so doing it is easy to miss the mark they made in their time and space, and be like them in charting a new course. By moving beyond some walls and deconstructing old ways of being, you can make room for new life that is growing just under the surface.
Being a heretic isn't about being antithetical, it's about being audaciously authentic, powerful and passionate. Being a heretic is about letting your light shine and inviting others to do the same.
You might be a heretic, and that can be a truly powerful thing.