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  • Writer's picturecocodensmore

You feel like you're a passenger on a runaway train

April 20, 2024

We had an assignment in Postmodern Theology to write about how our thinking had changed over the course of the semester.

Before & After

I was apprehensive about studying postmodern theology because before the semester began, I’d started a book by Linda Hutcheon titled The Politics of Postmodernism. It was originally on the prospectus, so I had purchased it ahead of time hoping to get a jump on the subject. It was so dense and so difficult to read, I put it aside in frustration. I could only hope things would get better, that the readings going forward would be less fraught with terms I’d research only to realize I didn’t understand them even when they were defined and explained. I’d find myself researching the terms used to describe the terms and it was layer upon layer of concepts that danced a dark dance just beyond my ability to grasp, frustrating me to tears. I held a low-grade anxiety deep inside, a fear that I would not be able to understand and benefit from the class, let alone enjoy the subject.

My fears were confirmed within the first couple of weeks. The only consolation was that my cohorts were experiencing the same frustration and most everyone openly admitted it. I realized it wasn’t just me, alone in my frustration, alone in my fear, and most importantly, I realized I wasn’t stupid. I should have more confidence in myself, in my intelligence, in my ability to grasp difficult concepts. Because in reality, I did get a hold of enough of what was taught that I am able to answer the question: What is postmodernism?

Here’s the “official” answer:

It’s a call to deliberately suspend judgment when faced with new information that challenges what you thought you knew to be true.

It’s embracing ambiguity, no longer holding to the notion of universal truths, and an acknowledgement that grand narratives exist only to be challenged.

It’s recognizing that diversity and plurality, in every form on every level, makes life richer and more meaningful.

Here’s how I’d answer the question (and have answered the question) for a friend who just had their world rocked so hard they’re reeling from shock:

It’s a posture or way of knowing you deliberately choose to lean into. When you surrender to it, the lure to reevaluate the things you thought you knew takes hold. It sometimes starts slowly, when one thing you’ve known beyond a doubt since you were very young suddenly doesn’t make sense anymore. It no longer has the ring of truth or certainty. Suddenly, that belief is highly suspect. You realize what you thought to be true about that one thing just isn’t true at all. It’s absolutely terrifying. But you’re brave, you choose the way of change, and you push through it. At some point, you arrive at an equilibrium, where your belief is reconstructed in a way that makes sense with who you are becoming.

“Whew!” you think. “I’m glad that’s over with!”

And then, something happens — inside of you or outside of you — and another belief comes under intense scrutiny. You take that belief, and in an effort to slow this gut-wrenching process, you externalize that belief. You hold it in your hand as if it were an orb, lift it before you, just above eye level, and rotate your wrist so you can view it from every angle. Some parts of it glisten in the light, giving you peace. Some parts are so beautiful, you feel joy. Those parts you decide you will keep, just for now anyway. Other parts of that belief are dense and dark and won’t reflect the light at all. That is when terror strikes inside, your heart beats hard and doubt floods your body in an adrenaline rush the likes of which you’ve never experienced. But just as before, after a time, your mind and your body work through a transformation. Things settle inside, just a tiny bit, and you decide to reconstruct that belief or toss it out completely.

Once this process of deconstruction starts, there’s no stopping it. Sometimes, this complete overhaul of the way you look at the things you thought you knew for certain happens slowly enough that you can keep up and manage it emotionally. Other times, you feel like you’re a passenger on a runaway train racing towards death. You just know that what’s going on in your heart and your head will surely kill you. But it doesn’t. You Persevere. And the process repeats. Over and over. And it doesn’t kill you. And life goes on. And after a time, you like the woman you are becoming more than you ever thought possible.

You figure out you probably knew more about postmodernism than you thought, and you realize you’ve been doing “it”, deconstructing your beliefs, for a very long time. So, the next time “it” happens, it’s a little less scary. But not always…



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