Changing Our Minds
Do you know what thinking is?
It’s just a fancy word for changing your mind.”
—The Twelfth Doctor
In 1938 economic collapse, unrest, and conflicted had altered the shape of global affairs and shaken the foundations of modern theology, the editors of The Christian Century reached out to prominent theologians and church leaders asking the question, “How has your mind changed in the last decade?” The request described a proposed essay series as “a kind of testimony meeting” for “the free exchange of experiences.” The 34 contributors were to respond both intellectually and personally, offering deeply reflective essays that were published by the magazine. Karl Barth, Georgia Harkness, and Reinhold Niebuhr were among those who submitted essays, with Niebuhr confessing he had experienced “’a fairly complete conversion of thought which involved rejection of almost all the liberal theological ideals and ideas” which had been part of his earlier work.
It is a question to which the magazine has returned, each decade asking religious thinkers to reflect on the ways in which their understandings have changed. Some essayists profess a constancy to their thought. Others such as Langdon Gilkey saw the changes in process rather than complete, writing, “I prefer, if I may, to say ‘How My Mind Is Changing.’ Instead of having the sensation of motion followed by present rest and clarity…, I am now overwhelmed by the sense of being theologically still in passage.”
It is a question worth pondering, how our thinking changes over time. Asking the question of ourselves requires honesty, a fair bit of humility, and vulnerability. Today as the divisions in society seem greater than ever before, admitting to a change in thought demands courage. Our politicians are criticized for changing their positions on issues, sometimes rightly so if those changes are for political expediency. Yet, I would argue the ability to state publicly, “I was wrong. I changed my mind,” reveals a strength of character which our culture sorely lacks.
Asking myself the question, opens up many ways in which I’ve shifted my thinking. A newsletter article is too small to describe how much my mind has changed through the years, however, looking back there seem to be two consistent threads when I’ve clearly changed positions. First is the lens of God’s abundant grace which I experience at communion. Moving away from my formative experiences of the Lord’s Supper growing up in a conservative Baptist congregation in which our unworthiness and sinfulness was a primary communion theme, I have been reshaped by an expansive view of God’s radical welcome in the sharing of the Eucharist. Secondly, in those most consequential issues where I have changed, more often than not it has been because I have listened to the stories of others, heard their experiences of pain and injustice. Those stories opened up new ways of understanding.
There is much talk of echo chambers and confirmation bias in our culture. It is tempting to stay in our own safe camps and point fingers at those who disagree with us. And yet our God is always doing an new thing, always creating, always at work for transformation. If we are fearful of our current circumstances, asking the question, “how has my mind changed” might be a good place for us to begin. Acknowledging where we’ve been and how we’ve evolved may open up constructive possibilities for our future.
As my opening quote reveals, I am a lifelong fan of the British television show, Doctor Who. I’ll close with a bit of wisdom from the thirteenth and current Doctor, who in the 2018 season opener introduced herself saying,
“We’re all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve while still staying true to who we are. We can honour who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next. Now’s your chance! How about it?”
Now’s our chance. How about it?
Your fellow pilgrim on the way,
A native of Illinois, Rev. Nancy Gowler lived for 26 years in the Pacific Northwest. She joined the ministry of First Christian Church in Morehead, KY, in July of 2020.