A post on Twitter just reminded me that today is January 28, the anniversary of the Challenger disaster in 1986.
It’s a personal anniversary for me. I heard about the explosion on the radio as I was on my way to teach a class at Memphis Theological Seminary. I recall that my lecture that day was on the Iconoclast Controversy.
I was a teacher and student of the history of Christianity. Officially I was an Episcopalian, teaching Cumberland Presbyterian seminarians, and the fact that my contract specified that I was there to “teach, not preach” (using the language of Paul of Tarsus about proper roles for women) was actually a comfort to me. I was dimly aware that I could talk very confidently about history, but not so confidently about my own faith.
We began class with a prayer for the souls on the Challenger; I asked one of my students to lead the prayer, honoring my “teach, not preach” agreement. Then we dived into the intricacies of 9th century Byzantium and the fine distinctions between idols and icons, idolatry and worship.
A student asked me to clarify a detail of Byzantine Christology. As I gave him the proper answer, making the distinctions clear, a still small voice in my head pointed out the obvious: You don’t believe this stuff. Any of it. Why are you teaching it? I paused for a moment, reminded myself that I had a contract, and returned to the lecture.
Like the Space Shuttle, my sense of myself exploded that morning. I could no longer call myself a Christian. I finished out the term and spent almost ten years trying to figure out where I belonged, longing for a spiritual home I could not name.
Eventually I stumbled into a synagogue, long after I’d given up on belonging anywhere. That’s another story.