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‘Theology shows us that failure is allowed’

Mark is Young Theologian Laureate

‘Theology shows us that failure is allowed’

He may still only be a student at the RUG, but last week Mark de Jager was named Young Theologian Laureate. ‘I want to add some kindness to polarised debates.’

25 November om 15:10 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 26 November 2019
om 15:59 uur.
November 25 at 15:10 PM.
Last modified on November 26, 2019
at 15:59 PM.

Paulien Plat

Door Paulien Plat

25 November om 15:10 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 26 November 2019
om 15:59 uur.
Paulien Plat

By Paulien Plat

November 25 at 15:10 PM.
Last modified on November 26, 2019
at 15:59 PM.

‘I honestly didn’t expect I’d win’, says Mark de Jager. On November 16, the Night of Theology, the master student at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies was named Young Theologian Laureate. ‘It may have looked like a typical student party, but it wasn’t’, he chuckles. ‘It wasn’t even at night. We filmed it in the evening at a television studio in Hilversum.’

De Jager and his fellow candidates gave a presentation and had to respond to several statements. De Jager’s focus, he says, was on ‘the good life’. ‘We’re living in a performance society where everyone thinks you make your own happiness. Theology shows us that failure is allowed.’

Theology might not solve mental issues, De Jager says, but it can help. ‘A burn-out isn’t the same as a cold of course, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk.’

Take All Ears, an initiative where students can anonymously get their worries of their chest. ‘There are several theologians on the other end of the phone that can listen to you unburden your soul.’

De Jager sees how many students are feeling stressed. What can we do to combat this? ‘You have to acknowledge that you can’t create your own happiness, and that it’s okay to fail. You’re not alone.’ He thinks taking time to get rest also helps. ‘For me, that means reading my Bible and praying every morning. Turn off your computer and phone every once in a while. We’re not used to that, since we all have a fear of missing out, but it’s nice to just switch off every now and again.’

Stuffy old men

His rivals for the title of Young Theologian Laureate studied theology in relation to sports or charity, for example. For him, it confirmed how diverse theology can be. ‘The idea people tend to have of theologians is these stuffy old men who just spend the whole day reading the Bible. But that idea is wrong.’

De Jager started his bachelor in theology after he was denied a spot in medical school in 2012. ‘I grew up in a fairly religious family, smack dab in the middle of the Veluwe, and I was interested in questioning, studying, and criticising faith.’ He would like to eventually become a minister. ‘I’ve realised things that I think are too amazing not to tell other people about.’

Stand firm

This coming year, De Jager expects to take part in social debates, write columns, and preach in churches. ‘It’ll be good practice.’ He would also like to cultivate a more active Twitter presence. ‘The previous Theologian Laureate used Twitter a lot. It allowed him to really weigh in on social issues.’

His goal? ‘I want to add some kindness to polarised debates; that’s what a theologian should be doing.’ De Jager says a good theologian is someone who ‘listens to to people on the one hand, but who also isn’t afraid to show the wealth of theological traditions and stands firm on them.’

He gives an example: Stefan Paas, Theologian Laureate in 2018. ‘He said thatThierry Baudet was a racist, and it wasn’t a baseless statement.’ Paas had first explained what racism was and why he felt Baudet was racist. ‘It’s fine to take a firm stand as a theologian, but it’s good to be nuanced about it.’

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