A few years ago, I almost gave up on God. I hauled my faith to the edge of a cliff and prepared to watch its fall to its death. I was lost, wounded, and sad. I was also jobless. Just a few months before, I was a pastor. I loved working at a church. I loved helping people and engaging in meaningful work. But my job began to unravel, and I found myself in a room with a group of elders and they did that thing where they give you the option to resign as a courtesy to you and your family. It’s a gesture of respect, they say. It’s not really, though, is it? Anyone who has been in such a situation knows. I accepted their tainted olive branch, however, and resigned.
I left that church building for the final time on a Wednesday. The following Monday, I started my new job: teaching my two and three-year-old sons about shapes and numbers. That’s right. I became their teacher. I no longer had an income, so we couldn’t afford to send them to day care. Teaching is a good and necessary work. But not for me. For me, it was a reminder of my lot in life, how hard I had fallen.
WHAT DECONSTRUCTION LOOKS LIKE
And so it began. The months ahead were hard and painful and lonely. Everything I thought I knew about God, faith, and church tumbled to the ground. Every day, it seemed, a different wing of the structure I spent years constructing, split apart from the whole and fell to the earth. I was angry to the point of rage. I was sad to the point of mourning. The sting of standing in the rubble of my faith made my body ache. My joints hurt. My stomach soured. I was a shell of myself. When I opened the Bible, the words looked foreign. When I prayed, words didn’t come out. When I went to church, I anxiety flooded my bones.
When you lose your faith, though, you see the world through a clearer lens. The game is over. You don’t need to sustain lies anymore, so you see them for what they are. I began to see how the church and the evangelical community bowed to the idol of comfort at the expense of black and brown-skinned people. As police killed black men and women with reckless abandon, the evangelical community remained silent. The black community mourned. Why did we not mourn with them? I couldn’t understand why churches across the nation didn’t rise up and wrap its collective arms around our hurting brothers and sisters. Why did the pain of the black community not matter to the white church?
The answer, I realized, is many white Christians are racist, and standing with the black community meant losing members and the checks they wrote. Those checks were necessary to support the machine, the massive budgets and campuses that sprawl across huge chunks of earth. Then, I realized I contributed to the machine, and I when I worked at a church, I didn’t say anything either. I needed to keep my job. My job supported my family. The limbs of the status quo stretch deep and wide.
As I waded through the rubble of faith, I also began to see how the evangelical church held tight to the Bible in a way that dehumanized others – women and the gay community, among others – and diminished the role of the Holy Spirit in our own life experience. We hand-picked verses and used them as chains to keep women from using their gifts of teaching and preaching and leading. We hand-picked others to marginalize and dehumanize the gay community, as if we had the authority to tell people who can and can’t experience the love and grace of God.
DECONSTRUCTION IS NOT TRENDY
I heard a pastor talk about deconstruction a few months ago. I used to love this pastor. For years, I listened to almost all his teachings. Surely, he would bring some perspective to the conversation.
I was wrong. Here’s a wise and true saying: don’t trust the words of someone who hasn’t waded through the fire themselves, and most pastors haven’t waded through the fire. Pastors, you see, and many Christian leaders, have a vested interest in your compliance. They need you to fall in line, to adhere to the cultural norms. Their platforms and status and power depend on it.
Deconstruction, this pastor said, has become trendy, which I found odd. That wasn’t my experience. I wasn’t riding the cultural winds. I wasn’t interested in losing faith and friendships. Who’s interested in that?
Then he said if you experience the true grace of Christ, there’s nothing to deconstruct, as if deconstruction is for the weak or the half-hearted, those who haven’t experienced the authentic love of Christ.
The words of this pastor are the voices of the past, of fear, the voices that want to discredit your experience, to shame you, to keep you small. These are the voices that want to maintain order and certainty. Don’t listen to these voices. You’re strong and brave and courageous. Don’t let the voices of the past prevent you from discovering a deeper and more beautiful image of God.
Trust your knowing. Trust your gut and your heart. Yes, those are reliable and trustworthy sources. This is new, I know. You heard most of your life that you couldn’t trust your own knowing. You were told that the Bible is the primary source of authority. But that’s not true. Those are the voices who want to keep you hemmed in. Does the Spirit of God not also live in you? The answer is yes, so feel free to listen to your gut, to trust your experience.
DECONSTRUCTION HAS NO TIMELINE
Most of the articles and sermons I listened to on deconstruction were glorified attempts to expedite reconstruction.
“Here are 5 tips for anyone going through deconstruction.”
“If you’re deconstructing your faith, consider these 6 questions.”
Every time I read or watched content like this, I thought, now there’s someone who knows nothing about deconstruction. They think you can manipulate it, fix it, the way you fix a child’s lego creation when his sibling flings it across the room.
Suffering isn’t something you can manipulate. Like the wind, it comes and goes as it pleases. We want to move forward, to have a plan, an end goal. But most of life’s transformative realities – love, suffering, death and so on – aren’t subject to the hands on the clock.
Anybody who tells you there are steps to this, that if you follow x, y, and z, you will arrive on the other side of deconstruction, isn’t being honest with you. They’re looking for clicks or likes or money. I don’t know what they’re looking for. But they’re not looking out for you.
So many days, I sat down, legs crossed, my broken faith scattered around me, and I attempted to piece it back together.
“Let’s see. I still believe in the Resurrection. I still believe in the Holy Spirit. Let me grab some glue and piece these two together. Okay, now we’re off.” I grabbed a shard here and another there, riding the momentum of the moment, hoping, praying I could re-create some semblance of faith. This happened several times, and each time it ended with frustration. I was attempting to wrangle something eternal into chronology. I knew it wouldn’t work. But I hated the unknown. I wanted it to end.
HOW TO RECONSTRUCT YOUR FAITH
So, how do you reconstruct your faith? I have an answer, but you won’t like it. Here it is: don’t give up. That’s it. Not much help, I know. You want tips or tricks or shortcuts. You want a secret code to bypass this level of the game. There are no secret codes, though. The only way is through, and the only way through is perseverance. You must keep showing up. Every day, you must resist the demons that ask you to throw in the towel, and you must trust that God is doing something behind the scenes, something you can’t see.
You don’t piece your faith back together. God does. If you cling to hope and stay present, God will put things back together. That’s the most unnerving thing about pastors who see deconstruction as weakness or the by-product of a half-hearted relationship with God. God is the very one present in the deconstruction. Does he engineer it? I don’t know. But he’s present with you in the rubble.
Deconstruction isn’t abandoning God. Deconstruction is dismantling the false images and perceptions of God, the ways we thought we knew God. This feels like abandoning God, but it’s not. You’re abandoning distorted projections of your ego. That’s all we have in the initial stages of the journey. Unfortunately, many Christians never move beyond this stage. They reach the end of their days, and God thinks like them and acts like them and votes like them. Did these people ever have have a relationship with God or did they have a relationship with a projection of their ego?
WHAT RECONSTRUCTION LOOKS LIKE
How do you know when you’ve made it to the other side? Again, no tips or tricks. But I’ll give you some markers, some pointers to look out for.
You no longer need to be right.
You used to believe correct thinking was essential to faith. You spent an inordinate amount of time perfecting your beliefs and scanning the Bible for proof and convincing others why they’re wrong. Now, you know correct thinking comes from the ego, not from God. The goal is relationship. The goal is wholeness. Wholeness begins with the man in the mirror, but it extends to your neighbor and eventually to all of creation. Everything is in relationship with God. You no longer have patience for systems or institutions that divide and dehumanize other humans. Before, you defended these systems. No, you defend the humans they marginalize.
You reconcile with the people and theology of your former faith.
This is huge. I can’t stress it enough.
Spiritual teachers call this transcend and include. You can transcend or grow beyond a set of beliefs and the people who believe them. A lot of folks do that. It’s easy. But until you make peace with your past, you aren’t transformed. This is the problem with so many liberals and people on the far left. They transcend, but don’t include. They move beyond the faith of their youth, but they can’t acknowledge anything good or redemptive in their former life. These people aren’t transformed. They’re mostly angry and bitter and cynical. You might know some of these people. They’re not much fun to be around.
In the early stages of deconstruction, you’re bitter and angry. That’s part of the journey. Eventually, though, you must move beyond that. You must come to see the people in your former life as God sees them: as men and women created in his image.
The white evangelical church, for example, has flaws large enough to fly a Boeing 747 through, but it also has strengths. It equates spiritual maturity with certainty, but it also challenges you to live your life for a greater good, a larger purpose than your own ego. While the white evangelical church isn’t concerned with racial reconciliation, you can’t deny the role the church has played in helping people, the homeless and women caught in sex-trafficking and the millions around the world who don’t have necessities like clean drinking water. I could keep going, but you get the point.
While I no longer hold to a lot of the core tenets of that tradition, I’m thankful for the role the white evangelical church had in my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the white evangelical church. The people I met, the conversations we had, all of it mattered. Every word shaped me.
You realize you are the primary (and only) barrier to your spiritual growth.
Before deconstruction, the problem is always “out there.” Someone or something else is the barrier standing in the way of your spiritual growth. A lot of your energy, most of it, in fact, was spent trying to change people.
Now, you realize you are the only barrier to your spiritual growth. Your spouse isn’t your problem. Your pastor isn’t your problem. Your family and friends aren’t your problem. You are your problem. You stop trying to manipulate or fix everything outside of you. You know if you change yourself, your reality will change.
Deconstruction is disorienting and painful. It’s lonely. But when you arrive on the other side – and you will arrive on the other side – you have a lighter and more inclusive faith. The baggage of illusions and the need for certainty are no longer necessary. You realize how much of your former faith was bound by the shackles of fear, fear of not getting it right, fear that God would smite you if you didn’t do this or that, fear that God would smite others, you know, the ones with flawed theology, those Christians who didn’t think like you. Faith founded in fear is no faith at all, though. You know that know. You no longer feel the burden of needing to “save” people, which mostly means convincing them to believe your theology. You just need to love.
Keep showing up. Stay curious. Remember that God is with you.
Grace and peace, friends.