Deconstruction

Deconstruction.

It’s a word that has become infused with potency.

It’s a word that is provocative – it can produce thoughts and feelings in others just by saying it. It’s an idea that is difficult to talk about without spending time defining what it means to us or we can often find we’re with a group of people who are all talking about “deconstruction” but who are not all talking about the same thing. It’s a word that scares a lot of people like me, pastors, when someone in our church tells us they are “deconstructing.”

For some it’s peeling faith like an onion and in the end you’re left with nothing. For others it’s just an wild, reckless act of destruction that leaves lives and families and whole churches with just a leaky roof, holes in the walls and no front door – easily condemnable and rarely salvageable. For many it’s about growing up and maturing in their faith, setting aside a faith handed to them in favor of a faith of their own, forged out of real life and honest inquiry. For a few, it’s just a new way of saying, “backsliding.”

We sometimes argue over the efficacy of the term itself to describe what we are going through or what we are doing when we are “deconstructing.” One pastor/author prefers “renovation” because it’s a hopeful term and it creates rather than destroys. Others are very intentional about the use of “deconstruction” because they appreciate the connection with postmodernity and the work of Jacques Derrida. Some have just latched on to the term because of its pervasiveness in modern Christian culture and they identify with it as part of their “rebellious” phase of faith development even though “deconstruction” for them is less pregnant and more about preferences, “I’m attending a church with services on Thursday nights and my small group is meeting in a pub while we’re ‘deconstructing.’”

For all these reasons and many more, it is hard to have a simple conversation about “deconstruction.” And yet, these are important days for us to have this conversation.

Recently I was talking to our church about this season we are in. I was describing this moment as a “liminal moment.”

What does “liminal moment” mean? Susan Beaumont defines a liminal period as, “…A disorienting period of non-structure or anti-structure that opens new possibilities no longer based on old status or power hierarchies. New identities are explored, and new possibilities are considered.” She compares this to a major life transition like becoming parent. “All significant transitional experiences, like becoming parents, follow a predictable three-part process. Something comes to an end. There is an in-between season marked by disorientation, disidentification, and disengagement. Finally, and often after a very long and painful struggle, something new emerges.”

I remember the first week of married life as my wife and I went to work figuring out how two become one. Sleep in one bed. Share one bank account. Coordinate two schedules into one. Moved out of a single way of living to settle into the rhythm of a couple. And don’t get me started on the liminal period of becoming parents for the first, second or third time. Disorientation, disidentification and disengagement ultimately led to a new orientation, a new identity and a new way of engaging, but we didn’t know where we would end up when we stepped out on the plank and started to walk.

Like Exodusing Israel wandering through the desert, like the first Christians moving from following the Law of Moses to the law of Grace, and like the Gentiles becoming part of the Hebrew story, we are in a liminal moment in which we, or at least many of us, are like Eustace Scrubb; we are being un-dragoned (dis-dragoned?) and moving painful from one identity to a whole new way of being ourselves. Like Eustace (from Voyage of the Dawn Treader), we did not come looking for this liminal moment – and yet something in us was longing for it, desperate for it, itching for it – and here we find ourselves. Others of us are like Caspian, from the same book, we’ve been questing all along and deconstruction is not so much something that is happening to us as it is a search we’ve been on our whole lives.

Most of us, I think, are more like the Edmund and Lucy (same book, stick with me), who found themselves thrown into or sucked into the picture, neither willingly or unwillingly, not looking for a change nor precious about keeping everything the same. Ready to go where Aslan is leading us or calling us. Believing that life is a grand adventure but also aware of the risks that come along when you are open to seeing that the world is bigger and more enchanted than others do with whom you share the journey.

One of the most challenging aspects from my pastoral perspective is that there are a lot of people I know who have come to this liminal moment of deconstruction because of pain. I talk to a lot of people who have experienced the pain of disillusionment as their experience of the Church has been more hurtful than healing, more betrayal than community and unJesusy than Jesusy. I’ve heard from friends who have been so abused by people like me, pastors and church leaders, their deconstruction comes like a person who just discovered the whole world is wearing masks and everyone they thought they could trust have turned out to be the source of their greatest pain. I have friends, people of color, who are exhausted over half a century after the Civil Rights movement that the Church is still playing catch-up instead of taking the lead in anti-racist and pro-diversity conversations and tangible actions. And I have quite a few friends who are just “hope fatigued.”

Hope deferred, the proverb says, makes the heart sick. Deconstruction for many of my “hope fatigued” friends comes from heartsickness as the culture and community our story promises seems harder than ever to find inside a church but more likely forgeable outside of the confines of the institution, away from the toxicity we seem to have produced. And as a pastor I have to own my part in creating a culture in which this is true.

This toxicity in our culture is something the Church has an opportunity right now to face and repent of or we will find people running away faster and faster as the bodies piled under the bus become impossible to hide or ignore. Books like Scot McKnight’s TOV are calling us to something better. Hauerwas’ Resident Aliens and a Community of Character and the Peaceable Kingdom, have been doing this even longer.

In the midst of this liminal time I feel incredibly hopeful. I think this has the potential to be a reformative moment. A major culture shift in which the beloved community of resident aliens is refined, reformed, and recreated among people who are willing to be honest with each other, with God and with themselves.

I’ll say more about that next time.

Tell me what “deconstruction” means to you and, if you find yourself resonating with this idea of “deconstruction,” what sparked this liminal moment for you?

Published by APastor'sStory

Trying to squeeze this life for all the juice I can get out of it.

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