Deconstructing Faith at Church

Posted By Bo Sanders on Jan 21, 2020 | 0 comments


It is an honor and a joy to be at a church where you are safe to question things.

It is incredible to be able to be able to bring your doubts, your hopes, your disappointments, and your big questions to a faith community that can handle it.

I am constantly aware, as I talk to people near and far, who are not in a place where you allowed to do this.

Last week I posted some videos and articles that I made – and I was delighted with the response that they got.

I wanted to post some of that material here as an encouragement in case you are on a similar journey. I want you to know that you are not alone and that the journey is worth it.

As my friend Jez Bayes pointed out, “deconstruction does seem to end up negative where it’s used … without careful limits or communal shared purpose.
That means that when people start deconstructing they aren’t able to stop, and it ends with unnecessary destruction of faith outside of any coherent community.”

This is why it is so important to have a community of support on this journey.

Many people who begin to deconstruct their faith experience various levels of:

  • disorientation
  • discouragement
  • depression
  • and even despair

It is difficult to dismantle the thing that used to give you shelter and even structure your experience and very existence. You begin to question everything that you have been taught, the people who taught it to you, and even yourself for being misled, fooled, or indoctrinated.

This can trigger feelings of abandonment, isolation, embarrassment, shame, and god-forsakeness at times.

Deconstruction is a word that is growing in popularity with groups like the ex-vangelical, post-christian,  and even younger evangelical crowds.

Deconstruction is difficult, critical, suspicious, and subversive.

So I would like to say something in the positive and then in the negative (which is appropriate for the topic).

Positive: Deconstruction is love. It is not destruction. It is not demolition. Think of deconstructing an old barn. It is taking it apart timber by board, one nail at a time, in order to see (or show) how it is put together and how it stays together and works (functions). It wants to expose how it is assembled and where the various parts come from and where it fits in the function of the whole farm. Deconstruction may or may not ‘salvage’ what could be useful (or repurposed) in a different format.

Deconstruction is neither knocking the barn down with a bulldozer (demolition) nor is it setting the barn on fire (destruction). You have to love the thing to justify the time and painful energy to painstakingly pull it apart in an orderly and examined way.

If you didn’t love it you would either smash it in anger or just walk away and abandon it.

In the past I have used a plant analogy about how potted plants can get rootbound when they have been in the same pot too long and how it not only stunts their growth but how the roots will circle back and grow in on themselves. Institutions are like this. I still use the rootbound analogy for organizations, denominations, and groups … but it doesn’t have enough bite (or teeth) for the task of deconstruction.

Negative: You will never get the original thing back. You deconstructed the barn because there was something structurally flawed and deeply unsafe about it. You didn’t deconstruct the barn simply because it was old or outdated or had outlived its usefulness. There was something troubling, suspicious, and unusable.

This is the limit of the plant analogy. You might pull at the roots of a plant and repot it in a more spacious vessel in order to sustain its life and let it grow. This is the re/construction impulse that hopes to prune the vine in order to stimulate new growth.

I love the plant analogy and embrace the pruning for new growth mentality … I just want to be clear that this is not what deconstruction means.

Deconstruction is not repairing the broken elements of something or tweaking the outdated parts. Call that renovation or restoration, but it comes much later – if at all.

Just to be clear:

  • Destruction and demolition have their time and place.
  • Renovation and restoration have their time and place.
  • Even reconstruction has its time and place.
  • None of them are the same as deconstruction.

Deconstruction interrogates, second-guesses, mistrusts, speculates, and may even subvert that which is being investigated.

You might go so far as to say that Deconstruction is suspicious that something is fundamentally wrong.

The danger with deconstruction is that the thing you loved enough to spend energy on will never be the same. You can’t just rebuild or refurbish it back to its original condition. Both you and the thing you loved are never the same. This is not just re-formation but trans-formation.

Deconstruction has fun with reading the text. It is often playful and whimsical, sometimes frisky and mischievous – sometimes it can be irreverent.

Most people who are open-minded are still ok up to this point. Where it becomes objectionable to many is when deconstruction inevitably takes on a posture or tone of criticism, sarcasm, accusation, transgression, or even mocking.

Deconstruction does not have a built in stop-gap or safety-valve. It has no logical end. It can feel like a free-fall or a bottomless pit. Deconstruction is intentionally disorienting and challenging.

This is why I wanted to post here and let you know that if you are looking for a safe-space or a brave-space to do some deconstructing of your faith – you have a place with us.  One of the great advantages of being part of mulit-generational congregation is that there is strength for the journey all around. Some of us are just getting started, others of us have passed through the desert of criticism, others have walked the long road.

We need each other for this journey. We also need grace for wherever someone is on their journey. We never know where someone is starting from and we don’t always know where the road will take us.

I am glad to be at a place where we can have these open and honest exchanges!

Email VHUMCpastor@gmail.com with any questions or comment below 

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