Here is a preview of this week’s Sunday School class for October 1 at 9am [a PDF is available at the bottom of the page]
D is for Deconstruction
Deconstruction is love.
This is what makes it different than destruction or demolition.
Deconstruction is love. If it were not love then one would simply walk away, abandon, or neglect the project, idea, or institution.
If the way things are were good enough, one would take up preservation or conservation. Deconstruction is an admission that the status quo is insufficient or unsatisfying at some level.
Deconstruction is not destruction – but for those into preservation it feels like it is. It might be better to think of de-construction in ‘forest fire’ terms. Imagine it as a controlled burn (or purifying fire) that clears out the old brush and undergrowth to make space for new growth.
Deconstruction is loving something enough to pull it apart and see what might be salvaged – or freed – from the suffocating stagnation and bound-up-ness.
When a topic or institution has become assumed or presumed, it is in need of this kind of love.
Like a plant that has been in a pot too long – or has gotten too big for the container – the roots can actually begin to grow back on themselves. This is a condition known as root bound (or pot-bound) and loving that plant means to take it out of the pot and to pull (or even cut) at the roots in order to separate and loosen them.
Institutions can be their own worst enemy.
Christian organizations seem particularly prone to become pot bound. To love the church – or the christian tradition for that matter – in the 21st century requires some tough love. If you didn’t love you could just walk away. If it were ‘good enough’ as it is , then you could settle in and settle down for the long haul.
Deconstruction is loving the tradition enough to pull at (or even prune it) in the hopes of life and health and new growth.
One of my favorite programs to listen to is ‘Ideas’ by the Canadian Broadcasting (CBC). They recently had a series on ‘After Atheism’ about new developments regarding belief in God.
What those two episodes have got me thinking about is the passion it takes to stick with the topic of faith and the conviction is requires to believe that there is something worth all the labor and care. I know lots of people who were raised with some kind of belief but have either lost interest or have intentionally walked away. I also know lots of people who are fine with things the way they are who are happy to keep plugging away. Some of in the latter group actually take offense at an attempt to update, modify, revisit, revamp, or contextualize for our time and place.
I find myself in neither of those camps. I love the church too much to walk away from it but I care way too much to leave it in the condition that it currently rests in.
Deconstruction isn’t for everyone. In fact, one of the most challenging aspects of it is simply trying to convince the preservationists and conservationists that your intentions are good and that you’re not trying to kill the thing! To those who assume and presume that things should remain as they are, pulling and clearing can feel or seem like destruction.
I have written before about The World Come of Age (Bonhoeffer) or what others call The World Transformed (Hunt) or what Kaufman calls The Nuclear Age. The simple fact is that the 20th Century – between technology and war – changed the world and radically altered what we call society. The reality of living in the 21st century are very different than they were in the 12th – let alone the 2nd.
The questions of the 21st century are not answered by repeating inherited answers or by parroting ancient thought.
Farming, hygiene, reading, telephones, banks, travel (airplanes) …. there are thousands of examples of how different our existence is from those in previous centuries. Even the way was imagine our self (identity) and community (belonging) has changed.
Deconstruction is loving the question enough to dare a different answer. Then turning around and examining the initial questions itself.
We live in world come of age – a nuclear age – that asks something different of us. Theology can not just continue to repeat the same old answers over and over – or louder and louder – and wonder why it isn’t satisfying the demands being put on it by those inside and outside the institution.
From the linguistic turn in philosophy to globalized markets, from Hiroshima to Auschwitz, from twitter to the pill …. we live in a different world than the ancients. Our religious beliefs deserve to be re-examined and longingly pulled at (or even cut at) in order to prune (or bleed) in the hopes of life and health.
Deconstruction is now a necessary part of theology.
Deconstruction. A term used primarily in *hermeneutics (the art and science of interpreting written texts or spoken language) to describe the process of analyzing a particular representation of reality so as to offer a critique of how a text “constructs” a picture of reality. Although deconstructionists are not always explicitly negative in practice, they often use deconstruction as a technique to discredit a text to which they are philosophically or ideologically opposed. Deconstruction, which is sometimes known as poststructuralism, arose out of, and in response to, a theory of literature called *structuralism, which sought to analyze the common structures that characterize various texts or literary works.
Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 361-364). Kindle Edition.
So what is the sticking point?
What seems to be the hesitation?
One central problem might be the Christian fascination with the past. Modern Christianity, in almost all of its forms, has developed a view that some period in our history was ‘better’. This is an orientation that skews the work of God in the present moment and limits the vision for God’s work in the future.
Whether it is Eden and its fall from supposed perfection or romanticized early notions of ‘the’ early church of the 1st century, the medieval notions of Thomas Aquinas or the heady (but contentious) days of the Protestant Reformation, some period of the past is seem as the pinnacle … and possibly the goal of what we should return to.
This reality is baffling on three counts:
- Christianity is a religion based on the ‘incarnation’ of the divine presence embodied here and now – in a place, in a time, and in flesh (John 1:14).
- The gift of Pentecost is that the spirit of Christ came to all flesh, that women and men of every tribe and tongue were not just the work of God but, now, the body of Christ.
- The Christian New Testament is primarily a future oriented series of documents that look forward to a time when the world will not work the way that it currently does but when God’s will and way will be the order of the day.
So why are so many Christian projects, programs, and theologies framed as past-oriented endeavors?
What follows is an experiment in writing for the here and now
Perhaps this is why so many (re)ligious organizations and people (re)sort to (re)clamation projects in (re)action to the perceived problems that (re)sult from our denial or failure to (re)cognize that we have indeed entered into a new and different era – a place that we have never been before.
The impulse to (re)ach back into the imagined past and attempt to salvage some measure of order or to (re)orient ourselves to this new landscape in understandable. The danger, however, is (re)sounding as we endeavor to become (what the fantastic book title labels) ‘The Way We Never Were’. 
It is notable how many contemporary religious/spiritual projects employ a motive that begins with the prefix ‘Re’. Admittedly, there some important words in scripture that begin with ‘Re’. Words like redemption, reconciliation, and restoration are indispensable examples. Two other powerful words that would complete that constellation would be repentance and reparations.
Unfortunately, these five ‘Re-’ words are not the ones that show up the most in Christian circles or are found the most in spiritual literature. While ‘revelation’ and ‘religion’ may be the most prominent offerings, they are not the only ones. Many religious projects are framed with words such as:
The above group of ‘Re-’ words may have a comforting and comfortable ring to them, but they are insufficient for the challenges that we are up against. One of the major challenges of this past-oriented thinking is that it places the vital energy in the past – like a sort of big bang or a pool cue striking the cue ball and sending it crashing into the group – the initial energy is dissipated and we are slowing losing steam (and power) to atrophy.
I would argue that the nature of Christianity is incarnational – so the past is not the sole determining factor for our present or future expression. We have access to an untapped reservoir of power for the present. We are being compelled or called (lured) by the possibilities of the future. We can never re-turn to the past. The nature of time and reality do not allow us to revisit but only to remember.
Deconstruction is loving the past enough not to simply conserve or preserve it.
 Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (BasicBooks, 1992).
 More could be said on exploring those five Biblical concepts for the 21st century. The primary problem with the past may be that it is too easy to romanticize some notion or concept in isolation without addressing the larger structures of injustice and exclusion that it was embedded in or birthed out of.