It’s still kind of hip culturally—the chronic, never-ending deconstruction. There are many reasons this is happening on such a large scale, but suffice it to say it is significant in western Christian circles. I know this because I have been there and have several t-shirts to prove it!
I still spend time in this orbit, paying particular attention to the various voices and watching as the various subgroups/tribes take shape, each claiming a better mousetrap and many declaring Freedom and encouraging others to jump in with them - “The water’s warm” as only urine infused kiddy pools can be.
However, a closer look often reveals something else...
They are not free from the old institutional religion or destructive theologies. For in their bitterness, pointed one-liners and self-justified snark, it shows ever so clearly that they are stuck.
They thrash about with their scathing take-downs and begin to think because they have a little insight, a growing social media crowd who are angry just like them - that they should build their ministry - akin to a toxic spiritual version of Las Vegas in the desert. They think their vitriol is prophetic. They think they are cutting edge. They believe they are spiritually elite because they can gather a crowd to watch them throw stones and hurl zinger one-liners.
But see. Their entire message and actions, with caustic wit, snark, and irreverent spins, reveal in glaring terms they are not free. They live and breathe to react to the systems, theologies, ideologies and people they despise (maybe for good reasons). The words of Jesus come to mind when he asks, “Why are you looking for the living amongst that which is dead?”
Deconstruction is brutal and can be an excruciating season, but please understand deconstruction is not the goal. God leads us out to lead us into something new. For the love of God, don’t make your home in the spaces of transitions and aridity. Resist the urge to build your cottage industry ministry in the transitional spaces of deconstruction - because, truth be told, you will gather the lost, the bitter and the angry. And the only help you can be to them is being lost and angry together. All the while cheering each other on in self-righteous snark - throwing rocks as you cheer each other on.
Yes. We need voices and guides to help us navigate our deconstructions and the in-between places, but we need wise guides who understand the desert is not the destination. We need prophetic voices who understand that deconstruction is not the end goal. We need voices who are more about what they are for than what they are against. Anyone can gather a crowd, Likes, Shares and Retweets by throwing stones and tearing down something. This is too easy. It is uniquely spiritual to be FOR something, towards making something beautiful. To embody and live into the change you wish to see. This takes courage. This takes genuine faith.
We also need skilled guides who can help us untangle from ill-fitting, sometimes toxic and abusive religious ideas. Support us as we explore the generous bandwidth of rich insights and practices beyond our often narrow, static western religious traditions.
We need wise guides that will help us (re)discover the genuine still, small voice within us and help us discern the invitations of the Spirit and in turn, respond.
A few thoughts for the Deconstruction - Reconstruction Journey
1) Religious-induced trauma is real - take steps to address it with a Trauma-informed therapist (ideal if they have experience with religious trauma).
2) Beware of Snarky voices that sound wise and certain in their endless critiques but have never created anything new. These voices tend to reshuffle the chairs on the Titanic rather than produce anything novel. You will find the same legalism as you have fled, just with a fresh coat of paint. Typically, you'll find "the same shit, a different pile," and not always in smaller packages.
3) Beware of any invested in you being just as angry and stuck as they are.
4) Good Theological insights don't automatically translate into deep wisdom. Those insights that are genuinely lived into produce deep wisdom and transformation. We can intellectually untangle the theologies of Eternal Conscious Torment, Hell, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, memetic theory, yadda yadda, yadda and still be self-righteous fundamentalists. Show me the love. Talk is cheap.
5) Passing through - the desert is the space between where we were and someplace new. The desert helps us prepare for, dream of, shed baggage and heal as we enter the new. Yes - there are essential things to be learned in the desert, but these are often seen in hindsight from the perspective of the new space on the other side of the desert.
6) Don't wait for the crowd to get healthy. You may be alone or find a couple of others to share the journey with. Many get stuck in the bitterness traps along the way. Keep moving.
7) On your way, grow, and then be a guide. Take the splinters out of your eye, (practice good self-care, including good boundaries) before trying to help someone with theirs.
8) Love is the way. Love is the Guide. The God who is love is not coercive despite what you may have been taught all your life. Instead, God calls, coaxes and lures us forward with love. Not as a reward or punishment (withholding love) but instead as a faithful, loving companion along each step of the way, presenting us with a host of loving possibilities in each moment.
10) Discerning the way - ask yourself what invitations of the Spirit are before you in your next steps. Is it genuinely loving? Is it honest? Is it healing/restorative? Is it merciful? Is it kind? Does it make us more genuinely human?
(Be aware of hurts and bitterness with a veneer of Christian virtue that justifies cruelty, bitterness, chronic victimhood, scapegoating / the mob.)
Dear ones, I get that folks will continue to find themselves in the deserts of faith: Keep going! Deconstruction is not an end in itself. We deconstruct so we can reconstruct in more healthy, life-giving ways. This is the rhythm of maturity.
For those who have set up permanent camps and are stuck in bitterness, as someone who has been where you are, I want you to know there is much more that awaits you on the other side of reactionary bitterness and its self-righteousness. That which you once hoped for is there waiting to greet you. It's time to break camp!
Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay