Category Archives: blog

Being “Undone” at Christmas/a Christmas Prayer

photo courtesy of Valeriaa Miller – unsplash

Christmas, In our minds, is supposed to be a time of joy and coming home to all that is right in the world. It is supposed to be a time when we can set aside all the confusion and hurt and pain and believe again. However, more often, it is a time when the brokenness of our lives and world actually become more apparent because of the contrast and our inability to manufacture joy in our own strength and power.

It is easy to romanticize Christmas as a respite or reprieve from all that hurts but if we reflect upon that first Christmas, we see that it wasn’t a respite or a getting away from pain but a movement through it all that actually leads us home rather than some sort of a manufactured, illusory, temporary reprieve. Consider these words from Brother Keith Nelson, SSJE:

“Mary and Joseph’s consent to the divine initiative was offered in the thick of public disapproval, private confusion, painful risk, and gathering scandal. Being human, they struggled. If they had not come undone – if they had not broken open, even just a little – the words of the angel would not have had room to land and to grow in their hearts. They offered their lives to this mystery, trusting in its power to do more for them than they could ask or imagine.”

In many ways, Mary and Joseph had to experience a deconstruction of previous categories to enter into the strange experience of being part of the incarnation. Make no mistake – it was strange and foreign to anything they’d ever know. Our willingness to be “undone” and embrace it in these strange and foreign times that are modern life is the path home. It is the path toward wholeness and healing and the birthing of something new in us. What might God be birthing in you? As you let go of previous categories and conceptions of what makes up “the good life,” may you begin to see life in the context of His life in you … shaping you and bringing a life that is more than you could have imagined … free from anything but the God who is the lover of your soul.

Lord, in Your mercy, may I be undone and broken open so that my heart can receive. Give me the strength to trust and hope in what You are doing, not what I can see in front of me. Amen.

Demystifying Deconstruction, Part 3

Embracing Deconstruction

Photo by Sage Friedman on Unsplash

When encountering deconstruction, it can be tempting to retreat to places where we think we can find certainty. The “undoing” of deconstruction is painful and we run the risk of not allowing the shaping and reshaping that God desires for us. In his book, Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey shares an interesting insight into the time he spent in the wilderness of Utah and darkness of night. He noticed that at night, if he used a flashlight, he could see what was right around him but not the larger environment and it kept him small and isolated from the broader reality. 

“There’s another disadvantage to the use of a flashlight, like many other mechanical devices it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on, my eyes adapt to it and I can only see the small pool of light in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision though limited has no sharp or definite boundary.”

This reminds me of a beautiful piece of wisdom from the ancient book of Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” (3:5) Our temptation can be to try to understand and move to places that we understand prematurely. Staying in the uncertainty and disturbance is part of the work of deconstruction.  Many have used a lot of “un” words to describe deconstruction: undoing, unraveling, unselfing, unlearning. This can lead us to deeper places of trust in the God who actually exists rather than a constructed God. However, it is painful and can feel a lot like death and loss. It can even feel like the darkness of the wilderness at night. The deep truth is that it is loving to have a God who will risk us going “off the path” with the desire that we partner with Him “to make straight our paths.” (3:6)

Alan Jones makes the observation: “The task of love is to help us rid ourselves of the exoskeleton, to lay us bare, to set us free. But we love the prison house. The place of bondage is, at least, familiar. Love, then, comes as an unwelcomed shock.” God loves us and desires to lead us further and deeper into the new life that the Gospel (the good news) promises. Geoffrey Tristram describes our role: “Unless we let go of the familiar, the safe, the secure; unless we take the risk of becoming vulnerable, we cannot grow. So much of the literature of the world is about this very theme. From the story of Abraham in Genesis, to the great epic stories of the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Lord of the Rings. They all require leaving everything and going on a journey that will lead to a new life, a new identity.”

It may sound strange to be encouraged to “embrace” deconstruction, but perhaps not as we begin to understand deconstruction as a movement of the Spirit in our lives and the lives of others. To embrace deconstruction is to be fully present to what God is up to in one’s life and where one finds themselves in the present moment. In this final exploration, I want to look at a few things as it relates to practical, concrete ways we can be fully present to what God might be doing. 

All followers of Christ should find themselves in moments or seasons of deconstruction. Quite simply, if we don’t, we either aren’t paying attention or we’ve hardened our hearts. We never have it all figured out and we will find that we’ve constructed things that are just not consistent with truth and God’s heart. To suggest otherwise is to try to protect something or hold on to something that less than God. Perhaps we’ve become beholden to our experiences of the faith and the theological perspectives that make us the most comfortable.

The challenge is to stay with God in our deconstruction. Deconstruction is not a rejection of God (although it may feel like that) but a rejection of that which is less than and/or contrary to God. However, at the same time, in a season of deconstruction, we may find ourselves so angry and hurt that walking into a church, picking up a Bible, and/or prayer triggers emotions that can seem unbearable. When deconstruction has come about (at least partially) from abuse and/or trauma, there can be a deep wisdom in separating oneself from standard spiritual practices in order to heal. 

Years ago, as I pastored a church, I encouraged someone to stop reading their Bible for a period of time because the Bible had been used as a weapon in their previous church and just picking the Scriptures up was painful. Counseling to work through trauma can be incredibly helpful. When dealing with the effects of hurt and abuse, the deep work of deconstruction can be too much for us and we need to stabilize and heal before and as we move forward. Questioning God and finding ourselves angry with Him may also be a normal part of the journey as well. We need to give ourselves space for this and trust that God gives us that space as well. Stanley Hauerwas has suggested: “Anytime you think you need to protect God, you can be sure that you are worshipping an idol.” God doesn’t need to be protected and He doesn’t try to protect Himself. He invites our real experience of our lives and Him. Read the Psalms for only a few pages and you see expression of anger, doubt, and questions. “How long, O God, will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13)

Deconstruction really is about loss. It is about losing our misconceptions about God, our ways of being in the world, and our ego. Jesus highlighted loss as a key element of following His way: “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. [25] For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23–25) It might sound good on paper but loss is hard when it comes our way and perhaps even harder when we are invited to voluntarily lose something. How do we do that? How do we open our hands and release that which has given us a sense of safety, security, and control? As Alan Jones suggests, “we love the prison house.” In John 8, Jesus said: “you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” He is not speaking of “truth” generically but about relational truth … specifically, “abiding” (or, remaining present) to what He says. The discussion He was having in this context was about being slaves to sin, or imprisoned. The Pharisees had significant misconceptions about God and how they related to Him. Jesus was seeking to set them free. They had significant superiority issues (or, ego) and Jesus called them to more. 

Again, the question remains: how do we live into that? We embrace the ultimate realities of deconstruction as we learn to let go and release … as we learn to open our hands of that to which we cling and empty ourselves of grasping for power and control (Philippians 2). We also have to realize that in letting go of one thing, we can be tempted to pick something else up rather than leaving ourselves empty and surrendered before God.

This is where the contemplative tradition of the Christian faith has so much to say and model for us. I won’t offer a full discussion and exploration of contemplative spirituality, but here a few directions to explore:

  1. The Psalms can be a wonderful companion because they are prayers (staying connected to God) that are full of interpersonal contradiction, misconceptions about God, questions, doubts, and angst. And … God invites us to pray them and to identify with them. He meets us there. Often, the Psalms give words to things we are experiencing but otherwise could not identify or put into our own words. Also, we see movement (as an invitation) in the Psalms from orientation (being settled to some degree) to disorientation (disrupted in what we have thought and are experiencing) to reorientation (a kind of resettling in a new place).
  2. Contemplative practices of letting go such as silence and solitude, listening prayer, and holy detachment are critical in seasons of deconstruction. They help us release our grip on what was important and attach to God’s heart more fully and deeply. It is only with empty hands that we can move forward. In Exodus 14, as God led the people of Israel of our enslavement in Egypt, they were experiencing a kind of deconstruction as they were being asked to let go of a way of life they had known for 400 years and embrace a vulnerability and trust in a God they were learning to trust in new ways. They responded by saying, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” It can feel like death and we can begin to believe we are going to die. God responds through Moses and says, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Some translations read: “you only have to be still.” The ideas of stillness and silence speak to a contemplative approach of letting go of old strategies for survival and our old ways of being in the world.
  3. Finally, critical in a time of deconstruction is having companions that will hold space and give freedom to explore and discover what is happening in one’s soul. As mentioned previously, we often find counseling helpful. Also helpful is meeting with a spiritual director who can help you notice and discover how God is at work. Most spiritual directors are specifically trained to hold the kind of space we need in a time of deconstruction.

It may be tempting to think that reconstruction will mean that all of our questions are resolved and our hurts repaired, but the reality is that often we find ourselves with more questions and our hurts replaced with a limp. However, we can confidently say we will have a new view of and experience of God: “He put a new song in my mouth.” (Psalm 40:3) In John 6, Jesus and His disciples were experiencing opposition from religious leaders and many of His followers were turning away because Jesus was leading them into things that they couldn’t fully comprehend. Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “Do you want to go away as well?” (vs. 67) Peter responded with: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (vs. 68) That is beauty that can come from deconstruction? A stripping down of our confidence in anything but the One.

Demystifying Deconstruction, Pt 2

Exploring Deconstruction

Photo by Edge2Edge Media on Unsplash

Deconstruction leads to reconstruction. That is the heart of God for us as we move through a difficult season of disorientation and wilderness. In general, over the first seasons of our lives, we construct a way of living and moving and being in the world: construction. There comes a time when our “constructed” life and worldview no longer work the way they once did. Things begin to deconstruct so reconstruction can occur. However, this is not always what happens.

It is possible to misunderstand and misidentify the movement and shaping of God in our lives. Deconstruction is painful. It is confusing. It is disorienting. We can lose our bearings. In this second blog post, we will explore what is going on in the movement from construction to deconstruction and then reconstruction. If leaders and spiritual mentors misunderstand what is going on, it can lead to discouragement of and stifling of the good, spiritual growth of followers of Jesus. If one going through deconstruction misidentifies what is happening, deconstruction can become an end in itself and not lead to a reconstruction with God more at the center than ever before.

For those who find themselves suspicious as they encounter deconstruction, we can confidently say that this is a work of the Spirit. John DelHousaye made the observation: “Jesus invites us to join his circle; many of us come with a drawing of him in hand; the depiction – how he was presented by our parents, pastor, or Christian school – is not entirely wrong and had a wholesome purpose, and yet Jesus looks perplexed over why we still cling to paper.” There is a letting go in this process and the goal is deepening experience of union with God as old conceptions of God are shed. However, we may need further discernment as we explore deconstruction. Let me offer three lenses through which can view deconstruction: desire, direction, and doctrine.

But, first, a short but significant caveat is in order as we continue our exploration. There is a kind of deconstruction that does not lead to reconstruction. One of the objections to deconstruction posited by some is that it is because of sin and/or “rebellion.” Often, someone has just made up their mind that they are “done” with Christianity for a variety of reasons and their journey of deconstruction is engaged in a way so as not to continue to journey with Christ in deepening, purifying, more faithful ways. This kind of “deconstruction” is perhaps more about destruction. This is where the first lens of “desire” can be helpful as we explore deconstruction.  

As deconstruction is encountered, one’s desire, or heart longing, is a significant part of what is being awakened, shifted, and formed. Alan Jones made the observation that “a human being is a longing for God.” Desire is central to who we are, and specifically a desire for God is at the depths of who we are. Many begin to experience an awakening of desire, a recognition that they were made for something more. For many in deconstruction, phrases like “there has to be more to faith than this” or “what used to satisfy me no longer does.” While this can be unnerving, desire for a deeper, more authentic experience of Christ is something that the Spirit shapes in us. Most often the desire is centered around a disconnect between what one knows cognitively and what one is actually experiencing. The dissatisfaction can appear both internally and around what is being observed in the church. Church attendance and participation may not seem to address this new, awakened desire. These desires can be disorienting because things that have always made sense or satisfied us no longer do, and yet, as spiritual director Thomas Dubay observes: Most significant spiritual growth is often discerned by the believer as backsliding.” When that is our discernment, we may try to increase our efforts to do what we have always done, we may get discouraged thinking that following Christ “just isn’t for me,” or we may try to ignore it. However, if we can see this awakened desire as the movement of God in our lives to move with Him into deepening experience of Him and a shifted relationship with the church and others, we may find encouragement to engage in the deconstruction/reconstruction process with a measure of joy as we trust that it is God who is at work in us (Phil 2:13).

The second lens through which we can view deconstruction is direction. We can discern that a Spirit led deconstruction is occurring when there is a specific trajectory, or direction, to what is going on. Deconstruction is always a movement to something, not simply away from something. Often, deconstruction is experienced as a leaving behind or a jettisoning of the old as the primary movement with something undiscerned on the other side. However, as we look at the Scriptures and the writing of saints over the ages, we see something very different. Deconstruction is a movement toward God and toward a deepened, purified experience of who He truly is. Certainly, there are things left behind but the direction is toward God Himself. 

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, in observing the prayer life and movements of God in the Psalms, categorized the Psalms along the lines of psalms of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. In those three words, one can see the concepts of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. And rather than being singular events, this threefold movement of God in the lives of His people happens over and over again. Often, the movement is scarcely recognizable and at other times it is painfully (or, confusingly) present.

The early church fathers and mothers observed a similar threefold movement expressed in the words purgation, illumination, and union that focuses on the end result even more than the process. Purgation could be considered akin to deconstruction in that sin, childish/immature ways, and even theological naivite are purged from the follower of Jesus. Illumination is a place where one begins to see God more clearly as opposed to the more immature ways of seeing God as one who produces certain outcomes, etc. Finally, union is a description of a life of life in which intimacy with God and love for others is the clear, defining rubric through which a follower of Jesus exists in the world. 

In 1 John 2:12-14 (ESV), we observe a three-fold progression as well: I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.  I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Notice the developmental nature of what is being described: children, young men, and fathers. Children are those whose sins have been forgiven and they know God as Father. The young men are those who have passed through purgation and overcome the evil one and are strong. Finally, the fathers are those who know God as the One who is from the beginning. There is much we could observe about the process and development described here, but perhaps most significant is how one relates to God. The movement is from a child in need of a Father to a strong young man to the father/elder who relates to God as one who is imminently present and yet infinitely eternal. The movement is from simplicity (not a bad thing) to strength to relational absorption in the mystery and depths of experiencing union with one who infinite and intimate all together. The direction of deconstruction is toward experiential, relational trust that goes beyond words and cognitive knowledge (Ephesians 3; Philippians 4). A child knows certain things about a parent but the parent is not a “real person” whereas the fathers relate to God intimately as friend (John 15) and perhaps we might even say lover (Song of Songs).

For many followers of Jesus, we have looked at the Christian experience in very black and white terms with little nuance and very little attention paid to process and depth where intimacy with God is the end goal. Much discussion is either/or rather than both/and. This has not only hurt us in the process of moving into the depths of the union that we already have in Christ, it has stunted, delayed, or derailed the beautiful, while painful, process of deconstruction and reconstruction. 

Finally, it is wise to pay attention to how doctrine is engaged in a deconstruction-reconstruction process. Certainly, for many, a deconstruction journey began and can even become centered on doctrine. There is often a sense that some doctrines are just not ringing true. Or perhaps, further study of any range of issues might bring someone to new convictions. There may be an experience of deep pain in seeing how people have been treated in the name of Christ and how theological positions have been used as weapons in culture wars. There are certainly doctrinal teachings that are core and non-negotiable in terms of protecting the essence of being in Christ. However, the list is often shorter than many would imagine or even allow. There are many debatable matters that have been that way over the course of church history. A significant problem in many churches and theological circles is pulling doctrines and particular convictions into the circle of what is essential and calling it “gospel” as though it can never be questioned. The gospel is the simple truth that Jesus died, was buried, rose on the third day, and appeared to many. (1Corinthians 15) Paul makes it clear that this “gospel” is of first importance, meaning that it is primary and foundational. This truth, Paul says in the previous verses, is what “you received, in which you stand in, and by which you are being saved.”

An additional note may be helpful here as well. As someone is engaging deconstruction, the movement is into a depth of relationship with Christ not experienced before. Truth is engaged with differently. In the end, it is not that truth becomes unimportant but for many the shift is toward truth being a person rather than interacting primarily with truth as a set of propositional ideas. Again, not that truth as propositional statement doesn’t have importance but as Paul writes in Ephesians 4:21, “the truth is in Jesus.” In the context, Paul is speaking of putting off the old man and putting on the old man. These are relational realities connected to a renewal of the spirit and being made in the likeness of God. In essence, we might say that truth is Jesus … truth is a person … truth is relational. At the very center of all that exists is a creator who exists in eternal Trinitarian relationship. 

Given these things, it might be helpful to suggest that any deconstruction journey will interact with doctrine in ways that seems off limits or at the very least odd to the observer and even the person in deconstruction. It is vital that Christ be at the center and that He is interacted with as Lord. He is faithful on the journey as the Spirit shapes and leads. Within our abiding union with Christ, we can question and deconstruct all kinds of things with Him as our companion. We’ll discuss this further in this next blog post. 

Wherever you find yourself, allow me to offer a bit of pastoral encouragement. In Romans 2:4, we read: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” In discussions and debates around deconstruction, kindness is not a word that generally comes to mind and yet it is the kindness of God that draws us to Him and shapes our hearts. The word repentance is a very misunderstood word, and it essentially means to have a change of mind … a shift in direction. It is a beautifully gracious word even though preachers and others have used it to shout at people and shame people. The construction-deconstruction-reconstruction journey is a beautiful journey of repentance … it is a shift from one place to another. Kindness is needed all around. Be assured, God’s kindness in the process is plentiful. For those undergoing deconstruction, allow yourself to feel and receive that kindness. God is not mad at you. He is taking you to places you’ve never gone through terrain that is difficult. For those observers, be kind! If you want to companion and encourage someone along the way, it is kindness that leads us home.

Demystifying Deconstruction, Pt 1

Experiencing Deconstruction

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

When we arrive at the shores of deconstruction, it can feel like our faith as we’ve experienced it has been shipwrecked, and other believers may be quite hasty in pointing out that our boat has run ashore and that we need to push back out to sea. The general confusion and uncertainty around “running ashore” is difficult enough and if others are deriding or dismissing our experience it can be even more difficult.

Deconstruction is a word that has become quite familiar among people of faith to describe the experience of one’s faith being dismantled on some level and to varying degrees. The dismantling often occurs around Christian beliefs and doctrines as well as practice and the nature of the church as one has experienced it. 

Often, deconstruction seems to happen upon someone gradually, perhaps even passively, and at other times, it is a very active, intentional process. Deconstruction can occur for various reasons but at the heart of it is the idea that on some level one’s faith no longer “works.” The experience of things “no longer working” can have roots in intellectual exploration, relational hurt/abuse, etc. This may sound scary and dangerous, and for those experiencing deconstruction, it can feel that way and worse. Confusion, anger, doubts, disorientation, feelings of condemnation, loss, betrayal, and insecurity can leave those experiencing deconstruction feeling naked, alone, and desperate. In addition, anger is often present in deep ways as one navigates the experience. 

One of the most significant questions to explore is how we interact with deconstruction, whether our own experience or the experience of others. 

First, for those experiencing deconstruction, the confusing nature of the experience can leave us wondering what about our faith is worth salvaging, if anything at all. For someone who would have considered themselves a believer (a person of faith), this is incredibly disorienting. Other questions that arise center around: who can I trust? Has it all been a lie? Why am I just now learning certain things? Why can’t the church be healthy? Why doesn’t church practice and what I’ve been taught line up with the way of love that Jesus modeled? Additionally, for most, a season of deconstruction is not something that would have been expected. While perhaps a normal part of a life of faith (more on this later), most have not had exposure to the idea that there are shifts and changes in the life of faith marked by disorientation and deconstruction. However, this is well attested in the tradition of the church fathers and mothers as well as the writings of Christian mystical theology. Many experiencing deconstruction simply have no context for what is happening. And, there are often not companions for such a journey of examining, questioning, and even doubting the nature of God and what it means to have faith.

Second, for those in church leadership and observers of those experiencing deconstruction, it can also be very confusing. The idea of the faith “not working” and being questioned so deeply raises questions and concerns. From that place of confusion, an observers’ response is often to grab for some sense of certainty and perhaps to even try to quiet or quell another’s experience of deconstruction. Much of the current response from leaders is both unhelpful and uninformed. Unhelpful, in the sense that when someone is going through such a difficult experience, suggesting that they are wrong and headed for disaster does not create an environment where someone can interact in meaningful ways regardless of what, how, and why it is happening. People need to feel safe and listened to … and so combative rhetoric can actually do more to traumatize and re-traumatize than help. And, uninformed, because there appears to be a significant misunderstanding of a larger context of what might be going on. In addition, people should not be told how they can and can’t talk about their experience. Many have said that we shouldn’t call it deconstruction or that it is poisonous, etc. Language should be used with care and caution. 

Finally, some have suggested that deconstruction is the result of sin and poor teaching. Poor teaching may indeed be involved in how deconstruction is being experienced, but I’d like to suggest that the poor teaching “charge” may not be on the level of needing more or better teaching around what is being “deconstructed” as way to prevent deconstruction, but poor teaching understood as a lack of teaching that could give context to deconstruction. And, the charge of sin? Perhaps, someone may simply be trying to “deconstruct” their faith as an act of rebellion against God but more frequently, it is because one cares so deeply about their faith that they are trying to make sense of it. Doubt and questioning is a function of faith, whereas an actively “sinful” disposition would be more likely to just walk away with a sense of apathy. Most who experience deconstruction do not have issues with God but with the ways they’ve understood Him and the ways others have led them. 

To begin to tie some of this together, I want to suggest that a sort of deconstruction is exactly where God often leads us. This may sound strange, but the reality is that all of our conceptions of God are limited and usually even mis-shaped to some degree. Augustine made the observation: “if you understand, it is not God.” The point is not that we cannot understand God. He is understandable and knowable, but He is also beyond our knowing. He is most immediately grasped and experienced in the land of unknowing. Consider that Philippians 4 describes a “peace that surpasses understanding” and Ephesians 3 encourages us to “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

C. S. Lewis, in Letter to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, wrote: “God must continually work as the iconoclast. Every idea of Him we form He must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking, ‘But I never knew before. I never dreamed …’” An iconoclast is someone who attacks beliefs and institutions … one who destroys images used in worship. The naming of God as an iconoclast is the idea that God is in the business of reframing and reshaping how we think about Him and how we interact with Him. And, often, this is experienced in deeply difficult and disturbing ways. God’s heart for us to know Him is so strong that He is continually in the loving process of moving us away from anything less than Himself toward a fullness of experiencing Him as He is. And, He invites us to be a part of the process.

Dr. John DelHousaye states it beautifully: “Deconstruct your inherited god concept and religious self, so that you may know and belong only to the true God (Ephesians 4:22-24).”

However it is that one arrives in the experience of deconstruction, deconstruction in and of itself it not a bad thing. Doubts and questions are good, normal, healthy parts of faith. Doubt actually demonstrates faith. Consider Thomas in John 20:24-29.

Deconstruction is not a problem to be solved but a movement of God to be experienced. And, the movement is from deconstructing that which is ultimately not an accurate understanding or experience of God toward a reconstruction which is more faithful to the reality of who God is. Uninformed and poor teaching is often why people don’t move from deconstruction to reconstruction. 

Some may make the argument that what is being “deconstructed” is “off limits” because it belongs to orthodoxy or has long been a part of one’s tradition. It is helpful to remember two things: we never have it right (to claim so is the height of arrogance), and what has been understood as orthodox has certainty shifted over the years. Humility is helpful and needed both in those experiencing deconstruction and those observing.

Finally, it can helpful to say that for many who are experiencing deconstruction, it has risen out of a deep sense that there has to be something more. This may result from hurt and betrayal in the church. It might be spurred on by noticing a significant disparity between what Jesus and Scriptures seem to teach and the actual practice of western expressions of Christianity. And, it may spring from a deep longing for knowing this love and peace of God that is often spoken of but rarely in ways that connect with the heart. In humility, it should always be understood that a longing for more is perhaps one of the healthiest expressions of faith. Because God is infinite and we are not, we would always want to know more and experience more of God. 

In part two of this exploration, we will look further at the specifics of what might be happening in deconstruction to give further context and hope that this is indeed a work of the Spirit in most cases. For now, I’d like to offer this for those experiencing deconstruction: when we reach the land of unknowing, we can enter by faith, trusting that God is leading us and loving us. Or, we can get back in the boat of certainty and intellectualize our faith even more. Not that having some sense of certainty as well as deepening doubts are mutually exclusive or contradictory. In fact, it was perhaps the ship of theological certainty that got us this far and we need step out of the boat because it has been a tool that took us this far on our journey. And, it is important to remember that boat is just that, a useful tool, not a place to live. 


Coming in subsequent posts:

Part 2: Exploring Deconstruction

Part 3: Embracing Deconstruction

Deconstruction?

here’s a short little video that was part of a podcast I did with Catacomb Podcast a few months ago. In the coming month, stay tuned for several blogs on Deconstruction.

In All Things

A Sunday Morning Reflection

Colossians 1:17, 19: He is before all things, and in him all things hold together … in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

If I’m honest, I don’t know much with certainty … I can’t control things … I often feel lonely and lost. There are strong forces within me that want to fight … fight for certainty and control and acceptance. And again, if I’m honest, they all seem out of sight … beyond reach. As I allow myself to truly feel this reality and I give up the fight for even a moment, I begin to see. I see in every square inch of the universe that there is One who holds all that I long to hold. He holds all things, including me. I begin to see that I am a creature, not the creator. If I allow myself to get lost here … absorbed in this reality … I move past seeing into being. I begin to experience rest and freedom because all that I’ve longed for has been available all the time … in the hands of the One who holds all things. I may not know much but He does. I may not be able to control anything but He holds it all together. I may not feel like I fit but I fit in Him. To detach from my self-determination is the battle … a battle of release rather than grasping. O, maker of all things, may I rest here today … even for one moment. Tomorrow, maybe two. May your Holy Spirit prompt me to release when I’m tempted to grasp for things on my own rather than rest in You.

Resurrection Sunday – Called You by Name

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).         John 20:11-16

He blesses every love that weeps and grieves

And now he blesses her who stood and wept

And would not be consoled, or leave her love’s

Last touching place, but watched as low light crept

Up from the east. A sound behind her stirs

A scatter of bright birdsong through the air.

She turns, but cannot focus through her tears,

Or recognize the Gardener standing there,

She hardly hears his gentle question, ‘Why,

Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light

That brightens as she chokes out her reply,

‘They took my love away, my day is night.’

An then she hears her name, she hear Love say

The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.

Easter dawn. a sonnet by Malcolm Guite

“But now thus says the LORD,

he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.’”

Isaiah 43:1

Prayerfully reflect for a few minutes on the One who calls you by name. Imagine that you were there on that first Easter morning looking for Jesus. He calls you by name. How do you respond?

As we come to the end of this Lenten journey in the wilderness, we also come to a beginning. What will you leave behind? What will you take with you as you continue to journey with Jesus into this next season of your life with Him?

Finally, remember that you have been brought from death to life in Christ. “You died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God.  Whenever Christ, your life, should become manifest, then you also will become manifested with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4) This pattern continues to be the pattern. Notice and participate with God in what He is doing in taking you from death to life over and over again. In Christ, you have the “working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:19-20)

“… for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

Song of Solomon 2:11–12

Lord, thank You for loving me and calling me by name in the middle of the wilderness. Thank You for the resurrection power at work in me. Give me eyes to see it and join in what You are doing. I trust You. I love You. I praise Your holy name. Amen. 

Day 40 – Waiting

And then we wait.

The work is done, and now we wait in humble, enduring trust.

On this Saturday, it is quiet. The intensity of Friday is no longer. The quiet, mixed with the lingering questions, provides a different kind of intensity. Saturday may feel a bit dark. The suffering of the wilderness is a companion of sorts, and then the quietness of waiting companions in a different way. Over the centuries, one of the most significant descriptions of silence and waiting is dark night of the soul. Dark night of the soul is an experience of forsakenness. We may hear echoes of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1)

A dark night of the soul is not the suffering itself but the silence that is present as we wait for something new, something unrevealed. The silence can be deafening unless we are able to rest into it, knowing that the pattern of death to life is surely at work. For the people of Israel, they understood there was a destination. They still struggled. For the disciples on that first Saturday between cross and resurrection, there was apparently a measure of disbelief. The disciples from Emmaus made their preparations to head back home. (cf. Luke 24:13) The eleven gathered together and had hardened their hearts. (cf. Mark 16:14) 

As we walk through our own wilderness, we may find ourselves in a place of disbelief … even hardening our hearts … struggling to keep an open, trusting heart. In these moments, we may become aware that we have been trusting our own understanding rather than trusting God Himself. We want to know … to grasp what is happening! On Saturday, we know very little, if anything at all. We are invited to pray a prayer like “I don’t understand you, but I trust you.” (Basilea Schlink) 

In Psalm 22, the words that follow the cry of feeling forsaken are these: “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”

Pausing here for a moment: in the darkness of Saturday, can you let go of understanding and move toward trust? Don’t move along too quickly. Feel the weight of not knowing and rest in the One who does know … the One who holds your life. Can you sit with that word “yet” from Psalm 22? This leads us into a freedom in the empty space that makes what is coming even more profound.

Jacques Philippe, in Interior Freedom, suggests: “It is natural and easy to go along with pleasant situations that arise without our choosing them. It becomes a problem, obviously, when things are unpleasant, go against us, or make us suffer. But it is precisely then that, in order to become truly free, we are often called to choose to accept what we did not want, and even what we would not have wanted at any price. There is a paradoxical law of human life here: one cannot become truly free unless one accepts not always being free! To achieve true interior freedom, we must train ourselves to accept, peacefully and willingly, plenty of things that seem to contradict our freedom. This means consenting to our personal limitations, our weaknesses, our powerlessness, this or that situation that life imposes on us, and so on.”

On this in-between day, reflect on the ways that you are in-between … incomplete … unknowing. You are in this place because something has died. You have been led to stop fighting, stop avoiding, stop resisting. Now, you accept the emptiness because it means that God has graciously allowed death. As you prepare today for resurrection, remember that resurrection is meaningful because something has died. Hold onto that hope in order to fully experience the hope of Sunday.

Thomas Merton wrote, “No despair of ours can alter the reality of things or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there … we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.” Today, we wait at the edge of the dance floor in trust and in hope, and tomorrow we dance. Perhaps, we tap our foot a bit even today as we know what is coming. 


Question for reflection: today, simply reflect on where you are in the movement from “death to life.” What is it like to be in the in-between? In this space, can you pray: “yet you are holy?”

Prayer: “God, I so much want to be in control. I want to be the master of my own destiny. Still, I know that you are saying: ‘Let me take you by the hand and lead you. Accept my love and trust that where I will bring you, the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled.’ Lord, open my hands to receive your gift of love. Amen.” (Henri Nouwen)

Day 39 – Endurance

“… that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

Friday … the most horrific day in human history as God in human flesh was brutally crucified. Yet, this Friday has been called good. Good … a word that is often flippantly thrown around to modify any number of things. And yet, that Friday was good. It is was good in the most true, pure, solid, holy way possible. 

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

His love for us displayed perfectly. And at the same time, this day was devastating for those first followers of Jesus. They were disoriented and displaced in the depths of wilderness. Confusion, doubt, despair, loss, and fear all mixed together. As we refuse to run from the suffering, we find ourselves in a waiting space … a liminal reality in which is can be difficult to know if it is day or night. The invitation in the desert season is trust which leads us to stay in that liminal space. This is what Paul refers to as “endurance” in 1 Corinthians 10. As we wait, we remain present and stay open to the work of God.

While the questions may be fast and fierce, we wait with God in trust … knowing that He is at work when we can’t see it. Even though they were told that this would happen, the disciples couldn’t piece it together. It was too much. It couldn’t fit into any of their categories. There was nothing about love, peace, and hope that seemed to connect with their Rabbi and Lord hanging on a cross. While we can see the whole picture in retrospect, it wasn’t so clear in the throes of such suffering. And so it is with us in our wilderness. Because we have the cross and resurrection as the center of faith, we can borrow from this paradigm to fuel our trust. Death to life (cross to resurrection) is the pattern. It is how God works. 

Of course, we think: can’t there be an easier way? This was, of course, Jesus’ question in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before. (Luke 22:42) Anne Lamott suggests: “Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness, and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” Staying in the hurt, confusion, and pain allows the space for a shaping … a transformation. As we stay in the pain that our crosses produce, we are able to see the grace and provision of God.

When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus in John 3, He said something that draws upon the forty years in the wilderness: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (vs. 14–15) While it might have been a bit opaque in the moment, Jesus was clearly connecting the bronze serpents of Numbers 21 to the cross. What was happening in Numbers?

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (vs. 4–9)

Grace in the wilderness. Provision. And it required a trusting look – what Jesus calls belief in John 3. Can you believe that God is at work in your worst moments? Can you trust that what looks like the worst thing imaginable will soon be called good? Can you trust? Death always leads to resurrection. Always. Every time. Without exception.

In Christ, Sunday is always two days away. We experience losses (deaths) in this life that God uses to transform us in deeper and deeper experiences of His love. And, when we experience our ultimate death, God uses that to transform us as well. This is why the Apostle Paul can say that “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8) When we settle into that reality, we are free. We are free to experience the pattern of death to life over and over again. And so, even in the pain and uncertainty, a little smile may emerge because of the knowledge that God is doing what He does.

The gospel writer John, who was also one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, referred to Himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. (John 13; John 18; John 19; John 21) Certainly, Jesus loved all the disciples, but John’s identity as the beloved had been shaped so deeply that this is how he saw Himself. It is significant to note that when all the other disciples scattered as Jesus was arrested, tried, and taken to the cross, John endured … He stayed … He remained. He stayed in the pain and He experienced the love of Jesus in more profound ways than anyone else. His first New Testament letter is rooted in discussing the love of God. He wrote the statement: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) He is love, and this is our trust in the wilderness. 

It is His love that transform a disastrous Friday into a good one. Will you look at the cross and let it encourage you to endure? He is at work even as our world falls apart. 


Question for reflection: how is God stirring your heart? What is He inviting on this Good Friday?

Prayer: Lord, as I look at the cross, I trust that just as the serpents in the wilderness were transformed into a healing agent, You take it all and transform it into healing and life. I look to the cross and believe. I know that in Him is life. Amen.

Day 38 – Escape

“but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

The overall temptation in the wilderness is to escape, to run, to get out. It is a natural instinct, but as we have seen, God desires to be with us in the wilderness and He has His good purposes for how He shapes us in the desert. When frustrated, it is indeed tempting to say: I’m done. I’m out of here. At that point, we experience the temptation to manufacture a way of escape.

It is a grace when we begin to notice our impulse to escape. At that point, we have an opportunity to stop, slow down, and notice how God is at work and what He is doing. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, we are encouraged that God provides an escape as well, but the escape is from the temptation to escape the situation, not the situation itself. This brings us back once again to a concept we explored earlier in this Lenten journey: it is not about getting out, but trusting God in the wilderness. In the mysterious depths of God’s love, giving us an escape hatch from the situation is much less loving than giving us an escape from the temptation to escape. The point of being rescued from the temptation is that we would be able to endure … remain … hold fast.

As we come to this final day before Jesus would be crucified, the temptation to escape was perhaps never more heightened. But rather than run, Jesus kept walking step by step, being led by the Father. How He interacts with those around Him speaks volumes about the nature of the “escape from temptation.”

The first words of the description of this final night are often skipped over but notice the profound nature of what is expressed: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) He loved them to the end! Consider that for a moment. Rather than being self-focused and self-protective, He loved. Don’t miss the reality that Jesus existed in human flesh and was facing a gruesome death … and He loved them to the end. For us, the reflex under stress is usually to retreat, regroup, and devise a strategy for survival. Jesus walked toward His death with love. We are invited to follow in those footsteps. 

The “escape” that God provides is not a strategy built around survival but love. Rather than retreating inward, we are invited to move out … to move into love. Jesus was immersed in the love of the Father which then directed His “strategy” for moving through the most challenging day of His life. As we “die before we die,” we are freed to leave the details of our earthly existence to good purposes of the Father rather than pouring ourselves into survival strategies.  As we consider the movement this week of “death to life,” we begin to see that survival mode is a kind of death and as we release it we are ushered into life … a life defined by and directed by the love of God.

Jesus clearly expressed this love in washing the feet of His disciples as they moved toward the Passover meal together. Imagine: on the most difficult night of His earthly existence, He stopped, stooped, and served. He entrusted all of Himself to God the Father and loved others to the very end. 

Then, in the context of this meal – which He clearly connected to His impending sacrificial death – He shared that all of His disciples would fall away. How He handles this is another staggering expression of love. He isn’t angry but simply says, “Don’t worry; I’ll see you in Galilee.” (Matthew 26:30-32) He wanted to prepare them and let them know that He knew and would still be there for them. He displayed incredible grace and provision even as He shared with Peter that He knew Peter would deny Him. He was preparing them all and considered them before Himself. As we entrust ourselves to God, we are freed to love. And so, this is the “escape” from the temptation to escape.

Finally, the dinner itself is a testimony that the way of the cross is the way of love. Ann Voskamp makes the observation: “On the night Jesus was betrayed — He gave thanks.” She goes on to say: “On the night when the prodigal sliced open your heart, on the night when you lost your job, when your person slammed out the door, and the toilet stopped flushing, and the dog gagged and puked all over the back mat, on the night when it looked like the dawn would never come again — there is always a choice, and why not choose what Jesus did? Because when Jesus had to fight through dark, staring right into the most impossible situation of the Cross — what does He do? Out of a universe of supernatural options at the tip of His fingers — what does Jesus do? On the night when Jesus was betrayed — He gave thanks. If Jesus can give thanks in that — you can give thanks in everything.”

Sit with that for a few moments. How does “dying before you die” free you to love and give thanks? What is stirring in your heart and mind as you consider Jesus’ steps on this Thursday night before the crucifixion?

Episcopal brother James Koester summarizes the invitation: “The way we are invited to walk is not an easy one. It involves towel, basin, and water. It requires us to bend, to stoop, and to kneel. It involves cross and nails, thorns and spear. It requires us to die. It involves tomb, and grave clothes. It requires us to lay everything aside, even our own lives. But for those who follow, it is life, and peace, and joy.” 


Question for reflection: how is God shaping you and speaking to your heart?

Prayer: Lord, here I am in the middle of the wilderness and I notice my instinct for survival and self-protection, and I also notice my desire to follow the way of Jesus. Strengthen me through the Holy Spirit to release self-preoccupation and receive the grace to walk in love, to give thanks, to serve others. Amen.