What If: Deconstruction Does Not Require a Rebuild?

In 2002, I began a conscious journey of question asking. At that time, I was not familiar with the term “deconstruction,” but over the last almost 2 decades, that word has come to encompass the more common conversations among many modern progressive leaning Christians. Some have walked away from faith completely. Others have unpacked long held beliefs of theology and yet held onto the roots of the traditions. As this term became more trendy, I have seen some begin to bristle at the idea that what began as a form of rebelling has become quite mainstream. In certain faith circles, a journey of deconstruction is the only entrance ticket.

The interesting part of this journey for me is that I never planned to still be on this road. What began as an attempt to gently unpack understandings that felt stifling and old, has landed me years later in places that I never intended to go. These are arenas that I would have told you, even a few years ago, were beyond my desire and longing. I wrongly assumed that I would explore some messy beliefs and then pack the rest of life in neatly held depositories for open minded exploration. As I’ve discovered, that’s not how it works.

When I gave myself permission to ask the first question, I opened a way of thinking that I could not rebottle. In some ways, I feel like I rubbed a lamp and out popped the magic question asking genie, a genie with unlimited questions. Once I realized that the first question only added depth and richness to the journey of my life, I grew to love the questions. I realized that the unknown was not bad. I came to believe that the beauty of the journey of life was actually more fully known in the doubts and struggles.

As the one in the midst of the deconstructed way of life, I have never felt threatening. I have, however, quickly discovered that my journey makes others very uncomfortable. I will have more words about this particular part of the journey tomorrow, but what I need to say today is that I’m not finished. I’m not even close to being “deconstructed.” So, dear ones that are confused and concerned, hold on tight.

At the very heart of every good question asker is the deep desire to fully engage. When we stop living from the posture of individual containers in a segregated life and intentionally chose to move into integrated and holistic living, we change. Our entire outlook on growth and humanity and spirit and our physical bodies and our mental health begin to align in ways that can be absolutely uncomfortable for those that have chosen to live from multiple bucket. For me, deconstruction has literally wrecked the ability to keep a particular issue, idea or belief in its own compartmentalized thought container. And while this intentional shift has been so life giving, it has disrupted all of the things.

I can no longer see things that were once very right and wrong or black and white as anything but gray. When I apply that to the ways that I have always operated, it causes an immediate shift in priorities. This way of thinking has moved me into spaces of wonderful doubt and loving embracing. It has pushed me to call out injustice and oppression that I would have never acknowledged for fear of displaying spiritually wrong thought. It has even required that I reframe the “biggies” of life like parenting and marriage and friendship. I think it is safe to say that I am (at least) middle aged. At 45, I’m confident that I have lived long enough to have my own experiences and understanding, yet separating from ‘others’ thoughts, and fully embracing the reality that I have the ability to frame my life through my own lens and belief system, is still new ground for me.

What does this mean? Why does this matter? It matters because this is only the beginning. Deconstruction is merely the jumping off point. I like to think that much of my current state of existence is the a mid-air flight of a big fearless leap. Sure, your stomach is in your throat some days. Of course, there is a fear of sticking the landing without over-rotating or belly flopping. These are the very normal life experiences of risk. But what I have found is that the adventure of the decision to jump – the thrill of running to the edge – the moment of bravery that launches your life in a no take-backs kind of way, is simply glorious. There is absolutely no way to stop deconstruction. If I am honest, why would I want to? If deconstruction is an open handed question asking life, I’m here for it. I’m all in for all the things. I’m ready to live the rest of my life asking the questions that wreck the status quo and require me to know MY very own reason for belief and being.

May we sit in the midst of the deconstruction and be completely content that the rebuild is the not the journey.

May we see that the real challenge is not re-construction, but the realization that our world assumes that a structure is needed.

May we enjoy this formless state of contentment, with its warmth and invitation to rest in the unrestricted.

Cheers to the jump, my friends!

What If: Everyone Who “Speaks” to Me is Labeled a Heretic by the Church?

Eighteen years ago, I sat in the main hall at the National Youth Worker’s Convention and was introduced to a pastor that would dramatically change the trajectory of my ministry and life. He was engaging. He was interesting. He was talking about our roots, and calling us to look deeper at the text. He had black rimmed glasses and wore skinny jeans before the fad was cool for men. He was so intriguing. The following year, I decided to take an intensive course from him at NYWC and I sat for 8+ hours listening to him undo much of what I knew to be the ‘gospel’ of church work. He talked about sabbath and boundaries and authenticity. He confessed to doubt and disgust. This was unheard of in my church world. I found a CD of this talk yesterday, and as I listened again I was reminded of the weight of these words in my life. The following day, he was a main stage speaker and he engaged the hearts of thousands with a teaching on the ancient Jewish prayer shawl. He talked about the beauty and necessity of going to that quiet place and the sacred gift of being honest with God. He promised us that God could handle anything we had to say.

Right on the convention room floor, I crawled to my hands and knees, put my face on my chair and wept. I’m sure that Lucas (who was attending with me that year) was terrified at the puddle of emotions that were oozing from my 2’x2’ folded body. There in that space, I was pastored and challenged. I followed and listened and devoured anything that came from a church named Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, MI. I used his Nooma videos to teach and lead students and adults. I could not get enough of his work because this was an expression of faith unlike anything that I had ever heard.

And then something transformational took place. He wrote a book. About faith. And called it Velvet Elvis. That should say so much about this guy. It was clear that he did not speak in the language known to be safe and Jesus-y. I loved every word. To this day, I have multiple copies on my bookshelf at anytime to hand out to those wanting to ask questions. This book release coincided with a season in my own ministry that I knew I was being called out of my current understanding of church culture. What I was comfortable with was just that, comfortable. And in this season, I left full-time vocational ministry for the uncomfortable world of listening. I didn’t know that in the decision to step away from traditional church life I was entering a season of study and challenge and babies and church planting and personal bankruptcy and a call to return to wholeness.

One of the most consistent voices of Jesus and bigger love and audacious grace in my life has been Rob Bell. I have seen him speak at night clubs and concert halls. Lucas and I took his grandparents to hear him speak in a historic theatre in San Antonio. I have traveled to southern California to sit with him for 2 days and smell the ocean as he moved his ministry from the local church to a global speaking ministry. I spent a weekend in northern California sharing space and hearing stories. Whenever I have the opportunity to introduce people to his work, I drag them with me to watch and listen and think.

He has released books that have met me at my points of pain (Sex God and Jesus Wants to Save Christians) and he ushers me into the sacred gift of creativity in faith. He pushes me as a teacher and thinker, with What is the Bible?. He was lifted high as a leader in the modern church and then destroyed by the Christian machine for introducing topics and conversations that were seen as threatening. Rob is openly labeled a heretic. To his face, to his followers and to the world (heck there is even a documentary by that name) the establishment responds with hate and venom because he chooses to use words and remove labels and ask questions. The very things that drew me to him were the weapons that others used to call his thinking into question. Rob was just the first. In some ways he ripped off the bandaid of bigger thinking. Since then I have a list of honest, messy, glorious leaders that have pushed me out of the box and into growth.

Here is what I have to say about this question. What is the fruit of your heretic? When you look at the people that you are listening to and walking with and sharing the table alongside, do you see good, life-giving, loving, whole fruit? In my darkest, most scared and vulnerable places, it has been the voices of Rachel and Nadia and Jeff and Pete and Jen and Glennon and Jonathan and Mike so many others that have held space for me. This list is far from complete, but these are my ride-or-dies. They have introduced me to new spiritual practices, both ancient and modern. They have woven together pieces of my fledgling faith and taught that it is ok to love God and doubt, all at the same time. They have unpacked ancient truths and emphasized recovery, mental health, self-care, full inclusion, passionate love and stillness. Their work and lives have been there for me in ways that were life support to my dying faith. I am but one life that has been forever changed because of their powerful and unafraid work. Their fruit? It is good, good fruit. And if that is heresy, I’m going down on that ship. Every. Damn. Day.

What If: God

I’ve tried to write this “what if” question in every imaginable form and nothing seems sufficient. My ramblings range from questions of existence to doubts about context, explanations and religious framings. More than anything, I want you to know that I’m not afraid of the biggies in this journey. If we are going to ask the questions, I think we need to start with the BIG question.

What happens when we begin to doubt and reframe and disagree and leave behind and embrace the things that formationaly define the Creator? This is scary territory. And for those of us that walk into these conversations with heavy baggage (which is most of us, right?) we spend equal parts our our energy defending our past or preconceived beliefs and fighting to give shape and open minded wonder to the ‘what if.’ It is from this seesaw battle of the mind that I come with a deep desire to set aside the things.

I recently attended a 12-step meeting that used a prayer that I had never heard before.

God, Please help me set aside everything I think I know about myself, my disease, the 12 steps, and especially You; So I may have an open mind and a new experience of all these things. Please let me see the truth.

This prayer is known as the Set Aside prayer. The roots of this prayer come from the chapter called “To the Agnostics” in the AA Big Book. This important section of the book is dedicated to those who come into the program without a concept or even willingness to consider a power that is bigger than themselves and more importantly their addiction. This prayer was exactly what I needed on that day and many days since. I have reached (again) a season of life where I cannot deny the presence of a wonderfully mysterious Divine power. But I am more sure than ever before that my human attempts to define, name, gender type, quantify and contain are insufficient. Often the language of humanity fails at explaining, and seems hopelessly empty in light of, the very real experiences that I have had with this unexplainable force. These unworldly experiences have propelled my heart to love in ways that are bigger than my humanity allows. Thats how I know it is not of my own making.

If there is one thing that this season of imposed down time has given each of us, it is an unplanned journey of slowing. I have had many recent experiences that remind me that we are all grasping for the things that we know. The times that I think I know God in a way that is sure, I miss the entire point. To engage and approach and interact with the Creator is to intentionally invite the unknown into our experience.

So for me, today, the question is: What if our experience of God is bigger than religion and language can articulate? And to that, I can say, “YEP!” I’m taking off the reigns of certainty, and trading them in for the deep, longing, searching, fear excluding, shame expelling gift of setting aside what I have known for the willingness to learn what the Divine still has to teach me.

To those that don’t even know where to start with this one, may I offer an invitation? I wonder if the unframed nature of mystery is one of the scariest parts of this quest. What if I do it wrong? What if this thing that I want to believe in is actually a lie? I get this. I really get this. In light of that, is there one thing that you CAN believe in? The love you have for your child? The moment that you felt loved for the first time? The deep desire to know and be known?

What if these are the very things that gift you connection to the inner gift of the holy. We over-complicate God. But you already know divine truth in your most quiet self. That moment, you know it already, when the friendship soars, the truth is finally said, the pain is admitted out loud. These are sacred moments. In those unexplainable seconds, you are experiencing the presence of something far more powerful than our human capabilities can manufacture. ‘What if’ changes nothing and everything all at the same time.

What If: Our Doubts & Questions Give Us Deeper Faith?

Eastertide. That is our season for the next 50 days. We have moved past the inward journey. We have moved to a season of resurrection. As a way of celebrating this season of new growth, I will be examining 50 ‘What If’ questions over the next 50 days. Resurrection is not always synonymous with joy. It does not always come in the face of happiness. Sometimes the most honest resurrection takes places in the hospital waiting room, the treatment center or the jail cell. Resurrection is a mysteriously glorious experience of life existing in the face of death. That is our season, may we begin…

What if our doubts and questions give us deeper faith?

Years ago, I read a book called The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark. I was not ready for all of the gifts of this book, but my journey began. One of the biggest struggles in asking the questions that were mulling in my mind and heart came back to my role as a leader in a faith community. What happens to the people that I am leading if I begin to question (in some public way) all the things? What you must know about the Christian church world that has been my home for more than four decades is that we like answers. Western Christianity finds hope and security in the things that we know. I have been taught that over and over again. The best leaders are the smart, studied, sure ones that know how to reassure the people. This was a foundational lie that defined my ministry. Because here is the truth:

I don’t know.

I said it. And this time, I am saying it from the deepest depths of my gut. The things that I know today are very rarely things of the Spirit. Actually, I am more and more comfortable with the not knowing because rather than running away in fear of the unknown, I am more excited than ever to explore the better questions. That is the heart of my ‘What If’ journey. How can we ask questions from a deep desire to grow rather than a place of embarrassment and shame about our lack of knowledge? How can we open ourselves to conversations with people who see life and faith and education and family and sexuality and addiction and mental health and hate and hope and so many other things from a world that is unfamiliar to me? And with more questions, how can our own journey and questions introduce a deeper understanding of life?

Can I tell you a secret? I really think I would have loved being born into the Jewish faith. Every time I read about the deepest faith moments of the Jewish people, they come through questions. To be Jewish is to question. Even in the deepest rituals of their faith they not only welcome, but invite and expect (especially the children!) to question as a way of claiming and developing their own faith. ARE YOU KIDDING? I need more of this in my life. So, let’s go there. Let’s question. Let’s ask and talk and dream about the things that are stirring inside of us.

I would love to hear from you. I have a list of things that I want to explore, but I would love for you email me if you have a question that we should ponder together. I promise to honor your questions by looking in all directions for truth. That means that there is a good chance we will disagree. I love that. We need more grace filled conversations with people that don’t think the same. We are better when we bring all the thoughts and questions to the table. May these conversations bring new life in the next 50 days.