Breaking Boxes, Leaving Names

In many of the circles I traffic in, deconstruction isn't just discouraged, it is feared. 

Deconstruction doesn't come without a reason. For me, my faith journey came to a head when I found myself living in the tension of what Brian McLaren calls "something wrong and something real." I still had a deep belief in a loving God, and yet, I was becoming increasingly aware of how the same beliefs in a loving God often came with a hate for "others," were reinforced with violence, and looked less and less like the Jesus I was getting to know.

As I revisited the Gospels, I saw a Jesus who was breaking the boxes of the religious establishment. "You have heard it said, but now I say to you..." I saw a Jesus who stood up to authority, who respected women, who welcomed the stranger, and who "judged a tree by its fruit." Were my beliefs nourishing and enriching my life and the lives of others? I increasingly saw how they were causing harm to me and to others as well. I saw people who loved God, and had firm lines around that love. I saw people going through motions they saw as right and holy while criticizing others for doing the same. I saw (and still see) many people with a personal relationship with Jesus with little awareness of others and lots of jargon to reinforce what they already think. 

Growing up as an Evangelical Christian, it was important that I believe the right things the right way about the right God and went on and did rightly. To question what was taught would be to question the Bible which would be to question God. During and after college while I was in the beginnings of deconstruction of my faith and what that meant for my identity, I faced all kinds of fears. The same implicit fears that once kept me from going outside the boxes of my faith were coming up in droves as my constructs unraveled. Fears like:

  • What if people find out? I'll be rejected.
  • What if I'm wrong? What if they're right? I'll be damned (literally). 
  • What will my wife say? It/I will be too much for her to handle.
  • Will people hate me? Will God hate me? Do they already?
  • Can I still believe in Jesus? Can I still believe in God? What if I can't? I fear a loss of identity. 

I didn't know who I would be apart from Jesus, apart from God, apart from Church, apart from the people I knew and ways of being that were the soil I grew in. Yet, I couldn't shake the questions. I couldn't shake the dis-ease in my being and the feeling that the things I thought I knew had something to do with it. I was hungry for "truth," and the things I was learning were taking me further from what I had deeply held to be true for years. 

No one said deconstruction would be easy. It wasn't.

The process of breaking boxes felt like I was breaking parts of myself. I hadn't just become attached to these ideas, these beliefs, I was them. In sixth grade, I did an "I AM" poem stating how I was a Christian and a musician. They were baked into my being. As my certainty anchors started being systematically plucked out (by me), I began to wonder what would be left. Could I maintain joy if "the joy of the Lord" was no longer my strength? Could I pray for and believe for healing for people while not praying to the Jesus who was gearing up for a descent to judge the world? Could I pray in tongues when I didn't know what the hell it was even for? Could I trust my intuition when the way I had related to that voice was always a certain name that meant certain things that I didn't believe anymore? 

Then the external conflicts started. Conversations became increasingly tense between me and my dad. Pastors I was around noted what seemed to be a conflict within me that they couldn't put their finger on. My relationship with my wife--once built upon "solid rock" of our shared faith--quickly turned to sinking sand. I felt alone. I felt unseen. I felt angry. I felt hurt. I was scared. The cognitive dissonance between my theological training at a liberal arts university and my practiced Charismatic Christian spirituality (and the ideology it was anchored in) were becoming directly opposed in almost every conversation. I didn't fit in either world, yet I belonged in both. I saw holes in thinking in both camps, yet I didn't know what I believed. I tried to remember during this time that the Spirit in Genesis 1 hovers in the chaotic-nothingness, and I hoped the Spirit was hovering with me in this time. But I also felt the judgments of others as if they were the judgments of God. 

It is easy to look back on where I was and see what I was doing. I was living in a box. Like an animal at a zoo, caged, I didn't know what the wild was like. I had no idea what existed beyond the worldview I grew up with, and now I see a wide open plain, a broad space for me to inhabit and for all of us to live in love. It seems apparent now, but could I be where I was without the process I went through? I don't think so. 

It's easy for me to understand where someone in the Conservative/Evangelical/Christian camps is coming from because I used to be there. It seems much harder for me to explain where I am, especially if they have never lived outside of those realms. Maybe this is simply because they haven't been through what I (and many others) have been through: Deconstruction of deeply held beliefs. 

Standing on the other side, I can encourage others who are in the process. There is hope, not only a hope of reconstruction but even more important, a hope of space. Inside most ideologies and orthodoxies is the enforced expectation of conformity, and now I live in a realm where inquiry and diversity can exist. I can learn something from anyone, no labels needed. In breaking my boxes, I can better see boxes around me. I can take the plank out of my eye and help others with their "speck" when needed. 

My job isn't to walk around attempting to deconstruct everyone else's box, or even to address at all times the big boxes that limit human thriving. My job is to break my boxes, to live in freedom. To remain open and in the flow of love. At times, the boxes others are living in need to be pointed out and addressed because they hurt people. While we can't fix someone else, we can speak to the systems we inhabit to break down the walls and rewrite the rules. I'm not against religion in general or as a whole, but I know well how harmful being in dogmatic environments can be. When communities prioritize being "right" to being "real," all kinds of shit goes on, and people are damaged. If it wasn't for my insatiable curiosity and obsession with belief, I might have missed this and still be unintentionally isolating and hurting people. Now I just have to make sure that I don't become merely frustrated with people still in boxes I've left. 

No one told me deconstruction would be easy. It isn't. Still, it's totally worth it to have a crisis of belief. I know I am who I choose to be. I know what beliefs matter to me. I know I am not what I believe, yet I see more clearly how what I believe shapes who I am. It's hard to find a label that captures the space in which I stand, the ways I inhabit. Christian, follower of Jesus, these labels aren't entirely accurate or inaccurate. I know lots of people in this boat, too. People at the margins, who have questioned the labels and now struggle to self-identify. Thankfully, it's not the names that matter. In taking off the "shoes" I once wore, I have begun to find a way of being that is natural to me and yet carries forward some measure of what I learned and loved before. Open hands, a full heart, and a mind that is keen and penetrating yet not needing to uproot simple joy. These ways are possible.

All that's required is breaking boxes and leaving names.