It has become cool to be cynical. There is a generation of disillusioned evangelicals who, for various reasons, have been pushing back at the religiosity of their upbringing, trying to shed the spiritual baggage that has unknowingly been borne on their backs. There’s the mid-size suitcase of fundamentalist legalism, the duffle bag of a distorted view of an angry God, the monster luggage of spiritual abuse, and the carry-on annoyances of dull and superficial worship-tainment of fog machines and feel-good sermons.
Thanks to the Internet, some of us have found each other — and collectively we have made some noise. Loud, complain-y ones. There is a plethora of Christian bloggers who are “honest with our doubt.” We’ve pointed plenty of fingers (some of us, the middle one) at the hypocrisy of the church when they have misplaced their priority on doctrine over loving people. Heck, my very own “Angry Christian” post is one of my most-viewed pieces. We are hurt, angry, and cynical, and we are not afraid to talk about it.
Predictably, there are some who are made uncomfortable by this negativity. And they respond with something like this (quoted from Twitter):
“You don't have to waste your time deconstructing things when you're committed to just building something better.”
I have so many problems with this it’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, deconstructing is not a “waste of time.” Nobody enjoys questioning the ideology that has held their worldview intact. It happens typically with an inciting faith crisis. You don’t talk someone off of the ledge of suicide by telling them they’re wasting their time bemoaning what’s wrong with their life. You don’t say people are wasting their time figuring out what is causing them to feel such deep pain. You can’t belittle the brave work of questioning, of criticism, of scrutinizing the hows and whys and what-nows of one’s faith journey.
But more importantly, it betrays a certain naivete toward the work of building something better. It assumes that constructing something — a faith community, an organization designed to fight injustice, a career of positive impact on society — rises from a vacuum rather than on the fruit of past labors. It is to be blind to what you are indeed rejecting in the process of your building. To believe you are constructing and not deconstructing is to be ignorant of what it is you are choosing.
There is no moral high ground to be had for those who claim to be for something instead of against another. There is no action that is not a reaction, and that’s not a terrible thing. We are made to respond to what has come before us — the faith history of our past matters. The global cloud of witnesses, for better or worse, matters. We are constantly reacting to what we have inherited, picking and choosing what traditions to keep, which ones to leave behind, and what to transform. To resurrect one thing is to require the death of another. Construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of our faith are not phases one goes through — they are interdependent and complementary. It is both/and. Like my friend Suzannah Paul says, “We can critique AND create.”
I am not waiting for my deconstructing friends to get over their bitterness and get on with the business of rebuilding their faith. Rather, I see that their (our) process of deconstruction is the same act of forging something beautiful and strong. From the heat of intense scrutiny comes a clearer view of why we believe what we believe. From the sweat and tears of pounding out pain and lament of betrayal, we are molding our true selves. From thrusting a pointed sword at God and the institutions that revealed God to us, we are demanding God show up and make us whole in a way we have never known.
We are breaking, not to be mended, but to discover that brokenness can also be art — and perhaps the more beautiful kind.