A house in a clearing just outside the woods

On Deconstruction and “Reconstruction”

I’ve spent a long time in deconstruction circles. I was deconstructing before it was cool. I was deconstructing before deconstruction was even a thing. In some ways, I still am.

I won’t belabor points I’ve already made elsewhere about faith deconstruction not being about Jacques Derida and how it’s hard to guide somebody else through a place when they already know the maps are wrong.

But for this post, I think it’s important to say (repeat) straight from the get-go that I get twitchy every time somebody acts as though the reconstruction of one’s deconstructed faith is God’s intended outcome of deconstruction, as though it’s where everybody is supposed to end up.

You still believe in everything you believed in before; you just have better reasons, or you’ve let go and let (somebody else’s idea of) God.

I’m not okay with that. I’ve said in the link above that deconstruction is a wilderness and a desert and everybody comes out in different places (yes, that’s the same link).

But I was talking to a friend today about the whole “reconstruction” idea, because I have been building.

I’ve been wrestling with something (I don’t think I’ve posted about it, but maybe I have), and it’s an idea that I pulled from Matthew Paul Turner and Rachel Held Evans about not just tearing down, not just saying “Evangelicalism bad!” (though to be clear, a lot of stuff in evangelicalism is bad, but I’ve written about that elsewhere) but also about… what are we going to teach our kids about faith?

So this isn’t about reconstruction in the sense of rebuilding something that was there again the same way. It’s about building something new in its place.

To be clear, if you’ve come out of the woods of deconstruction in a place of atheism or agnosticism or some other religion besides Christianity, or a different branch of Christianity has become home for you in a sense that it really is home and doesn’t still feel kind of strange or off, and it’s resolved your concerns, at least as best you think they can be resolved, if you think they should be; if that’s what makes sense for you and is giving your life whatever meaning you think it can, wonderful.

If you’re still lost in the woods and don’t trust that any of the maps are right, stay there as long as you need to in order to find your way to somewhere that feels true. I’m not going to try to drag you out, and I don’t have any magic boxes that will teleport you out. No one does. Sorry. That’s not how this works.

This is for those of us who have found ourselves on the edge of the wood in a patch of good land.

And it’s not a guide so much as an idea:

I don’t think faith reconstruction is, or should ever be, about reconstructing things the way they were.

You left for a reason. You didn’t walk away from your faith community because it was inconvenient, or because it was too difficult to obey your truth, or because your faith wasn’t real, or because it really just only needed a few minor tweaks.

You left – and so did I – because it was rotten at its inerrant core, because it was a house of cards waiting to collapse on itself, and because you realized it had caused unfathomable harm, not just to you but to others.

You can’t reconstruct that. And you shouldn’t. It’s dangerous, unhealthy, and harmful.

To borrow from Paul in Galatians 2:18, “But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.”

In my “reconstruction” conversation with my friend today, I said that maybe if reconstruction was reconstruction in the post-civil-war-south sense, or at least how it was supposed to be, that might be okay.

I’m not a historian and I don’t really want to look it up because I’m not super concerned about it, so the analogy might be completely flawed, but from what I remember, when the USA rebuilt the south, it was (supposed to be) rebuilt in ways that completely rearranged how society worked.

People who had formerly been enslaved were granted the right to vote at the point of a gun and promised 40 acres and a mule. (That check came back insufficient funds, to quote MLK, but it was promised).

The goal of that reconstruction wasn’t to leave the same people and ideas in power. It wasn’t to make sure white people kept running stuff, or to return all the formerly enslaved people to the plantations where they had been enslaved.

It was not to put Jefferson Davis back in charge, to rebuild the armies of the southern states so they could go to war again and the south could rise again and fight for States Rights To Keep Owning Other People.

No, they decided those things were Bad, and that was not how reconstruction was going to go.

The way things were reconstructed was (supposed to be) a way that kept certain elements that were core – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I guess – but also a way that fundamentally changed the social order.

I realize that not only is that illustration not the way it happened, it may not be the way it was even supposed to have happened. But you get the idea.

We can’t go back to the place we came from. We’ve wandered around in these woods for a long time, but there’s a clearing here. We’ve been here a while and we’ve decided we’d like to stay, actually. We’d like to stay and build something here.

Something that has elements of the place we came from – the love and goodness of God; grace, scripture, some of our favorite songs and hymns that shaped us into who we’ve become

We don’t want to build in the authoritarianism, the hellfire and damnation, the penal substitutionary atonement, etc.

Which is good because we don’t want that stuff anyway. No more rickety floorboards, lava in the basement, or razorblade saws in the kitchen walls.

And there’s some good stuff we found on our way through the woods – maybe we’re bold enough to say God revealed it to us through the voices of the Other – that we’d like to integrate, too – stuff about social justice and pacifism and universalism and the like.

There are some churches nearby that we’ve visited, and maybe we’re not fully there, but they seem safe. Safe springs to drink from the water of life; safe construction materials we might use to reconstruct our faith (in the post-civil-war-intention sense).

So, if you’re on this journey and have been slowly reconstructing (not rebuilding the same way!), maybe this blog post will help give you language for what that’s like. It has for me.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU with discomfort,
at easy answers, half-truths,
and superficial relationships
so that you may live
deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for
justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears,
to shed for those who suffer pain,
rejection, hunger, and war,
so that you may reach out your hand
to comfort them and
to turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you
with enough foolishness
to believe that you can
make a difference in the world,
so that you can do
what others claim cannot be done,
to bring justice and kindness
to all our children and the poor.


A Non-Traditional Blessing, by  Sister Ruth Marlene Fox, OSB.

About David M. Schell





One response to “On Deconstruction and “Reconstruction””

  1. Eleanor Skelton Avatar

    I love this. It is very true of my experience as well.

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