Transitions, 5: Road Work

It seems everything I hear and read these days talks about “deconstruction.” It was the buzzword of choice for many of my students in Missouri and continues to be the primary descriptor for what many Christians are experiencing today. While the word has worn a bit threadbare these last years, I do believe it describes a true process that is slowly moving the Church’s theological needle toward more inclusivity and compassion – toward Christlikeness.

There’s also an unfortunate side-effect of all this growth: namely, that many Christ-honoring people whose beliefs have shifted feel ostracized from the communities of their youth, either because they were actually asked to leave, or else have suffered in silence. Many whose families and friends patronizingly tell them “you’ll be back” or else to simply “get over it,” as though doubt was the spiritual equivalent of wild oats that simply need sowing. But I would counter that faith without doubt, without questions, is not faith. And it’s certainly not “biblical.” But that’s a post for another time.

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Stories of faith deconstruction narrate as though occurring more or less in one intense season, one large movement in which a person takes apart everything they have ever believed to be true, examines it, and discards the vast majority. That just has not been my experience. I may have undergone deep changes, but most occurred in small shifts represented by new ideas, lenses, and practices, each of which slowly but firmly edged the totality of my belief in a new direction. Like an optometrist constantly asking, “One . . . or two?” I have continued to look at the same questions with slightly different lenses, waiting for the one that best clears the image.

Or, to go back to the construction part of “deconstruction,” while some or even most people tear it all down, my experience has been more akin to roadwork than pure demolition.

During my college years I spent an unholy amount of time driving between Joplin and Tulsa the Will Rogers Turnpike, a hundred mile stretch of road upon which one can always count on encountering multiple sites of single-lane construction.1 The mile markers blocked by orange barrels may change with the seasons, but they never actually left, and if you drive long enough and you’re bound to see the same stretch of asphalt again bulldozed, cleared, and re-paved.

Like a bottle-necked highway I have questioned and re-questioned many (I would never presume to say all) aspects of my faith – often with similar fits of annoyance by those doomed to work or live with me! – and, while I have certainly jettisoned beliefs or practices I outgrew or even came to see as toxic, I have never stripped the whole thing down at once. As I grew, I quickly came to realize that the Christ Story was my heart’s vernacular, that it carried a power and Truth going far beyond its accuracy, and even were I to lose belief in a “Divine being” as commonly understood, the Story would not lose me; its grip on my heart was stronger than mine on it. The Hound of Heaven had me in its jaws and would never release me. The fact is, whether or not “God” exists, I am stained with sacramentality. I too clearly see the world as “charged with the grandeur” of the Divine, too easily see creation as a vessel or means of Grace, to ever see otherwise. Like a conspiracy theorist who can’t stop connecting the dots, I can’t help but encounter life through bread and wine – whether a priest blesses it or not.1

 

1. The joke about Oklahoma’s turnpikes was that they struck a deal with the state, saying they would stop making travellers pay to drive once the roads were completed. The consolation is the 75 mph road signs.

2. As the story moves closer to the present day, I’ll try to put words to my shifting concept of the Divine, at least as it pertains to my vocation, life, and faith today.

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