Deconstruction: Years in the [Bre]aking

Photo by Rye Jessen

I’d thought my deconstruction process only began in earnest about a year ago. I thought that of course it would line up conveniently with the separation. But when is deconstruction ever convenient? Or neat and tidy?

I said “the prayer” when my mom woke me up one morning around the age of five-and-a-half, telling me about Jesus and asking if I wanted to accept him into my heart. I say that I became a Christian that day. It’s just simpler that way. But—as many of you may be aware—faith is not an on-off switch. And growing up in a household with only one Christian parent, I think there was even more of a process to the whole “coming to faith” experience for me than some.

When I got to college, I’d say my faith was about as solidified as cottage cheese. You’re welcome for that visual. Jesus curds, anyone? Gross. Right, faith.

So, I really didn’t have much clue what I believed when I stepped foot on campus—I’m acknowledging here that I am actively not using the “proper” term: grounds. My process involved embedding myself within the Cru—then called Agape—community, living in one of the men’s houses — think low-key Christian frat house — with six other guys, and wrestling myself into believing what I was “supposed” to believe, what we believed. It was a hellish four years.

When I left college, I couldn’t say that I wasn’t still in some construction/deconstruction tug of war. However, I think those few years were best characterized by my trying to fit in with the Evangelical crowd by believing whatever was cool, all while intermittently failing at convincing my dad I wasn’t being brainwashed. The irony.

Looking back, I see the first major sign of a break, a crack in the foundation, nearly seven years ago. I had just moved back to Virginia and was beginning the process of becoming a member at the church I would stay at for over six years. I wanted some clarification on why homosexuality was a sin.

I had a twenty-minute phone call with one of the assistant pastors. He went through some citations, quoting some of the usual verses. It didn’t feel right; he was the authority; I must be wrong. I didn’t know enough to ask better questions. I didn’t believe enough in my own authority to keep asking, to keep digging, to look elsewhere. That unease faded, but never left me.

I had talked about leaving a few times in the intervening years, but where would I go? Why? I was a covenant member; was this nagging issue, feeling like the offer of my time and abilities was under-appreciated, and frustration with the management style enough? It wasn’t; I couldn’t bear that kind of shame.

Over a year ago, I made the happy mistake of listening to Rachel Held Evan’s “Searching for Sunday.” I didn’t know how important this would prove to be. Oftentimes, we’re unaware in the moment of what is about to play a significant role in our lives. It coalesced with my growing frustration and doubt over our beliefs about the roles of women in the church, homosexuality, and who should receive communion each Sunday. I was ready to leave. I just needed a match to light the fuse.

It wasn’t my wife telling me that she thought I should move out for a little. No, that had me doubling down with whatever fervor for the community and that church I could muster those days. No, it was when weeks turned to months. I couldn’t keep being reminded of the community we once shared. But didn’t. Anymore.

It was terrifying, the leaving. However, it was anything but rash. It had been fermenting for years until it was a fine vinegar—still slightly sweet, but tart almost bitter. Walking away from church entirely didn’t quite feel right, but staying was no longer an palatable option.

I had done my homework, so the first Sunday at this particular church there weren’t too many surprises—but there were still a couple. The first was the mention of “Black Panther” in the homily. I had just seen it earlier in the week so it was fresh in my mind. The second—you may have guessed it—was a short excerpt from Rachel’s (we’re on a first name basis at this point in the post) recently-released book “Inspired.” And I was in an Episcopal church. The rector had an advance copy. After the service, she even said she would lend it to me after she had finished it—which she did.

I knew then and there that I was in the right place. For me, being in the right place meant that it was safe again. Safe to continue deconstruction. Safe to doubt. Questions were welcomed. What were once dissenting views were only views.

Once again, my faith was being challenged. Shifted, broken down, put into place. This is deconstruction; it isn’t tidy or neat. There isn’t a succinct timeline. There aren’t clear phases; deconstruction is necessarily grief; like finding joy in the dark.