Sunday, November 16, 2014
Deconstruction and Darkness
A few days ago David Hayward (or the Naked Pastor) posted a drawing with the caption:
“I studied to show myself approved, but when I shared my conclusions…I became unapproved.”
It spoke to me of the journey of deconstruction I’ve been on in recent years and although no-one in the spaces I now occupy has disapproved of me, I have found it hard myself not to feel that I’m losing my faith – or my mind – as I learn and assimilate new learning into a faith paradigm that had to become more elastic, change its shape and then perhaps shatter altogether. I am now in the space where I wait in the dark to see what will be reconstructed. And during that process, I am learning to confront the construction that I had of God and let him go, and to accept darkness as a witness and teacher.
I have a very messy church background and dragged along the baggage of being raised in what could be described a sect – non Trinitarian and heterodox, hierarchical, patriarchal and with only a passing reference to Jesus, it made up its own interpretation of Biblical truth and the members, controlled by fear, had to agree every time something was changed. Thinking for oneself was not allowed – I was not allowed to get baptised until I stopped asking questions. After liberation from there, I entered a conservative evangelical non-conformist church and began again with learning the basics of the Christian faith, moving on from there to a charismatic and very missional Anglican church, studying theology and then onto ordination training as a pioneer in the CofE, whilst leading a fresh expression. At each stage, I have had to deconstruct and allow God room to reconstruct what I understand about him.
I have had to come to see, and lay down, a particular view of God. This view became clear through hearing the prayers that I and others prayed, and it’s of a God who seems to be some kind of helicopter parent, who hovers over his children, arranging their lives for them in every conceivable way, and entirely taking away from them any of the trials and limitations of being human – unless he leaves them to suffer a tiny while in order that they will learn or grow. He is a God who arranges free and convenient parking spaces for people who leave the house without the right change; finds them special offers in the supermarket, heals everyone from all ailments however small, and ensures our children find the right friends and spouses and stay on the straight and narrow. Essentially this God probably shops at Waitrose and buys his clothes from Boden or Crew. He even organises job interviews and is probably responsible for the rise in unpaid internships requested by the well to do!
Now I’m being silly, but you get my point – this God is too well attuned to the desires of the middle classes for an easy life to be believable! He doesn’t seem to raise issues of justice often, be able to sit with pain and blackness, get involved in politics, speak to what you do with your money, expect you to live with doubts and struggles to hang onto faith, hear openly about the agony of parents with a child who has anorexia or mental illness – well, probably we wouldn’t know because people don’t talk or pray openly about those things in churches frequented by middle-class God. These are things we keep to ourselves for shame, and carry on praying out loud only for the Christians in war torn areas – this God doesn’t want to hear about the pain or cry of indigenous or Muslim people it would seem.
In relationship with this God, there seems an underlying desire to avoid many of the struggles and pains of real life. We ask him to keep from us the aspects of life we don’t want, the things we don’t know what to do with – we ask to be anesthetised, avoid stages of evolution even, be comforted and wrapped up so we don’t feel pain… It’s as if we are trying to avoid the hard reality and limitation of being human. This God – he is far too small, too close and too much a micro manager of details in some lives, whilst apparently ignoring whole continents of others, of poor people, black people, gay people, Muslim people. He has made us human, but then spends all his time rescuing us from the effects of that state.
Learning is a gift and as the passage from Timothy, alluded to by the naked pastor, says we are to study. For precisely this reason – we need to be challenged to get out of our bubble and see that we all collude in constructing God, usually by reading into the scripture what we expect to see there and ignoring the bits that contradict. It’s unlikely we can ever get completely out of that in this life, due to our limitations. But we can open ourselves up to being challenged, to learning from the perspectives of others – either from different cultures, different eras, age groups, ethnic groups, genders, politics etc. And to accepting that the scripture itself has been subject to hacking down the ages by those determined to retro-fit their view of orthodoxy onto it – we call this redaction. Some churches refuse to even accept this, decrying scholarship as some kind of devil influenced scheme to reduce the authority of the Bible.
Instead what it is, is evidence of our human weakness and fearfulness. And if we were to look at how we are made, and accept it, push into it and stop trying to transcend it, we might find there is value in acceptance of limitation. We might accept that pain and struggle is a part of the human condition that we can work together about, to cooperate with God in trying to help and raise our fellow humans from poverty and other man made evils. We could allow pain to be spoken about, sharing the truth of our weakness and vulnerability, and lean in to comfort and love one another – instead of praying to ask God to help us directly so we don’t have to admit to failure or despair. If we look closely at the life of Christ, we see the kinds of interaction and priority God has for humanity and the earth. Maybe that perspective would help us stop praying for God to find us a parking space and let him be the I AM.
We each have to find our way to grasp after understanding of God – it will be a lifetime’s work if we accept the challenge, and it’s likely we’ll only catch glimpses of him at best. Learning to seek and wait in the darkness has been a real challenge for me and will no doubt continue to be, laying down what appears to be false and not knowing how to pray anymore, but new prayers will form, led by the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth. We don’t need to be afraid of deconstruction, or of the darkness. Both are opportunities to be surprised by newness.