A version of this blog post first appeared on the ChristianCourier.ca. Re-published with permission.
I walk regularly. I have a route through a provincial park close to my home that takes about an hour and I do this almost every day. About two-thirds of the way through my walk, the path goes up a small incline and at the top, the trees suddenly break and a field of tall grass spreads out wide at the bottom of the valley. Here you can choose to take the path through the middle of the field or take a steep path up to the top of the valley. I usually choose to go up and take the ridge path home. When you look back from the top of this ridge, you can see the wide field, the thick trees beyond it that line the river. To the west, you can see the valley stretching through and then past the city, all the way to the mountains. You can see mountains from there – a long range stretching north to south against the western horizon. You can see the sky, huge and wide and alive. Maybe it’s more accurate to say, you can FEEL the sky, its presence, its way of covering you. It’s always exhilarating.
About a year ago I came to the top of that small incline in the valley during my walk and there were fences around the whole perimeter of the field. And then about a week later, the big diggers and trucks came down the hill and started the work. Week after week I tracked the progress. Every week the hole in the ground was wider and deeper. The whole section was torn up. The displaced earth was made into a new mountain along the North side of the valley. Huge cement pipe fittings were trucked in and dropped in concrete pyramids. Quarried rocks were hauled in and sit in mounds – waiting to be put in as retaining walls? Huge machines and trucks rumbled around constantly, doing their thing.
And it hurts to see. Of course, it does. What once was so beautiful is torn up. It is muddy, it is desolate. It is marked by cement blocks, dirty trucks, and cloudy, standing water.
And at the top of the valley, right where the path from the valley gets to the top, or the path from the top starts its descent, I suppose it depends on where you’re coming from) there is a sign that tells walkers what’s going on.
All of this upheaval in the creek is so that the storm water drainage from the communities above the valley works better. They have done the work on the pipes up the hill and now are making retaining ponds that will drain better and efficiently into the creek. This is a needed thing. Three years ago, in the week after mom died, a couple of days before her funeral, the rains came hard and full and fast and our storm water system overflowed. We had water up the driveway and the ground around our house became so sodden, so full that our basement was flooded. The water came through tiny cracks, up from the ground and in from the saturated dirt outside of our basement walls.
This work is important. The pipes underneath the ground needed to be graded better drained better, and the old infrastructure reimagined. So I don’t begrudge the work – I can’t, really. It is useful. It is good. There are systems upon systems that our cities and communities are built on top of that require constant work, constant revitalization for them to work their best for more people. Knowing all this helps.
Even so, my girls were walking with me one day and the younger one said, “I know it’s for a good reason, but I still don’t like it.”
And as I’ve passed this scene day after day this last year, the image of this torn up field is striking me as a good image of the life in faith. Of my faith and also the faith that The Church in all its varieties claims to witness to. What is going on in this valley this year is an image of a deconstruction. Not for deconstruction’s sake, but so that a new-construction, healthy systems, more flourishing life can happen. This is what it looks like when what is underneath all of our outward lives, gets brought up to the surface, for a good re-wiring, re-working, a good re-fitting of the pipes.
If you’ve lived through a deconstruction of your faith, you will get this image.
The deconstruction happens in so many different ways for so many different people.
If you’ve been called out for assumptions you made about others that they no longer put up with, you will get this image. If you’ve stuck around through the collapse of a community, you will get this image. If you’ve supported and loved learning from a leader who has been caught up and called out in “church too” you will get this image. If you’ve realized months, years, decades later that decisions you made were not the best ones for the people involved, you will get this image. If what you thought you had to think to get to heaven turns out to not be true, you will get this image.
This is always the image of our faith – that truer, stronger systems will be put into place- in you, in your family, in your community, but often it requires digging up the old ones. Looking at where they failed, where the cracks in the system were that resulted in damage. Sometimes it only requires a fix, a shift in what is there. And sometimes, it’s a total overhaul – the old is dug out, taken to the dump and the new brought in. It’s not ever pretty. It takes a long time. Everything is exposed. It hurts to look at. Some people might abandon you, not come by to see you anymore. And you find yourself wishing that everything could be back like it used to be.
But the health of our souls requires this kind of work. The health and functioning of our families, communities, churches, cultures, requires this kind of work. It has to be thorough, it has to be deep. It might take a year or two. It might be something that happens quietly in your own heart. It might take a generation. And it might be out in the open for everyone to see.
I talk with a lot of people whose faiths and lives are in the middle of “being deconstructed.” It’s a good word as far as words go, because it’s true. What they had thought was the building of their faith — the certainty, the rightness, is being taken down, brick by brick. And it is painful. And it’s confusing and disturbing for the people around them. But it is so something stronger and better and truer can be put into place. And here is the thing to remember – its not OUR work, this deconstruction. It’s God’s.
Don’t be afraid.
Taking out systems of certainty and putting in systems of grace and flex and trust? That’s God.
Taking out systems where controlling narratives are used and putting in systems where more human and more true stories are told? That’s God.
Taking out systems of exclusion, bias and lazy thinking about others, especially those not in our group, and putting in ones of welcome, listening and grace? That’s God.
Taking out systems that say success looks like money and image and putting in systems where success is being present and faithful? That’s God.
Taking out systems where we have to hate our bodies and emotions to be faithful and putting in systems where we don’t? That’s God.
Taking out systems of power-wielding and putting in systems of power yielding? That’s God.
Taking out systems that forgot humans are only one part of a whole big beautiful cosmos and putting in systems of good perspective? That’s God.
Taking out systems that rely on fear and control to keep operating and putting in systems that rely on sacrificial love for people – even those not like us? That’s God.
Taking out systems that forgot and then putting in systems that re-member this truth – that love is what started this and love is what will finish all of this? That is God.
This work of digging up what is no longer working and putting in something that will work better, lead to more wholeness and more grace for more people, for all of creation, and for you– this is God’s work. And it’s not a once and for all work – it’s ongoing. It’s for us. It’s for the world. It hurts like hell. But we are not alone.
Do not be afraid.