Finding Words for a New Reality and My Journey Through Theological Deconstruction

Finding Words for a New Reality and My Journey Through Theological Deconstruction

My theological deconstruction lasted decades. It started in seminary and finally culminated in 2009.

One afternoon something happened to me. I will tell you about it in a moment.

My theological and spiritual angst evaporated instantly. I finally found the peace of mind I’d longed for. It was over. The peace of mind has remained.

I’ve never figured out what to call it or how to describe it. An event? An epiphany? A revelation? A vision. A ah-ha moment? Words fail to express what happened that day… the significance of it, the importance of it, the effects of it.

And I still haven’t figured out a way to explain what it means. Words fail me.


speak coherently cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

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A doctor says to his patient who is filled with questions, “I’m afraid you have ‘deconstruction’ and may lose your ability to speak coherently about your spirituality.”

That’s what I’m talking about here: the failure of our normal words to describe our abnormal spiritual experiences.

Especially deconstruction!

Even though I finally had the peace of mind I sought for decades, the effects of deconstruction intensified when Lisa and I left the ministry and the church.

I suppose it’s one thing to have peace of mind. It’s another to have peace of life! I felt like my new state of mind needed to percolate down into the rest of my being and out into my day to day life.

What was most difficult was I felt at a loss for words.

I couldn’t articulate what I was going through.

I realize now that this is completely normal.

All my years in the church, ministry, and theology caused great anxiety. I could not reconcile what I’d been taught with what I knew. My personal spiritual experience and knowledge increasingly was at odds with what I was told was true.

Then, in 2009, I had that epiphany.

One afternoon I closed my eyes to rest and I suddenly saw a magnificent waterfall. I was standing at the bottom looking up. It was overwhelming. But what happened inside of me was I instantly saw that we are all one at a fundamental level. United in that we all share one reality. But we all apprehend this reality through our own lenses. And we all articulate our apprehension of this one reality with our own words.

The words we used to describe one paradigm fail us when we try to describe another one.

The words of our previous spirituality no longer suffice when we try to describe our present one.

When I describe it this way, it only makes sense that the language of one spiritual landscape fails to describe a completely new and different one. Because it’s not as though the previous reality gradually shifted shape into this new reality. Rather, it’s more like the new one prevails and completely swallows up the old.

The old is gone. The new is here. A new intelligence and a new language is required from now on.

It’s not that the old language is wrong. It’s that it just doesn’t suffice. It doesn’t work.

This is where we may experience our greatest anxiety with deconstruction. Not only do we have difficulty understanding what’s happening to us. We also don’t have the language to explain ourselves.

Even in intimate relationships, trying to articulate it can create tension.

Perhaps examples would help.

Usually, before the deconstruction of our beliefs sets in, we are fairly certain of our beliefs. In fact, our belief system is rather binary: black and white, yes and no, true or false. But one of the things that happens in deconstruction is the loss of this certainty and a radical change from black and white thinking to grey. Our minds eventually learn how to think paradoxically and learn the ability to hold apparently contradictory thoughts simultaneously.

Before deconstruction, if we were asked, “Do you believe in God?” or “Do you believe in eternal life?” or “Are you a Christian?”, we easily answered, “Yes!”

After the onset of deconstruction, not only are the answers difficult to summon, but the questions themselves are insufficient. You are being interrogated in black and white when you can only answer in grey.

It’s not only that you may not believe in God, or that you’re not sure, or that you do or aren’t sure what this God is like anymore, it’s that you know the question is loaded with the baggage of the questioner who expects you to answer according to his or her expectations. You know if you say “Yes” to any of those questions, you’ve submitted to a worldview that you’re no longer sure you share.

It’s a very chaotic and unsettling time as you not only try to comprehend what’s happening to you, but as you try to find the words to describe it as well.

I have the same advice for everyone who is going through this.

Here it is:

  1. Realize this is normal;
  2. Abandon the need to explain yourself;
  3. Get comfortable with mystery and silence;
  4. Know you will find words to articulate your new reality.

I want to assure you:

Peace of mind will come.
And so will the words.
Give it time.


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