When Life Gives You Deconstruction: The Church and Loving Thy Neighbor

Something that always rubbed me the wrong way while I was involved with church was this idea that the church should only serve its community in order to “convert” non-believers or get people into the seats on Sunday morning. This always felt so gross and manipulative. Jesus freely gave to those in need and told us to do the same with no strings attached. He didn’t pitch them the next teaching series at Temple.

I am not great at volunteering my time, in general. I do so on occasion, but I usually donate money. We all play our parts, right? There are a few occasions I can remember wanting to organize some kind of event to serve our local community. I don’t remember what I wanted to do, exactly, but I do remember talking to the pastor about it.

He said something like, “Ok, great. What’s the end goal? Are we going to give them some literature or invite them to a specific service?”

I was surprised because I hadn’t even thought about that. I said, “Well, no. I thought we could just have this event and serve our community in this way.”

He pretty much said that the church wouldn’t sponsor an event without some kind of call to action. We had to talk to them about God, have some kind of alter call, offer to pray with them, or invite them to a service. I was so disappointed. It felt gross, honestly.

Why couldn’t we just serve and love our neighbors without proselytizing to them? Aren’t we supposed to show God’s love by our actions and not by how hard we try to sell them on it? Also, why are we assuming that people who are in need don’t already have a relationship with God? Do we inherently think that if you’re poor or have fallen on hard times, then you clearly don’t know Jesus because otherwise you wouldn’t be struggling?

These are some of the questions I had and still have. This is all so problematic. The more I learn about inherent bias, colonialism, and racism, the more problematic this all starts to look to me. I’ve always felt that if we are good at loving people, which is what we are commanded to do, then the fruit of our love will bring people to know Jesus better. Sales tactics, manipulation, coercion, and control do not produce good fruit. They never have – and today’s evangelical church is living proof of that.

I remember that we had a series that lasted several weeks just on how to invite people to church. We were encouraged (guilted? shamed?) and coached (indoctrinated?) on how to get people to come to church with us. As if the only way people will be able to experience God is within the walls of a church. And to be really clear, I didn’t go to a fundamentalist church like a Southern Baptist or Mormon/LDS church. I went to a non-denominational evangelical church. They play modern worship music and wear jeans and football jerseys on Sundays.

Wolves in sheep’s clothing? Some would say so. I think that until the Church takes full responsibility for the harm it’s done, this will remain true. The fruit will continue to be rotten. Until the Church owns its gross misrepresentation of God and Her true nature, it will continue to push people away from church. And maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen. Burn it all down and rebuild something anchored in love for Her people.

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Music

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I’ve been sitting on this for a while because I’ve been doing my own processing and healing. While in the middle of writing this blog, there were several public outcries from the evangelical community denouncing the process of deconstruction. Trusted leaders, pastors, and musicians have called deconstruction evil, witchcraft, and ungodly. I’m in a place where I can often ignore or shrug off these ridiculous claims, but sometimes it hits a nerve.

I am a lover of music. I love all different kinds of music. Not only do I love music, I am also a musician. Music is very powerful and can evoke powerful emotions. It can convey what is not being said and bring people to a special place.

While in the church, worship time was my favorite. I was often on stage, singing with the worship team. This appealed to me for several reasons. For one, I love to sing. I love to take a song and make it a little bit mine. Secondly, I love being on stage. As scary as it can be, I like having eyes on me. I like performing. I like being heard. I really feel at home on the stage. When people would come up to me after church and compliment me on my voice, it filled my cup.

In the church, however, you are reminded quite regularly that you are there to serve and it isn’t about you or whatever need of yours it is fulfilling. While I believe servant leadership is a beautiful thing, the struggle between joy and sense of duty that came with leading worship eventually led to guilt and shame around enjoying what you were doing. It was made to feel selfish. I felt this and I saw it all around me. It made me sad that people couldn’t just enjoy the high of performing without being pulled down by the guilt of being self-indulgent in your talent and hobby. This was seen as holy.

There are many exvangelicals who will talk about the manipulation tactics used during worship services – evoking strong emotions by song choice, “spontaneous” worship time, talking over a musical intro/outro, long build ups in songs, dimmed lights or concert lighting. These are all things that happen during worship. These are not points I feel too strongly about, personally, but I believe that anyone who feels they were misled or manipulated by these tactics have valid opinions. Not everyone carries the same opinions or experiences from the church and I would never dismiss the harm done by the use of these tactics.

I’m also an avid listener of music. It’s rare that you walk into my home without some kind of music playing – especially if I’m alone. I admire talented musicians and lyricists. I sing loudly to the music I love. I dance around my house while cooking or cleaning.

Some weeks ago, my partner asked if I had heard the newest Skillet album. He knows that I really like Skillet’s music, so this is a totally normal question, but I wasn’t prepared for how triggering it would be. At the time, I was a bit hesitant to listen to anything remotely close to Christian music because so many of my beliefs have evolved recently. I’m still working through this. I want to be cognizant of the musicians I support because I don’t want to perpetuate the abuse I’ve experienced.

While writing this blog, a very problematic video came out where John Cooper, the lead singer of Skillet, declared a “war on deconstruction.” This isn’t entirely surprising, but still hurtful. As a fan, I realized that their music is no longer safe, uplifting, or encouraging for me. He is spreading a dangerous and unloving message at his concerts while his legions of fans cheer him on. The irony here is that he is fiercely defending an institution that does not fully accept him for who he is with all his rock ‘n roll and tattoos. The only reason he is welcomed by any part of the evangelical community is because of deconstruction. Deconstruction paved a way for him to be a successful musician on the edge of evangelicalism and secular popularity. Since then, I’ve done some research and realized that John Cooper has a history of spreading misinformation and dangerous ideologies. Disappointing, to say the least.

Navigating the obstacle course of the music I once loved can be an exhausting feat. There are still musicians who I adore and will sometimes listen to. For now, though, I stick with my alternative, rock, pop, new grass, and hip-hop of the secular variety. It’s more open, loving, and godly than I was taught to believe.

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Some Thoughts on God, Music, and Hurt

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Some Thoughts on God, Music, and Hurt

*TW: Spiritual Abuse

It’s 4am and I’ve been awake for a little over an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. While 5 hours of sleep isn’t historically enough for me, my brain is awake. My head is full of all the things but clear. Does that make sense? Probably not.

I’m not sure what woke me up this morning, but I was very quickly in deep thought around the deconstruction of my faith. I have many thoughts on it and lots of stories. Christians have said some really horrible things to me/around me while invoking the name of Christ. Looking back, I’m appalled. How is that okay? How is that justified? I don’t know. Humans can justify anything, I guess. It pains me to think about who I’ve alienated over the years because their faith, or absence of, didn’t align with mine. All for what? The sake of being right? There are some dear people in my life who I’ve been able to talk to regarding comments or ideologies from my past. What about those people who I didn’t know well and who felt that separation or exclusion in passing? I hate to think about it, honestly.

They say it’s all to save people. God doesn’t need us to save people. He wants us to love people. He wants us to love them for exactly who they are and exactly where they’re at. And we shouldn’t need God to do that – and many, many people don’t. What He truly desires is to know us and be known by us. Did I just write a worship song? Probably.

Oh, worship music. I used to love it so much. There’s plenty I didn’t like and definitely made fun of – I’m looking at you Matthew West. “Modest is Hottest”? What the fuck dude? Even as a supposed “parody”, it’s horribly unfunny. Anyway, I digress. There’s so much worship music that I truly loved, though. I’ll probably listen to it again at some point. It will have to be good, though. It has to be vetted to weed out the misogyny, guilt, and shame. Eh, maybe I won’t go back to it. That’s a lot of work. I could just spend that time on my own music. But, see, I’m a musician’s musician. I love other people’s work – their music, art, poetry, writing, etc. I guess that’s part of deconstructing. You tear it all down, examine it, and reconstruct it with what feels right and true to you.

My tie to God has always felt true. I’ve always felt drawn to something bigger – a Creator. Some being made of love and compassion. Someone who knew me, understood me, and stood by me. That part hasn’t changed. Surely His ways are mysterious because our universe is mysterious.

Something that really struck me when I left my church was their performative “love”. When I left, I remained friends with 2 people from the entire congregation. These are women who I can see at any given time and pick up right where we left off.

The two pastors who I looked up to so much and, then, who had that “intervention” with me? They never reached out a single time after I left. Not once. And neither did their wives. One of their wives was in the meeting where they confronted me and I bawled my eyes out. That was nearly 5 years ago. I worked closely with them every single week for nearly 7 years. I had been in their homes and eaten meals with their families. That part used to be very painful. It still is a bit.

Now, maybe they were embarrassed by their behavior or felt bad, but were too proud to reach out. Or maybe it was mostly bullshit. I really don’t know. Either way, it was wrong. I know that now. But, even now, when I let myself think about how much I let them into who I was and know some extremely personal parts of my life, I get angry and sad. I realize now how manipulative that was, but it still makes me angry at times.

If I really think about it, though, had they reached out or pretended like they cared, I may not have been able to see the church as clearly as I do today. Looking back, there were so many signs or things that never really sat right with me. It’s good to see the truth.

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but sometimes, when we take a second to look at the big picture, we realize that the hard experience, while painful, also healed other parts of our broken hearts. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but sometimes it is.

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Thoughts Around Christmas

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Thoughts Around Christmas

*TW: Spiritual abuse

*Note: Only respectful comments will be allowed and responded to. Telling someone who is deconstructing that “not all Christians/Churches” are like that, is invalidating to that person’s experience. It is not helpful or respectful.

Here’s the truth: the holidays are hard for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. We struggle because of loss, Seasonal Affective Disorder, this Goddam Pandemic™ (going on two years strong), loneliness, estrangement (either by choice or not), and a million other reasons.

In the week leading up to Christmas, I’ve known 2 people to die from COVID-19. One person close to my family and her death will have a lasting impact on people whom I love very much. Another was someone my age, whom I’ve known most of my life. My heart aches over these people and their families. Wear your mask. Get vaccinated if you can. These losses have made Christmas extra hard this year.

On top of tragic loss and these expectations of magic and memories we put on ourselves, I’ve been deconstructing my faith. This has made Christmas feel very different this year. I know millions of people celebrate Christmas without any tie to faith at all. And that’s fine. Some use it to celebrate the origin of the Yule holiday, honoring the winter solstice and this time of change on earth. For me, I connect Christmas to the birth of Jesus. I know Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th and I know the traditions we have today around Christmas were based on Yule to help easily convert pagans to Christianity. Nevertheless, here I am, celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th.

My deconstruction journey started long before this Christmas season. The seeds were probably planted from the beginning, but my decision to really start to examine my faith came from what spurs most people to deconstruct from the church: Church Hurt. This is a story I’ve only told a few people I’m close with because I had so much hurt around it. There was shame for a while too, but that’s gone now. Shame is not an effective way to love thy neighbor, by the way.

I was part of a church and on their worship team for about 7 years. I loved it. I loved the church and many of the people there. I felt like I was part of a family – until I did something that was deemed “against God’s will.” I was moving in with my non-Christian boyfriend before we were married. I was immediately called into an intervention of sorts, where they tried to convince me that I was doing the wrong thing and that if I went through with this decision, then I would be removed from the worship team. They also tried to tell me that my boyfriend and I were “unequally yoked” – a phrase often weaponized in the church to shame an unmarried Christian into leaving their non-Christian partner. I think I attended one more Sunday service after that, and then promptly left. I stepped foot into that church 2 other times since then. Once to see if anything had changed. It hadn’t. And again to watch a friend be married. That was it.

I briefly attended another church, which I enjoyed. They were definitely more welcoming and honoring of their congregation. They loved people where they were and they were more charismatic, but the pandemic happened, which kept me home on Sundays. The 2020 election really fast-tracked my deconstruction for obvious reasons. Through this time, my beliefs were expanding. I realized that inclusive and affirming worship places were pertinent. God loves and honors all – gay, straight, trans, black, brown, white, atheist, agnostic, and everyone in between. He honors the things that make us who we are. I’ve learned that when people say “the Bible is very clear about x”, chances are, the Bible isn’t clear at all about that thing.

So I’ve stopped going to church altogether. I may never go back. I’m not sure. It would have to be a very open, welcoming, and affirming place. Where I live, that isn’t very prevalent. And that’s ok. The thing is, I’m not deconstructing from God. I’m deconstructing from the church. The church isn’t in alignment with God. I’m happy enjoying my life and building meaningful relationships elsewhere. There are people who stop believing in God altogether when they deconstruct. That’s ok, too. I respect that so much. I truly believe we all have a place in eternal goodness.

So where does that leave me this Christmas season? Honestly, I’m still stressed with present-buying and baking and holiday event hosting. I didn’t go to church for a candlelight service. I didn’t guilt myself into remembering the “reason for the season.” It is evident when I am with family and someone asks that I pray over the meal. It’s awkward when a very religious family member wants to “pray for/with me” or discuss theological ideas that I don’t subscribe to, which are many. With this being the second Pandemic Christmas™ in a row, though, it was much of the same. Do we get together with family? How do we stay safe? Is everyone healthy? Maybe it’ll be more evident when the Panorama is more controlled and things are more close to normal. Maybe. I guess we’ll see.

If you happen to be deconstructing and struggled through Christmas, please know that you are not alone. There are many of us out here trying to untangle the trauma we experienced from the church. We are unlearning the misogyny, racism, and patriarchal ideas that we taught with God’s supposed stamp of approval. We are healing from the trauma inflicted by people who we were supposed to be able to trust. We are learning to love ourselves again. You can love yourself again. You are worth it. You are loved.