Thursday, January 5, 2017

Deconstruction [2017:1/52]

A few years ago I saw the inside of a carburetor for the first time. My friend Brad and I were trying to get his 1978 Honda motorcycle started, but it wasn't cooperating. He was sure the engine wasn't getting fuel and so he suggested we take apart and clean the carburetor. 

I had heard the word carburetor many times. I even knew how to spell the word (no small feat). But I had no idea what function a carburetor performs or how to take one apart and clean it.

Growing up I loved to build things. I still do. I mostly liked working with wood to create useful things. I only remember a few occasions when I actually took something apart, learned how it worked, and put it back together. My interest was mostly focused on construction.

That day in my garage a few years ago changed my perspective. I was nervous to start taking parts off the engine because I wasn't sure we'd ever get it back together. With Brad's confidence pushing us forward, we took the carburetor off the engine, cleaned it well, learned how it regulates the flow of fuel to the engine, and then put it back on the motorcycle. Our work, and the risk required to do something we've never done before, paid off. The motorcycle started and I took a victory ride down the street outside my house. Other problems soon surfaced, but armed with my new sense of confidence, I was able to tackle those problems and eventually got it running so well that I used it as my commuter vehicle.

The process of deconstruction can be of great importance. As I look back on the last few years of my life - right around the time Brad and I tore into that motorcycle engine - deconstruction has been a consistent theme. I still get nervous that I won't be able to put things back together in working order, but the risk is always worth it.

I'm not only talking about physical deconstruction of things, but also deconstruction of inanimate things like faith, culture and values. There have been several events that have caused me to deconstruct different areas of my life:
  • Reading books like Irresistible Revolution (Claiborne), Radical (Platt) and Pagan Christianity? (Viola & Barna)
  • Short-term mission trips
  • Living in the Dominican Republic
  • Working in South Bend
  • Reading books about America's history of racism
  • Never earning a large salary
  • Comments from other Christians about how they could never be a missionary
  • Interacting with Catholics whose faith is inspiring

I'm not going to expand on any of those events in this post because they'll come up throughout the year as I continue to write. However, the thing I've learned from those events is that when you experience a different way of living, or a different way of thinking, and discover that it works - that it produces the results you desire - it can cause you to question your own way of thinking and living.

To deconstruct something is not to destroy it. That's called demolition. Deconstruction is not a haphazard process of destruction. It's a careful taking apart and preserving of the pieces. You may or may not use all the old pieces when you begin to rebuild, but you must preserve them long enough to know whether they still work or not.

Most of my life was spent building - constructing - a worldview based on faith in God and strong moral values. I toed the line of American, conservative, Christian standards. My goals were to please God, be a good husband and father, live peacefully and eventually pass away having enjoyed life.

That existence, however, has been interrupted in unexpected ways. The more time I spend with people who have a different perspective - because of culture, economic status, race, religion, etc. - the more I see the important issues that I've never really addressed. 

I'm learning a lot about things like justice, compassion, mercy, unity, equality, racism, poverty, power and privilege. 

Many of those things should have been part of my worldview already, considering I grew up in church and faith was a big part of my life. Somehow, though, my understanding of some important topics was never fully developed. Many of those things never came up in church life, and that has caused me to deconstruct my worldview and my faith.

Remember - deconstruction is not the same as demolition. I am not discarding my faith or my worldview. I'm simply re-examining them, piece by piece, because there seems to be something in there that is not functioning as it should be.

I'm not sure yet if deconstruction is a process that you eventually reach the end of. Maybe it's a continual cycle of deconstruction and construction. Either way, I'm thankful that I'm in the process. I don't ever want to settle in so deeply and comfortably that I'm not willing to re-examine my life. I want to be a lifelong learner, and that will surely lead me through more seasons of deconstruction.

As I end this first post of 2017 I want to leave you with a couple quotes that have been critical to my process of deconstruction. They represent a different way of thinking than I was used to just a few years ago. After the quotes I'll make one final statement that is intended to cause tension and anticipation for next week's post.

"The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather standing in the right place - with the outcasts and those relegated to the margins." - Gregory Boyle
"A sad tendency of evangelical faith is to elevate the act of evangelism over the humanity of the people we want to reach." - Edward Gilbreath

This process of deconstruction has even caused me to reconsider how I describe myself to others. I don't have an accurate description yet, but in the wake of the most recent election I know that I no longer fit into the political categories of Conservative, Evangelical or Republican.

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