If you have ever joined a Facebook group, Reddit thread, Discord community, or Patreon page that was created to bring together those of us in spiritual deconstruction, then you know that it can be a wild mess of...well...spiritual puke.
Now...I actually think this spiritual puking is a necessary part of the deconstruction process. It just can't be where we stay.
Here are my top 3 reasons why I think these communities are so important to deconstruction.
To Be Seen
When we have been in highly programmed communities built on shame and behavior modification, we often become what we do rather than who we are. In Evangelical Christianity, the path to holiness is self-denial. So not only have we lived a life daily removing ourselves from ourselves, we are also in a community that is applauding this accomplishment.
Deconstruction communities offer us a space to be seen for who we want to be, even if we don't know who that is yet. They allow us to leave behavior modification behind and exploration ahead. It's a strong sense of individualism regained while being among those like us...those doing the same thing as us. For many of us, this may be the first time we have experienced this autonomy AND been supported for it.
To Be Validated
When we begin the hard path of questioning our faith systems, beliefs and culture, most of us feel like we are literally going crazy! You start to wonder if you are just the most faithless person on the planet OR if you're the only one who can see through the bullshit. Either way, you find yourself looking for things that are plumblines, stable, and anchors to the reality you are now finding yourself in. This is an incredibly lonely place to be and without some kind of validation for what you are seeing, it can feel like you're just really fucked up.
In fact, if you were like me, you found yourself sitting across from a therapist trying to figure out up from down. In fact, I remember one point when my marriage was strained to the hilt, saying to my husband (as my refusal to try therapy) "I know all the Bible answers, I've said them to other women. What can I possibly learn that I don't already know? I don't want the same answers given to me that I'm giving out." Now...there are so many insights to that response, right? But the reality was that I was losing my compass. The answers inside the belief system were not able to fix what was breaking. It made me feel utterly lost, like I was losing my mind. What I needed was something outside of the box I was in. I needed validation that something wasn't working and I didn't have the tools to fix it.
The deconstruction community offers this validation. It says that what you experienced and the questions you have are real.
To See Outside The Box
Spiritual systems that adhere to a strong set of doctrines or tenants, can cause us to create a small world. Everything in our life exists inside the walls of this box of beliefs and we navigate our choices from that. For most of us, we were also encouraged that anything outside the box was ungodly or a temptation of sorts. The box was keeping us safe. We had a way to see the world and we could feel that the container would support us in that.
UNTIL...until we asked that one question that we didn't have an answer inside the box. We were either encouraged that we will know those answers when we face God in eternity or we lacked the faith to trust God without an understanding needed or we may have been accused of being heretical and possibly a doubter of God altogether. See, the box was necessary for the beliefs to be upheld. Freedom to move outside of it created an opportunity for the system to collapse.
Deconstruction communities offer us the freedom to see, be and explore outside the box...without shame or consequence.
There are more reasons why deconstruction communities are important and needed in our journey, but here is why I don't think they work, either.
We come to these communities hurting.
We need other humans while in this pain. But we are also wildly inexperienced with how to handle pain outside the parameters of the box we've been in for so long. And you know what...we hurt each other in the process. We are the hurting leading the hurting. We may receive validation, but we don't always receive healing.
Usually, those who have started a deconstruction community are only a few steps ahead of us in the process, and in the genuineness of their own hearts, they created what they too needed. A place to exist. Leaving our entire community, culture and often family behind is not a comfortable place. In fact, I'd say it's an often terrifying place to find yourself.
But we need more than existence with humans like us. We need something that creates a new way to live. So I think of deconstruction communities as a triage. It's a place to come for all the reasons I mentioned before but it's not a place to stay.
We come to these communities highly programmed.
There is no doubt that we have exited or begun an exodus from the structure of the system. It's a messy entanglement we have with our beliefs. Beliefs orient us and direct how we see the world and ourselves in the world. Part (or even the point) of deconstruction is to unravel from these beliefs to find out what we actually want to keep and what we want to let go of. THAT IS A LONG PROCESS! It doesn't happen the day we walk out of the church doors. That's just step one...or maybe step three.
We are disillusioned by the way we have lived and believed. We are questioning literally everything...our relationships, our politics, our worldview, our ethics, our morality, our money...ALL. OF. IT. The curiosity in this is beautiful. I love it! It's a world without walls and full of exploration. It's also clumsy and, at times, ignorant. We don't yet know what we don't know. Participating in a community where we are all like this is tricky. It's exciting but tricky. Like I said before, it has its time and purpose, but it's triage. It's not a place to stay.
The consequence of staying in this space of being a hurting human living by misaligned programming is hopelessness. We are out of the system, but we are still contending with a highly programmed mind and soul. We are asking all the right questions but we still feel like we are lost. We don't know what to do now. And we can't live forever on validation.
We come to these communities angry.
It's righteous anger, no doubt. We earned a right to be angry at the pain caused. We earned the right to be angry at the manipulation, abuse, sexism, racism, misogyny, lies, and guilt. WE HAVE A RIGHT TO BE ANGRY!
When you live denying anger and suppressing it, it has to come out somewhere, somehow. And wow...when a group of people gives you permission and validation to be angry, then the faucet opens. But who's guiding us in these communities to heal that anger? Rarely anyone. We are just coming back to the social media feeds with opinions and experiences...and anger moving it all to the keystrokes.
This is a prime opportunity for two things: hate and rules. Funny how those two always find each other. Moderators of these groups are continually placed in positions of becoming the referees to conversations gone hurtful. The community's purpose changes from free exploration and safety to policed and rule ridden. It changes. And because we come to these communities highly programmed we often find ourselves looking like another version of....church.
This is usually about the time I find myself hopping out of the platforms or muting them. I left evangelical Christianity for a reason and it wasn't to find it under a new name with a new mission.
So what's the answer then?
There are so many of us that need things we found within our faith culture...I believe it's purely human needs. Is there no space then that works? What would make these communities helpful to our journies?
I believe the answer is in seeing it as the triage that it is and not the space we heal in.
I come back to check in on some of the exvangelical/deconstruction communities that I'm a part of and here's what I see...
the same people having the same conversation
arguing and debating.
people trying to prove themselves or screaming louder and louder to be heard.
You see, this is triage. This isn't healing.
So what if we could have this time in triage as we deserve and need, but we move into our healing so that we can actually live again? Don't you want to live? Like really live. Vibrant. Colorful. Expansive. Safe. Free.
It's like the cycle of grief. If we keep moving through it and face each stage of it, then we will find ourselves on the other side of the grief able to live and breathe again.
Somewhere in my journey of deconstruction, I found a blog that was incredibly helpful to me. It helped me see the stages of deconstruction and where I was at in them. It helped me see the purpose of where I was currently at AND see that there was somewhere else to go from here. That was hope.
This has also helped me as a coach. To identify where my clients might be (or allow them to self-identify) I can facilitate the journey they are on in a very appropriate way.
Our goal is to heal.
Our goal is to live.
Our goal is to thrive.
Staying in these triage communities won't offer us that option.
Where can we find healing?
Healing comes in wanting to move forward. It's not about taking on a new belief, per se. It's about recognizing each place, emotion, and pain I have while offering it voice and salve.
Here are a few places I found healing:
therapy...my marriage took a great toll and we needed outside help to repair it.
life coach...I found someone having a different conversation than I was having and paid them to ask me all the questions that hadn't been asked. She pushed the limits of what I could see life lived like and then challenged me to live it.
pilgrimage...I booked a trip to Africa to connect back to my body. We had a trauma therapist with us and healing was exponential.
Group coaching vs Deconstruction communities...this was an intentional community but with the intention to heal.
learning...I keep learning something new all the time. It expands me beyond my past.
expanded my community...I found myself more engaged with the LGBTQ+ communities and Buddhist priests. I'm not Buddhist but I will tell you, I've been challenged to think beyond my borders of understanding because of these relationships.
filled my social media with other voices...I don't follow very many exvangelicals. I follow marginalized communities. I'm listening to different stories than my own.
From this journey, I've created things that I think help us heal while deconstructing. If I can be part of your intentional healing, I'm here for it! I'll put a couple of links below and maybe something I'm doing will support what you're doing.