Institutional failure is all around us
The world is on fire. We’ve entered a new nuclear age once more, it would seem; and a trade war has begun as well. Meanwhile the CIA Director (a Trump yesman) just became the Secretary of State and war looms. It’s a troubling time to be a Christian building an alternative option, through the Spirit, that runs directly in contrast with the mythos and ethos of American civil religion. The alternative, I assure you, is better. So if you are weary from the insufficiency of the American option, I hope you will give the Circle of Hope option a chance. And if you are reading from afar, maybe you can start your own alternative—I hope we inspire you!
I am thinking about the institutional failure that surrounds us because it is so obvious in the realm of statecraft, but I am also troubled that institutional Christianity is falling apart. The Evangelicals are selling their soul to Trump in order to preserve their dying culture. They are trying to hold onto to their subculture and political power, when Christians are called to be above culture and beyond culture while learning how to adapt to it to advance the Kingdom. The statist Evangelicals have always been wrong, but hitching their horse to one of the most flagrantly anti-Christian presidents in history is particularly telling and egregious.
We need to deconstruct the lies that surround us
I feel the need to deconstruct both Evangelicalism in the U.S. and Americanism, in general, because I think it is killing us at a global and cosmic level. It’s killing the planet, killing people, and might be killing us spiritually, too. When the institutions fall apart because they lack integrity, many people won’t be able to survive. So I’m inviting people into our alternative in order to save them from the destruction of the original order.
But let’s be honest, though Trump and Evangelicals are easy to deconstruct, if we had a neoliberal Democrat in power with progressive Christians all excited we would still need to deconstruct. If you grew up in a traditional Christian setting, or even if that rubbed off on you through the culture, we will need to deconstruct that too. The forms (or containers) of Christianity are developed based on the culture they are adapting to, and even though I hope the content stays the same, the form needs to shift. It needs to be disordered.
I was listening to Pete Enns’ podcast’s re-run of a Richard Rohr interview they did, and an image stuck with me regarding how we move through our faith: Circle of Hope has been a great place for the disorderly, especially those moving from the ordered. I think that disorder is necessary for a Christian, even when they aren’t just a post-Evangelical. We want to be a safe place for cynics and skeptics who aren’t quite buying the lies of the world. And there are many. And we want to share to those who are still getting conned that there is more to the world than those institutional lies.
But you might get stuck breaking things apart
Many of my friends have begun to deconstruct the culture and the faith around them and are looking for something new. We have a lot of good deconstructionists among us. Postmodernism breeds them and I, for one, think that’s a good thing. In fact, openness to deconstruction is a very form that Christianity can take on as it preserves its content. But it is not enough to stay a deconstructionist. And for some people the deconstruction can induce anxiety or be scary. There is a certain lack of security a postmodern environment can cause.
So we need to move to something more. We need to move to a re-ordering. It’s not enough to tear down and destroy and uproot, we need to build and plant too. We need to create something new. We might need to take some of the rubble of the past with us and create something new together. At a church-wide level this requires time and discernment. The way our culture is moving might inform our process, or we may ask questions about the new institutional lies. God is in all things, so we may find God in cultural leaders, or we may find God in the void of their leadership as well.
But we aren’t just looking to build a new institution. Institutionalism is a “first box” problem. We aren’t just looking to stay in deconstruction, either. We ultimately want to rest with God in God’s re-ordering of the world.
I want to say, though, that we want to move and grow together. But there is no pressure to move to Rohr’s “final” box. I do think that’s where the alternative community is formed and where we can have the deepest and fullest experience with God’s love. But it takes time. And we aren’t ever fully out of any of the boxes, either, lest you get some sense of superiority.
Getting from here to there, jumping through the boxes
But a final word about the peace I’ve found in the re-ordering. I joined Circle of Hope ready to tear down the world. George Bush was in office, the Middle East was on fire, and Evangelicals were acting like they usually do—finding power and defending sinful actions of their heads of state that protected their financial and cultural interests. Ugh. It’s the same story again.
I was in their line of fire. I was ready to lose my faith. I was asking questions about the Bible, theology, and culture—wondering about things like racism, justice, and peacemaking. And Circle of Hope gave me a chance to express that feeling and not get judged for it. I was able to deconstruct what I needed to deconstruct (and evidently, I have no problem continuing to do it!).
But it wasn’t enough to just play in the rubble—though that’s fun for awhile. I wanted to build something new. We literally did when we planted our congregation. And many of our initial group were those very deconstructionists. I’m afraid, though, that without a vision for the future, the deconstructionists might just deconstruct you also. They may calcify their deconstruction and then end up building an institution again.
Discipleship is about moving to intimacy with Jesus and encountering him once again. I hope that our cells are a place for that encounter to be realized. I think our Sunday meetings offer that numinous experience as well. And I think it is all over the church during Lent. I hope our compassion efforts offer people a vision into our alternative, and not just a shinier more woke institution. We want people to meet Jesus through our justice efforts, too, and learn to relate to him as a community. That’s where my re-ordering is.
I stayed a deconstructionist for a long time—but let me tell you, it gets boring. It’s hard to live in a demolished building. Let’s build something together.