In the Diocese of Central Newfoundland, long before COVID-19, we began to use a number of words and phrases that were reflective of three things. First, some of the realities we were going to be facing as a Church in the future; secondly, to describe an emerging innovative vision for the future; thirdly, to confirm our commitment to realistic sustainability of our mission as followers of Jesus. We knew then, and know now, that there is a lot of work to be done.
One of the words, interlaced through all of our study and sharing was“Deconstruction.”
This term comes to us from the work of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Derrida, who was born around 1930, was of the same generation that stepped out of a global culture where everything seemed to be structured and rigidly explained in terms of black and white, and into spacecraft that took us to the moon, and then outside the solar system. The world was looking a lot smaller. Racism, gender, inequality, class distinction, and other distinctions dwelt in that time and place very safely, but things were changing. This generation perceived the change, and their writings helped us move forward, stumbling and resistant as we are, into a new reality.
Engaging this profound idea in a short Easter reflection is challenging, but necessary. I’ll do my best to keep your interest. Let me start with this cool quote from J. Hillis Miller, who wrote this in 1976: “Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently solid ground is no rock but thin air.”
By the word “text” of course we mean narratives of all kinds. We mean the story of a people, an ideology, a culture, or a religion who have found themselves adrift in a new ocean.
Over the past twenty years at least, I have, along with many others in the Church, been looking at the realities of deconstruction in the Church. Gradually things were changing, and then they really picked up speed. There is a well practiced litany around that: young people have left; older folk have gone to their cabins; everyone plays hockey on Sunday; stores are open on Sunday; people can hunt on Sunday; and the list goes on. Oh my God!
By the time we really started to want to engage in these conversations, these changes had already happened.
The Church, as many of us knew it, has been deconstructed.
There are many out there who will never know the Church as we did, or see it as we do.
There are two ways I look at this.
We blew it; or perhaps God has something to do with it?
When truth emerges, is not God in the middle?
In the midst of change and turmoil God does not stop speaking.
Is there not a promise of light and grace for us?
COVID-19 has taken residence among our people and society. It is going to have a major influence on what the global community will look like in the future. That in turn is going to have an impact on every local community. The words that we use, and visions we were developing, have in themselves been partially deconstructed, and really, we are not sure which way to go.
Let us remember that Jesus also took up residence among our people and society, and deconstructed the very framework of legalistic religion. And then he too was gone for a time.
So we stay together in our generation. We are just like the disciples at the tomb of our own great deconstructionist. Empty, uncertain, and feeling adrift because the one who convinced us that our safety, comfort, position, and future were secured is dead.
Everything they had assumed: vanished.
They were all incredibly vulnerable as he lay in the tomb. No leader, no protection from the government; the religious leaders of the religion from whence they came had ample opportunity now to strike back. They stuck it out and stayed together.
So we stay together, we who know and live the story.
In the dark,
In the midst of chaos
There is a God who says
Look: I am doing a new thing!
There is a God,
Who became one of us,
Who led us through death and defeat,
Into a life of resurrection and hope.
Let’s remember then,
That the resurrection was not just an event that took place
But one that takes place in the hearts of believers
Every single day.
We are going to make it!