A toolkit for surviving the deconstruction of my faith

*Deep breath*

I was raised in the evangelical Christian church. I don’t mean to brag, but I was pretty good at being Christian. In college, I was actively involved in multiple fellowships at the same time. Jesus was the king of my life. I thought I might become a cross-cultural missionary. And so when yours truly, having aspired and aimed her whole life to be a GCG (Good Christian Girl), married a Jesus-loving BCB (Basic Christian Boy) at the tender age of 24, I praised God, because now the rest of my life would unfold with blissful ease. I would basically live the American Dream (Christian Edition) without ever calling it that. Because isn’t that how the narrative goes?

(Answer: No. At least not for me. That is very much not how it has gone or is going or will foreseeably go.)

If you’ve spoken to me lately, you might know that I’ve spent the past two years or so completely deconstructing that narrative, and wrestling with some tough questions about the faith I grew up in and built my whole life upon. This post isn’t going to be about that journey (phew?), but I thought I would assemble a list of resources that have helped me out in this confusing, painful, and above all utterly lonesome season of my life. In the hopes that it might help someone, anyone. Because when I started questioning things, I realized that none of the “cultural artifacts” of my faith tradition had provided me with any space for mystery, uncertainty, or exploration. They all had resolute AMENS at the end of each chapter. I needed more space to move, more space to breathe.

As a disclaimer, I don’t endorse or agree with 100% of the content on this list. I’ve tried to consume stuff on different parts of the spectrum. So some of this might feature in a book study at a fairly conservative church. And some of it, err, might not.

(Side note – as grateful as I am for these heroes and artists, I am sad that not of single one of them is Asian 😢)

(Update 7/30 – I am actively adding to this list to include non-white voices. I’m still just getting starting in the work of decolonizing my theology/faith and disentangling God and the church from white supremacy, and would love any and all suggestions.)

But without further ado…

Books

Non-fiction – religion/spirituality

  • Rescuing Jesus, Deborah Jian Lee [link]
  • Falling Upward, Richard Rohr [link]
  • The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen, Lisa Gungor [link]
  • Inspired, Rachel Held Evans [link]
  • You Are Your Own: A Reckoning with the Religious Trauma of Evangelical Christianity, Jamie Lee Finch [link]
  • Every Moment Holy, Douglas McKelvey [link]
  • Stages of Faith, James Fowler [link, summary]
  • Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pete Scazzero [link]
  • Boundaries, Henry Cloud & John Townsend [link]

Fiction/memoir

  • The Crosswicks Journal (series), Madeleine L’Engle [link]
  • Any fiction by Wendell Berry [link]
  • Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis [link]

Podcasts

  • Reclaiming My Theology, all of it [link]
  • Evolving Faith – this
  • Another Name for Every Thing – this, this, this
  • The Liturgists – particularly this
  • Unlocking Us (with Brene Brown) – second half of this especially

Music

  • Kings Kaleidoscope (Zeal, Beauty Between)
  • Gungor (Archives)
  • Andy Mineo (II: The Sword)
  • General permission to take a break from CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and to wholeheartedly enjoy music that *gasp* isn’t directly praising Jesus

Miscellaneous

  • Wine
  • Zelda: Breath of the Wild + Expansion Pack
  • Enneagram
  • Centering Prayer

And while this journey has been very lonely, I have had some truly incredible people come alongside me – in little ways and big ways – to offer comfort, wisdom, and laughs. Some of them are pastors and seminary professors. Some of them don’t believe in God. One of them is my wonderful spouse. They are all priceless. They are the reason I am still showing up, still have hope, still love the light. To these wonderful human beings: thank you.

6 months: Reflections on being in a seminary counseling program

Finally, I’m attempting to write a little about what being at Missio Seminary for counseling has been like…i.e. the original purpose of this blog, heh. The past six months have incidentally been the most turbulent season of my short (but not short) life thus far, marked by a vocational transition, a cross-country move, grief & loss, relational turmoil, and loneliness. I often tell people who are kind enough to ask about how school is going that it has been the one stable, good thing in my life. Here are some budding thoughts:

The people make the program. Honestly, I didn’t consider this enough when I was making my decision on which program to choose. Sure, things like accreditation, location, tuition, etc. are really important, but the relationships and interactions that I have with my cohort, professors, and staff form the crux of my education. Meeting face-to-face is inconvenient, but 100% worthwhile. We are a small cohort (under 20 students) but incredibly diverse. Training to be a counselor is emotionally exhausting because of the things we talk about and what that can trigger in us, so tears in class are fairly normal. Having people alongside of me to be present in those moments of heaviness — and to make me laugh! — is the biggest gift of being in my program by far.

I’ve learned not to be in ‘counselor’ mode all the time. We spent our first semester intensively practising the foundational ‘building block’ skills of counseling, such as listening, reflecting, nonverbal cues, word choice, etc. We practised a lot on each other. Initially, I was eager to practise my counseling skills everywhere — with Karl, with my friends, at work with customers, with family, etc. I feel bad for them now! Although these skills can be applied to any interaction, I’ve since learned that it is NOT healthy for me to be ‘counseling’ the whole wide world. First up, it’s exhausting and anxiety-inducing to be over-analyzing my conversations all the time. Second, it’s actually not appropriate to be in full-blown counselor mode with people who aren’t clients. My relationships with my husband and my friends are a two-way street; counseling is largely a one-sided relationship that comes with a power dynamic (that is set up in a way so as to benefit the recipient). Third, I wouldn’t be acknowledging the fact that I have deep relational needs! I need my friends and I definitely need my husband to embrace & challenge my ‘whole’ self, not just a certain part of me.

I’m so grateful that I’m in a faith-based program. Being in seminary has pushed me to ask a lot of difficult and painful questions about God. It’s one thing to have a general understanding that the world is “messed up”. It’s another to constantly encounter stories of evil in their cruel particularity and to wonder what on earth you can possibly say to the wounded individuals who come to you for help. Studying theology and counseling together has alerted me to the fact that these stories are recorded in scripture as well — and that God is not, in fact, neutral or absent. If I weren’t in this program, it might have been easy for me to conclude that the hope offered by my faith is insufficient to overcome all the evil that I see, hear, and feel around me. As it stands, I’m still fighting to believe in reconciliation, restoration, and shalom.

Final thought: it’s interesting that the school itself has been undergoing its own season of significant transition (a name change, moving into Philadelphia, etc). Opting into change is painful and often involves loss and vulnerability — this is true for an individual as well as for an organization. Probably much more complicated for the latter! #beautybetween