Deconstruction and Our New Core Self

I taught a course to teens on how to write Adventure Novels. In that style, there are several foundational rules. One of these is the concept that the adventure itself must alter the nature and focus of the main character.

As an example, let’s look at the story “The Lord of the Rings” and the main character, Frodo Baggins. Though it is certainly not the first significant adventure novel—I think Homer’s “Odyssey” qualifies better—it is the standard by which all modern adventure stories are modeled.

At the outset, Frodo is a dedicated follower of his uncle Bilbo. And though Frodo may be a leader among his friends, he is not a community leader. He is a quiet hobbit, a gentle soul, with a reflective though anxious personality. He loves home and hearth, the food and drink of his youth, his close intimate circle of friends. In short, he feels safe with familiarity.

And as the quintessential adventure novelist, Tolkien shakes Frodo’s world seismically. He sends Frodo on a quest far from home. At each juncture in the story, he is removed further from his friends. At one point, even his best friend Sam is distanced from him in many ways. His questing task requires that he give all of himself and to do it alone. By the end, he has nothing left to give out. He has given all of his old self and much more to the quest of destroying the Ring.

From the moment the quest ends and he starts to make his way back home, he comes to grip with his new Core Self. This Self has been emerging all along, he just never noticed it much. From the moment he agreed to carry the ring to Rivendell, he set his foot on a Deconstruction journey just as vast and far-reaching as the journey to destroy the power of the Ring.

His journey was the retiring of his old Core Self and the discovery of his new Core Self. The old Self became a memory and though it still influenced him for the rest of his life, it was not the decision-making part.

In short, like Frodo, we build our new Core Self by deconstructing our old Core Self and allowing a new Self to emerge.

The term “deconstruction” ironically has gone through a massive change in meaning over the past 80 years. In its original sense, coined by Jacques Derrida, it was a process of examining philosophical writings to determine the many various meanings in the original text.

Years later, writers like Barbara Johnson and Hillis Miller began to use the term to mean significant changes in areas like social sciences, philosophy, law, psychology, architecture, anthropology, theology, feminism, and political theory.

Now, the term applies loosely to the process of abandoning traditional thinking in order to explore the implications of new ideas and behaviors.

I want to apply this concept of Deconstruction to the area of psychotherapy I specialize in: Internal Family Systems. In IFS, we teach that the most critical part of our being is the Core Self. This is what we call the executive function of the neocortex or frontal lobes. This is the part of our mind that makes the final decisions and sees the big picture of who we are.

In a healthy human being, the Core Self regularly evaluates our life and determines what is true NOW for us:

What do we believe now?

Who is most important to us now?

What do we want to accomplish now and from now on?

Where do we want to live now?

To understand this, let’s look at a unique ability of the snake. The snake goes through a process called ‘ecdysis’ where they shed their skin whole. They do this for two reasons. First, the skin does not grow like the rest of the snake body grows. Snakes continue to grow all through their lives. But the skin does not. In order to keep growing, the snake must shed the last layer. They do this a couple of times a year and during reproduction seasons.

But the second reason for ecdysis may be more important. The old skin collects parasites and bacteria that could kill the snake. By shedding the skin, these unwanted travelers are sloughed off.

This is also what the human mind can do, though not as often as the snake. Our Core Self is the center of our being. As I said, it decides who we are at any given time. In IFS, we teach there are other Parts to our mind also. There are Manager Parts that keep us from feeling old painful memories, as well as keep us focused on ways to keep us safe and whole. But these Manager Parts do not want us to change. They fight change. They fear the future and are wary of the past. They want a predictable life that can be managed.

Deconstruction of anything is difficult for the Mind’s Managers. They fear this kind of whole-mind change more than anything. They fight our Core Self all along the way. But the Core Self sees change as necessary for growth into maturity. Our Core is growing larger and needs to shed off the old structures in order to arrive at this new place.

Managers oppose this with all their tools: Anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, loneliness, physical reactions, dissociation, and many other tactics. Some people will give in to the Managers and never let their Core Self grow past a certain point. They live a locked-in existence with their Parts. Though this may seem safer, it is destructive. Just like the snake gets rid of the parasites when the skin is shed, so too our growing Core Self gets rid of harmful ideas and behaviors when we allow it to grow.

I used to be a pastor; for 36 years. Approximately 25 years ago, I began to re-think the doctrines I had endorsed when my denomination licensed me. These were the classic doctrines of the evangelical faith tradition with some more about healing and the Holy Spirit added.

My fear parts didn’t want me to re-think them. What if I did that and then decided I didn’t want to be a pastor any more? What would I do for a living? I was technically a counselor also, but I had put most of my time and energy into pastoring, and my Fear parts didn’t think I could make enough money just as a counselor.

My Manager that loves to be accepted and belong told me that my Christian friends would reject me if I didn’t hold to these truths. This Acceptance Manager predicted that if other christians learned I had let go of any core doctrine I would be summarily rejected.

By the way, it turned out this Manager was ultimately correct. Very few of my evangelical friends will even speak to me now.

At the same time as my managers were kicking up dust, my Core Self was growing, and I could not deny I wanted to be authentic to the changes in my belief system.

In order to be true to this emerging Self, I had to deconstruct evangelical Christianity. It all started innocently while reading Numbers 31, which I have written about here. By the time my wife and I had processed the heinous “acts of God” written about in that chapter, I realized I could no longer accept the Old Testament as without error. Therefore, since the Old Testament is part of the Bible, I could not accept the Bible as without error.

My belief “skin” was beginning to shed. Everything within me fought doing it and therefore I kept much of the process a secret. My wife and two oldest kids knew, but no one else. When I let go of Inerrancy as a doctrine, I felt something drop off me. I had a new Core Self. This Core Self remembers the old one. In fact, that Core Self remembers all the old ones.

Every time we continue to grow in our understanding and our values, we shed off the old self and put on the new self. This does sound similar to what Christianity calls being “born again”. We still share a history with the Old Core Self. But we are fundamentally changed and we cannot easily go back to what we once were.

I guess when I consider it, this is similar to that concept of being Born Again.

I started “shedding my skin” of Inerrancy slowly. First, I began to devalue most of the Old Testament. In particular, I discovered that the so-called “historical” books of the Hebrew Bible were actually compiled oral traditions, legends that had endured since the beginning of the nation of Israel. Contemporary scholarship, even among conservatives, shows that these books were all compiled after the Israelities returned from Babylonian captivity. There is very little proof the stories are true. They are therefore considered Religious History, a retelling of the origin stories of their people.

I also noted many of the themes of the Bible are antithetical to ethical behavior. The Bible condones, or at least does not condemn slavery, genocide, sexual assault, misogyny, patriarchy, racism, violence, aggressive warfare, and class systems of economics. As I shed off the skin of biblical inerrancy, my new Core Self felt free to grasp some of the glaring weaknesses of the Bible while holding onto some of the truths which run counter to those.

During that time, I also noticed that the Pro-Life movement had been completely manufactured for political purposes. It seemingly sprang out of nowhere onto the political landscape and was then embraced by one of the main parties. Most christians I associated with endorsed this political movement.

Despite the fact that the biblical basis for life beginning at conception is completely anecdotal and marginal, the evangelical church joined forces with one political party and shunned anyone who supported the other political party.

I could not allow the Pro-life movement to control who I was. Since its start, I stood against the Pro-life movement, even though I am a Pacifist. The movement is not particularly Pro-life since most of its members own guns and support Capital punishment. They also do not actively support programs for impoverished single parents and do not support programs for feeding the poor. They are simply Pro-fetus.

Admitting all of this gave space for my Core Self to leave behind absolute allegiance to my church and its political machinations. The more I grew out of my old beliefs, the more I found health and strength.

Each person who continues to shed old versions of themselves finds this strength building in them. And let me be clear: It is not primarily beliefs and practices we are shedding. We are letting go of who we think we are to more completely match our current life with what we want, need, believe, and do right now.

For the Core Self of the individual to lead the rest of a person’s Parts, this deconstruction of the former Self and the embracing of the new self must take place. But it is difficult and can be very painful. And the pain only increases when people around you—even your personal support system—do not like what they see in your changes.

I remember one day when a woman I love and admire told me I was cursing babies to death and would suffer unimaginable pain and torture because I saw the Prolife movement differently than she did. This woman had been like a mother to me and supported me for years as I sought to be both therapist and pastor with all the tensions that those two professions can carry with them.

And now, because I was no longer politically aligned with this movement, she saw me as an enemy.

Around that time, I read Cheryl Strayed’s excellent autobiographical story of her hike along the Pacific Coast Trail, “Wild”. She tells about how she spent three years seeking to recover from her mother’s death, often resorting to self-destructive means of coping. At one point, after drug and alcohol dependency and broken relationships looked like they would kill her, she decided on a whim to hike one of the longest continuous trails in the lower 48: The PCT.

She was ill-equipped, both literally and figuratively, for this journey. She carried too much stuff with her, most of which was the wrong equipment for this journey and had to be abandoned along the way. It was a metaphor for her life she soon realized. Her old Core Self was carrying so many things that were messing her up. She was carrying so much baggage she would have to rid herself of before she could keep going.

At one point, after losing toenails and finding massive gaping blisters from poorly fitting boots, she knew something had to change. It was at that point, in the fits of despair, that she finally started to move forward in her grief. By the time she finished her journey at the Washington-Oregon border, her new Core Self had emerged completely and she had deconstructed who she used to be.

Every culture, religion, and philosophy has a name for this journey. But whatever you call it, the key to it is to embrace the process. The more you fight the New Core Self emerging, the more you feel stifled and unhealthy. And even though the process of deconstruction is painful, it is a pain that brings personal expansion.

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Why I Will Never Be an Evangelical or Charismatic Again.

I had been pastor of this church in Northwest Montana for only six months. I took one Sunday off to go back to British Columbia for the weekend to pack up my house we owned there to prepare for moving. Through a friend, I had arranged for a professional singer/preacher to do his thing at the church in my absence. He had good credentials from people I trust.

A week after finishing my move to Montana, an older couple in the church asked if they could go to lunch with me. They seemed nice and my schedule wasn’t overwhelmed yet, so I agreed.

We made pleasant small talk and I started to get to know them. There was definitely something off about both of them. They told me about moving to Montana from Missouri to escape the thug elements of their town. I had no idea what they were talking about. I learned very quickly as they moved to the true reason for this lunch.

“Pastor Mike, I’m sure you didn’t know the guy who spoke a couple of weeks ago. I know you didn’t. There is no way you would have condoned him” the husband began. His wife, who had been smiling sweetly a moment before had a sour face. They were together on this one.

“What happened? I asked.

“You didn’t hear? It is an absolute scandal. I’m surprised the elders haven’t called a special meeting.”

“What on earth did he do?” I was worried he may have committed something heretical.

“You don’t know? Oh my lord. He was Black! A black man speaking in our church. I’ve been talking to everyone since it happened and there is a lot of talk going on.”

I was temporarily frozen in my chair. I wasn’t afraid at all. I was seething with intense anger and I was afraid I was going to do something I would regret. And, I was afraid I wouldn’t do something I would regret.

I stood up. My plate was only half finished, but I was done.

“Lunch is over. I want you to know I consider both of you horrible racists, and I will do everything in my power to see you removed from the membership of the church. Do not EVER set foot in our church again.”

They never did. People revealed to me later that this couple had talked to them and most were embarrassed by the conversations. Montana has very few People of Color. There is an endemic racism there like most states. But the average person hides it better than the couple who met me for lunch.

This was my first foray into this kind of racism. That is not to say that Canadians aren’t racist. We are. But you don’t see it this blatantly. It opened my eyes not just to a different country that I was now living in, but a different church I was now a part of. It is one of the things that I have noticed about the evangelical and charismatic churches in America. There is something going on that is weird. And I couldn’t put my finger on it then.

But I can now. And I am doing that here.

Many of you reading this allowed me to be your pastor. That was something I cherished. Therefore, you need to hear it from me before hearing it from anyone else. I may still be friends with some of you, but I do not identify with either the Evangelical or Charismatic movements any longer. And I haven’t for awhile. But this week’s horrible act at the Capitol convinced me I have to publicly announce where I stand.

I still believe the theological basics of both groups. But I can’t tolerate either movement any longer. I have taught in evangelical/charismatic churches for 36 years. I taught at over 200 conferences, seminars, schools, and training retreats. I have sat on boards of evangelical organizations, been at the head of movements, and participated in both healthy and very unhealthy meetings. I have not seen it all, but I have seen enough to know I am accurate in what I’m going to report here.

The American versions of Evangelical church and Charismatic church are not godly and not where I can go.

The American versions of Evangelical church and Charismatic church are not godly and not where I can go. Click To Tweet

And let’s dispense with the “Not All” fallacy at this point. Every time a legitimate criticism is leveled against any group, gender, party, religion, institution, etc., someone will always point out that not everyone is involved in that error. Though that is always true, it is also an attempt to divert from the point. You may read what I’m writing here and say “but not all Evangelicals do that”. Yes, but enough do all these things that I feel confident in lumping the entire movement in with these errors.

Since 81% of evangelicals promoted a maniacal man for President, and based it on the beliefs I outline below, I feel confident lumping in the entire movement together.

Notwithstanding that, here are the many reasons why I will no longer call myself part of Evangelicalism.

  1. Endemic Racism: Every level of American society is affected by the decision to make slaves a part of American culture since its beginning. Regardless of whether you accept Critical Race Theory, everyone has to admit that the vast majority of black individuals grew up in poverty and will live their entire lives in poverty. They will live in fear of the police, and will receive only token support in their efforts to change things. As I have observed, white evangelicals will be “nice” to people of color but will do nothing to change the culture so the disparity can end. Since slavery started in America, the church has openly and tacitly approved of it. It is not enough to say “but I have some black friends.” The church is historically guilty of even finding doctrinal reasons to promote slavery. And though the doctrines on slavery have formally changed, nothing substantial is being done by evangelicals to enact reparations.
  2. Christian Nationalism: The evangelical church (I am including charismatics in this as I don’t want to have to keep typing both), is intricately tied to the notion that God chose America to be the greatest nation in the world, a so called “City on a Hill”. Read any book by Eric Metaxas or others, and you can see this outlined. Most evangelical leaders with few exception, teach their church that country, the flag, patriotism etc. are godly attributes. God supposedly loves America and has chosen her to fulfill a manifest destiny as part of his plan. This is why God approves of our military, our wars, our way of life, our political system, our leaders. They will say that God chooses our leaders.

    Everything other nations do is criticized. And yet when America does the same thing, it is excused. Our soldiers executed an entire village of My Lai in Vietnam and christian leaders did all they could to excuse the behavior and justify it. If planes fly into the World Trade Center it is terrorism. If drones destroy thousands of lives in the mountains of Afghanistan in order to kill 20 terrorists, it is justified.

    The church will listen to whomever promises to “Make America Great Again.” Even though we are told explicitely in the bible to pledge our allegiance to no one but God, the church has made patriotism its great unspoken doctrine. Our nation is not evil; believing we are called by God above other nations is.

    I just can’t do it any more. Trump won you over by making grandiose promises of American greatness. You think he accomplished that when he removed us from treaties with other countries, when he blocked non-whites from coming into the country, when he said we would not participate in climate change preparation.
  3. Christians Support of Guns and Violence: If you have ever heard me speak, it should be clear that I am a Pacifist. I am not passive–these words do not mean the same thing. I do not believe any person should be killed by another person. Ever. I don’t think children should be killed if they are viable in birth. I don’t think criminals should be killed. I do not think we should go to war and kill. I especially don’t think you should kill another person because you’re afraid of them.

    You don’t have to agree with that. But in my 30 years in America, I note your obsession with guns. You have to have them in your nightstand for “protection”…even though it has been shown that you are more likely to be killed with your own gun that to kill an intruder. And I find this obsession with guns goes along with this false belief that Christians have to be tough and macho.

    Donald Trump knew this. At his rallies, he attacks those who are weak, and makes heroes out of those who are violent and merciless. He criticized the handicapped as weak, he vilified prisoner-of-war John McCain as the greatest loser because he got captured. On the other side, he paraded an openly racist Sheriff of one small town (Joe Arpaio) for all to see and hear because he practiced racial profiling. When the sheriff was arrested for contempt of court, Donald Trump pardoned him.

    Evangelicals and charismatics want to be warriors, soldiers for Jesus. You can leave me out of it.
  4. Assuming to Be a Christian Means You are Anti-Choice: Billy Graham was pro-choice for most of his career. So were many leaders within evangelicalism, including W. A. Criswell, Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist of Dallas. That is, until 1980. Then, evangelical leaders made a deal with the Repubican Party. They would make “pro-life” the evangelical thing and Republicans would support their anti-choice agenda.

    They did this despite the fact that the Bible says virtually nothing about abortion, and nothing definitive about when life begins. I am pro-life…I don’t broach taking any life…but I also believe that we have never defined that life begins at conception, either medically or theologically. Christians adopted this stance to get political control, and that is all it is for. Before the 1970s, very few people in churches even knew what it meant to be Pro-life.

    You don’t think these mega-pastors care about little babies do you? They don’t even allow them in the sanctuary when they’re preaching.

    An evangelical church that purports to be against abortion should be very much in favor of birth control. And caring for poor women who are the predominant ones who have abortions for financial reasons. And setting up better systems for childcare for working single mothers. Churches put almost NO effort into these things and teach actively against birth control for singles.

    Trump knew that promising to support wee babies in the womb would guarantee the vote. Other than putting conservatives on the Supreme Court (which will likely do nothing to make abortions illegal), he did NOTHING for the unborn or the families of the poor. But that wasn’t the point for him or evangelicals. It was about controlling the voting bloc. If conservatives and conservative christians were all that effective at curbing abortion, why is it that abortion rates have fallen much more in Democratic Presidencies than Republican? Because Democrats teach birth control and care for the medical needs of the poor.
  5. Passive and Active Contempt for Women, LGBTQ, Immigrants, and Victims of Sexual Assault: This was the clincher for me. And it still shocks me. I spent the past 30 years counseling victims of sexual abuse in churches and in church organizations. I have met with over 200 of them. In all but two cases, the churches either tried to cover up the abuse, or claim it didn’t happen, or force the victims to apply grace and forgiveness to the crime.

    And this applies even more to well-known evangelicals. Men like Ravi Zacharias, Bill Hybels, Bill Gothard, and Andy Savage were all protected and defended by their churches after assaulting victims. Pastors such as Paige Patterson, C J Mahaney, and Matt Chandler covered up abuse they knew about.

    And then, after all that–which goes back decades and decades in evangelicalism–they have the audacity to say that women cannot be preachers and leaders in the church because they’re too weak. They have the temerity to claim that the LGBTQ individuals in the church are disqualified just for who they are, and that immigrants belong on the mission field and we need to build a wall to keep them out. Over 80% of evangelicals supported the building of the wall. At the same time, they send missions teams to Mexico in the greatest show of ironic hypocrisy I’ve ever witnessed.

    Trump knew all of that as well and he appealed to white male egos. The pastors as a large bloc touted him as God’s man for this hour. Hundreds of so-called charismatic prophets still claim God showed them he will be in the White House for a second term. And even though they have been shown to be wrong, most of them will not change their minds or repent.

    More than anything, I cannot stand all the duplicity of claiming that white males are to lead the church when most of the egregious behavior has been by white males.

    Considering all of this, and seeing what it culminated with at the Capitol last week, I see no reason whatsoever to align myself with the culture or community of evangelicals or charismatics.

Why Pastors Make Poor Allies

It was 1992. The church I attended was heavily invested in the pro-life cause. Many of its members marched in front of the only abortion clinic in our town, shaming women who entered, and calling for strict change of law to make abortions almost impossible to get. There were prayer meetings in the church to defeat the “powers of darkness” surrounding the abortion industry.

One of the members was involved in a commission to help re-write some of the state’s laws on abortion. Another member had been thrown in jail twice for marching against abortion. We had our “pro-life credentials” well established.

No one knew the reservations I had about the pro-life movement. As a counselor, I knew that dozens of women in our church had abortions in the past. Some of them were the most vehement opponents of abortion. Some of them lived shamed lives, hoping no one ever found out about them.

I had doubts the movement was from God. I had researched the pro-life movement’s political roots, and knew I could not support any of the principal players. I searched in vain for any mention of abortion in the Bible. Even the few verses which spoke about God calling someone from their mother’s womb were found in poetic writings which are hardly substantial fodder for theological positions.

In short, I had my doubts about all the marching going on.

The worst part was the work of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The Spirit of God was convicting me of my hatred and judgment toward women who made the decision to terminate their pregnancies. God would not allow me just to ignore those hateful attitudes. In prayer one day, God directed me to publicly apologize for my attitudes and to make amends. I started to prepare a teaching but God showed me it wasn’t enough.

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