David Bazan has this song where he kind of goes after it.
The book of Genesis. The origin and nature of humankind—and human sin. The foundation of Christian faith as we know it.
It’s a brutal kind of uncovering, an understated but merciless revealing.
The refrain: “It’s hard to be / a decent human being.”
After the church my wife and I had planted came crashing to an end in 2012 I found myself thrust into a time of merciless revealing—where both my faith and my life were laid bare. I had experienced deconstructive seasons before, seasons where I questioned my beliefs and allowed old things to be removed and progressed to new spaces of understanding. In fact, you might say that ever since adolescence I’d been in a long deconstructive season of sorts, untangling myself from the mess of a cultish charismatic upbringing and trying to find the authentic Jesus in the midst of seemingly endless evangelical hypocrisy.
But this was different. In this post-church planting season, the deconstruction leapt from an analytical plane to one altogether more raw and real. The end of our church was the last straw, and it sent everything spiraling out of control. The toxic realities of my upbringing erupted to the surface; the bottom dropped out of my family and community life; our finances, all tied to the intrepid church startup that we’d mortgaged our lives to see through, evaporated like the morning dew (which is to say, they went to shit). My faith was so integrally tied to a lifelong sense of ministry calling that this unexpected, devastating end to the church I led and loved nearly brought my faith to an end too. And it wasn’t a matter of logic and understanding. It was visceral, emotional, embodied reality.
This deconstructive season threatened to become something more: demolition.
In the middle of that season, I began attending a United Methodist church in our town. A church that good, local evangelicals would likely consider liberal and lost. A church that clung to Tradition while pressing into social justice and keeping up with committees all the same. A church that welcomed me even in this edge-of-demolition moment, and made plenty of room for me to journey through it.
I preached a few times, and one of those times I also had this strange desire to sing a song to intro my sermon. The song was “Hard to Be” by David Bazan.
In one particularly devastating verse, Bazan sings:
I swung my tassel
To the left side of my cap
Knowing after graduation
There would be no going back.
And no congratulations
From my faithful family
Some of whom are already fasting
To intercede for me.
Because it’s hard to be
A decent human being.
It’s a song about the loss of faith, about the incredulity of a Garden fairy tale explaining human misbehavior.
But it’s also a song that strangely confirms our “fallen” human condition. Because it is hard to be a decent human being. Whether you’re the college grad leaving your fundamentalist faith behind, or the fundamentalist family that refuses to celebrate their child—it’s hard to be a decent human being.
I sang that song, and that verse, before I preached, because deep down I was losing my faith. I was clinging onto it for dear life, don’t get me wrong! But my grip was loosening with every passing day. And it was all I could do to keep any piece of my faith-structure intact during the deconstruction.
But simply being willing to sing my unbelief, and then preach out of it, was a moment of honesty that cracked open a door of hope, letting a bit of the light back in. I’m not saying David Bazan saved my faith—he’d probably not want that job!—but I am saying that honesty in the midst of my deconstructive season, in a church that welcomed that honesty, probably did.
We will probably all go through significant seasons of deconstruction, where our faith and life are mercilessly revealed. And sometimes, those seasons might bring us dangerously close to the precipice, where we let go and lose our faith entirely.
But if I can bear witness to anything it would be this: the deconstruction doesn’t have to be demolition. And the more honest we can be in the midst of it, the better—even if we have to sing out our unbelief until hope returns.
Zach Hoag is the author of The Light is Winning: Why Religion Just Might Bring Us Back to Life. Find him at zhoag.com and follow him on Twitter @zhoag.