Spiritual Claustrophobia

September 1, 2017

“Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom… Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion.” -GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

I wasn’t going crazy… but I might have- if I didn’t surrender to what I now call “deconstruction.” (I know, I know. That word.)

After 34 years of being a “good Christian,” I had achieved more than I ever dreamed: a firm grasp of theology (within a very small and specific stream of Protestantism), a pastoral position in my church, and a well balanced, not-too-legalistic-but-not-too-lenient practice of my faith. I wrote and taught nerdy-yet-fun Bible classes, preached passionate sermons on Sunday morning, and shared my faith publicly as often as I could.

I was killing it.


It was slowly killing me.

Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you too have been there. Something felt… off. Something just wasn’t right. A nagging feeling.   

I didn’t like it.

I wasn’t really depressed or despondent- nothing as dramatic as that. It was just a low-grade uneasiness at first. A glitch in the matrix. I couldn’t even put my finger on it. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware enough to try. The beautiful, powerful system I had sought to master was losing its luster and allure. And, like a splinter in my mind, this uneasiness nagged at me.

At the time that all of this was coming to the surface, I was working as a sales rep for a huge pharmaceutical company and was enrolled in their manager training program. One of the courses – “Implicit Bias Training” – was designed to help us become better decision makers by having us learn about our biases, realize how those biases shape our worldview, and recognize how our worldviews are unconsciously making decisions for us.

So there I sat- in one of those stereotypical corporate boardrooms… around an oversized, ornate conference table… in one of those high-backed, swiveling, leather office chairs… and overhead, on a big screen, a presentation was being shown about different types of biases and how they have the ability to hijack our decisions when we remain unaware of them.

Here was the jest of it:

Affinity Bias says: “I make decisions to surround myself with people who are most like me.”

Systemic Bias says: “The system I am in has a way of encouraging me to make decisions that won’t upset the system.”

But this next one… well, it nearly knocked me out of my faux-leather chair and completely threw me headlong into a season of deconstruction that I never saw coming. It was called “Confirmation Bias.”

Confirmation Bias says: “I only accept information which I already agree with and I subconsciously reject any information that might challenge what I already believe.”


Those words hit my head like a gong. I could no longer pay attention. I just sat there, stunned, head buzzing in the middle of that presentation. I suddenly imagined all of the books I had ever read and all of the sermons I had ever listened to. There was an obvious and nauseating pattern. All of those authors, pastors, and thinkers had been weaving together a carbon fiber shield of an unchallenged and nearly impervious Confirmation Bias. And that very shield had just been torn in two, from top to bottom, just like the temple curtain in the Gospel of Matthew.

The Spirit of Deconstruction was now flooding into my life and I couldn’t have stopped it even if I wanted to.

I still believe that this was a spiritual (perhaps even mystical) experience. I believe The Spirit was calling me out — calling me to leave home like Abraham, to a place that would only be revealed later. I had no choice. I had to go and I had to admit my sins. The sin of protecting my own bias. The sin of building my own pristine theological tower of babel. Some call it the Sin of Certainty. Some call it the Idolatry of God. Regardless of what we call it, I knew I was guilty of something that now deeply unsettled me.  I had put God in a box and as we should all know- any box, no matter how “big,” is still infinitely too small for God.

It was then that I realized what I was suffering from.

I realized why things had been feeling “off.” 

It wasn’t depression.

It wasn’t a dark night of the soul.

It wasn’t “sin in my life” (barf).

It was spiritual claustrophobia, inducing a low grade insanity.

The space I had created for the divine was breaking down, and like Isaiah in the temple, I was coming undone.

GK Chesterton said that it’s the chess players who go mad, not the poets. Why? Because it’s logic that tries to limit the infinite, not imagination. You can’t figure out the infinite. If you try, you’re asking for insanity. I was treating God like chess and it was slowly and quietly driving me crazy. 

Deconstruction saved my faith and, possibly, even my sanity.

This principle is actually found in the Old Testament. The Hebrew people were not even permitted to speak the name of God. That’s kind of because they didn’t even know it. God never actually offers a name in the way names usually work. See, names are supposed to tell us something specific about what is being named. But when God first meets Moses at the burning bush, God does one of the most awe-inspiring, poetic, mysterious things ever. God merely says: “Is-Was-Will-Be”. That’s it. God’s “name” is pure possibility. Being Itself. Existence Itself. Infinite. Mysterious. Totally unique. Unnameable.

All of the other surrounding nations had many different gods- each with different names which suggested different functions. It was all very practical. Simple even. Useful. Not this God. The God of the Hebrews was mysterious. A God of surprises. A God that you can’t control.

Deconstruction returned me to what I know believe has always been the radical core of Christianity (and many other Spiritual Traditions): The wild, mysterious, and infinite nature of God.

No more boxes.

No more claustrophobia.

Just adventure.

Just the journey.

And I’m thrilled to be here.

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