Lecrae: Reconstructing Faith—Part 2

Don’t miss Part 1 of our interview, where Lecrae talks about his early years and influences and what deconstruction means to him.

In your song “Deconstruction,” you say, “Maybe you ain’t never met me / but you know my pain.” That underlying grief, frustration and feelings of betrayal from leaders is widespread. Is there a generational moment where you are walking through something here that is recognizable to many other people?

Absolutely. At first, I thought I was crazy. That it was just me. But as I began to share about the process, people came like Nicodemus at night saying, “This is my story, this is how I feel.” 

It sounds like you experienced well-meaning people trying to fix something that frightened them when what you needed was for someone to sit with you in the pain.

That’s exactly accurate. Often, I would feel that people were trying to fix me but not face me. 

I would tell someone I respected what I was experiencing, and it would be met with how I had the wrong perspective. For example, when mourning the deaths of Black people killed by police, I would hear some version of “I don’t know why you are hurt when the person that was killed was clearly a thug. Have you seen their rap sheet? Have you seen their history?” For me, I was like, “I’m not here to justify how amazing of a person this was. I am saying they should not have been killed for what happened. I have a terrible rap sheet, but Jesus still loves me. If we are judging each other by our past, and if the Bible says that all of our works are ‘filthy rags,’ then none of us have any justifiable credibility. I am hurt, and other people are hurt. And I am not understanding how you are not seeing how hurt we are.” And in those tender moments, my grief would be met with some sentiment like, “This is media hype.” 

I was trying to express, “No, I live in these communities. No, this has been my reality as a person. Can we not talk about this?” But there were all these ‘theological’ terms that were put around pain. I heard fear. “Oh no, you are becoming one of them.” Instead of, “I don’t know what you feel, but it sounds like you are really hurt. What do you need in this moment?” 

I had a lot of Job’s friends. Job was saying some stuff because he was in pain. “God doesn’t see me. God’s not here.” And it’s like, “You know what? That’s not true, but obviously you are in pain. So let me address the reality of what you are dealing with. So that by my faithfulness and consistency you may be able to hear other things, later. We can process some other aspects of this.”

And this experience is so much bigger than just me. We are moving toward a very post-Christian society in America. Many people feel they should move on from faith because there’s nothing there anymore. Someone has to speak to that. People are coming to grips with the fact that some church leaders have let us down. Some churches have let us down. There’s been so much inconsistency. People are hurt. They don’t know where to go from here. So they’re stagnant. They’ve done away with church, and they’re just kinda’ piecemealing faith together for themselves: a little podcast here and a little something there, but they don’t know what to do. They don’t understand that they don’t have to do away with Jesus. They haven’t contemplated the reality that reconstruction is possible. 

With all this, what held you to Jesus during this time? What was it that kept you? Put bluntly, why are you still showing up? 

I’m reminded of the disciples asking Jesus when he asked if they were leaving: “Where else would we go?” 

“… With you are the words of eternal life.” 

Exactly. Some of us know this feeling. 

But it was more than that for me. In the middle of my struggle, there was a series of events I believe God set up. One of them happened in my early deconstruction phase, when my doubts about God were getting very deep. I went to Egypt with my wife. While there, we toured some of the historical landmarks. Our guide was brilliant—studying to get her Ph.D. in Egyptian history. 

Anyway, at one site she told us about a particular pharaoh who was not respected. When I asked why, she replied, “Because he let all of his slaves go.” And I said, “Oh, like Moses in the Bible.” And she said to me, very stoically, “I do not know anything about the Bible. I’ve never read it. I don’t know this story.” 

I said, “You don’t know the story of Moses? And the pharaoh who let the slaves go?” She said, “I do not. I know this history though.” 

I was baffled. There I was, trying to distrust the Bible, even to say there is no God, and this woman—who doesn’t know God at all, has never read the Bible, doesn’t know anything about it—is making a convincing argument for the historical legitimacy of the Exodus. That was Episode 1 of God working. 

Episode 2 happened when I went to a Coptic church there in Egypt. I saw literature and writings, and ancient art of the apostle Mark. I’d never experienced this cultural angle on Christianity. It was all new. I was like, These people thousands of years ago [were] holding this reality. It challenged me. Like, this is ancient. It is not American, it is global. I needed to process that. 

And then, I went through a very serious and trying time of depression and severe anxiety. God just put me in a very humble place where I had to trust him. I remember being on a beach in Mexico. I had to escape the realities I was existing in. In Mexico, I’m on this beach, and I am sincerely contemplating ending it. Like, I don’t know, God—I can’t take this anymore. Suddenly, I saw water shooting up out of the ocean. I thought, Oh great, now I am going crazy. This is perfect. I am losing my mind. Water is shooting out of the ocean. and it must be time, God. Just take me now. And something said to me, You know what? Just read the Bible. There and then, I decided I’d give it another shot.

I opened the Bible and started reading the book of Jonah. I saw how Jonah wanted to end it all inside the belly of this whale. And God rescued him. After that, I looked up and the water that was shooting out of the ocean was [from] a whale that actually came into view. I was shook. I cried. I prayed. I just felt like the presence of God was with me. I prayed, God, you are real and I want to hold onto you. From that moment forward, I felt as if I began a different level of dependency on Jesus, on the Scriptures and on God. 

I see that Jonah reference now in the song “Deconstruction”: “Tears streaming as I weep / felt I heard the Lord speak / I’ve been running from you but you never ran away from me.” Still, I imagine your pain didn’t end in that moment. If that was the turning point, talk to me about what it was like to begin a process of faith reconstruction. 

I got to this place where I realized that God was so merciful and kind. In Psalm 23, it says, “goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life.” The word “pursue” in Hebrew is radaph. It essentially means “hunt.” Like a bloodhound, like a lion. God’s goodness and mercy are hunting me. I had to reconcile with that reality. His goodness and mercy are chasing me down. 

Now I want to build on top of this reality. It’s not that God was ever fake. It’s that his people are inconsistent. That’s always been the story, throughout history. Israel was inconsistent. I’m inconsistent. So, how could I expect his people to be something that they’ve never been? It’s why we needed a Savior. 

It challenged me to really learn that ours is a global faith, not an American faith. The American church is going to be inconsistent—as is every other church in the world. Because of that, may I be all the more gracious. As gracious as God is to me. And let me realize there are no perfect people, no perfect churches. There are just people in pursuit of God’s perfection. It doesn’t mean I make an excuse for them. It means I understand the need for grace all the more. 

From there I just started building, and building, and building my faith around a very gracious God. And doing some contextual work. I’m about to make my third trip to Israel. I’m going to Sudan and Egypt, some of these lands that have rich perspectives that I don’t have. Understanding that there’s a history of Christianity in Japan, in China, that I have never investigated. Then piecing it all together to paint a clearer, [more] accurate picture of the character of God. 

In all this, it seems you’re living out the role of the Christian artist: to be a steward or an interpreter of experiences. Talk to me a little bit about the artist in the life of the church. What do you hope a pastor could learn, not just from yourself, but from the poets, the rappers, the painters, the storytellers and movie makers, in the pew? 

I always think about when the Scriptures talk about the temple being built. It said that they chose gifted artists for that work of art. It wasn’t happenstance, arbitrary or random that God wanted artists to work on the temple. 

We need to realize and respect that there are different people with different giftings and leanings, and that we need them all within the body. Artists give us a level of vulnerability. They hold a mirror up to us in many ways. That’s what good art is supposed to do: paint a picture of our reality—of us—so that we can see and process that reality in a healthy way. 

As a musician and a poet, I want people to say, “Man, I need to muse on this.” That’s why it’s called music. You muse on it. You think on it. You chew it. You process it, and you allow it to work on your soul. The Psalms were not written to be read. They were written as music. They were written to be sung. I think there’s a reason for that because that was a way that God has used, historically, to connect with people emotionally. 

On and on goes the pattern of us using art to connect emotionally, mentally, spiritually, to paint a reality of vulnerability and transparency people can live into. 

What would you say to pastors or leaders who just don’t know what to do when someone comes to them and expresses that pain and doubt? How can they do a good job walking with others through a season of deconstruction? 

I think you used the right word there. Walking with people is probably one of the best remedies. You know, the Scriptures say that we have a high priest who can understand our pain. Jesus can empathize, sympathize with us. Anyone going through pain can look to Jesus and know that he knows the depths of pain. I would hope that we would want to step into people’s pain too. That we would want to follow the footsteps of Jesus, to enter people’s pain and walk with them. 

It’s the same as sitting beside someone’s bedside. I don’t understand cancer. I’ve never had it. I don’t know what it’s doing to the body, but I want to be with you. I want to understand, as best as possible. Why? Because we are part of the same body. When the legs hurt, the arms pay attention. Every part of the body affects every other part.

But we miss this interdependence. We are very transactional. That’s just our culture in the West. We are a transactional culture. I think pastors, like all of us, can learn to be more communal and not transactional. Really begin to shepherd. Being a pastor is more than being a preacher. It’s not just about giving a speech; it’s about caring for the flock. Tending to the people of God. 

What do you think God is calling Christians to do and be right now, here in America with all the mess and complexity of it all? What does your spirit say we are being called to right now? 

I think we are being called to realize that we’ve built some golden calves that need to be melted down, but not melted down just so we can say that we did our job. Melted down in order to understand who God says he is, and how God wants us to walk. 

That might mean going back to some of the original Hebrew context or understanding the Eastern lens that Jesus is speaking through. But in any case, here we are in 2023. Let’s get back to see where we’ve gone off track. Let’s try to course correct. 

This is how good and gracious God is: He has allowed us to exist with mistakes in so many areas and is still taking care of us, still blessing us, still growing us, still maturing us. It’s only right for us to say, You know what, God? You’ve been so good to us even though we have missed some things. And to try to be like King Josiah who goes back and basically says, “What? This is what the Scripture … What?! How did we miss this?” And build from there. 

Paul J. Pastor is editor-at-large of Outreach, and author of several books, most recently, Bower Lodge: Poems. He lives in Oregon.