Book Review: Being Flawsome

I tried to read this book a couple of times and couldn’t break through. Since I received a copy on the agreement that I would write a “fair, honest” review, I felt compelled to keep trying. I didn’t really want to.

Drawn to the book by the title, I was expecting a contemporary wrestling with the kinds of things that brought John Wesley to write his Plain Account of Christian Perfection. I’ll link to a free version here. I’m a Wesleyan, and wrestling with Christian Perfection is one of the main reasons why.

What I found in Being Flawsome wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but it may just be what I needed to find.

I tried hard to read it. I started marking it up where I found incomplete sentences. I got lost between paragraphs.

But I kept at it.

Matthews’ thesis is clear and simple and he doesn’t waver from it: to follow Jesus we look to our identity as beloved children of God rather than to our character. 

This is something I needed to hear – or, better, to be confronted by. The author displays vulnerability by drawing from his own experiences to illustrate how living from character rather than identity leads us away from the truth and beauty and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I struggled to finish the book though it is less than 200 pages. I very much appreciate Nicholas Matthews’ willingness to share this message of encouragement that it might help me, too, live flawesomely – a flawed life in the presence of an awesome God. Learning to trust God’s character and my identity in God leads me in the direction of the kind of life God has for me, for all of us, to live.

In the end, I didn’t feel like I was able to integrate Matthews’ perspective with that of Wesley, but I’m left feeling like this might be on me rather than on him.

At our best

We are at our best when we are aware we aren’t always at our best.

I heard this GREAT bit on a podcast yesterday. The host told the guest “You do something that I really struggle with – how do you interview people who you know are garbage?”
(Set aside for a moment how problematic it is to think of others as garbage, and how much worse it is to say it out loud. Then pick up a stone to throw if you have never, ever, felt that way about someone else.)

I invite you to set aside your offense or grumbling or even guessing what I was listening to or which “side” was calling the other “garbage. If you’re having trouble doing so, okay, but the really important thing is what happened next.

The person being interviewed replied “Oh, maybe because I’m garbage too?” In other words, we are at our best when we are aware that we aren’t always at our best.

When we think ourselves superior to other people, it is really easy to look down on them. When we think of others as inferior to ourselves, it is really easy to look down on them. I’m not sure these two are the same; they may indeed be. That’s a matter for another discussion.

In church world, where I live, work, and spend too much of my time, we are collectively really good at looking down on other people. We can take a snapshot of them when we drive by, or see their neighborhood, or hear a story about them. Distant from us, apart from us, abstracted from us, we find it too easy to prescribe what would fix their problems. We don’t even have to know what they think the problems are!

From that distance, it is easy to think of someone else as garbage. And we cannot think of someone else as garbage and at the same time treat them as a human being.

So I am grateful for that snippet of conversation on a podcast that reminded me that IF I catch myself thinking of anyone else as garbage, the best thing for me to do is to remember that I’ve got some garbage in me, too.

I wonder sometimes who might think of me as garbage. For this very reason, I often withhold from others what I really think and how I really feel. Which, as I typed that out, made me realize that sometimes I treat myself like garbage.

Maybe that’s it; none of us are garbage or all of us are garbage.

For as long as we share this world, I think it will help us to remember that we are at our best when we realize we are not always at our best.

Life Isn’t Plug and Play

We received this beautiful Japanese Maple as a gift a few weeks ago. We planted it within a couple of days, and Rachel has kept it watered. Well, Rachel and the weather have kept it watered.

A couple of days after we planted it, we noticed the prevailing southerly winds were causing the tree to lean. So I secured it with twine.

About a week later a storm jostled it a little, and a hole opened where we (now obviously) had not put enough dirt as we were planting the tree. Last night’s storm knocked the poor little tree around a little more. It has now settled into its place a bit more, and requires yet more dirt to be added to shore it up.

I realized this morning that what I wanted in a tree was more plug-and-play, one-and-done, throw it in the ground and move on to something else.

You know, the way we treat much of the world around us? Sometimes we even treat people this way.

Souls, and bodies for that matter, just don’t work this way. We are a lot of work! Most of this work is regular, routine, and to borrow a favorite word of one of my pre-teens, boring. These regular routine things we learn to do, though, over time, change us.

It’s why we are called Methodists

I guess I’ll give the tree a little more attention.

Not Progressive; Jesus

The equality of women with men in Ministry and church leadership is not a progressive thing; it is a Jesus thing. I heard a secular podcast this morning refer to the “issue of women in ministry” as a “progressive” one. I’m here to disagree with that assessment.

We can (and, sadly, we will) continue to debate the place and roll of women in the church. But it is not a “progressive” issue. I have many friends who identify themselves as anything but progressive who understand and teach that women and men have equal claim to ministry and leadership in the church.

I know there are churches that will tell you otherwise. But according to the gospels, (all four of them) none of those churches might be telling you anything if Mary Magdalene had not gone to find the empty tomb and returned to tell the men and others that Christ was risen.

There are women in leadership throughout the Bible. Yes, even in the Old Testament: Deborah and Huldah, to name two. Paul identifies women as leaders in several churches in his letters.

You may be thinking of those verses where women are told to keep silent. Ok, that’s not exactly right; the churches are told how to let their women behave. One way of reading this is that the churches to whom Paul is writing have some specific issues. (remember, these letters were actually written to specific people or churches, and only secondarily for the rest of us) Another way of reading this kind of thing is that these are “for all time” statements.

Language betrays a preference though. When Paul writes “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28) it is written as a general statement rather than instructions for dealing with specific congregational issues.

Disagreements about genders and their relationship(s) with each other and with God are not new. Women in ministry and church leadership is not a “progressive” issue; it is a Jesus issue. It isn’t a new issue; we have been on this long and winding path as long as there has been a path.

Even when I am not paying attention, God is.

Have you ever been writing or speaking and found yourself surprised by a sentence that slipped out of you? I know I’ve had this happen many times, the most recent being this morning.

I was updating the “about” page of this blog, when I typed this:

Even when I am not paying attention, God is.

I’m pretty sure I had thought it before I typed it, but as I finished typing it I paused and reread it. Or maybe I just read it for the first time.

Could I have written something without having thought it first? That seems a silly question until I change it to this way: “Could I have said something without having thought it first?”

Undoubtedly the answer to the latter is yes. Which means to me the answer to the former is also affirmative.

Now it seems I’ve lost the original point of this post, which is actually appropriate. When I am chasing logic or some facsimile thereof down the turns of previously established but unidentified mental trails, God’s faithfulness is, to borrow a word I never use in regular conversation, steadfast. I don’t use the word ‘steadfast’ often enough for it to come to mind, yet it did. Almost, or surprisingly, without my having thought about it first.

My mind has always, or at least for as long as I can remember, wandered like a pinball from one thing to another. I waste some time everyday beating myself up for it; for not being able to stay focused. For not paying attention. So, now, to consider that even when I am not paying attention, God is, brings me hope and settles me into God’s ungraspable grace.

And that’s where I really need to be right now. I bet you do, too.

A Dream I couldn’t shake

I am sharing this because I had a dream last night I couldn’t shake. It wasn’t a particularly weird dream. No flying, no falling, no sense of hurry but my legs are trapped in slo-mo.

Nope. The dream I couldn’t shake was simply pulling into a parking lot, turning left to back into a parking place. There was one other car on the small lot, and I was backing in to park next to it.

I hit that car as my car arced backwards into it’s space. Even as I hit the other car, I kept going.

There was a passenger in the car, front seat. Beside me. I don’t recall who it was, so let’s say it was you. We were shaken up a little, but I distinctly recall saying something flippant about it after completing the parking job.

I don’t know what happened after that in that particular dreamiverse, because I immediately moved into analysis of both why I had hit that one car and why I didn’t seem really to care at all. Honestly, I think I was still dreaming as I moved into the analysis phase. During that phase, though, I went into that calming state of being awake enough to know I’m awake, but asleep enough to kind of stay in the dream.

(I don’t recall ever entering that state until about 10 years ago, but I don’t know if it is a function of age or not.)

Back to the parking collision. Even though my car has a rear-view camera, I didn’t use it. I scanned the space as I drive into the parking lot, and got a mental image of it. A lto of open space, one car parked right there. I pulled forward, put the car in reverse, and “looked” at a mental image birds-eye-view I had of the area. I backed accordingly.

Turns out my mental image wasn’t accurate. My ability to align my actual movement with the video-game-like image of my car on that mental image may also not have been entirely accurate.

And this, I think, was the point of the dream. I don’t believe every dream is dreamed to make a point, but this one was. The point is: while it is tempting to trust mental models and ideas for “how things ought to work” in our heads, the read world never entirely comports what is in our heads.

But I’m glad you were in the car with me. That way the lesson of this dream reminds me that the version of our relationship that I carry (or make up) in my head doesn’t entirely comport with our actual relationship.

Let’s live in the actual world – together – and not be satisfied with the versions of the world that we make up in our heads. Maybe it’s ok in a dream. but in the actual world, no one wants a fender bender when actually using one’s senses could have kept it from happening.

Am I a Racist?

I would like to tell you the answer to that question is “NO!”  But that might be a bit hasty.

I recently took the IAT (Implicit Attitude Test) for racial bias.  I did not do as well as I wish I had.

The IAT offers a variety of tests, all designed to identify the relative strength of a person’s positive or negative associations of a variety of issues.
blind spot
I first learned of the IAT earlier this year when I read Blind Spot. It’s a fascinating read and I highly recommend it.

But I’m sharing this now, rather than when I  read the book because the challenge of bias came up the other day and I got to be part of a very interesting discussion.

In a group of people who were all my age (55) or older and all of us anglo, we talked about the incredible progress that we have made as a society over our lifetimes.  I don’t think there is any denying this, but at the same time, I feel the need to be sensitive to people who don’t feel like we have made enough progress.

So I shared this thought, based on my own taking of the IAT and learning that I have a slight bias against people of color:

The real challenge before us all is not trying to convince ourselves that we have moved beyond bias, but being honest enough with ourselves what bias we do have.

Because you can only lessen your bias if you are willing to identify it. The IAT can be a helpful tool to do this.

 

Good, Better, Best

I had the great joy the other day of witnessing a good thing happening: a child gave his mother a dandelion.

woman holding flower
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

Then, this even better thing happened. He realized what a good idea it was, and picked a second flower to give her.

Then, the best thing happened: the mother received the flowers exactly the way they were offered – as a gift of love from her son. She could, I suppose, have received them as a couple of weeds he had picked up. But she didn’t.

How much of the value of a gift comes in the spirit in which it is given? How much in the spirit in which it is received?

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