Christian Living

How many truth-tellers are in your life?

Truth-tellers–the awesome people we have in our lives who tell us like it is, regardless of what we’d like to hear. I really, really appreciate the people in my life who do this. One of my values is to be someone who is open to correction.

It’s hard to be corrected. It hurts and is embarrassing, but I grow because of it. I’ve been thinking about 1 Timothy 4:11-16 where Paul says:

Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (NIV–emphasis mine)

I hate when people see my mistakes. It’s really hard for me to be open enough with anyone to admit my flaws, let alone have them point out my flaws. As I was thinking about all that, this passage struck me. If people are seeing Timothy’s progress, that means he wasn’t starting out at the finish line; he wasn’t perfect. Paul is encouraging him to be open enough that the people around them can see his growth.

I wonder what our churches would be like if everyone followed that advice. Would we be more accepting of people’s flaws? Would we be more accepting of our own flaws? Would we be better able to encourage each other and to point out small issues before they become big problems? What else would change?

Have you ever looked at someone else’s life and seen where they bring problems on themselves? My husband and I were just talking about how we need people outside of our family to see the obvious things we could change. Sometimes things look obvious from the outside but are less simple from the inside, but sometimes they really are that simple to fix.

I’m also consistently in awe of people who can put themselves out there like this. Brene Brown talks about how important vulnerability is–that without it we can’t have joy, love, creativity, or innovation. It’s vital to a thriving life. It also takes a lot of courage to live so openly.

Those are the two sides to having truth-tellers in your life: being open about your life and being willing to be corrected.

So how about you? do you have truth-tellers in your life? Are you the kind of person who is open to correction? Are you the kind of person who can be vulnerable enough for people to see your life?

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Stretching and Being Stretched

I recently read two very different Star Trek AOS fan fics. In the first fic, the author did some really amazing things with Spock’s childhood and how his father’s disapproval and his peers’ bullying formed him into someone with serious issues in how he viewed himself. He started to believe them–to see himself as less than vulcan and less than human and, ultimately, less than a person. So the author used that starting place to stretch Spock and to force him to grow in some really neat ways. It also gives a really interesting potential window into the movie’s background and sets up Spock to change the people around him. He becomes a force for change. I love stories with good character development!

In the second fic, Jim negotiates some awesome thing with another species, and they reward him. They decide that the thing Jim needs most is a happy childhood, so they give him this potion and he reverts back to the last time he was truly happy (when he was living with his grandparents at age 3 or 4). This is not an unusual plot for Star Trek AOS. What was unusual about it was that the author made it so that he didn’t retain any of his adult memories and in the end, the crew was unable to bring adult Jim back. They decide it’s their job to give him a happy childhood–especially McCoy and Spock–so they go through the process of raising him. It was an unfinished fic, so I don’t know exactly where the author was taking it, but what really struck me was the author’s note about how he/she had had a happy childhood and was appalled at Jim’s childhood so he/she was going to give him a happy childhood.

The author KILLED Jim Kirk! I mean, the essence of who he is in AOS is defined by the experiences he’s had. Yes, if you wipe his memories, he’s still alive, but so much of what he’s passionate about is a direct result of his screwed up childhood. For instance, would he be so against “no-win scenarios” if he hadn’t had his father die in one (and/or gone through Tarsus, depending on your AOS character philosophy)? A huge part of what makes him a good captain is all those crappy experiences that shaped his life.

John Eldridge talks about how Satan’s flaming arrows are lies that we get told over and over in our lives. A recurrent theme in my life is the idea that I wreck the lives of everyone who gets close to me. Crazily enough, I’ve been told that by a few different people. And for a long time it was just part of my identity. I used to see myself as so broken that it was like I was made of broken glass and whenever someone got close to me, they’d get sliced open.

However, that analogy only works if everyone else around you is made of flesh instead of broken glass. The reality is that we’re all like rocks in a tumbler, getting our rough edges smoothed off by each other–or like iron sharpening iron. We’re both stretching others and being stretched. So yes, I know I’ve hurt people in my life–who hasn’t?–but that doesn’t mean I should stop getting close to other people or see myself as having more destructive ability than any other human being. We all hurt the people in our lives. It’s part of being broken humans. But all those rough edges we’ve got are less like knives waiting to slice each other open and more like tools that God can use to shape the world and the people around us.

After all, if we let them, it’s the difficult things in our lives that shape us and give us a destiny.

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A Culture of Mediocrity

I just went through a major disillusionment. It wasn’t a fun experience. I mean, I was happy in my delusions. Lately, I’ve been reading some of the comments on fan fics, which is something I don’t usually do. It’s not pretty. I sorta feel like I’m watching one of those train wreck situations where somebody hears somebody else sing and tells them they have such a great voice that they should quit their day job and become a singer, despite the fact that they couldn’t carry a tune if they had a wide-mouth twenty-gallon bucket. I mean, I know that with fan fiction it’s definitely a case of “reader beware”–sometimes you get some really great authors and sometimes you get people that can’t write their way out of a paper bag–but I guess I thought that the average person could recognize which was which. I read a truly dreadful fic this week. The plot was okay. It could have been really good. But the writing was seriously lackluster, and because I’ve been editing lately, some of the major writing flaws stood out to me–and I do mean flaws as in agreed upon mistakes that would preclude the story from getting published vs. just personal preferences.

Guess what! In the comments people a) talked about how amazing the story was (including the writing), but b) actually singled out the very flaws I had found and held them up as being good writing. It was so sad–both for author and for me. Like finding out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

Now, why exactly am I ranting about this? First of all because I just needed to rant. Loving stories and literature the way I do, it hurts to see mediocrity held up as above average. Just as we’re seeing the dumbing down of school children and language itself, I feel like, between self-publishing and the internet, I’m watching good writing slowly slide its way into obscurity. This is not to say that there aren’t good authors who are self-published or that there aren’t good fan fics–because there are. It’s just frustrating to have to wade through so much poorly written literature.

Second of all, I’ve been thinking about this whole idea of celebrating mediocrity. Fan fiction communities seem to tend that direction (unless they just happen to have a bunch of really awesome writers–then they pull the standards up). In my experience, a lot of fan fiction readers read fan fiction exclusively, so they’re not exposed to good writing. Thus you end up with a situation where everyone’s grading on a curve, and the best student in the class is getting C’s.

So part of that standard of mediocrity comes from a poor sample size. But my husband and I were talking last night and he brought up a good point–part of it comes from not wanting to engage in the conflict of telling someone their writing needs serious help and part of it comes from authors reviewing other authors and all wanting to hear nice things about their own work–there’s a sort of quid pro quo that goes on.

Unfortunately, I think we have a lot of the same things going on in the church. Check out this verse that came up in my Bible study this week: 2 Thess 3: 14-15 “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (NIV)

I got to attend a church event this month for the first time in a long time. It’s a monthly ladies’ fellowship/Bible talk night, and the women’s ministry team has decided to use it to talk about friendship. The leader went through a run down of what we as women look for in friendships and it was full of things like love and patience and kindness, but sadly there was no mention of someone to give you a good kick in the pants when you need it. That doesn’t mean it won’t come up, but it wasn’t mentioned. I don’t know about you, but I crave people who tell me when I’m being dumb because I’d rather have a friend tell me I’m being dumb than continue being dumb for who knows how much longer.

Paul specifically tells us not to let junk slide, but we all do. Really, when was the last time you ever had anyone come up to you and say “I love you, but you need help”–preferably before things got dire. When was the last time you let someone know you well enough to know when you needed help?  Note: he’s talking to believers here, so we’re not even talking about critiquing people who are not believers–just take that off the table.

I also love the balance that Paul talks about–we don’t let stuff slide, but we don’t regard the person who needs help as the enemy; we warn him as a brother. I think part of our unwillingness to address issues in the Church comes from a misconception that if we call someone out, we are treating them as the enemy and we become the bad guy. I know I definitely don’t want to comment on poor fan fics and tell them they really need to work on their writing after everyone else has given glowing comments. I feel like the bad guy. But really, if you care about someone, you don’t want to see them continue to make mistakes that could cost them in the long run.

And just like in fan fiction, our community of believers can become ingrown. For example, my husband and I don’t even listen to contemporary Christian music anymore because we believe it celebrates mediocrity. When you look at great music and literature and art in the classics, so much of it was done by Christians because they believed excellence was part of God’s character. I’m not saying that there are no great CCM artists–I’m saying they’re the exception rather than the rule. We’ve created a whole genre of music full of mediocre music and mediocre lyrics. Christian fiction is often the same way as well.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to contribute to a culture of mediocrity. I want to be, as Paul says, a Child of the Day (1 Thess 5:5)–a shining star (Phil 2:12)–that both showcases God’s excellence in everything He does and encourages others to work for that same excellence. I firmly believe that Christians should strive for excellence in all we do because that reflects who God is–not that we don’t make mistakes, or that we don’t go through the learning process, or do things that we suck at simply because we love them (e.g., me drawing stick figures with my kids because I cannot draw to save my life), or on the other end of the spectrum that we fall into the trap of perfectionism, but that we really work for and celebrate excellence. Christians used to be the foremost scientists and artists and musicians and writers and doctors, etc., etc. The whole Protestant work ethic revolved around the idea that God has put each of us where we’re at–whether you work in a  fast food restaurant or you’re a stay at home mom or the president of a large corporation–and so faithfulness in our jobs is eternally significant.

No matter what you’re doing today, you can strive for excellence.

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What is Accountability?

Traditional accountability is one of my pet peeves in the Church. Here’s why: in my experiences it’s most often a simple reporting of one’s sin with the emphasis on vanquishing the sin itself.

Why does the reporting bother me? If authenticity is letting someone walk around in your house, this kind of accountability is like telling your accountability partner, “There’s no need for you to go inside. I’ll just give you a manifest of the number of cockroaches in my living room.” I think this is one of the big reasons folks can be in “accountability groups” for years without experiencing much in the way of freedom or growth. This kind of accountability is antithetical to true relationship.

My other beef with it is the emphasis on fighting a certain sin. In a twisted way that sin can become an idol–you spend all your time and energy on it. I am NOT trying to say that extra emphasis on an area isn’t beneficial. I think it’s often (if not always) necessary to spend extra time and energy on any area where you’re trying to change. However, when we view the sin as the problem, we miss out on the stuff underneath and around it.

For instance, if I’m “being accountable” to someone for the number of times I yell at my kids in a week, that’s all we’re talking about. When I yell at them, I feel guilty and/or shamed because I can’t seem to stop. On the other hand, if I’m letting my accountability partner walk around in my house and she says, “Now wait a minute, what was going on at the time. Why did you yell?,” suddenly I start seeing that I yell when I feel like my kids aren’t listening to me. I realize I have deep wounds involving people ignoring me and feeling unimportant. I haven’t ever let God heal me, so anytime someone triggers those wounds, I lash out. Or maybe I find out that I’m terrified of things flying out of control so I try to control my kids instead of shepherding them. I lash out when I feel out of control because I don’t comprehend the reality of my lack of control or the depth of God’s sovereignty.

Does this sound more like therapy than accountability? Probably. But as my therapist friends have said, if the Church was doing our job as a hospital for the broken, they would be out of a job. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have someone help me grow than have someone simply monitor my lack of growth.