CELEBRATION OF IMPERFECTION

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Yesterday, as I was carefully mowing the lawn, I kept noticing geranium petals falling on the slightly cleaner mass of green grass (don’t think manicured lawn a la beautiful English estates). A bit frustrating as they seemed like leftovers who were spoiling the work I had done.

I was reminded that this would have been an intentional artefact as part of a zen botanic landscape. Wabi sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism, particularly the tea ceremony, a ritual of purity and simplicity in which masters prized bowls that were handmade and irregularly shaped, with uneven glaze, cracks, and a perverse beauty in their deliberate imperfection. The Japanese philosophy celebrates beauty in what’s natural, flaws and all.

Perfectionism is an unattainable pursuit and perfectionists are a pain to live with. Yet often many of us fall into that trap. Some do it out of a sense of insecurity or simply trying to please someone that might never be satisfied anyway.

There is somehow a beautiful freedom in an imperfect life. It gives others permission to be be imperfect too and it is a fertile ground for humility and grace – relying on God rather than ourselves.

I remember reading a story about an old Orthodox senior monk shocking his fellow younger apprentices one evening at the dinner table. The monks would observe very strict dietary fasts that often exclude luxurious items of  food such as sugar, meat and oil. After their prayer before an evening meal as they sat down, the old respected senior monk (starets) pulls a little bottle of oil and uses a tiny drop on the food. As they were all in disbelief, one plucked up the courage and enquired about the apparent ‘faux pas’. The older monk explained how that drop of oil will keep him humble from bragging that he kept the fast with such valiancy.

The apostle Paul battled the frustrating imperfections of his life – yet learned that he was at his strongest in his weakness – utterly dependent on God’s grace.The same is true for me and you…

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ECHO CHAMBER

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Plenty has been made of the ‘echo chamber’ syndrome on Facebook where it seemed like you truly hear what you want to (or what they think you want to). In news media an echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.

Not sure how real that is for the everyday person. At least from my Facebook feed, I had plenty of conflicting referendum views treacling through. Still, only the naive would not realise that the media controls and manipulates information according to one’s interest. The socio-political dangers are obvious, and taken to extremes, very dangerous.

It makes me wonder how often we can develop a similar problem in our personal discipleship as well as our spiritual community life. It’s so easy to hide behind a carefully fenced off castle of my favourite theological hobby horses and avoid another differing perspective. We find a small club of ‘agreers’ that constantly reinforce our ideas. We rarely read and consider another perspective.

Probably even more dangerous is the spiritual compromise, in which we can begin to excuse and even justify sinful attitudes. There will always be someone out there (particularly those keyboard warriors in the that land of the blogs) who can agree with our own ‘blindness’ to our sinful beams.

To combat the spiritual echo chamber I suggest a couple of ‘antidotes’:
  • a humble attitude of sincere transparency: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!’ (Psalm 139:23)
  • an intelligent faithful reliance on God’s revealed wisdom: ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.’ ” Timothy 3:16-17

TALKING TO YOURSELF

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I guess that if you heard someone talk to themselves, you would see that as unusual. Jokingly, as a sign of getting old or maybe seriously a symptom of being somehow unwell. But I think it’s good to talk to yourself.

There are voices that ‘talk’ to us through the day and to many even through the night. Voices that are sometimes human and other times imaginary. They can whisper or shout, once or with a tiresome repetitive cadence. The voices of doubt, fear, anger, revenge and hopelessness.

David, the prolific warrior-poet seemed to practice a counter strategy in speaking the opposite message to his very own soul. He used this strategy to silence the lies and highlight the truth. To set the record straight. To bring into sharp focus and remind himself of the other Voice, the voice of God, the one that really matters.

I love the weird people that stop at the traffic lights in the car next to you, singing out loud some favourite tune – totally oblivious of those around. There is some enviable paradoxical sanity in their joy and freedom.

Learn to speak God’s truth, through His word to yourself. It will do you good.Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God  Psalm 43:5 NIV

ATTACHMENT ISSUES

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It is so easy to become attached: a job, a person, a philosophy or a hobby. They offer you a that comfortable sense of security that make you feel like you’re in control. It feels good, cozy and reassuring.

But most of the time – it’s all an illusion. The things that we cling to – hoping they would bring fulfilment – they disappoint us. People let us down, jobs come and go, teams lose… This exposes a deeper truth: we are building illusionary sandcastles. They never last. They never protect.

And when the raging waves take them away -we hit another low of disappointment… There is another way – one that leads to satisfaction: the way of surrender and dependency on God.

It’s a good time to unclench that grasp, before it’s snatched out of our hands by life’s knocks and learn to depend on a dependable, everlasting and ever-present God.

Psalm 46:1-3 NIV
[1] God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. [2] Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, [3] though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

In Praise of Excellence

How great to use a service or product that delivers the promise straight away? Even better, how good to know that it has longevity too! I’m sure that all of us could name something or some place that would fit that description… And the funny things is that we become unwitting advertisers, without a pay.

Gadgets and services have a way of disappointing us. They promise but don’t fulfil that promise. They advertise a glossy dream that becomes a grim nightmare. One thing both good products and good services have in common is a constant pursuit for excellence. Developing something both innovative and sustainable

Last night I touched on that issue in my message ( http://www.cfmc.org.uk/Podcasts/170515P.mp3) and I truly believe that excellence will open the doors of opportunity for the Good News, for us personally and corporately.

But what does excellence look like in the mundane and ordinary?

  1. do what you do with a higher motivation than just financial reward
  2. do what you do as well as you can
  3. do what you do with as much dedication as you can muster
  4. do what you do with as fair a price as you can think of
  5. go the extra mile in patience and kindness
  6. treat people as people not projects
  7. be punctual
  8. don’t take jobs you cannot do
  9. pay attention to the less noticed elements just as much as you would to the obvious
  10. do what you as if this was your one and only chance: your own masterpiece
The list could go on, but at least there is something to get us thinking.
Ask yourself: what would excellence look in dealings with:
  • my family life
  • my work environment
  • my faith community
  • my local community
Colossians 3:23 ESV : Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,

PS: Excellence is not perfectionism.Avoid perfectionism like a plague.That way you will avoid making yourself and others truly miserable.