Monday, July 16, 2007

Living in the Real, Striving for the Ideal

I just finished reading "Messy Spirituality: God's Annoying Love For Imperfect People" by Mike Yaconelli, the founder of Youth Specialties and The Door, the only existing Christian satire magazine. Sadly, the author was tragically killed in a car crash in 2003.

The book is a quick read that is simple in concept, but more difficult in practice. The premise is: "STOP PRETENDING!" Mike Yaconelli, who pastored an unconventional church, advocated honesty in the church. It sounds funny that honesty would need to be advocated in the church, but it did and still does. The author articulates the dangers of image, denying the reality of our messy relationships with God and each other, and pretending to live in the ideal instead of striving for it.

I've never read an account from a pastor that is so UPFRONT about his own shortcomings, struggles, doubts, and spiritual state. It is so honest, it's uncomfortable; it makes you squirm a bit. But the sentiment could not be more true. It's a shame that the pretenses of image pressure so many believers to deny the real and pretend the ideal (and you know it's true because it rhymes!).

I wouldn't call this book life-changing, but it is a refreshing encouragement about God's continual use of imperfect, unfinished, doubting, struggling, stubborn people and the need to be real about our earthly and spiritual state to cultivate real intimacy with God and each other.

Messy Spirituality was written for the silent majority of us who have been convinced that we just don’t do Christianity right. We spend most of our lives worried about what we don’t do instead of what we have done, focused on our imperfections instead of God’s fondness for the imperfect. Why? Because we’ve been bombarded with books, tapes, talks, seminars, and movies convincing us that real Christianity is all about perfection. Michael Yaconelli dares to suggest that imperfection, infiniteness, and messiness are, in fact, the earmarks of true Christianity; that real Christianity is messy, erratic, lopsided . . . and gloriously liberating.

What if genuine faith begins with admitting we will never have our act completely together? Maybe messy disciples are exactly the kind of imperfect people Jesus came to earth for and whose company he actually enjoyed--and still enjoys. If you want to find Jesus today, look for him in the midst of burned-out believers, moral misfits, religious incompetents . . . men and women whose lives are, well, messy.

Messy Spirituality is a strong antidote for the spiritual perfectionism in us all. Here are truths that can cut you loose from the tyranny of ought-to’s and open your eyes to the deep spirituality of being loved, shortcomings and all, by the God who meets you and transforms you in the midst of a messy and unpredictable life.


maura said...

How refreshing! As one who came to know the Lord at 19, I struggled SO MUCH with not being perfect. After trying so hard, not being able to pull it off, almost throwing in the towel, finally the realization hit me, being a Christian isn't about me! It's about His great love for me, for us, imperfections and all. Every day, giving my life to Him, turning from sin, spending time with Him, and to keep on keepin' on. After 19 years, still not perfect, but God's grace is sufficient.
It's so easy to focus on ourselves, when the whole point is to keep our eyes fixed on Him.

Peter said...

Maybe a lot of other pastors/leaders should give this book a try. How many times do we needs to see the Jimmy Swaggarts, Jim Bakkers, Ted Haggards etc. with the picture perfect image FALL before we realize men of God are imperfect, weak, and struggling like the rest of us. No one ever sees it coming when a great leader falls because their image is fiercely guarded, edited so people will only see their intense "spirituality" and "togetherness." It must be a lot of pressure to have to pretend to have all the answers, know always what to do and what to say... no wonder they buckled!

It's a good book and about time somewhat said it!

Candice said...

Don't you think that pastor was advocating being a bad witness by encouraging people to be so "upfront" with the weaknesses we all supposedly have? I mean, what will people think if they know that we struggle, a small fraction "doubt," or sin? It'll just fuel the hypocrisy accusations. The pastor should have kept his baggage to himself for the sake of the church.

Tia Lynn said...

Honestly Candice, I don't think the hypocrisy accustations stems from the knowledge of imperfection, it's when we lord false perfection over people and then are exposed as frauds. When people are honest about the state they are in, and fall, few people are ready to throw stones, but when someone is puffed up in self-righteousness and false piety and is exposed, that's when the hypocrisy card is played. We need to be upright and striving for better, but it is a foolish and alienating risk to pretend to better than we are. Deception is always wrong and this case, it's not even effective.