Out of Chaos
It seems that our culture has perfected the art of pushing us to perfection, or at least presenting the image of perfection. But the reality is that we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world.
What does that mean for us in the church, and what does it mean for us as people of faith? And what role does our baptism play in all of that?
Join us as we explore what it means to be living as an imperfect person of faith in the world that we live in today.
Be sure to check out our podcast, Sermons and Such, available here or wherever you get your podcasting service!
Out of Chaos
Rev. Leanne Masters
Southern Heights Presbyterian Church
January 11, 2015
So, I’m 36 years old. I only tell you that because over the years I’ve kept track and in those 36 years, I’ve lived in 10 different states. That averages out at this point in my life to a new state every three point six years or so, and I’ve now lived in Nebraska for 7 and a half years. (Y’all have beat the average, let me tell ya!) I share all of that with you because it points to the fact that in my life, particularly my young adult life but also my younger life, I’ve lived what I’ve often deemed as a semi-nomadic existence. I would spend a year here, a year there, a year somewhere else doing this, that or the other thing and it’s all be very wonderful for me as an individual as it’s helped me grow and figure out who I am and my place in the world and who I’m supposed to be. One of those places was the year I spent as a Young Adult Volunteer in Alaska, or the year that I worked living and working for the PC(USA) National Headquarters in Louisville, KY, and three of those years was the time that I was in Seminary in Chicago. And so just wonderful experiences helping me to grow and figure out who I am and who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, and what all of this meant.
What all of this meant in a way was that as I’ve moved from place to place, I haven’t been able to take much with me. And as I moved from place to place in my wanderings and my figuring it outs, there’s a few belongings that have made all the different journeys with me. One of which, oddly enough, is an Elmo doll that my sister got my for my 18th birthday, and has literally gone all over the world with me...which I’ve now passed on to my son. The other of which is a rubbermaid storage bin, full of pictures. Prints. It’s unorganized, it’s messy, and it’s just literally a box that has a copy of pretty much every picture that I took and had developed between 1996 and 2007 when I got my first digital camera (at that point, I pretty much stopped printing out pictures).
On occasion, mostly if I’m looking for something in particular, or I’m looking for something that references one of those moments or one of those places I’ve lived during my journeys in my life. I’ll go through those pictures. Sometimes, I’ll sort them as I go, but, for the most part, even if I’m looking for a particular picture or person or place, I’ll find myself flipping through the pictures and remembering and laughing about all these places that I’ve lived and all of these things that I’ve been blessed to do in my life....and, as I do so, one of the things that I find myself laughing at more than anything else is the whole lot of awkward that is recorded in those pictures. Mostly my awkwardness...but that of my friends, too....either a funny look on your face when the picture was taken, or an outfit that was wonky that you just didn’t realize at the time, or any of those things that are frozen moments of funny little moments in time that are recorded and printed out and recorded and in a box in your basement. You only had 36 pictures on a roll. And you had to get them developed. And so you just took pictures, and they were what they were. You got them developed, and you kept them because they were the only records that you had of that moment.
I don’t have a whole lot of awkward pictures of me anymore. Or Mike. Or Kenny. Or any of my friends.
I don’t have moments of awkwardness and weirdness and funniness like that recorded and kept anywhere...
It’s not because we’re never awkward, trust me...I’m awkward most of the time...or that we never make the funny face or wear the funny outfit, or get caught on film doing that awkward thing...but it’s that I have a digital camera now. And it has that little screen that as I take pictures, I can see what they look like. we take a gazillion pictures, and the awkward ones are gone with the touch of the button. And so what gets preserved are not any of the moments of awkwardness...they’re the ones where we look the best, where we’re all looking at the camera, where none of us are doing that goofy thing...By the time we get them printed out...if we even get them printed out...the awkward moments, faces, gestures are long forgotten. And all that is recorded is this perfect picture. This perfect moment. This perfect snapshot of time.
Digitial has also led to us cataloging our daily lives. I’m one of those people...I’m constantly taking pictures of everything. And then as we go through the pictures that we take of our lives, of our days as they go on, we go through them and make sure that we capture the highlights of day, moments, of the situations that we’ve been in. And we have these perfect images of everything that we’ve done. We have these perfectly crafted images that capture just the right moment, and everything looks wonderful and beautiful and great.
And, of course, we share the best of the best with our circle, whether it’s on facebook or twitter or instagram or...or even by emailing the pictures to our loved ones and friends...and we share those images of perfection and wonder with the world and we present our lives in this way.
And in doing so...what we’ve carefully curated an image. We’ve carefully crafted an image of our lives to present to the world, for the rest of the world to see. We’ve carefully crafted and created, along with everything else that we publicly share of our personal lives in a very public way, an image...a persona, a character of who we are. And this image that we present to the world in a very public way isn’t always a fully accurate depiction of our lives and who we are...it’s not always a fully accurate image of the wholeness of who we are as individuals.
It’s not lying about who we are...but...well, here’s an example:
So, I recently got a new phone. And Mike loves to tease me about the new picture capabilities on my new phone, because it has different modes. And one of them is “Selfie Mode.” When you turn on the front facing camera to take a selfie, it goes into, automatically (you can’t turn it off), “Beauty Mode” to take the perfect selfie.
And what it does is as the camera focuses on your face, it seeks out all the imperfections and it airbrushes you. And you can watch it happening. And so all of those wrinkles that Kenny has given me? Smoothed away. And my skin is nice and smooth. And all my freckles on my face? Disappear. I watch them fade away on the camera to present this “perfect” image. (It’s really kind of funny, because the freckles on my neck still show...but none are on my face.)
But this “selfie mode”, this “beauty mode” aims to capture the most “perfect” image of me. It’s not fully me...but it’s an image of me to present to the world.
You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about perfection lately. Not in terms of perfection in some of the things that we do. (I am a bit of a perfectionist...you should have seen me cutting out this outline of a house for the display for the PresbyBuild earlier in the week...I was measuring and, in the absence of a compass or protractor, I was using my best trigonometric skills to be sure that I had the right angles and straight lines...)
But I’ve been thinking about perfection in terms of who we think that we have to be. And I’ve been thinking about perfection in terms of the package of who we are that we present to the world. Now, it’s not just what we post online on various social media platforms, that just throws into sharp relief what it is that we do every day...we take a look at our lives and we work to present the very best version of ourselves as possible to the rest of the world.
Oh, I can’t wear that...what will people think? I can’t say that, I can’t post that...what people think? I should do this, I should wear this, I should act like this, I should do this, I should...show myself to be this way in the world, because this is what people think of me if I do that. And so I want people to think that I’m fun and sassy. I want people to think that I’m witty. I want people to think that I’m this or that or the other thing...and so I’m going to carefully craft who I present myself to be to the world.
And so we create these personas of who we figure the world, or other people, want us to be, or who we want the world to see us to be.
But, just like the picture taken with the “beauty mode” on my phone, it’s not really us, is it? It’s a bit of a caricature of us...but it’s not really us. It’s an attempt to be “perfect.”
Most of the time, we are not doing this intentionally. It’s a very subconscious act. But in reality there’s a not so secret part of us that is, quite frankly, fearful that if we were to really open up, if we were to really let people see who we are...then other people wouldn’t accept us. There’s a not so secret part of us that is full of fear that if we were to really just be who we are, people would be disgusted by us.
Because we think that we have to be perfect.
Because all of us are working so hard to present this perfect image to the world that all we of other people is their carefully crafted personas and so we think that we are the only ones who are imperfect. We think that we are the only ones who have these troubles. We think that we are the only ones who have faults and failures.
Intellectually, we know this isn’t the case...but this is how we internalize it, feel about it, and then end up acting out of and how we end up presenting our own selves to the world.
I think that this is particularly difficult in the church. Because while this is a place where we would think that we would be accepted for who we are...this is also a place where we really think that we have to be perfect. And so we think that those things that are not so beautiful or wonderful about us...we think that those things and places in our lives that are imperfect, or places that are our growing edges, or even those places that are counter cultural or outside of our the social norm...are things that we can not show to each other or to the world until they are worn away and smoothed out and polished up and made into the image of perfection.
Because we think that that’s what being a Christian is about.
Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that when we come up out of the baptismal waters, we are made so new that there’s nothing imperfect about us. Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that when we come up out of the baptismal waters, we have to be perfect...and if we aren’t, we have failed as Christians.
A couple of days ago, I was listening to the On Being radio show on NPR. It’s hosted by Krista Tippet, and this particular episode of the show was an interview with two great modern theologians and authors: Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin. They were talking particularly about the “inner life of rebellion” and how to be a modern day rebel in a lot of ways. Parker Palmer is a Quaker who has been living in radical Christian Community and doing a lot of different things, so a lot of really interesting stuff...
But one of the things that they were talking about is this idea that in the world today, we are so driven to present this slice of who we are, this image of who we are, that it ends up being an act of rebellion in the world today to show up as your whole self. It ends up being an act of rebellion in our world today to show up as your imperfect self and say “This is who I am. These are the things that I’m working on. These are the places that I’m trying to be better.”
They were talking about how it’s an act of rebellion to show up as your whole self and to know that there is something better that you’re working towards.
And the most amazing thing to me about that is that this has to be so rebellious to show up as you...as your whole self seeking wholeness in your life and in the world. What’s amazing to me about that is that, to me, that’s the whole point of the baptismal story. And to me that’s the whole point of what God is telling us that God is doing in our lives and in the world...that God is taking the wholeness of all of this and crafting and recreating it and making it new. Not “BOOM! It’s new.” Not “BAM! You’re Done. You’re perfect.” But taking the chaos of the waters of creation and forming and reforming it into something beautiful and amazing.
To me, that’s the baptismal story. That when we pass through the baptism, we are not created new right away, but that God is beginning an act of creation in us...taking the watery chaos of our lives, all those imperfect places, all those places of weirdness and awkwardness in our souls in our lives. Taking all those places of sinfulness and brokenness and all those chaotic places of “I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, and I don’t know where I’m supposed to be going...so I’m going to live in 10 different states in 36 years!” And taking all of that chaos and drawing it in and crafting and creating and recreating and reforming it.
God doesn’t want us to show up and pretend to be perfect and only present a carefully crafted image of who we think the world wants us to be. God wants us to show up as who we are. Bringing our whole selves, our whole lives to him, saying...Take me, form me, shape me. Take the chaos of my life and make me who you would have me be. Help me know that those places that maybe I think are imperfect might actually be helpful to your kingdom. And help take those places that truly are broken and sinful and need to be rectified...and take them and heal them and make me whole. But take my whole life, Lord. Take my whole life and create it. Recreate it. And make me yours.
Sisters and brothers, let us not hide who we are...from each other, from the world, or from God. Let us go ahead and say, you know what?, this is who I am, imperfections and all. This is who I am, weird quirks and all. This is who I am, I am a pastor who listens to heavy metal. This is who I am. This is who God has created me to be, and this is who I am working on.
Let us not hide ourselves from each other, from the world, or from God. But let us act in that fantastic act of rebellion to what society tells us what we have to do and show up as whole people in this world, having faith that God is going to take that wholeness and whatever chaos is there and shape and reform us and make us beautiful and whole...
Because you know what? You are beautiful and whole. Just as you are. So let us show up, for who we are, seeking to be made into who God would have us be. Let us take great hope and great hope in knowing that God loves us just as we are, that God will take who are and make us into who God would have us be. Let us take great hope and joy in knowing that it is a beautiful thing to be whole person...flaws, imperfections, quirks, awkwardness and all.
Sisters and brothers, know that you...each and everyone of you...you are a beloved, beautiful creation of our Lord, God’s own beloved child. And with you, God is well pleased.
Let us Pray.
The referenced podcast of On Being, audio file and transcript, can be found here. On Being has been a fantastic opportunity for me to reflect on different topics each week. I highly recommend it.
- Pastor Leanne