Dichotomist Thinking is One of the Worst Parts of Being an American

When I named my blog The Messy Middle I had one meaning in mind. I had not foreseen other interpretations that have surfaced. If only I was so clever! So no, I am not the middle child (I’m the oldest). No, my blog has nothing to do with being mid-life or middle aged. Though, I am middle-age-ish, that is not the point of the blog. And the final no is to The Messy Middle being a reference to China, The Middle Kingdom, as her name is in Chinese and where I spent nearly 20 years.

It’s not lost on me that a name with the word “messy” in the title became a bit messy in the understanding. Actually, it’s kind of funny and oddly appropriate.

No clear route

The Messy Middle is more than a cute blog name for me. It’s where I live (and I’m willing to bet you do too). In just the last two weeks I have had three friends face tragedies. A pilot brother crashing his plane and killing himself, his girlfriend and her three sons. Another brother caught in a drunken teenage drag race resulting in lacerations, a neck broken in two places, and a broken sternum. A third friend was diagnosed with cancer in a foreign country only to find out days later her mom had cancer too. Her mom died today, a mere two weeks after her diagnosis.

In the same two-week period, the leaves have started to turn. I got to ride a horse! And I continue to be amazed of the generosity of libraries.

Americans tend to be dichotomist in our thinking. We love clear labels and knowing where to put things. Is it a comedy? Tragedy? Rom-com?  Drama? While this type of tidy category works well for Hollywood, it doesn’t play out so well in real stories.

Dichotomist thinking has entered our thinking in the church too. I bet you’ve heard people say, “I’m a grace person!” Or, “I’m compelled to tell the truth.” Really? Is that the gospel? Pick a side :-) ?! No. The good news of the gospel is grace and truth. You can probably tell I’m starting to get a bit excited. If we were sitting across from each other, I’d be leaning towards you and I think my hands might start flying around as the words start to fall out of me.

The good news of the gospel is grace and truth.

It is crucial we get this! OK, not to scare you, I force myself to lean back, pick up my tea cup, take a sip. Take a deep breath, take a moment to peer at you and see if I’ve freaked you out.

Thankfully you’re too polite to bolt. I’m thankful for that :-) . I continue, a bit more calmly now. If we only have truth, God’s truth, and it’s not balanced with grace, what we’ve got is law. Lots of rules and we know how well that worked out! Paul explained in Galatians that the law, in part, was to show us that if we only have rules and truth, we will all fall short. We will all fail.

But grace all by herself is hedonism. When we all do what feels good without thinking of the impact on ourselves or others and just dance our silly heads off on grace, we end up with a community of people who have no limits. Too much a good thing and all. Picture me and a bowl of cookie dough without restraint. It ends up with me feeling, at best, sick. Picture those 17-year-olds whose lives took a very different trajectory after drinking and drag racing. Not that all is lost, but what a hard path they are now on. A path they did not need to be on.

We, as believers in both truth and grace, are called to be messy middlers of the faith!

So for me, The Messy Middle is where we hold truth and grace in tension, knowing some will be more drawn to one side or the other. We, as believers in both truth and grace, are called to be messy middlers of the faith! People who celebrate the joys of life and mourn the pain. People who are on the lookout for small mercies in big messes. People who say, but for the grace of God, there go I. People who live messy lives, resisting oversimplifications. People who fall towards each other and God, even when we blow it.


The post first appeared on Self Talk The Gospel – good stuff there! Check it out :)

Photo Credit Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash

One Word That Changed Everything

One word changed the idea of spiritual practices forever.

The simple word invitation.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun wrote the beautiful yet profound book Invitations from God.

Invitations from God: Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and MoreIn it she writes, “Some invitations we desperately want: ‘Will you marry me?’ ‘Would you consider a promotion?’ Other invitations we never want to receive but must respond to all the same: ‘What treatment do you want for your tumor?’ Invitations pound away at the coastlines of the soul with a transforming force. God is also sending invitations. Sometimes they seem less compelling than anything on my to-do list. Why would I want to say yes to the invitation to rest when I’m already so far behind? Why follow when I could lead? Why accept invitations to weep or to admit I am wrong or to wait? Saying yes might slow me down, sabotage my agenda and even undo who I think I am.”

A light switch went off in me when I saw the things of my daily life not only through the lens of blessing or curse, but through invitation as well. Whatever was coming at me was also a way God was at work in me. He was inviting me with what I say ‘yes’ to and what I say ‘no’ to. By seeing the normal parts of my life (both the good, bad, and ugly) as an invitation helped me root this part of spiritual discipline in my life.  

I love this book so much I contacted Adele and she graciously emailed responses to my questions so that we could get a sense of how this practice came to be, how to pay attention to invitations, and how this practice can form us.

Thank you Adele for being with us today! You know how much this book has meant to me and others I’ve shared it with. I love hearing some of the back story of a book. Where did the idea of invitations come from?

The idea came as I watched people struggle over saying “yes” to so many invitations that they lost their way and they lost their ability to respond to God’s invitations — which can be quieter and less culturally acceptable. Invitations is a word I like because it reflects God’s countenance towards us at all times.

I am taken with the cover! It’s one of my top favorite covers of all times, especially the wax seal. What is the story behind the cover?

The brilliant cover is the work of the IVP graphic artist. And I can take no credit for it. But I love it too.  I love the person under the tree — alone and waiting — for what– an invitation

Some invitations are louder than others. How can someone recognize a quiet invitation?

Quiet invitations may bang us over the head with sickness or accident.  As we mend we have opportunities to let go of all that clutters — and as we listen we may hear and feel the desire rise in us for silence, or prayer or ???  Sometimes quiet invitations sneak up on us in the form of someone who has a spiritual practice that we want.  We see the results of prayer in a person’s life.  We see what it looks like to be really loved.  And we say — I want that.  How can I enter in and become a different kind of person.  I believe God’s invitations surround us — and as we respond we will find more and more.

How has the idea of invitation helped form you spiritually?  

Invitations changed my center of gravity from “never doing enough” to “what is God calling me to at this moment in time.”   God knows our limits and our desires.  And God intends us to know them as well.  God’s invitations suit both our limits and our desires.  They invite us into closer contact with the Holy One. Invitations remind me of my belovedness. I am wanted, included, and have a purpose in God’s heart and desires.

Do you think the idea of invitation can go both ways with God? If so, how can we offer invitations to God?

In a relationship that is growing invitations go both ways.   I invite you to dinner.  You invite me for a walk.  God invites us to follow, to pray, to love, to forgive, etc.  And we invite God into our anger, pain, joy and confusion.   God invites us into the Divine Heart.  We invite God into our human heart.  We share in one another’s pain and joy.  God’s delight is my delight.  My delight is God’s delight.  The same is true with our pain.

We are a community who live sprinkled around the world. We hope to be used to extend invitations to others, both for the eternal and for this life’s journeying together. What have you learned about invitations that may help us?

In Invitations From God I have tried to narrow in on the invitations that have been central to my own journey with God.  I believe that if we said “YES” to these biblical invitations we would become the change we want to see in the world.  It would begin with internal shifts in my own heart that impacted the way I was with others.  Imagine how saying “yes” to forgiveness could change our world?  It starts with little things and moves to larger arenas.  But it is always a matter of saying “yes” to God.

Choose an invitation and be intentional about it for a month.  What do you notice begins to shift in you and your world.  Then share what is happening in you.

What have you been invited into recently?  

I have been invited to let go of “what is next.”  I am 65 and I don’t know how much longer my husband and I will be the “best” co-pastors for our church.  But at 65 where do you go next?  I am being invited to let go clear next steps and lean into trust that God will be with me in tomorrow no matter what is next.  This letting go is part of preparing me for the many letting gos that lie ahead.  I want to say “yes” God you are with me now and then.

Adele, thanks to you, I want to see invitations as spiritual practices instead of mere events.

What do you think of the spiritual practice and language of invitations? What have you been invited into recently?

P.S. My friend’s surgery was a success and she got out of the hospital today. Prayers for the healing process are welcome. If you saw the Beijing Olympics in 2008, I can see the Water Cube between a few building  – which also means the airs not bad! :)


This post first appeared on Velvet Ashes during the week looking at Spiritual Practices.

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