Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Almost good and the imperative of confession

I decided to type this in the 'large' option of font, because I've been finding the last few posts a bit fiddling and small to read  so I thought maybe you have too. It might just be my elderly eyesight. It might be that you have the sense to enlarge the page view. Whatever — I thought I'd go a bit bigger. If it feels as though I'm shouting at you, let me know and I'll subside again for the next post.

In my lived-faith-practice, I notice the Spirit often speaks into my heart by emerging themes. Generally what happens is I notice something seriously objectionable in what somebody else is doing. Then I notice that by a curious coincidence another person in my circle of acquaintance is doing the exact same type of offending behaviour. 

Of course, in another life than my own, 'behaviour' is exactly what it is; external manifestation — the part of the iceberg that's sticking up above the surface of the ocean. I make a judgement on what they do with very little idea of what's underneath, what the behaviour is emerging from in terms of stuff they're living through, dealing with, what is triggering all this obnoxiousness, why it is they can't contain it and it has to overflow into evident ordure that reaches my nose.

Then I take it into my prayer, bringing it to Jesus and inviting the cleansing and blessing of his shalom into the person exhibiting the problem.

Without fail, before I even get the garbage I'm dragging halfway to the throne of grace, once I get within earshot the Lord says to me, "Oh yeah? And what about you?" 

And at that point I have to stop ignoring the precise same behaviour showing up in my own life, look at where and what it's coming from, voluntarily open it up for him to look at and clean out, invite his healing and shalom and almighty bleach spray and fresh air into my own dark and mildewed corners — what we call 'confession'.

And the thing that keeps showing up in my life right now at the present time in a phenomenon I call 'almost good'.

When I was a child my father spent much of his life overseas developing the export market for Eveready Batteries, and when he came home from his trips around the world he'd bring gifts and souvenirs, including vinyl discs of music currently trending in Europe, Japan, Africa or wherever he'd recently been. Singles. The Chipmunk Song caught his fancy, and on the flip side of it was David Seville's Almost Good. So this song was part of my childhood. I liked it, but particularly I was intrigued by the concept it presented — that alongside 'good' and 'bad' there was another possible category of 'almost good'. The notion stuck. 

In recent times I've been brought up again and again — in other people's lives —against the evident reality that mediocrity doesn't know itself. People who feel inadequate, aren't doing a good job, are letting things slide and allowing something good and worthwhile to dissolve and crumble on their watch. It's not that they don't mean well, it's not that they are refusing the task, it's not that they aren't standing in the gap. It's more that they are making an almighty effing mess of it, by procrastination, by half measures, by falling down on the job, by being neither conscientious nor meticulous in carrying out what their responsibilities require of them. 

Most destructive of all, is that they cannot afford to look at this and acknowledge it for the single and simple reason that to do so would damage their fragile self-image which low self esteem already renders crumbly. They look at people doing a good job and don't see the difference. Presented with the evidence that they are making  a pig's ear of their responsibilities they a) lie about it and b) blame someone else and c) talk big and lofty about their rôle in it in such a way as to make someone else look bad. That faux-concern for someone else's 'weaknesses'; those dark hints about Problems that they are Dealing With (caused by someone else that they are having to mop up) that Explain Everything. Yeah, right. Mediocrity doesn't — can't afford to — recognise itself. Because steeping in the shame that acknowledgement brings is so very extremely painful. That's why. 

So as usual as I drag this lot the the Throne of Grace I tune in to the usual, "Oh, yes? Thanks. What about you?" And I recognise I have to deal with similar issues.

I see the places where in my relationships I adroitly project and displace blame for my own inability to handle interactions. I see the times where I present a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my mouth account of situations I'm part of that would all be going so amazingly well if it wasn't for Someone Else. I see the ways I conveniently downplay my contribution to a failing situation and inflate outrage over what They Did To Me. In my work, I detect the grandiosity about my own achievement and its corresponding shadow of disappointment in my failure to get all the way there, to be and to do the best I am capable of, to prepare sufficiently and carry out the task with compassion and grace and imagination.

But the thing is — never fails to intrigue me — in this examination of conscience and exposure under the steady Christlight of the Spirit, there is no increase of wretchedness and shame or guilt; only liberation and even excitement at new insight, refocusing on constructive ways forward, peace and healing. 

This is the primary way you can tell the difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the accusation of the brethren that comes from the corrupt source. The Spirit's convicting doesn't make you feel bad and it doesn't make things worse. It brings compassion and understanding, toward other people and also toward oneself; it deals with the accumulation of festering detritus in the dark corners; it improves everything.

That's why confession is imperative. Blaming other people never helps. "Let your light shine", Jesus said. If I clean up my own act so the light in me is no longer dusty and swamped, light can enter the picture — and that light alters the picture; it introduces the change I want to see. That's what Gandhi-ji said, isn't it? "Be the change you want to see in the world." That's the badger.


rebecca said...

I believe truth hurts before it heals....
And I'm stinging just a bit.
Thank you.

Pen Wilcock said...



Anonymous said...

Ooh, this is so helpful to me right now, thank you! I am nearly destroyed at times by that false conviction or those accusations of the enemy - and to think about it, I really can now discern the difference between THAT and the other times when it's GOD's spirit working with me and I find the conviction instead very life-giving and productive.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes. “In the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy, and where his Spirit reigns there is liberty.”

Anonymous said...

Hello Pen. Thankyou again for another interesting post; I love the way you imbue so much humanity into them. Humanity which we can all recognise, I think, and I know you stir up half sifted thoughts and truths in myself which benefit from another airing! I find, in my life, the obnoxious behaviours you talk about are really tricky to deal with, and often downright hurtful and just WRONG. According to MY moral compass... which, as you say, doesn't take into account what lies beneath the 'others' projected behaviour. And so we (I) judge. It's hard not too, and yet I know, because that little quiet voice inside tells me, that this is my task. To turn the other cheek, to take the high ground, and not to cast that first stone...to try to understand, to love and to forgive. It's very complex, but ultimately humbling because we (I) am far from perfect and need forgiveness too
(as much for my thoughts as my actions).
I haven't come across the expression ' lived-faith-practice' before. My understanding is that you live your faith rather than simply agreeing with ideas. Is that right?
I've stopped going to church partly for the reason that I often came away feeling smaller than small and confused by the, seemingly, mixed messages offered. And so, I try to live the way, I hope, is right. Lived-faith-practice?
Apologies for my rambling - it's just all so interesting!
P.S How not to judge political leaders?! Hmmm, now there's a can of worms!

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Deb

"Lived-faith-practice" is just a term of my own making meant to convey our faith as it is applied in our daily living.

I'm sorry your experience of church was so disappointing and diminishing. Church attendance can be helpful, but it isn't always.

Buzzfloyd said...

You prompted another thought about behaviours that has drifted through my mind a lot since having children. Very often people make a judgement on someone based on the window of time in which they have seen them without any awareness of what has gone before. They might think, "Why doesn't that mother speak politely to her child or acknowledge her distress?" Or, "Why is that person speaking so rudely to his wife?" Or " Why doesn't that woman try the solution that would so clearly help her situation?" Or "Why doesn't he stop staring at his phone and pay attention to the people he's with?" And what they don't know is that the child's tantrum is part of an ongoing issue where the child consistently does the same thing and the mother has tried everything today and now just has to get them home; or that the husband has patiently dealt with the same thoughtless action of his wife repeatedly but now doesn't have time or inclination to stick to her script; or that the woman has already tried your solution but it didn't work for her; or that the man is looking for bus times to help his friends get to where they need to be. Or whatever - maybe some of those people are just having a bad day!

That's why judgement is God's and not ours.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes indeed — that can happen too.

Mairin said...

Let us carry out our tasks with "compassion and grace and imagination" Beautiful! Mairin.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Mairin!



jacquie said...

Hello Pen l am reading your book In celebration of simplicity for about the 4th time l find it has a great source of grounding to me and usually pull it off the bookcase each January to read through again. Thank you for writing it . x

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello Jacquie — you'd be surprised if you could know how encouraging and cheering it is to me when somebody gets in touch to say something I have written has helped them along the Quiet Way. You made me happy today. Thank you. xx

Nearly Martha said...

I have felt this way about my day to day work which has been difficult as we have had to steer through a redundancy of a popular person. I felt as though I was taking the blame for this from staff which was made worse by knowing a bit more about this person than others did and him not being quite who they thought he was. My feeling of injustice led to me not "being my best". It is difficult. That, combined with Aged Parent's developing mental health problems meant that writing etc has taken a back seat as well. I think though, it is true what you say, that the Spirit has nudged me towards higher ground without judgement. I am safe there with God who has understood and yet will not let me off the hook. Thanks for this Pen

Pen Wilcock said...

As always, "If in doubt, simplify" works for me. Where there is a tangle of feelings and influences, it helps me to be able to go slowly and thin out events/commitments/involvements, so I can be cautious in feeling my way to what's authentic, and only move with what feels honest and good.
There's a phenomenon — it happened in silent movies sometimes — where a passenger gets out of a car and slams the door shut, but gets his coat caught in the door. The driver pulls away and the hapless passenger is left running faster and faster alongside the car, without even the chance to slip out of his coat. Sometimes relationships and the events and contexts they shape feel like that. When I feel my soul's coat caught in the door of someone else's moving vehicle, I know it's time to come awake from the dream and make a change.
God bless you as you make decisions in your far from easy circumstances.