For the last six weeks I have eaten almost perfectly, lean and green and whole grained. This weekend I had a food event at a wedding, a food episode. I could be convicted as a glutton. Perhaps not. I flicker.

I eat healthily; I do not. I am centered; I wander. I am disciplined; it ends.

I’m not alone, and this issue is not isolated to one area of life.

No one is one, at anything; everyone is many, at everything. We humans may have simple stomachs compared to the four chambered ruminants, but we have many chambered minds. A single human mind is a walk in closet, a veritable mansion of mentalities, a thousand-selved bookcase of choices.

We tend to miss this. We think of each other in over-generalizations, mobile reductionisms, linguistic cubby holes —  introvert, extrovert, abusive, loving, mean, kind, great souled, vacuous, addicted, not. A person may be shy, but not shy around everyone; another person may  be very social but sometimes wanting nothing but to be alone.

We say, “She is so smart!” or “He is so funny!”  or “They are so disciplined!” but people who are smart do dumb things, and people who are funny are often not, and disciplined people aren’t always. No one is always funny or always smart or always good or alway bad.

We flicker, spark, flash, go off, come on again.

Resident in us — latent, lurking — are many personalities, many conlicting behaviors, many opposing tendencies, and we do better when we admit this, accept this, tap into this. It helps avoid embarrassing surprises. “Oh, I just acted like a jerk! That’s okay, I knew that was in me!”

Reality is nuanced. We think better when we accept that. Take the Bible. We do the same thing with it that we do with persons. We reduce it to rough propositions, principles, doctrines, stereotypes, over-generalizations. But the Bible isn’t simple; it presents reality as complex, conflicted and complicated.

The Bible doesn’t present one view of human nature, but several, not one kind of righteousness but many, not one view of men and women but several that are not easy to reconcile. In scripture human nature is nuanced, made in the image of God and therefore good, subject to harmful choices and therefore bad. Righteousness is by the law and therefore impossible; it is by grace and therefore accessible. Women are seen as less than men (Leviticus 27) and equal to men (Galatians 3:28).

What is needed to be wise, to think well, is a sense of the muti-dimensionality of truth. Truth is not derived from a simplistic formula. Every principle isn’t applicable to every situation.

And what is needed to think accurately about people is a nuanced sense of personhood. A person is not confined to the single side of them that we saw today.

And God, God does not fit into the tiny mental cubbies we put him in order to try to explain him.

What is needed everywhere is an assessment that takes into account the whole. A book should be judged not by its cover but by every word in it. A person should not be imprisoned in the definition suggested by one incident, one moment or even one year or one era of their life. Truth isn’t defined by interpretation of a single event.

Things change! Reality turns to us its many sides. That’s good! People change! They aren’t defined by one behavior. That’s super good!

What to do?

Step back, see more, withhold judgement, avoid reductive thinking, read and interpret the whole book, stay open, think freely, see new possibilities, allow for change to take place as you wait for it over long, long stretches of time, give the freedom for yourselves and others to be inconsistent, allow the world to be what it is — complex, not perfect, wildly beautiful — flickering.

  1. artwidow says:


    I always love what you write, but this one spoke to me (and our core team) so profoundly! We all saw ourselves, each other and scripture and embraced it all.

    Connie S. Chambers

    Executive Director

    Good Samaritan of the Ozarks

    Genesis: A Place of New Beginnings



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