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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Simultaneously two people

We concentrate on one at the expense of the other to our own peril

A young man applying to Princeton [N.J.] University some years ago seemed to have a firm grip on honesty. When asked on the application to list his personal strengths, he wrote: "Sometimes I am trustworthy, courageous, loyal, helpful, friendly, kind, wise, thrifty and cheerful."

Further down on the form, when asked to note some weaknesses, he wrote: "Sometimes I am not trustworthy, courageous, loyal, helpful, friendly, kind, wise, thrifty and cheerful."

Self-perspective is hard to come by in this life, at least with the degree of candor displayed by our applicant friend. One minute we think we're God's gift to the human race, or at least to our best friends. Life hums. Our talents expand. Others receive the grace of our kindness. The next minute we recognize what a jumbled mess we've made of different relationships and how miserably we have failed God.

We are so unexpectedly wise and so hopelessly foolish. We live all-put-together lives and still leave footprints of hypocrisy every place we walk. We are rich and powerful beyond measure, yet empty and weak just the same.

We aren't masters at recognizing the complexity of competing claims within our lives. For one thing, it is more fun to highlight how God has blessed us and how we are blessing others than it is to focus on our personal sins. For another, we love to comment on the state of other peoples' lives. Sorting and cataloging people whom we don't find to be made in our image is an endlessly fascinating game. It keeps us from having to reckon with the good and bad all tangled up inside of us.


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December issue

DECEMBER issue:

Advent: Waiting together

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