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Paul Moment

Paul Moment is one of the most credible people I know.

Because of his uncompromising sense of honesty and his refreshing imagination, I always have an ear for what he has to say.

I've been thinking about the idea that people do not really know other people. People mostly only know each other by proxy, by identity, by the collection of stories about us – stories others tell about us and stories we tell about ourselves. Sometimes spouses or family or friends can come closer than others, but many times their perception of us is just as much guess-work as a strangers in some ways.

And at the same time, it’s the idea that in a real sense those stories are truly who we are in some sense. As a collected whole, they make up our presence in this world. Good and bad, silly and serious, offensive or inoffensive – we are many different people to the world all at the same time.

Mostly, this storytelling is subconcious and done completely unawares. We see a person’s behavior, and we immediately craft an entire set of rich mental descriptions about them. A laugh, a comment, a habit or a second-hand anecdote can be all it takes for us to be off and running with a complete assessment about a person. And sometimes, the person themselves assists in the creation of that story by unwittingly sharing observations or complaints or comments and so on that begin to create an identity that becomes all that people know them to be. These stories, this identity starts shaping us into something that we weren’t before the story was created for us, either by others or ourselves.

A common one that I catch myself doing all the time is the “busy-ness” conversation. I start realizing that people aren’t contacting me or inviting me as much as they have been, and it’s because I’ve been saying things like “Man, things are just coming non-stop” or “I just don’t think I have time” in a gloomy tone or “I’m have so much I’ve gotta get done…” with an anxious pause at the end – unwittingly building up a reputation as unavailable, hurried, distracted, and so on. I have to take time to intentionally communicate or involve myself with others that breaks apart the build-up of that “busy-ness” story.

It’s easy to see the negative side of this identity building. You put others in a box. You limit your relational capabilities with others because of who you say you are or aren’t. But there’s also a wonderful side to this identity building.

With some intentionality, you can create an identity for yourself with others that is powerful and meaningful – an identity that begins to shape you into a bigger person than you knew yourself to be. Kirkegaard related a story of a very wicked man who put on the mask of a saint to win a girl that he loved. After many years, his secret was found out and he was challenged to remove his mask and show who he really was. When he did, he discovered that his face had changed to become the face of a saint. Scripture says that God has named us children and heirs to the Kingdom – a role and expectation that will surely change us if we allow ourselves to accept it.

My first thought is how carefully I should be managing not only my own stories about myself, but the stories I tell about others. The way I describe life can take shape, take on a life of it’s own and actually affect the world – both positively and negatively.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
~ from the book of James

My last thought is how large we all are. We have more faces to the world that we can even imagine – identities that have been created for us all over the place. Some arise and die quickly, others persist until they swallow up our whole lives. I think only God can capture the full spectrum of who we are – the “halos and horns", as Dolly Parton puts it. If you cannot love what you do not know, then only God can deal with us in the full clarity of love because of the full clarity of His knowledge.

Paul Moment

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