Laura Ziesel: Learning from Imperfect People


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
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Today’s Saturday Guest Post comes to us from my friend Laura Ziesel. I had the privilege of sharing a meal with Laura when I was in California last year, and let me tell you, she is one smart lady.  A seminary student at Azusa Pacific, she definitely knows her stuff, but she always communicates it wisely and graciously. Expect to hear more from her in the months and years to come! 

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I am, by nature, a very critical person.

Correctness is one of my highest values, so I have a hard time letting perceived incorrectness slide. I pick up on your errors and I am not afraid to hold them against you. Often, I’ll even correct you, especially if you are teaching others. 

A few years ago, my husband and I were given the reins of a college ministry. Leading a ministry was slightly overwhelming for us, a pair of 24-year-old newlyweds. Our boss sat down with us one day, asked how we were doing, and wisely offered to facilitate a mentorship for us. We needed the help. 

Immediately, I was hesitant toward the couple he suggested to mentor us. I respected this couple, but one or two things I had heard the husband say had not sat well with me.

I said to our boss, “I’m not sure if that will work. I’m not sure I agree with his all of his views of Scripture.” 

Very gently, our boss said, “Laura, you’re going to have to learn to take the meat and throw out the bones. This man has good things to offer.” 

 That phrase has stuck with me ever since: Take the meat and throw out the bones. That little principle has freed me to learn from incorrect, imperfect people.

After a bit of reflection, I realized that my critical nature, while it often serves me well, has prevented me from learning from many wise people. How many times have you heard, “How can you listen to anything he has to say? He believes __________!” You fill in the blank: infants can be baptized, Scripture is infallible, women can’t be pastors, in evolution. 

Unfortunately, I feel as if the Church is one place this behavior is tolerated the most. We choose churches, colleges, and friends who look and think like us. We have forgotten how to extend grace to our brothers and sisters who disagree with us on (admittedly important) issues. 

I’ll admit that this is still my tendency. There are certain pastors/authors who I find particularly difficult to learn from because of their treatment of certain topics. I’m not saying I need to attend their churches or conferences, but I can still learn from them; not everything they say is worthless. 

St. Augustine was a misogynist and Martin Luther was an anti-Semite. It’s true that the errors in those men were serious. They are full-blown sins. But these sins do not single-handedly render all of their teachings irrelevant or incorrect. St. Augustine and Martin Luther were right about many things. Pastors today who are misogynists or racists should absolutely be confronted on those sins. But, as much as it goes against my natural bent, I can still learn from them in some ways.

On a lesser level, pastors who differ with me on matters of creation, politics, or humanitarian work can certainly teach me many valuable things. But more importantly, I have had to realize that God does not value correctness in the same way I do. My pride is what demands absolute correctness in myself and in others. But God does not ask us to be correct; He asks us to admit our incorrectness and have faith in the correctness he achieved for us. In fact, admitting that we are incorrect is the first step in a life of faith that is about God, not about ourselves. 

 So to all of the authors, speakers, and bloggers that I have dismissed entirely because of things that I have perceived to be errors on your part, I’m sorry. Your entire life’s work isn’t irrelevant to me. 

Laura Ziesel is a seminary student at Azusa Pacific University and a freelance writer and editor living in sunny California with her husband. She blogs on matters of faith, gender, church culture and more at LauraZiesel.com. She is also a contributing writer for The Redemptive Pursuit, a weekly devotional for women.You can find her on Twitter @lziesel.

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