Faith/Book Shelf: Fine Lines by Aliki Flodine
"Mind your own business, up yours!" were the words Aliki Flodine had for our small congregation during a recent sermon on the Mount (Tamborine) as she reflected on our inclination to be judgemental of others. "So what if they've been on holidays a few times this year – let them be blessed!"
While no doubt ruffling a few feathers, Aliki's somewhat unconventional preaching style, which I've had the pleasure of witnessing, cuts to the chase and always comes back to God's grace, mercy and love and the truths of the Gospel ("because it's right and it's good and it's life-giving").
Aliki has a deep passion for setting people free from the rigidity of religion, exhaustible self-care and finite human wisdom, and giving them permission to step into the full, wonderful experience of their faith and enjoy life by getting to know God's true character ("Being filled with the knowledge of how God ticks, what He's passionate about and growing to love it, makes us better, not bitter," she says). And she does it extremely effectively.
She is not afraid to be who God created her to be, nor to share of her human frailties and hurts, the quiet sorrows of her spirit, thereby giving us permission to feel sadness, to confess our iniquities, and delight in our salvation through Jesus ("Teach me your ways," she prays), and be all that we can be for his glory, too. This is why her book, Fine Lines, is a true gem, or opal, as she would have it. Now those she can't reach with her preaching and music can partake in some of this wonderful woman of faith, too.
Aliki was born in New Zealand to parents of Greek heritage who divorced when she was very young. Her mother remarried a Kiwi man, who she calls her father and who instilled in her an appreciation for words ("He bought me a Thesaurus").
She had an encounter with Jesus on a camp when she was eight years old, which led to a "beautiful faith" that she'd share with kids at school, but her mother's turbulent love life, a lack of church life structure, and a move to Brisbane threw her off track. Like many young women, she was sexually active by the end of high school.
"I headed down a path of being promiscuous. It started at the end of high school and really accelerated at the beginning of university. I had this void in my soul and I just always thought that I could find a boy or a young man who would love and adore me," she says.
"The only thing I felt I had to offer was myself, and I was an idiot because time after time it never led to a proper relationship. The irony is that the boys that you want will take the girl who will give her body but they don’t want that particular girl. They want the beautiful girl who has self respect and honour. And that absolutely crushed me time and time again and built up for me a negative view of relationships and men."
After coming to the conclusion that she wasn't cut out for her environmental science degree ("I'm not really an academic person"), she moved to her sister's place on the Gold Coast, met her beau Rob, was married and they both set off for Bible college.
"Part of our courtship was that we both acknowledged that we had early encounters with God, and that from a very young age we thought God was going to be a very important part of our adult lives, so our two worlds came together and it made sense," she says.
"But it took two or three years of marriage to get to that. We went through all the other avenues, every other thing except walking in a direction to serve God. It was, ‘How can we have the car and the furniture and the lifestyle?’, so we chased after those things before we finally went to Bible college. And Bible College was full-on, because we were living on campus and living in community, and that very quickly sorted out what was really wrong with you."
In what sense? "I was still an insecure and emotionally needy young woman, and that probably carried over into our first five years of marriage. I’m surprised it didn't drive Rob nuts. But a lot of that got squashed in the Bible College years. That was good. It wasn’t all sorted in my three years of Bible College, though. It was probably only when I started ministering full-time, doing what I do today, about 10 years ago, that I came into an understanding of the kind of concepts that are in Fine Lines."
Fine Lines aims to distill the Christian faith by tackling some of the theological falsehoods that keep believers from fully comprehending and enjoying their faith.
"Jesus said the truth will set you free, which means the opposite is true, that lies or a misunderstanding of God will sooner or later bind us up, put us in chains," she says. "It’s a miserable way to live when you don’t think God is great or don’t believe God loves you. But sometimes the line between what’s true and what’s false is really subtle. Fine Lines unpacks seven really subtle differences between truth and error, things that have tripped me up and clears them up so we don’t fall into the trap of misunderstanding God."
Five years in the making, the book is full of anecdotes, scripture and instruction; simple truths in eight chapters. It is not convoluted but concise, which will please readers for whom heavy theological reading feels oppressive or intimidating. Aliki is generous in sharing some of her own life's challenges. The introduction paints a portrait of a woman reliant on her own exhaustible bravery rather than the courage and strength Christians are entitled to draw on through Jesus.
It's scary to abandon self-preservation, she writes, but letting God preserve us instead "brings ultimate freedom", because it never runs out. "There's a storm under bravery and calmness under faith," she writes. Chapter One, 'Bravery and Faith', follows this theme, dispelling false ideas of God's character by digging into scripture and coming to an awareness of his goodness, integrity and faithfulness.
'Gloss and Polish', the title of the second chapter, is a principle that can be applied to many parts of life, she says, as it addresses the nature of our responses to situations, ourselves and the world, and the development of our character. "If you find stillness difficult, if you are spiritually and emotionally restless, then perhaps your trust in God needs a strategic boost," she writes. "We are polished when we trust God and stay still... polish results in beauty, lasting peace and freedom from pretence."
Other chapters aim to separate 'Fellowship and Relationship', 'Punishment and Consequence', 'Righteous and Moral', 'Wrestling and Fighting' and 'Rest and Laziness'. In concluding, she juxtaposes common behavioural responses with the 'fruits of the Spirit', positing that if we are out of alignment with Spirit values (and therefore God and Jesus values), we might be operating in error unknowingly.
"Any response to life that is the opposite to a fruit of the spirit is a sign that help is needed," she writes. But, "It is easy to detect issues when our behaviour obviously stinks, but it's the subtle attitudes that need sharp discernment." The answer? Refuting wrong thinking with the truths of the Gospel.
"The one thing I always remember is that I am utterly ruined before God – there is nothing about me that’s pleasing to him apart from Jesus," she tells me. "No matter who I am ministering to, I look at them and say, 'God loves you and Jesus has already died for you.' The value that’s placed on their head is the same of that value placed on my head. The playing field is level and that enables me to love in ways I couldn’t before. That’s a beautiful premise. It's that’s the premise through which I try to view the world and people."
Aliki has toured the country sharing the love of God with women and men through song, and holding them in her arms as they have shared their deepest pains, regrets and fears. The "weeping women", as she affectionately calls them, have often been left by their husbands at age 40 to 60, or they despair of children who have wandered down a path strewn with drugs and alcohol.
"There’s a Mark Cohn song called "Girl of Mysterious Sorrows" written a long time ago. He says inside every woman I know is a girl of mysterious sorrows. No matter what a woman’s life or circumstance looks like, there’s always a little tiny part of us that hurts in one way or another," she says.
"A lot of the time there are no words, you can’t wave a magic wand and you can’t actually heal their world. I’m discovering there’s a lot of power in a hug. Just to know that someone is joining with you in your sorrow and is prepared to hold you without trying to reason things away is quite a comfort. So there’s the hug and there’s prayer."
And there's her music, which has brought comfort to many women and men of faith. Her latest studio album, Over n Over, is the perfect aural accompaniment to her book with its songs canvassing hope, humility and triumph. "You have to keep crying out to God," she says. "Because He's all we've got."
You can purchase Aliki's albums or Fine Lines at Christian bookstores or online here. You can read more about my beautiful friend at Aliki.com.au, too.
Girl With a Satchel