September 9, 2020
It is a rare thing to declare something perfected, an apex moment when nothing more could be improved upon. Such moments are more readily acknowledged in the world of art, individual performances or objects that in themselves transcend all previous effort, thus breaking new ground. Even old art re-interpreted becomes something new in itself in spite of its ties to the past.
It can be a test of true friendship to allow room for another’s view of what moves them, even when it might be less than artistic in your interpretation. Sometimes a few well placed “hmmm’s” are all that is needed to break the tension. Some works, even musical works, become perfected in their imperfection. The voice, the nuance, the hand that holds the baton or brings an instrument to life are not perfect in themselves. In their imperfection, however, is found something inescapably whole and wonderful.
If there are finished and perfected works of art in the Christian landscape, I would be hard-pressed to say where to find them. It is true that we are regaled with biblical stories of the faithful, stories that have grown larger than life over time. We have come to believe deeply in the myth of perfection, something that can be difficult to live up to. The church is especially vulnerable to the critique of imperfection, an easy mark in these days of discontent. It stems in part from the passion of the church and its members, something that can be helpful but also disconcerting.
How does imperfection manifest itself in today’s church? Does it begin with a blond-haired blue-eyed caricature of the Jesus we knew from childhood? Is it found in our indifference to social justice issues of equality, kindness, non-violence and dignity of the human spirit? Is it in our tendency to declare what God finds acceptable when we too often (conveniently) fail to inquire of God first? Is it the unnecessary confusion of church/state issues that should remain separate from each other? And of present concern, what role does religious nationalism play in the current tableau of protests and civil unrest?
While it is difficult to digest the unthinking responses to matters of great importance coming from the mouths of politicians, it is far worse to hear them from the church. We all have imperfections that challenge us, and many Christians would claim that we are perfected in Christ. If that is the case, then how is it that the church cannot speak with one voice? It would appear that our aims are not all the same, and I hope they never will be. With wisdom and forbearance, I hope that we will entertain our imperfections by wrestling and wrangling with tough issues, debating the Word from many varied perspectives, and testing the meaning of scripture and life while intent, first and foremost, on listening to each other.
It is obviously a difficult mandate, or we would have figured it out by now. What shall be our legacy from this moment forward, one of fear and isolation, or one that actually accomplishes something other than laying blame at the feet of others? Let’s try laying those concerns at the feet of a first century carpenter instead, and see what happens.