Wednesday, July 2, 2014


The theological tradition in which I was brought up (at least when it was emphasized) had an emphasis on "perfection," in the sense of a divine work of grace that removes all desire to sin.

Well, sometimes. It would seem certain folk need several helpings throughout their journey. Others are just born with it.

God is a God of order, therefore our inner spiritual house must be and will be set to perfect order.

This ideal came from someone's personal notes over a century ago, loosely based on an established doctrine and a new movement formed around it. Some scholars went to lengths to prove it from Scripture, splitting hairs with Greek verb tenses to make it be truth.

At one point when talking to a pastor, feeling secure in my "work of grace", I actually uttered "it's lonely at the top." As I know my heart, this was not out of conceit, but out of an observation that I knew of few others exercising the same amount of vigilance. I was brought up to keep the bad stuff out, period. Most folks seem to struggle with that, for me it was binary. Do or not do. With most stuff it's that easy.

My perceived sins were at that time were measured against the de facto evangelical ethic. Upon further reflection, and not surprisingly, it's really more "sins of omission," missing opportunities to make the world better rather than rushing in and making it worse. And so, an aire of perfection.

In high school days, when I first started a serious relationship with a female, one of the great older dudes at church pulled me aside to relate a familiar story, about younger days alone with a girl and they almost crossed the line. He choked up and hugged me.

One of my favorite phrases from over the years: "all perception is projection."

Thing is, for some of us the life quest is not to have, but rather, to understand.

But when we filter all the bad stuff out, never watching R rated movies for fear of losing purity, we don't get to see the stuff that has something to tell us. Kinda hard to plant flowers without getting dirt on your hands.

And so curiosity is libido, knowledge is currency, wisdom is maturity, love is inspiration, ideas are everything.

It's true, those of us living in our heads demand a high degree of order. The girl I dated back when used to say my family was "perfect", we acted perfect, which contrasted her home life with a single mom and 8 kids (literally) that was anything but serene. Her mom was the same age as my siblings, so the generation gap came into play, my folks just didn't have much time for disorder, and that happened fit my temperament  just fine.

Not surprisingly the notion of "Christian Perfection" is not really being kept alive, to the church's credit things seem to be more people-focused (felt needs, etc) rather than slamming heads with a rigid doctrine. Besides, in today's society religion is now a choice rather than a mandate, so why would most folks tolerate that if they don't have to?

case study

In the mid 80s our church had been revitalized by a number of factors. First, we had a "turn around guy" for a pastor who had come in with fresh energy. Then there was an influx of refugees from a sister denomination a few blocks away resulting from a congregational split (never heard the details of the issue, don't care to, but someone said it was "pretty bad"). And then the economic upturn sure didn't hurt anything.  There were even expansion plans drawn up and hanging in the foyer in those days and all programs were growing.

See, our denomination was perpetually coming to turns with its past.

Years later at the School on the Hill I learned that a couple generations earlier the more fundamentalist-leaning ilk had pretty much insisted upon a distancing from any hint of charismatic expressions of worship, because, after all how can you prove which spirit from which they hail?

One day pastor reads a letter during AM service stating the position on tongues, or personal prayer languages.

Again, years later I learn that this "problem" surfaces every few years and so the letter goes out.

As fortune would have it, the mother of one of those new families, very active and engaged with us, had (at some point, perhaps recently) experienced a season of spiritual ecstasy during the midst of which she was consumed in a strange tongue, as I gathered, for a period of several days.

Later in the week we learned that pastor had been meeting with the lady and her family but to no avail, they immediately left he church.