Striving For Perfection

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Easy for Jesus to say! But as a fundamentalist Christian kid, I believed this was my goal. It made perfect sense to me. Except there was one area of my life in which I would never be “perfect”: I had these feelings for other boys, not just of attraction, but of love. And such tender feelings had no place between boys in the 1950s. 

A recent study verifies “the best little boy in the world” syndrome among gay men, according to a New York Times 

To make up for our “deficit,” we had to be the best somewhere else—in studies, sports, stage, spirituality, social action, or service, to name a few that alliterate nicely.

Long before I learned that the term often translated as “perfect” actually suggests “complete” (as in “mature”), I had exchanged my childish goal of perfection for a spiritually mature goal of integrity, to the benefit of my spiritual, mental, and physical health and well-being.

Integrity itself is a lofty goal, of course. And it is a lifelong process. Perfection has the feeling of having arrived, being complete in and of oneself. But integrating your beliefs, thoughts, feelings, experiences, speech, and actions is a daily process that is never completed.

I like to say that, in the spiritual life, there is no “finish line.”

It was not until later that I paid adequate attention to the alternate version of Matthew’s “be perfect as your God in heaven is perfect.” I don’t know how I overlooked Luke’s version, “Be merciful as God is merciful” or, in another translation, “Be compassionate just as God is compassionate.”

That to me would have been an attainable goal even as a kid. Needing compassion myself for my “flaw,” I readily offered compassion to others. Even adults felt encouraged to share with me their most deeply felt feelings. I had a good ear. Intuitively, I was Henri Nouwen’s “wounded healer.” That’s one of the reasons why I felt called to ministry.

Listening to—at first, dozens, and by now, thousands of—people gave my call to ministry a prophetic edge.

I just wanted to be a pastor, but now, I had a mission. Or, better said, a passion. Nouwen liked to parse words, and he pointed out that “compassion” literally means “suffering (passion) with (com).”

At first my passion was largely expressed in the movements for Civil Rights, Peace, and LGBT inclusion and equality. But it was always felt for all those excluded and diminished by the church and culture, those made to feel that they were not “perfect,” but who nonetheless struggle for integrity, and struggle to be compassionate.

I imagine most readers of this blog know that experience.

I believe that is what progressive Christianity does in its finer moments: gathers outsiders as “a mother hen gathers her brood under her wing,” just as Jesus wished.

Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and originating blogsite, Progressive Christian Reflections. Other rights reserved. Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite.

Photo via flickr user Nancy Big Crow

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