I am not a perfectionist.
I used to work as an advertising graphic designer at a local newsprint magazine. Newsprint, especially 15 years ago, was an awful print medium in terms of image quality. The colors were always off, the images usually very blurry and smudged. We had other designers on staff who were far more professional and experienced than I, who would spend hours on color correction and getting the contrast to look just right on their photos, only to have the final product look like it had been sitting out in the rain for a day.
Working in an environment that accepted the impossibility of perfection was an excellent training ground for learning the art of “good enough.” Although I have never been what I’d call a full blown perfectionist, at 22 I did have a high level of idealism and huge expectations of myself to live up to my ideals. Working at that magazine tempered me a bit. So did having children.
So this past year, I worked on two full color 200-page hardback books, intended to sell for more that $40 each. They had to be perfect. But the perfectionism with which we combed those pages was still not enough. We found the errors after the final product was delivered. It was very disheartening. As much as I prefer the “good enough” lifestyle, there are times when I wish I could be perfect, especially when it comes to my work and my family.
Today’s readings don’t help much. The Old Testament selection from Leviticus (you know, the perfectionist’s favorite book of the Bible, with all those laws) says, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”
What? I’m supposed to be like God? That flies in the face what I’ve been taught about God’s grace and unconditional love in spite of our “original sin.” Then I remember; that’s just the Old Testament. That’s not really Christianity. That’s crazy Jewish legalism stuff. I can cherry pick that.
That would be nice. But unfortunately, not an option, because Jesus Himself echoed those words in today’s Gospel: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Good enough isn’t.
Fortunately, all of today’s scripture selections give some pretty concrete and even simple direction for how to achieve this task of perfection that we in 21st century western society have routinely written off as impossible in the same way I wrote off graphics quality in newsprint.
Don’t hold grudges.
Don’t harm anyone’s body, including your own – it’s God’s temple (i.e. it is intrinsically holy).
Pray for the people who persecute you.
That’s it. Holiness in a nutshell.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
Holding grudges makes me feel superior. Sometimes it allows me to feel like a victim and get pity from other people. Nursing a resentment keeps me attached to pain which is familiar and comfortable instead of releasing me to experience the discomfort of vulnerability and true intimacy with the people I claim to love.
Seeing my body as God’s temple is also a challenge. Taco Bell is a guilty pleasure among many others. What I put in my body is just one part of the struggle; how I feel about my body is just as important, and my insecurities about weight, shape, tone, hair, nails, odor, complexion, hairstyle, and clothing spill over into how I feel about MY temple – my home. It’s a mess right now. I can barely keep up with laundry, dishes, dusting, bathrooms, and endless clutter. Temple indeed!
I’d like to say I treat others’ bodies as God’s temple. But if I’m rigorously honest, I often focus more on the external than I want to admit. I judge people based on the exterior. For that matter, I judge them on the interior too. That I judge at all pretty much covers how I objectify them and myself, instead of seeing with God’s eyes.
As for how I treat people who persecute me – praying usually is not the first action that comes to mind. I recently saw the movie Lone Survivor, and let me tell you that praying for the Taliban is not what I want to do. I don’t want to pray for some of the groups I see as destructive to the country I love. I don’t pray; I wish them out of existence. This from a girl who claims to be pro-life.
Obviously, I can be honest with myself about my actions. I can even be humble about it. But that’s not holiness, at least not according to today’s scripture challenge. Holiness is not about being capable of and willing to examine my conscience and behaviors. Holiness is action.
I don’t have to feel comfortable to let go of anger. I don’t have to believe that I’m beautiful to respect my body and accept other people as they are. I don’t have to accept unacceptable behavior to pray for the ones who perpetrate it.
There really are no good excuses for avoiding the actions that define being holy and perfect. I can’t blame it on newsprint. I’m responsible for my own holiness.