We live in a dysfunctional world, can I get an witness? We seem to swim in a stew of wrong and right, bubbling in the shame, blame and guilt that are the end result of the failure to meet impossible standards. Out of this human predicament, we have created a lethal brew known as perfectionism.
Our culture is built around an unattainable ideal of perfectionism, what is morally right and wrong. The extreme pressure to live up to these standards seems to rule us more than the spirit behind them. Even though no one seems to be able to live up to the impossible standards, we still crank down even harder, it usually comes out as hateful words or actions, shaming, blaming and guilting everywhere. But there is an alternative way to live.
As far back as the 13th century (and even long before that) humans have been obsessed with perfectionism as a method for keeping anxiety at bay. One of my favorite poets from this period, Rumi, a theologian and scholar, made this statement in response:
“There is a field out beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing, I will meet you there.”
Ahh, what a relief, there is a space for love to flourish somewhere. He is talking about love, of course, as a revolutionary alternative to perfectionism. Not necessarily romantic love, but Divine, unconditional love, what we call Agape. It is the kind of love we are learning in our spiritual process as we meet the God within, as Christ has said, “the kingdom of Heaven (is) within you.” We go within to find the love we need to flourish in difficult times.
Religion is supposed to be a container for this process of love and loving, but these days, it seems some of our religious environment is functioning out of rigid perfectionism. And this “some” has the loudest voice in the world. But that is not the Way, at least, of true faith.
Perfectionism is simply another attempt at control. Making religion and God into something we can control and bend to our own will is classically known as idolatry. The odd thing is that when we engage in trying to control God or love or anything, or the reverse, trying to keep God out of the equation of life, we are the ones that become frozen! It is as if we are trying to freeze time or stop the madness, control the chaos. This always makes for craziness in the world and it seems to happen most when things become unstable.
In uncertain times, people crank down hard on control. But it is not just religious communities that are prone to this, we all do it, it is part of the human condition. As Paul Tillich said, “we are anxious unto our death.” And we all look for ways to manage the anxiety.
But faith interjects a different way, surrender. Surrendering to a higher Love causes us to let go of all the other ways. As Paul said, “in my weakness is my strength.” He was talking about surrender. Over time, in this faith process, as we surrender our control, we become stabilized by our true power, our soul life within, our true nature. Love teaches us how to be natural in an artificial culture.
Rumi’s statement gets at the core of the human condition. It is an invitation to let go of control, let go of rigid moralism and perfectionism and surrender to Love.
The field out beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing is a place where we meet ourselves out beyond the shame, blame and guilt of wrongdoing, beyond trying so hard to get it “right.” We try to get at the exact nature of our harmful actions rather than focusing on controlling the actions themselves. We do not try and get “right,” or stop being “wrong,” rather, we become attuned with the Sacred in us and surrender to its work in us. We focus on Love itself and the nature of love and we allow God to do the work in us.
Love, our tradition states, “keeps no record of wrong and does not insist on its own way.” For the early church, the focus was transforming from a litigious religious practice into the heart of relationship with the Divine, the God within, whom Jesus represented and left as the special presence of God on earth, the Holy Spirit. This is the basic root of all Christian theology.
Becoming attuned to Love re-routes us on a new path. Instead of choosing to live in the stew of shame, blame and guilt, we choose other methods for dealing with the pain of living in a dysfunctional world. We surrender to God in us. We walk in the woods, getting re-grounded with creation; or write or paint or do yoga or volunteer for service. We learn that there are many alternatives for dealing with pain and that we have the power to choose them because we are giving up control over our pain and we are letting go of perfectionist behavior.This is the moment when we begin to take true responsibility for our own lives and become actors rather than reactors in the world.
Control is an illusion. Control of fear, behavior, others, the world. When you give up control, what you are really giving up is living life from the artificial energy of your illusions. When you give this up, pain doesn’t stick around as long, it simply doesn’t have much to attach itself to anymore.
For some, religious experience has become a painful place and religion simply is not an alternative. But a loving community is not the same thing. Religion is a system, a container, a loving community is working out faith together. I encourage you to ask God to help you find a loving and safe community for you to practice your true faith.
Here are some helpful questions you might use as criteria:
- Am I a part of a religious or faith experience that sees Love as its highest goal? If so, am I learning that true love seeks to be unconditional? How do I feel about unconditional love? Does my community make me feel unworthy? Less than?
- Is the community I am a part of confused about love? Do they confuse love with perfectionism? Do they confuse love with pity? How do I feel about love?
- Do I feel empowered by my community to pursue what I feel are the dreams God has given to me as the story written on the walls of my soul? Does my community talk about the soul’s life in some way?
- Does my community teach me to take responsibility for my own life, empowering and educating me to make my own decisions about my faith journey?
True faith is coming to the field, coming aside to the feet of the great Healer and taking some deep breaths of unconditional love. In the field, we learn to love more deeply than we ever thought we could, because we are learning to love from our souls, where God lives.
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