The Words of the Moffitt Family
The Scenic Route To Perfection - San Viejo's Journey
December 6, 2006
Jesus said, "You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." I have a Christian friend who thinks Jesus didn't actually mean this, and that to try to become God, or even Jesus, is an arrogant presumption. She said it's good to give it a shot -- being "Christ-like" -- but of course, you will fall short. "That's why you need Jesus," she smiled, "for forgiveness."
Silly me, I thought the reason I needed Jesus was to tell me, and show me by his example, that perfection is not only actually possible but, like he said, even required. And to let me know, by implication, that being forgiven for falling short is an unfortunately necessary Plan B.
"Perfection, perfection, perfection" is the "location, location, location" of the spiritual path. Was Jesus perfect? Could he multiply fractions and do those analogy questions -- and did he blow the doors off his SATs? Assuming Jesus had erasers on his pencils, what does "perfect" mean anyway?
Benjamin Franklin applied science to perfection's quest. In his autobiography, Franklin wrote, "It was about this time I conceiv'd the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish'd to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other."
Running down the page, he wrote out 13 virtues, with a brief definition beside each one. He put a column for each day to the right of that. It was important that he focused on the virtues, rather than keeping track of the sins, figuring that if he exercised, say, "temperance," then it meant he didn't overeat or over-drink.
The listed virtues, with Franklin's annotations, included such as:
* SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
* RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
* CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
* HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
And so on. All of it good stuff.
Monks and nuns had already been doing this exercise for centuries, so Franklin was somewhat re-inventing the wheel. But he also invented bifocal glasses, came up with "early to bed and early to rise," and did the electric kite thing, so as far as I'm concerned, he earned his picture on the C-note.
I have a lot of opportunity to ponder perfection because, as the editor of ReligionAndSpirituality.com, I get a lot of email denouncing the imperfect among us. For example, one recently wrote, "God hates homosexuals and their going to hell."
I wonder, can you can go to hell for writing imperfect email? Never write "their" when you mean "they're," unless you want to watch me do the fingernails on the blackboard cringe. But more important, I think the deal is that God doesn't hate people of any stripe. God is the parent of humankind, and parents don't hate their children. Everybody knows that. God hates sins, not sinners.
I gathered that this email came from a heterosexual (but you never really know), and I wondered: Why do people only denounce the sins they themselves don't commit? How come no one ever denounces himself as an evil sinner whom God hates?
Bottom line is, deciding who fries in hell is above my pay grade. And besides, I'm kind of embarrassed to cast the first stone myself -- at anyone -- be they cat burglar or vacuous tart. On the other hand, bashing the gays is certainly tempting, because it might take some of the heat off me and my sins. I'll go along with condemning car thieves too, since my grand theft auto days are pretty much behind me now.
I have a question, and it's a question for God, really, because all I'm going to get from anyone else is their own opinion. My question is: Is there any amount of sacrificial good a person can do, in living a life for the sake of God and others, that balances out or mitigates their other flaws? In other words, to what degree is perfection negotiable?
Here's what I mean by that. There is one person in my life that loves God to his nethermost corpuscle and saves other people's lives, motivated by his dedication to God. Only a few people know that he also happens to be gay as a tree full of chickadees. Oh, and last time I checked, he was addicted to shoplifting. So how flawed is he? Do the pluses and minuses of a person balance each other out? Does life have the ability to offer a more "scenic route" to perfection, or are the San Fernando Valley's teeming hordes of vacuous tarts simply out of luck?
My gut tells me that perfection is not about Ben Franklin's score-keeping exercise (although as a process, it helps), nor is it strictly about one's flaws being offset by one's goodness. I think it is probably two steps forward, one step back for most people. Nevertheless, there must be some key point that's universal to everyone, some common litmus test or gateway that everybody of every culture and religion must pass through to perfect their character.
I think the perfection Jesus spoke of is attained when a person comes to a zero-point before God. It doesn't matter what religion you adhere to. It's about being God's perfect responder. Perfection is an attitude, a state of mind and a state of heart, like the complete obedience Jesus had toward God. Perfection happens first inside a person and then becomes outwardly visible -- which is only logical.
The reason acquiring a godly character is an on-again-off-again process is because God is trying to tell our higher mind one thing, while our pleasure centers are telling us other things. Guess which side usually wins? But if we put our higher mind (the part that God speaks to) behind the wheel, and we rein in our inner Bubba that wants free lunches and your roommate's girlfriend, it becomes better than even money that we can fulfill what Jesus said is our ultimate responsibility. That is -- be perfect like your Father in heaven.
Responsibility is an appropriate word here because its component parts are "response" and "ability.." Jesus' ability to respond to God was without flaw. His perfection was based on living in a state of absolute response ability before God, sans ego and selfish desire.
If we do that, then we are doing what Jesus did. And others as well. The word "Islam" means "surrender," and the word "Muslim" means "people who surrender." They, like good savvy Christians and other spiritually oriented people, have the right idea.
Larry Moffitt is editor of ReligionAndSpirituality.com. His email address is Editor@ReligionAndSpirituality.com
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