Monday, September 27, 2010

Perfectionism I: Pursuing Ever Greater Righteousness

Last weekend, we hosted a dinner party in honor of my daughter’s twelfth birthday.  A diva-in-training, she requested a formal, black-tie celebration.  She, of course, already owned a sparkly, be-sequined cocktail dress (yes, really, at less than twelve) but I had to outfit the rest of us. We are now all members of the little black dress brigade.  She planned a simple menu of steak, mashed potato, “mushy carrots”, and salad, which I thought was fortunate so that I wouldn’t tire myself unduly with the cooking and be unable to enjoy the party (something that happens regularly since I developed my chronic hysterical illness). I really wanted to make this party perfect for her.

I started the cooking for last night's dinner about 5 hours ahead.  My plan was that I'd cook ahead, have it all ready to reheat (aside from the steak, which my husband would be grilling), then shower and change into my little black dress and pearls.  But as I worked, making up the carrot recipe as I went along, I kept thinking of another little special touch that would "make it all just right", so that I ended up touching up the reheated foods in my undies (because even in an apron, stuff jumps right at my nice clothes) just minutes before the company arrived--despite, or maybe because of, having three helpers and a serious intention of not going too crazy.

I had to ask myself "what constitutes perfect?"  If I think of another little touch, an extra ingredient, a little twist, and don't do it, then is the result less than perfect?  I know that stems from the whole Pauline idea that if we do not do what we know is good, we have sinned. A total paraphrase and gross misapplication but is it really so far removed from the fundy Modesty codes or the Pharisees’ Purity codes and other absurdities in the name of sanctified living?

And then, when we actually served the meal, the steaks were charred on the outside, overdone on the inside from appliance faults rather than operator error; the mashed potatoes too thin and the gravy too thick (almost the same consistency) from reheating problems that were operator error (mine); we ran out of wine; and the toppings for the cheesecake only glopped instead of drizzled.  And everyone who ate thought it was absolutely the best food (well, except for my husband and me who both have these perfection issues). The guests ate it all up and asked for seconds.  

So, by what standard do we measure perfection? The eaters' enjoyment? (Excellent.) How relaxed and peaceful the cook was while she produced the food (poor, but not at all the worst, at least I didn't fall to pieces or start crying this time).   The comparison to how it would have turned out in a professionally equipped kitchen by, say, Bobby Flay? (As if...! But you know I made that judgment!)  And is the ante really, fairly, upped every time I think of some extra finesse? (Absurd, when you think about it, but isn't that what we do all the time?)

It seems ridiculous to over-analyze a dinner party this way but the prep and presentation seems an apt metaphor for the striving for perfection that we Christians do, and are taught to do.  Why is it so universal to teach the do-more-work-harder-feel-guilty model of Christian living but so rare to teach the rest-in-the-Lord-be-still-enjoy-the-simple-things model? Why do we let ourselves be consumed by the judgmental, perfection-seeking, always-something-holier-to-do, Pharisaical, conspicuous religiosity?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Post Christian Traumatic Stress II: No True Christian and Read Your Bible More

[author]  Someday that demonic Christian voice will be gone and I can live freely in the divine love for all.  Why can't that be today?
[commenter]  Possibly because you insist on calling it a Christian voice? True Christians don't buy the ancient heresy that matter is evil. ...I'd encourage you to really dig into what the Bible actually says about being Christian, as opposed to what you heard growing up. You may be surprised at what you find.

The matter=bad/spirit=good dichotomy has a long history in the ancient Greek-influenced cultures and you see it creeping into Jewish literature as the traditional Jewish communities got drawn into the Greek-dominated Roman empire.  One man's heresy is another man's orthodoxy, though, even among such True Christians as the early church bishops who were responsible for setting doctrine: Augustine, Origen, Valentinus, Iraeneus.  Most of the self-proclaimed True Christian teachers of today, as I read them on the internet or read their followers' blogs, do buy most of the ancient heresies (whether they realize it or not).

Because it is such a prevalent understanding in Christianity, I call it "the Christian voice". It is probably the most common voice heard in Christianity--in my childhood and today (if the blogs I read are any indication of what is common teaching).  It is so prevalent that most people don't even realize that they accept it until the idea is challenged--another reason to use the term "Christian voice".

I think the bible says almost none of what the Christian voices of today are saying.  I am actually quite sure that what passes for evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity--either as I remember it from before the mid 1980's or what I read in today's internet and hear around town--is completely different from the radical love and spiritual awareness with which Jesus inspired his followers and frightened the controlling institutions of his day.  I'm not so much surprised at the bible as I am at the lengths people go to just to support the controlling, demeaning, power-mongering interpretations.

My use of the term Christian as a self-identifier is only possible for me because I acknowledge that the prevalent "heresies" are not what I understand Jesus to have been preaching.  If I still believed that God and Jesus really were about the shaming judgmentalism that I find in Christian circles, I would never have started calling myself Christian again.  But I don't associate God with those voices anymore--it's just that those voices got so embedded in my psyche that I still get a kick in the solar plexus just about daily. It’s about the PTSD experienced from Christianity, not what the bible actually says.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Post Christian Traumatic Stress I: The Evil Flesh

Wow, still that knee-jerk-to-the-gut!

A facebook friend is recuperating from surgery and posted that she is feeling human again.  I responded "human is good".

Before I even finished typing, I got that cramp in my belly and that old voice in my head telling me to take it back, that human isn't good, that only the heathens glorify humanity and this is not the way of god.

Sigh. Someday that demonic Christian voice will be gone and I can live freely in the divine love for all.  Why can't that be today?