I wasn’t entirely sure that I was going to write a 2015 year-in-review post, but now it comes down to the end of the line and here we are and it’s time for some reflection, maybe. Maybe not a full play-by-play this year. This year things have moved slowly, dancing to their own rhythm.
Winter did finally show up, after all. Two days ago. I was out in the yard barefoot on Christmas Day, and by Tuesday the high temperature had dropped 40 degrees and we got our first real accumulating snow storm of the season. For all I complain about shoving snow around, the early winter nights sure are dark without it.
And perhaps I won’t get bored looking at it as quickly as I did last year. I’m wondering whether I’m going to need to spray paint the front yard again like I did back in February. It did seem like a good idea at the time.
It was a year of shifting expectations. Major changes in the ministerial credentialing process at the UUA level shook things up in the spring and early summer. I guess uncertainty is the new normal – we are in the grinding gritty edge of things where old expectations and new realities do not mesh up exactly, and it seems sometimes that we are all making it up as we go along while trying to preserve the superficial appearance that everything is perfect, polished and under control.
Forgive me, imperfect world. I don’t have a whole lot of use for that foolishness. If things are uncertain then let us be honest about our uncertainty. If things are imperfect or incomplete then let us be honest about the imperfections, the limitations, the opportunities we might grow into. So often we are shamed into concealing or denying those places from which we might grow – the places where we are not yet all that we might become – and it feels cramped and tight and broken. But the first piece, always, is to take an honest inventory and say to ourselves and to one another, “Yup. This is what I’ve got. It is imperfect, and it is real.”
This is not – however – to say that we ought to stop there. The rush to closure and completeness has another shadow, the shadow that says “This is all I have and all I’ll ever be – no need for changing or growing or transformation, nope. All set.”
I remember just enough of the Latin I took in school to be dangerous, but one of the pieces that stuck was that there were two ways of expressing the past: the imperfect, and the perfect. The perfect form was for expressing events that were complete, that happened once: I ran to the store Tuesday. The imperfect form was for expressing events that were ongoing, or habitual: I used to run to the store every Tuesday. This distinction persists more strongly today in languages like Spanish and French – the grammatical structure of English has Germanic origins rather than Latin ones – but the idea is still under there.
In this way the word “perfect” has two sets of ideas within it, one overlaying the other: flawlessness, and beneath that, completeness. But in this world, this real ongoing world in which we are ever and always in the middle of things – is anything ever complete? I think not – it cannot be, everything has limits – and so, because we are finite and mortal and bounded, we are inherently imperfect and so are all things in this world. I am, and you are, and every human is, and every human system is, imperfect and incomplete, with fuzzy boundaries and uncertain outcomes.
I have spent 2015 getting to the edge of being comfortable with that.
Not, of course, perfectly comfortable. But comfortable enough with the discomfort of limitation and unknowing that most of the time now I can shrug and say, “I will do what I can with what I have from where I am, and leave the rest undone.” This is, maybe, what sanity looks like.
But like anyone newly converted I find myself wanting to spread the gospel of shameless imperfection, and being vexed and frustrated by others’ persistence in (and insistence on) old ways of thinking and being. I do chafe at the presumption that there is exactly one right way to do it, this being human, and that this way or that way is the best answer for everyone and we ought to all be judged accordingly, and ranked according to our approximation of an unachievable ideal. Or, realizing the ideal is unachievable, insisting that our current situation is as close as anyone ever ought to get.
Yeah nope. That’s not how it really works; if our systems are structured to force us into conformity or to freeze us in complacency, then that is an incompleteness in our systems which does not allow for the beautiful complex unfolding imperfection of the world. We are always already good enough; we can always already do better.
“There is a crack,” writes songwriter Leonard Cohen, “a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in.”
Happy New Year. See y’all on the flip side.