“Jesus is our perfect pattern.”
“Jesus was the perfect lamb of God.”
“This is God’s perfect Way.”
If you weren’t raised as a Two by Two, you might not have heard quite so much about perfection sitting in a Sunday worship service. You might not have internalized perfection as virtue. Lucky you.
I wasn’t so fortunate.
Having coming to a new understanding of the nature of God, I realized this morning that I have maintained two sets of values for most of life: an old one and a new one. I haven’t really told myself about them both. They continue to exist side-by-side, like school kids who’ve had an argument and are no longer speaking but still eat their lunch at the same table everyday. It’s time they were introduced.
So I made a list: the old morality and the new one. The old one is largely made up of “don’ts.” The emphasis is on avoiding sin. The new one is focused more on “dos.” The emphasis is on attaining virtue. It would be more convenient if they were tidily organized in the same way and could be written easily with a parallel structure. But they aren’t. We will have to make do.
The Old Morality
- Don’t feel frustration, annoyance, or anger. Don’t become flustered or discombobulated. Maintain a perfect peace and a perfect calm.
- Don’t make mistakes in performance. No errors!
- Don’t waver in your pursuit of chosen goals. Progress must be steady and continuous, without interruptions, breakdowns, or periods of aimless floundering.
- Don’t make mistakes in judgment. Things must turn out the way you expected them to.
The New Morality
- Avoid exploiting or harming others. Find ways to get your own needs met that don’t take advantage of other people or trample on their right to meet their needs.
- Don’t exploit or harm yourself or allow yourself to be exploited or harmed. The rules apply to everyone.
- Try to understand and appreciate the perspectives of others. This has many benefits, but it’s also just a nice thing to do.
- Be generous.
- Be warm.
- Be open.
- Be sincere. Don’t say things you don’t mean. Don’t sacrifice yourself. Sacrificing yourself is a kind of lying. Try not to lie.
- Be a problem-solver. Fix the issues that bother you when you can.
- Always try to leave things better than you found them.
- Clean up your own messes.
- Keep the big picture in mind. You’re not the only one on this boat.
I feel heavily biased towards the New Morality. The Old Morality feels arbitrary, irrelevant, unimportant—as well as impossible. If every wobble and waver is sin, then how do you maintain the perfect calm of item #1?
The Old Morality is so entrenched, I’m not sure how to dislodge it. Nonetheless, I have an idea to try.
It’s based on what I’ve learned recently about dogs. Apparently, you can un-housebreak dogs if you’re lazy enough. (My landlords are.) All you have to do is not let them outside when they need to go. Force them to urinate or defecate inside the house enough times, and the old rule becomes unimportant. They will create a new rule: go in whatever spot in the house you prefer.
I started with the easiest of the rules to break: item #1, the things I can’t feel. I say it’s the easiest because, if your whole morality is organized around not making mistakes, you are bound to feel frustrated a lot of the time. You might even feel angry. You will certainly feel annoyed.
The mistakes will come on their own, and each of them is an opportunity to feel those prohibited emotions.
Already, I made one mistake after mid-afternoon tea. I told someone I had taught—rather than learned–Hindi in Delhi. (Which is pretty hysterical, if you’ve ever heard me speak in Hindi.) My mistake was a fairly understandable one. I’m used to telling people I teach—not learn—and the words are very similar. But minimizing the mistake only helps me avoid the sense of having broken my rules. So I haven’t done that. I’ve just let it be.
Consequently, what I feel about the mistake even now—two hours later—is anger. I want to scream. I want to use bad words and pound my fists on a hard surface. It’s a little like having a toddler tantrum inside.
This is progress.
A few more mistakes and I might be able to take a stab at item #2.
(Oh, I already did.)