Perfection Unbound

Only my very dearest friends and some intimate family members can get by with it. Only they have garnered sufficient trust and credibility to speak the truth to me in love. Still, they choose to speak the truth in riddles.

Sometimes it comes out as sarcastic humor… “You know what’s wrong with you? Nothing, you’re perfect!” It has taken me nearly 65 years to recognize they are not joking, to decipher the loving yet urgent message they are trying to pointedly deliver.

Despite my delusions of grandeur and flights into self-sufficiency, I’m not as special as I think nor as singular as I want to imagine. My friends and family simply know how to slip beneath my well-defended public persona. My guess is I am not alone in such exalted self-assessment. This must make it very hard for God to be God!

Consider this… In cherishing our faith and dutifully practicing our religion we easily, willingly and all too frequently fall into one of religion’s most subtle and seductive pitfalls — using spirituality to comfort our egos or to validate our pre-conceived view of the world. We pervert Christianity to serve our needs rather than affirm its core assertion that salvation comes through dying to our over-sized egos.

With a lifetime of practice, my defenses handily domesticate much of what I claim to profess. I squirm at the preposterous proposition that I may have faults. I deftly shift responsibility, “Someone else died for me, so I don’t need to!”

Sorry, it doesn’t seem to work that way! Despite the contemporary preoccupation with so much shallow, feel-good, power-of-positive-thinking “spirituality” virtually all world religions are unanimous in teaching that we must put our ego-selves to death!  Trust me, this is very hard to do when you’re already “perfect”!

Western culture does not take easily to the heretical proposition that there is anything greater than the “self”, a moral code other than self-interest, or question the sufficiency of material goods to satisfy. All the more reason a deceptively simple and homey image disarmed me with its invitation to grow in humility. It will challenge any whose family and friends might want to lovingly suggest we can be “full of ourselves.”

The story is attributed to the Buddhist master, Chogyam Trungpa. The master invites us to consider pouring tea into a cup. The cup must be lower than the teapot. If the cup is not lower than the pot, the tea will not end up in the cup. It could just as well have come from Jesus — if we would be “perfect” we must deny ourselves, the one who would be greatest will become least.

Stealthily family, friends and other religions conspire to reveal what it is about my own faith I am so reluctant to profess.


I came upon the story attributed to Chogyam Trungpa in The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living by Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko.  Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY: 2015., p. 29.

2 thoughts on “Perfection Unbound

  1. I rather like this quote on the topic from Stephen Mitchell, “Tao Te Ching: A New English Version” :

    All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power. If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.

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