(Im)Perfection

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack, in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

san blogFor the past three weeks Rev. Tom Rosiello has been the guest minister at the Unitarian-Universalist fellowship I attend and Malcolm Halliday has been the guest musical director. This past Sunday Rev. Rosiello had as the title of his sermon, “The Blessings of Imperfection,” which had resonance for many in attendance.

Many Unitarian-Universalists believe strongly in, and work towards, social justice, which I think is an extension of the Protestant tradition of doing good works, which of course is a way that we can perfect ourselves. One of Rev. Rosiello’s themes was that not only can perfectionism damage the individual but also others with whom the individual has relationships. Another theme: without imperfection, where would we be? The readings, selected from the work of Lewis Thomas (The Medusa and the Snail), Kathleen Norris (Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith), and Rachel Naomi Remen (Beyond Perfection) were particularly appropriate. He and Mr. Halliday selected Anthem, written by Leonard Cohen, as one of the musical selections. In that the song Cohen – like Lewis Thomas – makes the argument that it is only through imperfection that we can see (or in Thomas’ case, that we can evolve).

It has been a wonderful experience to be exposed to the ideas and talents of Rev. Rosiello and Mr. Halliday.

A few months ago Helen Boyd – gosh, she is just such a good writer – wrote a piece on irony, hipsters and cynicism that is worth reading, especially if you are of the X, Y, or younger generations. She quotes at length from Christy Wampole’s How to Live Without Irony, which appeared in The New York Times. For Wampole, the ironic lifestyle which she describes

allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.

At some point in one’s life I think the adoption of irony serves to: protect oneself from jingoism and false patriotism by living an examined life, demarcate one from previous generations, allow oneself to think oneself is smarter than the rubes, and allow oneself to believe that he or she is more artistic/creative/inventive than others of one’s generation.

My take is that the attitude that Helen Boyd describes is not the property of a single generation, but is attractive to each generation that passes through a certain phase. I also suspect that perfectionism, in conjunction with the ironic outlook described by Boyd and Wampole, can blind one to much of life’s possibilities.

It is ironic, of course, that Leonard Cohen, the angel of romance and directness, would find a legion of fans among the hipster crowd. Is there anything less ironic and more direct than these lyrics from I’m Your Man?

And if you’ve got to sleep
A moment on the road
I will steer for you
And if you want to work the street alone
I’ll disappear for you
If you want a father for your child
Or only wanna walk with me a while
Across the sand
I’m your man

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