“You are perfect just as you are… and you could use some improvement.”
This quote, attributed to Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi captures what I often think of as the essence of who we are as Unitarian Universalists, and the invitation into possibility that church extends to us.
“You are perfect just as you are” speaks to our Universalism, saying that each of us is perfect solely by the fact of our existence. It says that we need do nothing at all to have a full measure of worth and dignity; of the right to love and to be loved.
“And you could use some improvement” speaks to me of our Unitarian leanings. Insisting on the wholeness of God and our wholeness reflected back. Admitting that as imperfect human beings we are not yet wholly whole. Inviting us into the possibility that one of our purposes in this “one wild and precious life” is to pursue that wholeness through the pursuit of greater spiritual depth, growth, and spiritual maturity.
Earlier in my seminary career, I read an essay by H. Richard Niebuhr in which he asserts human value solely on the basis of existence. His theological proof rested on Biblical texts, mostly from Genesis if memory serves, but his fundamental assertion was the same – our intrinsic value – yours and mine – derives from nothing more than the fact of our existence, and the same is true for everything else in the world. The world exists and it is good. We exist, and that is good.
To be honest, at the time, I really struggled with this notion, far too aware of the ways in which my own goodness is lacking to be able to get on board. Far too aware of the many failures in human history to feel comfortable getting on board with such a broad and blanketing statement of essential goodness. What about…..? my mind asked, and I’m sure that we can all fill in that blank in all sorts of ways with the ills of the world and ourselves, large and small.
And yet, in the face of this reality of human caused and inflicted suffering, in the face of my own, our own, self-awareness of our limitations, theologians, pastors, preachers, and prophets have insisted on our essential value and on the possibility that we can move toward a more perfect realization of who and what we could be. Can you imagine it? I find it staggering and it’s the kind of statement that makes me fall to my knees when I let myself really feel it.
Fundamentally, it’s a faith stance that asks enormous courage and love of us. So much so that really, we can’t hold it separately, and can only hold it together. We are perfect just as we are AND we could use some improvement. It’s the possibility that church extends to each of us – that here in the community of UUCM, we see in each other our value and radiance, and hold out the invitation that that radiance may be ever more fully realized. “You are perfect just as you are… and you could use some improvement.” The space between holds possibility. May we have the courage to enter that space of possibility together.