Naked, Empty and Powerless

Brokenness is part of life. Failure is at the heart of the life of Jesus and his message. It is not in climbing the ladder of perfection that we meet God, but in falling from it. It is in falling that we discover the most beautiful spiritual gold. Only sinners truly understand the power of the Gospel. Only those with nothing to offer in their own defense can fall into the abyss of God’s love.

In my books and films I’ve proclaimed over and over again that I am a sinner. I’ve been radically honest with myself and have wept before God over my many failures and stumbles. And through those tears I’ve experienced the beauty and transformative power of forgiveness. The unmerited mercy I’ve received enables me to extend mercy to others. It is in the darkness that we wrestle with God, a God who does not offer easy assurances.

Christianity is not about sinning; it is about getting up after succumbing to sin and destructive behavior. Christianity is about healing, reconciliation and restoration.

Thanks to the rotten fruit of bad religion, the inner turmoil and brokenness of many guilt-ridden souls makes them feel more and more cut off from God. So many people, including myself, live most of their lives with an obsessive feeling of inadequacy, unworthiness, self-hatred and perfectionism…we are just never good enough…and even the slightest rejection reinforces that misguided viewpoint. True restoration does not simply come from the realization that God forgives us but in the realization that we were never cut off from God. Christ’s heart is broken again and again by people who poison the good news by projecting their own dark shadows onto others. Christ is not demanding sinless perfection. The kingdom Jesus promises is not a meritocracy. God’s love is free and unconditional and can never be broken. Against the postmodern darkness that engulfs us, followers of Christ must offer a counterpoise of compassion, a sense of intimacy with suffering and a breadth of wonder embracing all of creation.

Like the poor I’ve so relentlessly filmed, I am naked, empty and powerless. And in that truly human experience of emptiness, I am, at times, able to be fleetingly in touch with a true inner treasure beyond measure. In the physical poverty I’ve documented, I’ve encountered my own spiritual poverty. I’ve come to see more clearly that all my concerns and fears simply do not matter. They are illusions which I can no longer cling to, illusions which must be dropped in order for me to experience the true liberation of the Gospel. It is the false self that demands praise, that hates criticism, that feels threatened, that seeks perfection, that gets defensive and threatened. This may sound like heresy, but drawing closer to God does not happen by simply following certain rules or trying to be more religious. God is always at the heart of everything, including the very breath I now inhale. Even the darkness is God’s darkness. It is in letting go, in total surrender of power, possessions and position, that we are led to the true treasure within us, our true self that was created in the image of God.

We all need to face our inner demons and darkness, not by denying them but by becoming more and more aware of their influence. In prayerful awareness we learn who we truly are and learn how not to fill our inner emptiness or overcome our inner weakness by any other means than opening ourselves up more fully to God’s love.

But there is no need for us to obsessively strive for perfection and then feel guilty for not attaining it. Only God is, and can ever be, perfect; the rest of us must strive to become more like God, although we will never become God. “Perfection” is simply not the point of our spiritual struggle: Transfiguration is the point. Transfiguration requires seeing ourselves as we are in order to move away from our sinful habits and become more “good,” as God is. When we speak of perfection we imply that there is a goal to reach. Rather, spiritual struggle is about the journey away from a sinful orientation, a journey towards the God whom we will never completely reach. “Perfection” is simply not the point, and a wrong way to approach the work that one’s spiritual transformation requires of us.


5 Responses to “Naked, Empty and Powerless”

  1. 1 Mary Dib April 28, 2012 at 8:12 am

    I heard once that the proper translation for what Jesue said, was Be perfected,” not “Be perfect” which none of us can be, as you say. But not everyone can let go of all possessions completely and that’s why Jesus said, “What’s impossible for man is possible with God.” or something to that effect. Spiritual poverty, I find, is very difficult but i’m becoming more aware as I grow older, that many things I thought were important are really not. But it’s a process which takes prayer to discern what is and what is not.

  2. 2 Rev. Paul McKay April 28, 2012 at 9:41 am

    As an ordained Wesleyan Methodist holy man I’ve been steeped in the theology of John Wesley, who thought and wrote and preached a lot about perfection. (See his sermon “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” if interested.) He believed we could be perfect in this life in the sense of attaining perfect love, which he called Entire Sanctification. He wasn’t interested in attaining perfect love or sanctification as a goal to be reached and once your reach it that’s the end of the game, but he did believe that in the process of loving God and others, and living out the love through acts of mercy we can at least get a taste of scriptural perfection. At any rate, Wesley would have loved your theology and your ministry in solidarity with the poor–even though he probably would have given you a 10,000 word, heavily nuanced earful about perfection had he read this posting.

  3. 4 Jerry April 28, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    There is Matthew 5:48, of course but I do agree with you. Because only the rarest of the rare, a figure like St. Francis, achieved perfection. And it was only by becoming the poorest of the poor, having given to God all his wants, all his preferences, his body, mind, emotions and heart could he have reached that state. But we ordinary sinners have yet to give up our clinging to guilt, our obsessions and our desire for perfection. So for the overwhelmingly vast majority, it’s enough to do as you wrote, to walk the path of surrender trusting in God’s mercy and his love for us.

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