Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good...

Now here's a slippery slope I've been pondering all week long:  Voltaire is attributed to writing the aphorism, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" and as I look at a variety of world events and decisions, I can't help but what that means for us at this moment in time.  From my perspective we've become so enslaved to zero-sum thinking that our moral imagination has atrophied.  Indeed many seem unable to embrace the small blessings of life when they emerge because we want it all or nothing at all.  Two news stories are of particular importance to me:

+ First, the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to openly welcome gay and lesbian youth into the ranks of scouting.  I applaud this long over-due first step towards equality and look forward to the time when BSA - like the military and corporate America - welcome leadership from the wider LGBTQ community into the ranks of scouting.  While some on the Right see this as capitulation to cultural relativism, that was to be expected.  What concerns me is the Left's reaction that this action did not go far enough.

I agree it is incomplete.  It is neither fully just nor perfect - but it is movement in the right direction. After all, only 12 states support full marriage equality.  So this is a journey towards justice that demands a long vision.  (The same is true for common sense gun laws to say nothing of bringing a measure of healing to our culture of violence.)     

Back in Tucson, where the Mormon Church literally shapes what scouting looks like - and requires it for young boys in their congregations - we wrestled with how to be an Open and Affirming faith community with a long history of involvement in scouting.  Over a few years, we met with our local troop leadership to talk and educate one another and then we both petitioned the national leadership to make changes in their policy.  When it became clear, however, that the national organization would not budge, we arrived at an informal agreement between our local church and the troop that essentially amounted to the imperfect norm of the day:  "don't ask, don't tell."  Some ONA churches withdrew from scouting, others prohibited scouts from using their facilities and a few tried to create their own scouting alternatives.  Our actions were a modest compromise that allowed children of LGBTQ families - and openly out youth - to experience the fullness of scouting knowing full well that we had a long way to go.  In conversation with our LGBTQ families - not in a vacuum - we decided not to let the perfect become an enemy of the good.  My prayer is that this important change can be honored and celebrated so that the Boy Scouts can make deeper changes in the near future.

+ Second, President Obama's recent speech about shifting from our country out of a full-time war on terrorism mode.  As is the case with Obama, he always opts for a "third" way between the Right and Left being a true Niebuhrian.  He knows that no matter what path is chosen, there will be unplanned consequences. Further, no path is ever perfect and hubris is blinding; so, as in health care, so too in terrorism, he advocates a middle way that will make life better in small increments.  More than many presidents, this man appreciates the moral and ethical complexities of this moment in history.

Take the use of drones:  clearly they have been useful in a dirty situation.  And, at the same time, they have been deadly to innocent civilians.  Some have urged the President to stop their use completely, while others believe they should be used in an even more aggressive fashion.  I am very uncomfortable with the ease with which we can now slaughter our enemies - and any policy that involves death should make us all feel morally queasy.  Only a deep pacifist has clean hands when it comes to ethics and violence - and I am not a pacifist - and neither is Obama.  Rather he is charged with protecting the United States in the best way possible - and it seems that this would include the use of drones - and the ethical dilemmas they create.  I am eager to see Obama's proposed "court of review" come to pass as that would add some balance and accountability to the morally ambiguous conundrum. This would be a measured step the honors the gravity of using such deadly force.  There is much more that needs to be said about this, but my point is simply:  in a no-win situation, what is the best decision to make when all are bad?  That is, how do you move in a way that does not let the perfect become the enemy of the good?

The only way that I know to discern the deep wisdom of the hour is to engage in vigorous, respectful dialogue, research, prayer and study.  Hard ideological boundaries do not advance the cause of the common good. They are idolatrous for they posit a world in which only a select few posses true wisdom and truth. I would be eager to know your take on these two changes:  how do we support the movement towards compassion and justice in the public realm while refusing to let the perfect become the enemy of the good?  One clue for me is found in these words from Richard Rohr:

The two adjectives most applied to God by Franciscan mysticism were the goodness of God and the humility of God. Hardly any of us would say God is humble, but Francis did. He and Clare fell in love with the humility of God; because if God emptied himself and hid himself inside the material world then God, who was revealed in Jesus, was surely a very humble kind of God. This is a total surprise to history, and so much a scandal that most Christians would still resist it consciously or unconsciously.

Francis fell in love with the humanity of Jesus more than his divinity. It was Jesus’ humanity that he wanted to draw close to, and that he fell in love with. He just wanted to be the most humble man around, which was his “imitation of God” (Ephesians 5:1). Only in that humble state could he find God, because that’s where God had gone and Francis wanted to go where Jesus went and where God was hiding.Art historians say that even Christian art changed after Francis. Beginning with Giotto, there was a new interest in things ordinary, human, animal, mundane, and nature-based. Not just glowing divine icons, but now light shining through the ordinary world.

So you see the basis for a different kind of holiness. It’s not God from above. It’s now God from within—incarnationalism instead of transcendentalism.



Barbara Barkley said…
Amen to this. And thank you, as always, for your thoughts and wisdom

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