From the Shepherd’s Nook: John Frye

John Frye’s final of three posts on pastoring and passion and poems.

Passion or Perfection

“Poets are caretakers of language, the shepherds of words, keeping them from harm, exploitation, misuse…. Poets are not primarily trying to tell us, or get us, to do something…they draw us into deeper respect both for words and the reality they set before us” (Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, 161). The intent of these recent posts is to provoke reticent pastors to try their hand at poetry, using words “with playful discipline.” Choose a topic, concept, or issue that you believe needs to be contemplated and expressed. With blank paper and pencil, dabble with words, play with phrases, endeavor to crisply capture a compelling expression. Shepherd the words toward the meaning you want to convey. Here is my attempt to contrast two visions of God.

Passion or Perfection?

Choose each moment

passion or perfection.

God is a jealous God.

We want a perfect God more.

Perfection means clean and tidy.

Passion is wild, ruthless, messy.

Passion reverberates with danger.

Perfection is safe. We like safe.

Perfection has sharp corners,

Right angles, clean lines.

Passion gets sweaty and dirty

Evoking decisions in the dust.

Perfection likes the clear air, and

Clean white pages with the rules.

The God of passion wrestles us to

the dirt and cripples us.

Fear not?

The God of perfection allows us to

debate what to do on Sunday

that is “legal.”

The God of Passion was made flesh.

The God of Perfection lives in a book.

Passion thunders, moving and shaking.

Perfection, mute and paralyzed, simply sits.

The choice meets us every moment:

Passion or perfection?

The jealous God of the Bible or

The tidy God of clean systems of thought?

Choose this day the God you will serve.

On this one, I don’t think “both/and” is an option. Unless God at times scares the living daylights out of us, we haven’t wandered into “the jealous God” territory. God prefers the messy, wretched gutters of Calcutta to the precise, privileged rooms of Downton Abby.

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  • MatthewS

    This is so good, John.

    I believe that one audience for whom God’s passion resonates deeply is that of the spiritually abused. Those who have been swept aside by the keepers of “perfection” and have been told there is no passion in God or the church for their wounded souls. I look forward to sharing this one with some friends and seeing their reaction.

    You limn an evocative image: “God prefers the messy, wretched gutters of Calcutta to the precise, privileged rooms of Downton Abby.” And of course, messy, wretched gutters run through the heart of every human.

  • Tom

    This is one of the best articles I have seen recently. Thank you for sharing it. It feels right to have all the loose ends tied up tight. We fall into
    That kind of Christianity easily.
    I think God wants us passionate for Him and His Kingdom. Not lukewarm and tidy. Passionless relationships don’t last.
    I pray that the Spirit will help me to be passionate.

  • John, thank you for your poem! What a blessing! You’ve captured well what I’ve seen in our churches’ cultures – the desire to be (or to present ourselves to be) legalistically perfect which is apart from the time-context of love and passion of God. What I also thought of, as I read and contemplated your poem, was that passion freely and willingly humbles him/her/Godself to the level of the needy person loved by them. Passion is so UN-ranked and UN-ranking, if that makes sense. I recall Glen Stassen’s thoughts on Matthew 5:43-ff in the Ethics class I took with him while he was working on his book, Kingdom Ethics. In the context, he interpreted God’s perfection as being perfection in enacting Love – not in the legalistic sense we often place it. If that thought resonates with you, too, and you add some more lines to your poem, please send it along to me! Otherwise, I hope you don’t mind if I save this poem, as is, for future teaching or preaching, so I may quote you. (with full attribution, of course! 🙂 )