An Unattainable Path

The following is a Lenten meditation shared by the Rev. Elizabeth Mangham Lott, pastor of the historic St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana. After the meditation, Lott shares a poem by Father Kilian McDonnell, OSB, a monk/theologian of Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.


The way we have told this story of God for a very long time is an utterly unattainable path of perfectionism. The practice of regular church attendance, and studying your Bible every day, and giving the right amount of money to church, and "being Christian = being nice to everyone" not only sets us all up for failure but sets us all up for not telling the truth about our lives.

Because we aren't perfect people, but it's very, very easy to believe that we're the only ones who haven't achieved perfection. Those folks over there must have figured it all out. Those put together ladies at church must be mastering life and faith and all of it.

I keep a quote beside my desk by the great, wise Walter Brueggemann who said, "Churches should be the most honest places in town, not the happiest places in town." Oof. What a challenge! What a growing edge for each of us and all of us! How in the world do we begin to disentangle ourselves from the knotted web of perfectionism and divine calling? They're not the same.

We're called to be fully human and fully ourselves. And guess what? That means we're called to be a hot mess sometimes. And to tell the truth about it. And to be grateful even when the laundry is piling up in the corner.

That means we're called to help each other LIVE and not help each other pretend. Can some of our releasing work this Lent be about releasing perfectionism? Let it go. Drop it. Quit that game. Anyone want to come be fully, messily human with me? And tell the truth about it? I am 100% here for making the most honest church in town.

Grace + Peace,

Rev. Elizabeth Lott


“Perfection, Perfection”
by Fr. Kilian McDonnell
St. John's Abbey

I have had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags,
I am out of here.
Gone.

As certain as rain
will make you wet,
perfection will do you
in.

It droppeth not as dew
upon the summer grass
to give liberty and green
joy.

Perfection straineth out
the quality of mercy,
withers rapture at its
birth.

Before the battle is half begun,
cold probity thinks
it can't be won, concedes the
war.

I've handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I
quit.

Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelo's radiant David
squints,

the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is
cracked.


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Rev. Elizabeth Mangham Lott pastors the historic St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana. She shares life in the Crescent City with her husband, Nathan, and their two children, Turner and Julia.