Friday, October 12, 2012

it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

This photo represents 2 mistakes: 
a cup of tea I forgot in the microwave for a day
 and a scorch mark made years ago by using a metal container
Thus begins the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  And thus began my week.  This is the time of year when many major funding applications are due for academic pursuits.  This is my third try for a federal award and the second time for a provincial one.  Last year I missed one of them by only two rankings (that means if two of the people had dropped out of the competition and gone to Morocco instead of pursuing their degrees, I would have received an award).  So, I have been writing and re-writing and editing my program of study to make it more appealing to those who dish out the money.  In essence, it has to be exciting, cutting-edge, unique, essential for life on the planet to continue, sexy, and of interest to everyone everywhere.  And it goes without saying that it has to be understandable and compelling, because the people who write the cheques are not theologians.  In other words, I am trying to write The Hunger Games of proposals.

This week, I had a meeting with someone regarding my application and it didn't go so well.  I explained my research proposal to them and though they were very polite, it was clear that they were not sold on the idea.  Part of the problem might have been that they were not from a theological background and admittedly skeptical about the appropriateness of theology combined with theatre, especially in light of abuses in the past when theatre was used as an indoctrination tool.  However, the most discouraging part of the interview was hearing that the person didn't understand what I was studying.  My heart just sank.  Really?  If I cannot clearly explain what I am researching in a few sentences, that's a serious problem.  I left the meeting very discouraged.  The person was kind enough to offer some very helpful suggestions as to how to improve my proposal, but the whole thing left me doubting my ability to write and communicate.  I felt like an impostor in the academic world, exposed as a fraud.

Later that afternoon, I received word that an article I had submitted a few months ago had been accepted for publication in a reputable academic journal.  And here's the exciting part: the only changes requested were the addition of a few headings to make it easier to read.  Yes, a group of academic editors thought my writing was clear and my ideas fresh and worth disseminating.  And the acceptance indicated that they believed I communicated in an intelligent and scholarly manner, no need for a re-write.  It was the worst of times followed by the best of times. 

So how do I reconcile these two scenarios?  It's pretty simple.  I am not perfect.  I will have successes and I will have failures in this life, and if I want to keep on learning and maturing as a human being, I must learn how to respond well to both.  I have done a fair bit of research and writing on certain aspects of theology (like the article I submitted), but the work I am doing now is new to me and as a result, the exact topic of my research is still a bit elusive.  This means that I am less clear than I should be in how I present it.  Though I have done some solid work in the past, I am once again swimming in deep waters.  I tend to get discouraged.  I sometimes panic.  But in truth, I really have no reason to do either.  I am still swimming; as long as I keep moving my arms and kicking my legs, I will go forward, even if it is not always pretty.

This week I also read a chapter of Eugene Peterson's book, The Way of Jesus, that deals with perfectionism (very common among graduate students). He writes:  "Perfection is not an option.  It is a seduction.  It is the devil's offer to avoid dealing with sin by various sleight-of-hand verbal and behavioural strategies." (p. 100)  In other words, those of us who struggle with perfectionism are prone to believe that we can erase our shortcomings (sin) by performing at a high level, by becoming spiritually or intellectually or physically or financially elite.  By crossing every 't' and dotting every 'i' until no one can find fault in what we do.  But it is not our high quality of work that endears us to God.  And it is not our accomplishments that make us a pleasure to live with.  And it is not our ability to stick to a regiment that builds a healthy community.  It is the love of God that makes us lovable.  And it is cultivating my ability to receive and give love that constitutes a life well-lived, not my great achievements.

When I can love and appreciate the person who criticizes my work, when I refuse to hide my mistakes or be my worst critic, when I stop feeling the need to defend myself, then I am starting to climb out of the prison of perfectionism into the wide open world of God's grace.  

1 comment:

ramona said...

Cute Mug!