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Midweek Musings: Perfectly Certain

May 18, 2022

By Derek Handley

Midweek Musings is a weekly Covenant blog with a variety of authors and a variety of topics.

Hi! You may know me as your Communications Coordinator at Covenant Church. I "produce" these #MidweekMusings usually, among other things.

Well, I am also a cellist, and I play in the Madison Symphony and several smaller ensembles in the area as well. I started playing when I was 5.

"Practice makes perfect."

Of course I heard this more times than I cared for growing up. But, I ultimately went into music, up through the point of getting my masters. I had a fantastic pedagogue who demanded perfection. I can't say enough about how he helped me develop as a cellist. Inevitably, the mindset of PERFECTIONISM became ubiquitous.

I also have been in the church world my whole life. I was born and raised PC(USA) and my dad was a pastor, my mom an organist and choir director. I have lead worship and still do with my wife (also a lifelong Presby). This perfectionism can show itself in the church too...

  • Flawless transitions between parts of the service

  • Limiting distractions of any sort

  • Sticking to the script

  • Engineering a perfect formula so the attendee comes away with ___________ takeaway

  • Change the slide immediately after the last word of the slide has begun but no later than the second syllable is annunciated

  • That children's sermon better not go over 3 minutes!

I could go on.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with each one of these bullet points, cumulatively they can become an obsession for worshipers or worship leaders alike. The church service can easily become a production if we try checking off everything on this list.

And just like the perfectionism I experienced in my training and still experience in my performance career... if you don't leave any cracks in the façade, there is no room for authenticity to show itself.

I am a big fan of Richard Rohr.

Brene Brown (who I am also becoming a fan of) had Fr Rohr on her podcast Unlocking Us. Brene is a self-proclaimed Texan, storyteller, researcher.. Father Richard is a Franciscan priest, mystic, theologian, who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation.

In the episode Spirituality, Certitude, and Infinite Love, Brene asks Richard the following question:

Brene: "What happens when you have faith and you squeeze vulnerability and mystery out of it?"

Richard: "It’s useless as faith. It’s now another means for the ego to take control."

Vulnerability and mystery are two such things that can get lost in aforementioned perfectionism.

CERTITUDE is defined by Webster as "the state of being or feeling certain". Brene and Richard discuss this in depth in the podcast as pertained to faith:

Brene: (referring to childhood mentors) "I saw a shift from vulnerable, like Jesus, to venerable… And certain."

Richard: (describing "spiral dynamics") "It's levels of consciousness [...] And one of the higher levels of consciousness, which most educated Americans are in now is the green level where you get real certain about your progressive ideas."

Father Richard goes on later in the podcast to say that we are more often seeking certainty, not faith... I highly encourage you to listen to this entire 2-part podcast. It is excellent.

I feel called out by Richard Rohr after listening to this podcast. I have had to do a fair amount of deconstructing of my faith, which I am certain . . .

. . . needed to happen. Though along with that came what Father Richard is referring to above. I also have had to do some deconstructing of my performing career. It's an ongoing battle trying to break out of the perfectionist mindset to let authenticity show in my performing.


Perfectionism leads to certitude. We seek perfection instead of authenticity. We seek certainty instead of faith.

I haven't quite figured out how to reconcile my (somewhat) newfound faith with the certitude I have. But I'm always learning, and I guess that's a start.



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