On Being a Tortured Idealist
December 8, 2008, 11:18 pm
Filed under: spiritual formation

Without going into all of my motivations for this, I’ll say that the past month or so of my life has been an intense time of introspection, inventory, confession, and renewal for me.  One of the things that I’ve recently been coming to grips with is the degree to which over the past seven or eight years I’ve taken on the role and mental state of a tortured idealist.  I think I’ve always been pretty idealistic and a perfectionist, but usually infused with a healthy dose of optimism . . . up until the tortured idealist phase, that is.

I think in my shifting toward a radical deconstruction of theology, church culture, calling, and direction there have been a lot of temporary phases.  The “angry young man phase,” the “revolutionary subversive phase,” the mystical phase, etc.  I’ve cycled in and out of these phases multiple times – let’s keep in mind, that these are postmodern and non-linear phases!  But the one that seems to have occupied a larger portion of my life is the tortured idealist.  This is the phase where I look at scripture, look at life, look at the Church, look at church history, look at the church of my native culture, and I lament the incongruence of it all.  I try to “reimagine” new directions and initiatives, create small spaces of growth, and move forward (whichever direction that may be), but it never seems to be good enough.  I feel stunted a lot of times, realizing that when I bring about good changes in one area, I create problems in other areas (kind of like all the well-intentioned ethanol as cleaner fuel folks, who inadvertently complicated the world food crisis by re-allocating farm land for fuel production).  I’ve taken on exciting new ventures, and done some very cool things, which have allowed me to meet amazing people, be creative, chart my own course, and “be the change I want to see in the world.”  And yet, it consistently comes back to the tortured idealist thing – the things I create, the relationships I engage, the work I do seems to fall short of my idealistic/perfectionist notions, and so I’m tortured.  Woe is me . . . and unfortunately, woe is anyone who has to spend time with me.

I’ve spent long hours lingering in cynicism.  I actually do believe that cynicism has been a major asset for me, but it most certainly has a dark side.

So the question for me here is how to embrace the hopeful things, the small steps of progress, the little glimpses of the Kingdom breaking through, even if I realize that I’ve still got a long way to go?  It’s time to embrace those things, and move forward in them with the confidence that “better” may not be perfect, but it’s still better.  Otherwise, I take the blessings I’m given, the opportunities I’m given, the gifts I’m given, and I call them rubbish – devaluing those who bless and those who give to me.

I’m committed to living into a different reality going forward.  I will likely still cycle through the phases of tortured idealism from time to time, but while it may be a good place to visit, I don’t want to live there any more.


1 Comment so far
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Maybe as part of the healing process you could go through a 40 Days of Purpose to attain Your Life Now at a mega-church that meets in a football stadium.

j.k. No, that would probably aggravate it more.

I resonate deeply with your last paragraph (along w/all else)

Comment by Wayne Park

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