Season two of Netflix’s Chef’s Table came out a couple weeks ago and I haven’t been able to think of much else since then. Not only is this show one of the most beautifully shot series on television but it also finds a way to consistently inspire its viewers to re-imagine their own lives in and out of the kitchen. In the first and my favorite episode, Chef Grant Achatz, of the three Michelin star restaurant Alinea’s, attributes much of his personal success to his time working at the French Laundry in Yountville, CA, “It felt like I was rubbing shoulders with the master, I wanted to be Thomas Keller, and I was super dedicated to learning how to cook like him – everything is analyzed, is it perfect, if it’s not, how can we make it perfect? I just became passionate about the pursuit of perfection.” And, from that point forward in the documentary it’s clear that this pursuit of perfection has some creative inertia to it – it’s what motivates Grant, it’s what animates his team, and it’s what compels his customers to spend $500 for a once in a lifetime meal.
Do You Want to be Perfect?
All of this raises a very interesting and perhaps powerful question for us to consider: “Do you want to be perfect?” Are you motivated, inspired, or compelled to perfect your leadership, your marriage, or your faith? A simple search of the word “perfect” on Amazon would suggest that the pursuit of perfection is not inspiring to you. In fact, as a tribe, we’re proudly “breaking up with perfect,” we want to be “present over perfect,” we’re a “perfect mess,” and we’re committed to “no more perfect kids or perfect moms.” It seems that Christians, unlike Michelin starred chefs, are rather anti-perfect. The great irony in this is that it was Jesus who first asked the question, “Do you want to be perfect?” when an eager young man approached him seeking eternal life. It was Jesus who commanded his disciples in the greatest sermon ever preached to “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
“What is there so frightful therein?”
So why the great controversy about perfection or as John Wesley famously asked, “What is there so frightful therein? Whence is all this outcry… as if all Christianity were destroyed, and all religion torn up by the roots? Why is it that the very name of perfection has been cast out of the mouth of Christians; yea, exploded and abhorred, as if it contained the most pernicious heresy?” I’m honestly not sure why 250 years later we’re still trying to put an end to perfection. I suppose it has something to do with us being committed to the doctrine of sin and our universal need of salvation but I’m not convinced that grace is opposed to the pursuit of perfection. In fact, I think it’s that very grace that gives us hope in our pursuit of the one who was truly perfect. It seems to me and at least the culinary world that the pursuit of perfection is a wildly beautiful invitation to an energized life; perhaps we should stop protesting it, especially since we have the graces for what the world desires.