This is not a perfect metaphor.

The new gymnastics scoring system consists of two parts: the “Start Value,” which indicates a routine’s difficulty. From what I’ve seen, anything from the mid 6s to low 7s is pretty hard and warrants an overall higher score; then Execution is how well the routine was performed. This is based on a 10-point scale, similar to the old system. Add these subscores for a total score to determine ranking for the event.

What I appreciate about the new system is that extends beyond the notion of the “Perfect 10.” 10 was absolute, but 10 did not elaborate on itself. If you received one, your performance was perfect; if you didn’t receive one something was obviously wrong with your presentation. Flawed.

The other day during my air balance beam practice, I decided to try a dismount off the ottoman. I perched about twelve inches above the ground. I pointed my right toe down in front of me, took a step, and then I sprung off the end of the ottoman and followed my leap to the floor. No somersaults, no twists; just pointed toes which turned to strongly planted feet and an extended body. I stuck the landing! No balance checks, just a big smile. Perfect 10, right?

The old system would want to deduct everything from my routine, but it has no choice but to roll its eyes in a smugly objective way. I performed that landing perfectly.

The new system would mock me. It would assign the routine a start value of negative 6 trillion, give me a “perfect” score of -5,999,999,999,990 then pat my head ever so condescendingly and send me on my way.

(New system, would you please not pat my head? I’m a whole inch taller than Shawn Johnson. I’m also TWICE HER AGE. Thanks.)

The new system, however, allows for more accountability. You’re in charge of your performance. A more difficult routine increases the chances of receiving a higher score. Difficulty involves more spins and twists and quickness between those elements. Connectivity and continuity are key. Then if you can make the routine look beautiful with flowing lines, exceptional, balletic extension and no bobbles and falls, that further improves your score.

The new system rewards what kind of gymnast you are; the old system did not make that distinction. The new system encourages creativity and fine-tuning. The new system nurtures the thinking gymnast; it stirs desire and does not emphasize absolute perfection. Just do your best, and get better.

So far in Olympics gymnastics, I’ve seen ambition and grace in different combinations. The gymnasts fared in varying degrees, from truly disappointing to unbelievably successful. In the women’s balance beam finals, Shawn Johnson had power, precision and pluck. Nastia Liukin had elegance, emotion and enigma. Each was captivating in her own way. Though Nastia scored higher in execution, Shawn’s higher start value gave her the win.

They understood the system. They gave their best and hoped for a higher score.

This year in seminary we’ll be studying the New Testament. Last year as we studied the Old Testament we discussed the many stories that foretold the Messiah or were a type of Christ. Moses carved a staff for his snakebitten people to simply look upon and be healed. Esther intervened to save the Jews from destruction.

We got a hefty dose of the Law of Moses and a deeper look at its purpose. This law was to prepare the Israelites for their promised land and how to live once they got there.

The God of the Old Testament always seemed so harsh and merciless. Many stories ended with someone or a lot of people being struck dead. On the spot. With little or no explanation. The only way I can reconcile this in my finite mind is to remind myself how stubborn the Israelites were. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, not because they were so far away from their destination geographically, but because their hearts were so distant from the Lord.

This continued to be the case, and God showed his wrath in extreme ways throughout the Old Testament. Donkeys talked to people. Walls crumbled. Armies of thousands collapsed, dead. One has to wonder if these events would have happened if the people had listened to God the first time and wanted to obey him.

The strongest lesson I took from studying the Old Testament is that the Lord knows our hearts. He smote and he blessed according to people’s hearts, but he did it because it was his will to do it. It plays into the big picture, the grand scheme, the eternal plan.

The New Testament offers Christ himself as a character. He is born; he lives in a community, amongst rich and diverse cultures. There is no “type” or foreshadow. He is the symbol, living and breathing. All the journeys, wars, plights, and strict enforcement of the Law of Moses during the previous 5,000 years have come to a climax. Christ, because he can, sets aside the Law of Moses and introduces the Higher Law.

Christ teaches that precisely obeying the hundreds of rules of the Law of Moses does not prove one’s perfection as a person. Christ teaches that if you’ve coveted something of your neighbor’s, you’ve already stolen it. If you’ve lusted after someone, you’ve already committed immorality. He also teaches that while you weren’t specifically commanded to help a mother with her stroller down the stairs to the subway platform, if you don’t offer to help her, you might as well have pushed her down the stairs.

This Higher Law requires a heightened awareness. It involves a bigger spiritual effort. It demands humility to ask for the capacity of heart to become a better person. It not only demonstrates the Lord knowing our hearts, but it necessitates that we have to own up to what’s in them, regardless of whether it leads to perceptible behavior. Life’s start value can and does get harder. How do we execute? The Higher Law really gets down to the type of people we are.

The Higher Law redefines perfection beyond the minutiae of the Law of Moses. We are not ranked against each other, but judged as individuals according to the law, which our hearts have hopefully clung to. We cannot settle for a “Perfect 10” but must continually strive for an elevated score, for improvement, for as close to perfect as we can possibly get, a score we cannot possibly comprehend. Because, if we can progress perfectly – if we can give our best with all our hearts – that might be the ticket to a gold medal.

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