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I have a friend who told me he read book reviews instead of books because it was more important to know about a new book than to have read it. He called it “fake smart”. It’s a good phrase. I do the same. I don’t want to be caught not having at least some knowledge about the latest book so I snack on the reviews and, unfortunately, lose my appetite for reading.
I was at a conference a couple of years ago and realized we were doing the same thing with speakers. We were “speed dating” with content. We were curious about what they had to say but not really interested. At home we have a bird house outside our kitchen window and I was watching the mother swallow her food and then belch it up into the babies beaks. They do that because the enzyme mechanism is not fully developed in the babies and they don’t yet have the bacteria that allows them to break food down themselves. It felt similar. The speaker was chewing it up for us because we didn’t have the enzymes needed.
It feels like ideas have become entertainment instead of an opportunity to think and respond.
Today I read an interview with Eugene Peterson by Owen Strachan that once more emphasized the importance of words, thought and discipline. “Good writing does not come easy; it takes a lot of discipline, a lot of self-criticism. A lot of people in my position want to know how to write, and after talking to them for a while I realize, "You don't want to write, you want to get published; you're not willing to go through the disciplines…” That’s the heart of it, I think.
We have slow cooking and slow church movements. Maybe I need to work on a slow conference for The Gathering.Comments
David Brooks is so right about so many things - and his opinion piece last week on the "wonderful young people who are doing good" (Link) is on the mark as well. His conclusion that their idealism is ultimately not enough because it does not address the harsh realities of politics, systems, corruption and the extent of "disorder" in those very places they are working is accurate. Their ambivalence about the place of rough political process and their preference for cleaner and more virtuous nonprofit solutions will at some point bump up against the evils of the world. The complexities, trade-offs and deals that are inevitable will rear up in time and the question is how they will face those when they come.
I also wonder how they will deal with disillusionment, easy cynicism and finding a smoother path for personal fulfillment. Some will fade away. Some will accommodate themselves to the common wisdom of "doing what it takes" and others will themselves be corrupted and "lose their souls" in the process. I don't think there is any way to predict that just yet.
All this is relatively new for a movement that for so long was focused on evangelism and uncomfortable - even distrustful of - the social side of the gospel. Yes, there were a few heroes that are now being honored instead of marginalized - Dorothy Day, Ron Sider, Tony Campolo and others. There are even some who are working on a credible theology that will support this new way and give it the energy and urgency that worked so well for a dispensational view of history and the eschatology that drove the growth of the parachurch movement of the last century.
Still, given the nature of movements and trends there will be many who will move on or drop out.
At the same time, I think part of the popularity of Eric Metaxas' book "Bonhoeffer" can be chalked up to this same generation's search not just for courage in the face of overwhelming evil but the tenacity to wrestle with the tangible and complicated evil of systems - political, economic and, yes, religious. I think there will be a few who will accept the responsibility and discomfort of being fully in the world. Bonhoeffer wrote, "God wants to see human beings, not ghosts who shun the world. In the whole of world history there is always only one significant hour - the present...If you want to find eternity, you must serve the times." There will be those few who do not persist in their disdain for politics and will face the facts Brooks writes about so well: "In short, there's only so much good you can do unless you are willing to confront corruption, venality and disorder head-on."
Let me close this with this from Bonhoeffer because I believe he more than most understood this conundrum. "Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God - the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God."Comments
I pray none of my college teachers read this. I went to school in a time that valued citations and footnotes – not so much original thought. I learned this the hard way but over time figured out how to game the system. Here’s the part I hope they don’t read. If I had something to say for which I did not have another source, I would make up a source and create a footnote. I knew the professor was far more likely to give credence to a “published” source than a student. I also knew the teaching assistant was not likely to check the source. I was very creative at inventing authorities. Sort of a reverse plagiarism.
I’ve been following hashtags from a few conferences and am interested in the ideas that have currency with participants. Now and then I read something and recognize it as having been said by another speaker years ago or a modified version of a whole passage from an author long dead. Of course, some authors or speakers are so connected to particular expressions that it would be impossible to separate them. For instance, imagine using “Ask not what your country can do for you” without attributing it to John F. Kennedy or attempting to make it your own. While you could not get away with that you could rephrase G.K. Chesterton, Ovid or George MacDonald and feel certain very few people would know.
I think I am seeing a reversal of what I experienced in college. Audiences want to believe the speaker is the original source and, to quote St. Matthew, “he taught as one who had authority and not as their scribes.” My professors wanted scribes and this generation wants authorities. They do not value quotes and footnotes as much as they do someone speaking with the authority of an insight or new idea – even if it is a paraphrase. We had to prove our sources and the speakers today are encouraged to be the source. Some speakers I have heard actually improve the original and make it even more memorable.
Of course, there is an obvious downside to this. It can be dishonest or become outright theft. It is one step beyond doing a “cover album” or reinterpreting an artist. Still, I know these participants are scribbling and texting these ideas as if they have been spoken for the very first time and, more important, perhaps they are listening in a way they would not to the original.Comments
I love Jackson Browne's music, and yet there are times when I don't want to hear one more song about how hard life on the road is for rock stars.
Yes, it's lonely. And yes, it's a grind. And yes, home is so much better. But, really, how bad can it be?
Rock stars enjoy a great lifestyle with loads of recognition and adoration - and not a bad annual income. Believe it or not, it's sometimes the same with people in our business. We could probably write some hits about the stress of reading grants, the isolation you feel, and the constant pressure to make grants that change the world, although I don't see anyone going on the road with that just yet.
It's that last phrase about the pressure to change the world that works on me the most some days. Today is that way. Twenty years ago we would receive requests for donations that were going to save the world before the end of the century. Today, the world is not going to be saved. It is going to be changed. It is going to be fixed.
Every new organization says it is going to be the one to make a huge difference and address a problem that has plagued the world for centuries. I'm not being cynical, and I'm not advocating for fatalism or being passive in the face of tragedy, injustice and the effects of a fallen world.
I suppose I am saying this to all the wonderful, enthusiastic, highly motivated and infectious ministry entrepreneurs I meet. Just show me how you are going to give everything you have to help others the next 10 years - even if you don't change the world.Comments
I've been re-reading a couple of books (Generations: The History of America’s Future, for one) by William Strauss and Neil Howe as a result of seeing several posts on Facebook about the uneasy relationship between Millennials, religion and politics. This book was published in 1991 and because I was born in 1946 I especially like the sections on the relationship between Boomers and Millennials. The description of Boomers as they age is not flattering. The authors see us as tending toward people who will “grow increasingly pompous, intolerant, uncompromising, snoopy, and exacting of others.” Not only that but we will likely be “an ascetic elder glowering down from Sinai, looking upon himself as a critical link in human civilization, without whose guidance the young might sink into Philistinism.” Of course, an even worse scenario would be like that described in the Old Testament when two aging generals – Abner and Joab – decided to have a number of their young soldiers fight each other to the death for sport. Hopefully, we will find another way to engage this generation.
It’s even likely we would have some redemptive qualities in that a segment of Boomers will find it in themselves to become discerning and helpful wisdom figures who are secure enough to play the role of a “repository of culture, the reminder of stable, deeply rooted values and…to age elegantly.” I bring this up because I see more and more aging Boomers interested in the work of organizations like Praxis, Echoing Green, Ashoka and other organizations helping to support and accelerate the missions of “social entrepreneurs” who are themselves heavily drawn from the Millennial generation.
In a real sense, they are our investment in accomplishing what we see as our unfinished work as radicals of another era. "Elderly Boomers will see in this generation (Millennials) an effective instrument for saving the world. Having themselves screamed against duty and discipline when young, Boomers will now demand duty and discipline from post adolescents. They will get both. In return, old Boomers will shower youthful heroes and heroines with praise and reward. Inevitably, rising Millennials will start feeling the intoxication of hubris. They will resist elders - Boomers included - whom they perceive as unwilling to relinquish private and material privilege...and will rise up against whomever they perceive to be enemies of community solidarity and public action...Assuming the crisis turns out well, Millennials will be forever honored as a generation of civic achievers."
I would encourage the Millennials to take advantage of the desire of aging Boomers to support their initiatives and projects – even if our motives are more than a bit self-serving. There are many Boomer donors who would love to find a way to be engaged with the exciting work of these Millennial entrepreneurs.Comments