Thoughts on what leads to our own mediocrity

Reading bad scholarship from Christians is infuriating. I guess it’s like listening to bad music. I have a lot of practice tuning that out and turning it off though. Forcing myself to read something with bad argumentation is just painful. Agony! Why are we so stupid AND so self-congratulatory at the same time? The book I was thinking of was covered with gushing blurbs and a couple “action” shots of the author in some public debate. The book is OK, but it’s not great. How come we have to be so mediocre? (People have been asking this about Christian pop music for some time now.)

Someone said that an evangelical can be defined as someone who says to a liberal, “I’ll call you a Christian if you’ll call me a scholar.”

What causes this sort of thing I wonder?

When our received feedback is to be hailed and congratulated in our own cultural ghetto, then we begin to believe our own immature position is sufficient and we have little to no need of refinement or growth. “Growth” is redefined as simply the achievement of a larger stage from which to shout the same thing we are already shouting now rather than always thinking about how we could be saying it better, smarter and wiser. This is why youthful success is so dangerous. We are highly susceptible to thinking that our foundations are established and we can now turn to cultivating our ambition for influence. In fact, we need to be learning something new EVERY day and continue to exercise our fundamentals.

Good musicians know this. A professional in an orchestra will spend half her practice time on scales. A high school student will likely spend the entire time on the piece itself, top to bottom. The former will define success as playing a passage with very accurate pitch and smooth bowing. The latter will satisfy herself with simply getting through the piece without getting lost. This is all well and natural. The problem is if the young student is rewarded and showered with praise for her modest springtime accomplishment. What is the next step she may ask? Spread my (already existing) awesomeness to a larger audience! Let’s take this show on the road! No no no no no. Have a show for sure, but keep it at the proper level. Then make yourself aware of what it COULD sound like by listening to older and wiser people play it. Then go back and work on the tricky spots and wood-shed the bowing in the fugue and hammer scales so the position shifts in the second movement always land in the right spot. Later you may, like the professional, have the opportunity to move up a notch. And when you are up there, you keep doing the same things that got you there – working patiently and steadily on the slow hard things.

The chief problem with celebrity pastors comes when they get surrounded by yes men at a young age. Seriously, men can’t HANDLE being surrounded by yes men until they are at least 40. Even then the praisers are dangerous, but at least could be mitigated by a wise and self-reflective leader. At 26? Terrible! You see this in the gossip columns with young Hollywood actors. The former teen sensations usually have by far the worst time adjusting to an adulthood that isn’t all roses – even if they retain their popularity and financial success (many do not). The actors that seem to have the most stable lives are the ones who worked their way up playing modest roles in television or on stage and finally were noticed as having a lot of chops. So now at 40 when everyone is fawning over them on the red carpet, they don’t lose their head after the award show and drive around town drunk (Lindsey Lohan), run around downtown with no clothes on (Britney Spears), sleep with their director (Kristen Stewart). Geesh, how come I can only come up with actresses? Guys do this stuff all the time too. Apparently they just get away with it more often. Or maybe it doesn’t get reported on as often? Unknown.

Now I’m not saying these guys don’t grow up or get better. Often they are very talented and have plenty of potential to increase in knowledge and leadership skill. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they just stay 26, but now at 50 they are in charge of a million-dollar organization and have a platform from which to pontificate about national politics. That’s bad. We need really wise people doing that, not talented 26 year-olds disguised as wise old men.

At the end of the day though, who am I criticizing? Most of the fingers are pointing back at myself. Going back to the two violin players, I have to honestly say that I never learned how to practice. Sure, I got it in my head. I’ve woodshedded (nice verb) enough things to know I CAN do it, but the WILL do it is truly uncommon. Mostly I just wing it on whatever skills I developed in junior high singing along with a lot of pop radio. That will get you somewhere, but if you want to go farther you have to put your nose to the grindstone and that I have been largely unwilling to do. Not just in practicing music, but in EVERYTHING. Relationships, parenting, work, learning, writing, car maintenance. You name it. Slowly I am learning. I don’t know if I can say each year is “better”. It doesn’t feel better, it feels awful. But I think it feels a little more normal. I still continue to let others down – my wife, my kids, sometimes my friends, etc. Ugg. It’s a good thing God hasn’t allowed me to become surrounded by yes men -what a walking disaster I would be. Still, I could sure use someone who believed in me regardless.