Christian Carelessness

That phrase in the title connotes a lot, doesn’t it? “Christian carelessness” — we experience it every day … and some of us, despite our best intentions, practice it every day.

I ran across the phrase in E. Stephen Burnett’s post, “Christians, Please Stop Warning Against Human Popular Culture Until You Know What It’s For”, in which he addresses “the most well-intended Christian carelessness about” popular culture in whatever form it takes. He writes, for instance,

Why not discuss popular culture—human stories and songs—in terms of human creativity being a gift from God? The way some pastors talk, popular culture is some alien (even if “harmless”) thing unrelated to God. But if God gives this gift (of popular culture-creation), then He, not us [sic], defines the terms of how the gift is best used—to glorify Him, to guard against idolatry, and to make sure we get the most joy out of using the gift in the ways He has prescribed.

Why not explore how Jesus has built the work-rest rhythm into the universe, starting right in Genesis 1? Why not consider how stories and songs are part of being human, whether they’re shared around a campfire or enacted on your tablet screen? Why not allow the possibility that Scripture seems to allow—that we will create cultural works in eternity?

I love that, but I keep coming back in my mind to the idea — and the challenge — of “Christian carelessness” in general.

For people who claim to be Christ’s representatives on Earth (“Christian” means “little Christ,” does it not?), we are often quite careless in how we represent our Lord and Savior, in how we interact with each other and the world around us, in how we think and speak and act. And by “we” I primarily mean “I” am often quite careless.


(Image: “A Careless Word, A Needless Loss.” US World War II propaganda poster, on Wikimedia Commons.)

And beyond that, I come back to another way to think of carelessness: specifically, that of caring less than I should. I am guilty, and I daresay most of us are guilty, of caring less when Christ would have us care more. That’s not to say that we have it in ourselves to solve all the problems we face or to correct all the evils we see in the world, but when we turn away from them or pretend that they don’t exist our “Christian carelessness” condemns us.

Lord, help me — help us — to care more, and to be more careful.

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Being an “Exitpreneur” (New Video)

This might have been little more than an excuse to make up a new word….

How about you? How good are you at abandoning some ideas — especially good ideas — in order to concentrate on others?

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Related Videos:
We Are All Unfinished Products
Looking at Education as a System
Just Doing Our Best

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Monday Morning Insight: Physics and Creativity

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

In one of the strange coincidences that makes our world so interesting, on this date 115 years ago two great but very different innovators — Walt Disney and Werner Heisenberg — were born.

German physicist Heisenberg (5 December 1901 – 1 February 1976) received a Nobel Prize as one of the founders of quantum mechanics, and formulated the principle of uncertainty that bears his name. That principle refers to our inability to know all the complementary states of a particle at the same time; specifically, Heisenberg said that as we determine the position of a particle with higher and higher precision, our knowledge of its momentum loses precision.

The uncertainty principle is a bit different from the “observer effect” in which our efforts to measure something end up affecting the thing we’re measuring — something that’s been noticed in everyday life, as well as in particle physics — but Heisenberg wrote about the observer effect in Physics and Philosophy:

We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

That reminded me of a story I once heard about Walt Disney (5 December 1901 – 15 December 1966), whose creation of Mickey Mouse and all that followed — cartoons, movies, theme parks — has been well-chronicled.

As I heard it from Dr. Howard Hendricks at a National Youthworkers’ Convention many years ago, when Disney was in school his class was given an assignment to draw a picture of flowers. Disney drew his flowers with faces on them, and when the teacher told him that flowers didn’t have faces on them he told his teacher, “Mine do.”

Creativity

Something of an uncertainty principle of creativity? (Image: “Creativity,” by Denise Krebs, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

That story about Disney may be apocryphal — as I heard Russell Ackoff say once, “An apocryphal story is one that may not be true, but ought to be” — but if it’s true it seems to me a great example of Heisenberg’s quote. Disney was not observing nature itself, but his observation of nature was affected by what he brought to it: a sense of playfulness, a degree of whimsy, that could not be extinguished by a teacher’s admonition. To be creative, we have to allow ourselves to play and trust more to our inner vision than to what our senses (or other people) might be telling us.

The paths Heisenberg and Disney took in their lives were quite different — one the path of hard science, one the path of business and entertainment — but both gave us new ways of seeing the world.

And as you look at the world this week, I hope you can see its wonders in exciting new ways — and let yourself play.

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P.S. A reminder: My completely-revised-and-updated edition of Quality Education has been out for almost a week, and so far it’s gone as high as number 13 on Amazon’s list of “Education Policy and Reform” titles. It’s available on Kindle and in Paperback. I’d be pleased if you’d check it out, and share the link with a friend!

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Monday Morning Insight: Failure and Greatness

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

Today is Herman Melville’s birthday (1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891), so let’s unpack a Melville quote:

It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.

Most of us fail at something or other before we find something we do well, and most of us will not achieve “greatness” no matter how often we fail and try again.

And “better” in this case is definitely a value judgment.

Since Melville was a writer let’s examine this quote as it relates to the literary world, where it is plainly possible to “succeed in imitation.” We have plenty of writers who have found great success presenting essentially the same stories as someone else, and no shortage of others who continue to do so in search of their own success. The authors bring something of their own viewpoints and voices to the stories, but the common term is “filing off the serial numbers” to make it a bit less obvious that our fantasy story is essentially a repackaging of Tolkien or Rowling, or our science fiction story is a direct descendent of Heinlein or Bujold or Niven or some other famous author.

It’s not too surprising that this is the case. Authors continue to produce Tolkien-esque fantasy stories because the audience has yet to tire of them. From military science fiction to urban fantasy, space adventure to steampunk, the audience yearns for more — so much that authors who have not been able to break in with publishing companies have found their own fans through self-publishing. And if their fans feel they receive good value for their entertainment dollars, then that’s all that matters; after all, if being original means starving, then succeeding by being imitative isn’t all that bad. (We might even disagree with Melville and say that really is better.)

Yet success is not guaranteed, even when imitating examples of success.

Authors and publishers often do not know what story will resonate with a large audience, but that is especially true when it comes to more original stories — ones that are difficult to categorize into existing genre niches. Some works are so original that they define entire new subgenres, but they still have to be good enough (for whatever the audience considers “good”) beyond just being original in order to attract an audience.

But Melville refers to greatness, and I like to work backward from there. The authors we consider “great,” even if they were not pathfinders of their genres, produced work that hums with originality in some respect: depth of detail that puts us firmly in the setting and the story; emotional power that elicits deep sympathy for the characters; pacing and action that set our hearts to racing; all these and more elevate their work from entertaining to spectacular. Did the authors we consider “great” risk failure, or even endure failure, on the way to creating their monumental stories? I think they did, particularly when those stories were fresh and original compared to other things being produced at the time.

Failure

Are you striving for anything great? (Image: “Failure” by Andrea Small, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

It may be, however, that they were not trying for greatness. Indeed, it may not be wise to strive for greatness when striving for success is hard enough. Greatness will be determined by history, by whether our stories continue to resonate down through time — but that doesn’t help us very much in the here and now.

Here and now, every writer risks failure with every story they start. It seems safe to say that writing a story that lasts, that impacts generations, involves taking more risk than writing a story very much like another. And even when taking only moderate risks some writers will fail more often, or more spectacularly, than others — but that’s true of every human endeavor.

What about you? How have you failed, and what have you learned from your failures? Don’t let it hinder you too much; remember, Melville considered failure the true test of greatness.

Keep striving!

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