Archive for May, 2011

70 is the new 100: the counter-intuitive folly of great expectations

Jim Collins observed that “good is the enemy of great,” launching people, leaders and organizations on a relentless pursuit of greatness.  But has anyone taken the time to properly assess this maxim?  Greatness is, by definition, exceptional, and therefore an exception.  If we all achieved greatness, we’d need to redefine greatness because it would all be so very average.  Without advocating mediocrity, why can’t good be “good enough”?

That’s exactly what Sarah Hampson wonders in today’s Globe and Mail (see her column here).  She writes about how our high expectations to obtain only the best in life actually produce a discontented life.  And she dares to encourage the wisdom of lowered expectations (gasp – isn’t that settling for less?) as a way to know contentment.  See, there’s a strange folly in inflated expectations and the “good to great” ethos – it yields a life of shrunken enjoyment, shriveled gratitude and a teeny capacity to know the good in life.  Why?  Because nothing less than the straight A, perfect game, six-pack abs, designer home, trophy spouse, gold medal, Ivy-league education is good enough; nothing good is ever “good enough.”

Perfection is a nazi task-master.

There are huge spiritual implications in this that I won’t elaborate now (OK maybe a bit – this quest for greatness reveals a deep craving in our culture for a verdict on our lives, for someone or something to say “You are great.  You are worthy.”  And yet the folly is that we end up shipwrecking our lives and relationships trying to attain this verdict, this justification of our lives, because we can never give it to ourselves.  We need someone outside of us to give that approval we so desperately seek).

But there is lovely contrarian wisdom around.  Check out Charles Dickens Great Expectations.  And much earlier than Jim Collins, Voltaire once wrote that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Or how about the grand jester, G.K. Chesterton, who said “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”  These are no justifications for shoddy work or slacker resignation.  Instead, it’s a liberating wisdom that recognizes worthy living is almost always found flawed; goodness is savoured and celebrated in imperfect packages.

And in this century, marriage and family therapist Paddy Ducklow provides more good common, contrarian sense: “I tell my clients [and almost anyone else who will listen] that “70 is my new 100.” I also tell them that perfectionism does not help them do the job better, it only ensures that they will enjoy the success less.”

The lived, practical wisdom that the high-achieving, über-expectation crowd (which is often my own heart) overlooks is this: we’ll never know good, never enjoy a sense of abundance until we have a sense of what is good and what is enough.

I’m making good enough my friend.

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James K.A. Smith on Seeking God’s Face

A few months ago James K.A. Smith (you need that many initials when your last name is Smith), Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, posted on my book at his blog fors clavigera.  There’s a nice symmetry in this because I’m just now reading his important book Desiring The Kingdom.  What I find so lovely is that Smith’s book has articulated so many thoughts that have been stewing in my head, many of which led me to write and compile the prayerbook Seeking God’s Face.

You can check out this thoughts on Seeking God’s Face here.

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Crammed with heaven

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Every now and then life serves up moments brimming with so much glory you can’t help but cry out with Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “Earth’s crammed with heaven.”  Last week was one of those times, a week piled high with goodness on top of grace (and yet there was a shadow of regret that Betty wasn’t there to share it all).

I was sequestered – gladly and gratefully – on Galiano Island, hosted by Loren and Mary-Ruth Wilkinson, all courtesy of Regent College’s Pastoral Science project (and thank you Templeton Foundation). The purpose of the week was to gather pastors together to better explore and understand the interface of science and theology, aiming to build the church’s faith through sound theology and sound science.

The intellectual stimulation, one part of the feast, was hefty and satisfying.  We were invited into the wonderful world of molecular genetics, thought big thoughts on the philosophy of science, entered deeply into the biblical text, and explored ways to further the faith-building integration of God’s two books.

The company was rich and deep.  As one new friend, Richard Dahlstrom, noted, it’s like a I found a family I never knew I had.  This sense of welcome, of being at home, is the way Christian community is meant to function – that wonderful sense of stumbling upon friends amongst complete strangers, all because of the gospel.

The food was ample and delectable, each meal a delight of local (we enjoyed nettles in a delicious spanakopita), organic, home-made fare – my favourite had to be the breakfast pasta (seriously!).  Who knew pasta would make for a superb morning starter.

And, of course, there was the venue, nestled along the BC Coast, picture-perfect weather and teeming with life (if you look closely on the photo below you’ll see the tail of a whale, perhaps a grey whale, just about to disappear under the surf).  Simply savouring and enjoying creation was a vital part of the week and the project itself because, in the end, both science and theology arise from a common experience – the humbled and astonished wonder before the one voice of God spoken through his two books.

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A song for the end of all things

Yet another end of the world prediction about to come and go.  Why don’t these prognosticators read their bibles and listen to Jesus that no one but the Father knows the date.  And so instead of fretfully worrying, do a dance and enjoy this good life.  And what better way that “It’s the end of the world” from Great Big Sea.  Enjoy today, tomorrow and the song.

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On the death of bin Laden

I don’t know about you but I squirmed when I first saw images of Americans celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden.  Something about it was too eerily reminiscent of the Gaza strip Palestinian women dancing and celebrating after the attacks on 9/11.  I thought of writing my reactions but didn’t want to add to all of the sound and fury already out there.  And as with most news events, if you wait a little and by-pass much of the initial bluster, wisdom often shows her face.

Which is what happened this last week when I came across a piece that I think captured the matter so well.  Surprisingly, it’s from a retired military chaplain, Rev. Herman Keizer.  You might expect a U.S. Army Chaplain to baptize all things military – and you’d be dead wrong.  Rev. Keizer has experienced the heat of battle, has lived long within the military machine as a witness to the gospel, and articulates in this Banner article a personally honest, very human, spiritually wise, and gospel saturated response.  Pray for such gospel-rich responses among all Christians, regardless of nation or race.

You can read the article, “Reflections on the death of Osama bin Laden” here.

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Calvin and Hobbes meet science and faith

Instead of the usual Friday photos I’m posting a few Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strips.  On a recent stop in Portland’s Powells Books, I added a few more volumes to my collection.  Calvin and Hobbes is the simply the most brilliant, witty and visually beautiful comic strip published.  Named after the theologian and philosopher, Calvin and Hobbes engages with hilariously astute observations on the human condition, theological/philosophical arguments in micro form, and the capacity to usher you into the wild and wonderful imagination of a child (Forget any of the parenting books on the market, Calvin and Hobbes is my choice for best authority for understanding my son, providing uncannily accurate front-line reports from inside the thinking and imagination a very precocious 6 year old).

Heading off to Regent College’s Pastor Science project, I’ve put a few strips of Calvin and Hobbes connected to science.  There’s a playfulness and humour here that I’m pretty sure has to be part of both the scientific and theological project.  I love the crazy conversations Calvin and his Dad have – as a scientific lay person, his Dad’s explanations work pretty well for me.   My favourite line comes from Calvin in the first strip – “That’s the whole problem with science.  You’ve got a bunch of empiricists trying to describe things of unimaginable wonder.”

Enjoy.

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Resciencing faith/refaithing science

Next week I’m off to Galiano Island (one of the southern Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia) at the invitation of Regent College.  I’ll be a participant in the third cohort of Regent’s three year Pastoral Science program.  The purpose is to engage evangelical Protestant pastors with the world of science, to better integrate sound science with sound theology.  It’s a brilliant project and you can check out the Cosmos website here.

The backdrop for this project is the ongoing cultural conflict between faith and science, the polarized debate that has morphed into an exaggerated warfare model pitting scientific thought against belief in God and the bible.

While I think the conflict is more perceived, the warfare is real with actual casualties.  I’ve talked with too many people who have accepted the “either-or” notion that you cannot hold to a biblically shaped worldview and retain a rational, scientific mind.  I’ve had countless conversations with young adults who have grown up in cocooned Christian environments only to hit university and have the underpinnings of their faith taken out in the first two months on campus.  Just recently I sat down with a young couple, one graduated in biological sciences the other finishing off his university career – their faith either left behind or hanging by slim threads.  Why?  For one thing, their traditional six day creation understanding of the Genesis creation account taken apart and undone by a thorough challenge of evolutionary science (one of many challenges they weren’t prepared for). Even my 8 year old son has already felt the pinch of the issue, wondering about how the facts of science line up with the tenets of faith (we do live in a dinosaur cemetery here in Western Canada, so his imagination runs wild wondering about how dinosaurs fit within the creation story).

I find this tension irritating since the intellectual project that birthed science comes from the instincts and impulses of Christianity – the goodness, wonder, rationality and design of creation, the beauty of human intellect that can know and understand the created world.  These are the founding principles of science rooted in a biblical, Christian worldview.  So where has science lost a sense of humility and where has Christianity traded in its sense of wonder for theological rectitude?

Which makes me very glad to be part of a faith tradition that affirms both the revelatory nature of scripture and creation.  One of our confessions, Belgic Confession art. 2, says that we know God through two means: “First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20 … Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.”

Did you note which comes first?  Creation.  I don’t think we’ve honoured our scientists appropriately as men and women who help us know the majesty and wonder of our world and the Creator God.  And further, this confession tells us that there is no basis for a conflictual relationship between science and faith.  Any conflict between them is an antinomy, a perceived contradiction between the truth of science and the truth of scripture – but not a real one.  If there is a conflict, if truth from one source of revelation seems to contradict or refute something from the other source of revelation, then either our understanding of scripture is flawed and needs adjustment or our understanding of creation is flawed and needs further research and observation.

The Pastor Science project’s tagline is “refaithing science.”  Not bad but at times I think a more appropriate tagline would be “resciencing church,” because all too often branches of the church have been vigilant opponents to scientific discovery and thought (can anyone say Galileo).  I wonder if the Christian faith might regain its place as a warm environment for scientific discovery and thought, a place where scientists are led towards worship because of the sometimes indescribable mysteries they encounter and observe, and for the church to be led deeper into awestruck wonder at the Creator’s handiwork.

So I’m privileged to be part of this Pastor Science Cohort and pray for its good goals, and probably will do more blogging about it.  But I would love to hear your thoughts and stories.  What’s your understanding of the relationship between science and faith?  Does science threaten your faith or faith seem to stymie your curiosity or scientific knowledge?  Where are the pressure points you experience?  How do you understand the two working together?  How might we imagine a collaborative relationship?

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