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A Culture of Mediocrity

I just went through a major disillusionment. It wasn’t a fun experience. I mean, I was happy in my delusions. Lately, I’ve been reading some of the comments on fan fics, which is something I don’t usually do. It’s not pretty. I sorta feel like I’m watching one of those train wreck situations where somebody hears somebody else sing and tells them they have such a great voice that they should quit their day job and become a singer, despite the fact that they couldn’t carry a tune if they had a wide-mouth twenty-gallon bucket. I mean, I know that with fan fiction it’s definitely a case of “reader beware”–sometimes you get some really great authors and sometimes you get people that can’t write their way out of a paper bag–but I guess I thought that the average person could recognize which was which. I read a truly dreadful fic this week. The plot was okay. It could have been really good. But the writing was seriously lackluster, and because I’ve been editing lately, some of the major writing flaws stood out to me–and I do mean flaws as in agreed upon mistakes that would preclude the story from getting published vs. just personal preferences.

Guess what! In the comments people a) talked about how amazing the story was (including the writing), but b) actually singled out the very flaws I had found and held them up as being good writing. It was so sad–both for author and for me. Like finding out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

Now, why exactly am I ranting about this? First of all because I just needed to rant. Loving stories and literature the way I do, it hurts to see mediocrity held up as above average. Just as we’re seeing the dumbing down of school children and language itself, I feel like, between self-publishing and the internet, I’m watching good writing slowly slide its way into obscurity. This is not to say that there aren’t good authors who are self-published or that there aren’t good fan fics–because there are. It’s just frustrating to have to wade through so much poorly written literature.

Second of all, I’ve been thinking about this whole idea of celebrating mediocrity. Fan fiction communities seem to tend that direction (unless they just happen to have a bunch of really awesome writers–then they pull the standards up). In my experience, a lot of fan fiction readers read fan fiction exclusively, so they’re not exposed to good writing. Thus you end up with a situation where everyone’s grading on a curve, and the best student in the class is getting C’s.

So part of that standard of mediocrity comes from a poor sample size. But my husband and I were talking last night and he brought up a good point–part of it comes from not wanting to engage in the conflict of telling someone their writing needs serious help and part of it comes from authors reviewing other authors and all wanting to hear nice things about their own work–there’s a sort of quid pro quo that goes on.

Unfortunately, I think we have a lot of the same things going on in the church. Check out this verse that came up in my Bible study this week: 2 Thess 3: 14-15 “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (NIV)

I got to attend a church event this month for the first time in a long time. It’s a monthly ladies’ fellowship/Bible talk night, and the women’s ministry team has decided to use it to talk about friendship. The leader went through a run down of what we as women look for in friendships and it was full of things like love and patience and kindness, but sadly there was no mention of someone to give you a good kick in the pants when you need it. That doesn’t mean it won’t come up, but it wasn’t mentioned. I don’t know about you, but I crave people who tell me when I’m being dumb because I’d rather have a friend tell me I’m being dumb than continue being dumb for who knows how much longer.

Paul specifically tells us not to let junk slide, but we all do. Really, when was the last time you ever had anyone come up to you and say “I love you, but you need help”–preferably before things got dire. When was the last time you let someone know you well enough to know when you needed help?  Note: he’s talking to believers here, so we’re not even talking about critiquing people who are not believers–just take that off the table.

I also love the balance that Paul talks about–we don’t let stuff slide, but we don’t regard the person who needs help as the enemy; we warn him as a brother. I think part of our unwillingness to address issues in the Church comes from a misconception that if we call someone out, we are treating them as the enemy and we become the bad guy. I know I definitely don’t want to comment on poor fan fics and tell them they really need to work on their writing after everyone else has given glowing comments. I feel like the bad guy. But really, if you care about someone, you don’t want to see them continue to make mistakes that could cost them in the long run.

And just like in fan fiction, our community of believers can become ingrown. For example, my husband and I don’t even listen to contemporary Christian music anymore because we believe it celebrates mediocrity. When you look at great music and literature and art in the classics, so much of it was done by Christians because they believed excellence was part of God’s character. I’m not saying that there are no great CCM artists–I’m saying they’re the exception rather than the rule. We’ve created a whole genre of music full of mediocre music and mediocre lyrics. Christian fiction is often the same way as well.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to contribute to a culture of mediocrity. I want to be, as Paul says, a Child of the Day (1 Thess 5:5)–a shining star (Phil 2:12)–that both showcases God’s excellence in everything He does and encourages others to work for that same excellence. I firmly believe that Christians should strive for excellence in all we do because that reflects who God is–not that we don’t make mistakes, or that we don’t go through the learning process, or do things that we suck at simply because we love them (e.g., me drawing stick figures with my kids because I cannot draw to save my life), or on the other end of the spectrum that we fall into the trap of perfectionism, but that we really work for and celebrate excellence. Christians used to be the foremost scientists and artists and musicians and writers and doctors, etc., etc. The whole Protestant work ethic revolved around the idea that God has put each of us where we’re at–whether you work in a  fast food restaurant or you’re a stay at home mom or the president of a large corporation–and so faithfulness in our jobs is eternally significant.

No matter what you’re doing today, you can strive for excellence.

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Loving the Truth

This morning when I was doing my Bible study, this verse jumped out at me: 2 Thess 2: 10b They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (NIV)

Now, obviously, if you read 2 Thessalonians this passage is talking about people who reject God, however, I think there’s a principle there that you see applied to believers throughout Scripture: loving the truth saves us from more than just hell. It’s like that passage where Paul talks about how a little yeast spreads throughout the whole dough (Gal 5:7-13). I have that marked in my journal along with a note about how the lies I believe can affect more than just the areas they seem to be related to.

It’s so easy to believe lies. Lies the culture tells us. Lies the people in our lives tell us. Lies our pasts tell us. Lies we tell ourselves. And lies lead us into dangerous situations, places we don’t want to end up. It was so crazy: last week I was shelving our Bible study books, and I came across this study I did a few years ago on moderation by Dee Brestin. It was a good study, but the reason I chose that particular study was because I felt out of control in my eating habits. Looking back though, I can see that I felt so out of control because I had been dieting for so long that my body was literally starving. So the healthy solution was to eat more, rather than eat less. But because I believed various lies, I thought my hunger showed a lack of self-control. Lies can get us crazy places.

The story I’m currently working on is about two realities that intersect and a character that’s stuck travelling between the two. It’s actually coming out of a recurring nightmare that I’ve had for over a decade. In my dream, I’m shifting realities, and I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not–sort of Thirteenth Floor-ish if you’ve seen that movie.

I hate situations where I have no clue who or what to believe. It’s actually why if you were to ask my what my favorite attribute of God’s is, I would answer His transcendence. I can’t tell you what a comfort it is to me that God has a third-person perspective on reality and can tell me what is actually true.

Anyway! Getting back to loving the truth. I think there’s something there. It’s more than just accepting the truth or tolerating the truth. Loving the truth seems to involve actually spending time with it–pursuing and hanging onto it. I was reminded of that old sermon illustration about banks and how they train tellers to tell the difference between real money and counterfeit money–not by having them study counterfeits, but by having them study real money. If I really love the truth and know it in every fibre of my being… if I revel in it to where it’s deep in the essence of who I am, I’m not going to accept lies.

But there’s also something there about wanting the truth too. I think this is the hardest thing for me. There are lies I believe because I want to believe them, because the truth is so hard and so painful that the lie seems preferable. Anybody else have that problem? But I’ve learned that avoiding those truths is actually sacrificing the future for the sake of false-comfort in the present.

One way I’ve been trying to put this into practice in my life (which I may or may not have already shared here) is to use my journal. I’ve kept a journal since junior high. The past several years it’s gradually evolved into a place where I write the things I’m learning–whatever God showed me in my Bible study, things that hit me from sermons I’ve heard, books that I’ve read, random events God uses as object lessons, etc., etc. Anyway! Writing it down has helped me remember things quite a bit, but last Fall I started starring important entries and then reading back through those entries almost every day. It really grounds me in what’s true, in who I am and who I want to be.

It’s clear from this verse that we have a choice whether or not we love the truth. May God show us the lies we’re believing and help us to choose to love the truth.