Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Tyranny of the "Really Important"

Matthew 6:20-30 (New International Version)

20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Do Not Worry

25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life[
28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

This morning I had my feet in two worlds. One was in the world of whimsy, a carefree world. The short post I generated reflected that mood. But the other foot was firmly planted in the cares of this life. I spent a few minutes getting caught up on the news and then walked down to my precinct to cast my vote on the Kansas marriage amendment. When I was done doing my civic duty I walked into town, casting a drive by prayer toward the Gazette offices on Merchant Street as I made my rounds. “Lord, it sure would be nice if you can get Patrick Kelley and the crew to tilt a little bit less to the left and more to the middle.” I prayed, as I made my way to Commercial Street, wondering while I was exercising my faith if there weren’t prayers emanating from inside the catacombs of our daily rag as I did. “Oh,Lord, it sure would be nice if you could get Phil Dillon and his crew to tilt a little but less to the right and more to the middle.” I chuckled a bit as I surveyed the Courthouse and turned to go south on Commercial. “Maybe someday we’ll all meet in the middle.”

I got home at about 9:00 AM and saw that Nancy was in a very reflective mood. “You okay?” I asked. Her response told me that something really important was going on. “Yeah,” she said in a low voice. The deadpan said that things were encroaching on her. I went upstairs for a few minutes and then came back down to see if there was anything I could do to help her. She was just finishing up her breakfast and I sat quietly for a minute or two, waiting for her to express what she was feeling. It took a few more minutes, but the feelings finally came. “I think I’m just mentally worn down. I need to get away and just do nothing. Right now it seems that so many important things need to be done and I just want to get away from important things.” She punctuated all of this with one last string of words on the subject. “I’m really mentally worn down.” As I listened I began to understand. “I’ve got my inner space to crawl into when things try to drown out the things that really matter to me,” I suggested. “But you don’t have the ability to zone out like I do. I mean, I can be in the middle of a sea of humanity and I can tune out if I really want to. I’m not sure you can do that. It’s almost as if you need the outer world, a seed to plant, a flower to touch, to express your deepest feelings through.” She looked at me and acknowledged that I was probably right. We then capped our conversation off with a cup of tea, sitting quietly on the back porch, watching the birds feed in the back yard.

In a few weeks we’re going to be taking some time off and go on vacation, no blogging, no newscasts to watch, no votes to take, no responsibilities, no important things to do. We’re just going to get away.

It seems to me that the “really important” things in life can often exercise a tyrannical grip on us. I recall a conversation I had with a FedEx customer many years ago now that illustrates that point. I was a customer service agent in Kansas City. My days were generally filled with the mundane, one call after another requesting a package pickup. The script became familiar, boring. “What time will the package be ready?” “How much does it weigh?” “Thanks for choosing FedEx!” Occasionally, though, something “really important” would break through the humdrum of my days. The call started innocently enough. My expectations, after months of sameness, had been conditioned for the ordinary, but this call was different. “I think you lost a really important package,” a young female voice blurted out as soon as I had introduced myself. “You’ve got to find it.” I started to work my way through the problem and saw that it was going to take more than a few second to resolve; it was going to take some further investigation. I explained that to her and got her urgent message once more. “This package needs to be found at all costs. This is something that’s part of one of the most important events that will happen in this century.”

“Desperation sometimes brings on a severe case of hyperbole,” I thought to myself as I sifted bits and pieces of information on the monitor in front of me. “There have been a lot of really important things that have happened in this century…..two world wars, a world-wide economic depression, a cure for polio, a manned landing on the moon, famines and earthquakes in diverse places, political philosophies have risen and fallen.” I tried to sort through where in history all of this would fit if I found this package. It didn’t take long at all. Somehow, after careening through all the mountains of information available, I found the “object” that was so crucial to the fate of civilization. For some reason it had missed the flight out of its origin city. I told the young woman that I had found her package and that I was going to make arrangements to have it moved right away, to be delivered the same day. As I was making the arrangements I asked her for some information about the package. “Contents?” I asked. Her response underscored her certain knowledge of the importance of what I’d found. “It’s a pre-release of Steven Spielberg’s new film “The Empire of the Sun,” she announced proudly.

That urgent phone call taught me a very valuable lesson. What’s really true and what’s really important is this - the tyranny of the “really important” can wreak havoc on us.

Years after that monumental phone call Nancy and I were vacationing along the Connecticut shore, a bed and breakfast facing the Atlantic. One morning, as we sat quietly, I noticed something and announced my findings to Nancy. “You know what, Coach? These gulls and shore birds don’t seem too worried about whether or not the wheels of American commerce are spinning madly around them. There are enough morsels sitting around the sand to keep them happy for today.” Nancy just sat quietly and smiled, letting my revelation sink in. “They don’t seem too concerned, do they? They’re not the least bit worried about whether the package is delivered at 10:30 or 10:31.” It was a fitting crown to the conversation.

After our back porch tea this morning I finished reading Hugh Hewitt’s “Blog.” I ordered it a week or so ago on line and got it delivered by FedEx a day later. I can’t tell you whether or not it was delivered at 10:30 or 10:31. I must have been doing something else at the time the courier left it under the mailbox.

The book is all about the emerging importance of blogs, about the fall of Dan Rather, Jayson Blair, and other mainstream media scoundrels, and the critical role bloggers played in making it all happen. Important stuff, no doubt. But I couldn’t help but wonder if we bloggers, particularly the “really important” ones who have gained traction and audience share, haven’t gotten caught up in the same tyranny that blogs exposed in the first place. I hear it all the time. “You’ve got to read this one.” “This one’s a must if you’re going to understand the world.” “It’s all about gaining an audience.”

There was one section of the book that was of great interest to me, about faithbloggers. In the section Hewitt recounted the story of a woman of faith who seemed to be more interested in feelings than looking at Biblical truth, a person who needed gentle correction from someone Biblically literate, a faithblogger as it turned out. Orthodoxy and good theology are really important, for sure.

Hewitt described the needy woman and the masses she represented, by extension, this way:

“Claire probably has a blog. So do many other well-meaning Christians with lousy theology. So do many cultists, and so do many ardent atheists.”

And how do we tell who among the bloggers has the best theology? How do we tell who does and who does not have “lousy theology.” I think Hugh Hewitt would disagree, but beyond the orthodoxy and excellence I think it’s all about market share. That’s what’s becoming “really important.”

Hewitt, at one point, does inject a divergent view; I think to spice up the book with a bit of diversity. It’s from someone the author views as coming from the old media. It’s a left leaning blogger named Billmon who has decided to bail out of the revolutionary new medium:

“When I recently decided to take a long break from blogging, it was for a mix of personal and philosophical reasons. But the direction the blogosphere is going makes me wonder whether I’ll ever go back. Even as it collectively achieves celebrity status for its anti-establishment views, blogging is already being domesticated by its success. What began as a spontaneous eruption of populist creativity is on the verge of being absorbed by the media-industrial complex it claims to despise. In the process, a charmed circle of bloggers – those glib enough and ideologically safe enough to fit within the conventional media punditocracy – is gaining larger audiences and greater influence.”

I think that Billmon may be at least half right. I’m not sure that the circle is charmed, but influence measured by audience share is where this is all heading. He’s right about that.

It’s the tyranny of “really important” things that so often gets us into trouble. We want market share; we want notoriety; we need a big audience to validate our importance. I wonder now as I close whether, in the face of this revolution, the thing God may be looking for in us is the attitude of those gulls and shore birds I mentioned earlier. They don’t seem to be movers and shakers; they don’t spend their days caught up in the tyranny of “really important” things. All they do is live their lives off of God’s good graces. It’s a wise philosophy for a bird, and judging from the words in the Sermon on the Mount, it’s a wise philosophy for people and bloggers as well.

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