The Good is the Enemy of the Great

Gift cardsSomebody (smarter than me) said, “The Good is the enemy of the Great.”

When we use our time, resources and energy on the fair-to-middling, by definition, we have stopped short of greatness.  When we settle for this, sometimes it’s worse than if we’d failed.  Because if we did so poorly that we’re motivated to try again, we might end up doing better than mediocre.

At this point, you’re maybe thinking two things.

#1)) What the crap does this have to do with your past 2 posts?  You mediocre blogger, Jeff, you have yet again promised a whole series of blogs and gotten bored half way through.

#2) Why in the world would you be babbling on about this Christmas morning.

Actually, I have a couple pretty good answers.  This actually does relate to the next principle I I’m contemplating on reclaiming Christmas.

Principle #6) On Christmas, we squander so many types of resources on the mediocre, that we have nothing left for the excellent.

And on Christmas, their are many excellent things we ought to spend our resources on.  The ideals beneath the day are magnificent.

Consider the idea of gift-giving.  If we did this right, it could be divine.  Gifts should be freely given.  They should come from somewhere deep within us.  There should be joy in the creation of them.  They should represent something of the giver, and perhaps potray something about the reciever, as well.

If someone else made the gift, we can hope that it bolsters the local economy.  That creates middle-income job, carries the flavor of the local area, and does not carry the burden of having added to our environmental problems by having been shipped from far away, and merchandised and wasteful packaging.

What do we do?  We purchase mass-produced items.  The cheapest and most mass-produced of these are bought on the blood and sweat or exploited workers (generally in 3rd world countries) and carry a carbon footprint that we ought to be ashamed of.  As if the packaging were not bad enough, we purchase beautiful papers for the expressed purpose of tearing the paper off and throwing it away.

Gift-giving is not bad inherently.  In fact it could be great.  But they way we execute it, is at best, mediocre.

We go about with a sense of duty: who will we buy presents for?  How much money should we spend on them?  The very process of putting such a price tag on our relationships is dehumanizing.  And the act of facing humanity at it’s worst, our in this fierce competetion for what we’ve been told are the most valuable presents… what a travesty.

Don’t ge wrong.  I like stuff.  Somebody spending some money on me is a legitimate way to sometimes express their love for me.  And ditto me for them.

But I think the reason that we buy generic, mass produced items is that it is safe.  When something comes from our own imagination, when it comes from our own hands, when it expresses that we’ve spent time and energy of our own in creation, we are risking ourselves.

The act of putting something of ourselves in what we give is geat… but it is also scary.  A rejection of the gift, a failure to achieve the right kind-of thank you and response from the recipient, becomes a rejection of ourselves.

It is no wonder that we are sorely tempted to purchase something.  A rejection of a bought gift is just a rejection of something not really connected to the giver at all.  It is sad, though, that we give in to this temptation, that we don’t man (and women) up, and take a risk.

We’re preporgrammed to think about how long this will take, and how hard it will be.  These are much less legitimate than the scariness of giving of ourselves.  Consider the time and expense we go to, running from store to store, fighting the crowds, waiting in line, dealing with finding items, dealing with out of stock items.   Some one might say, “But I can get half my stuff at store X”; I would respond that if we turn this same sort of resourcefulness inward, we might knock out half our stuff by creating several similiar things.

I suppose that somebody might say “I can’t make stuff.  I can’t think of creative stuff.”   To them I would say “What about a promise of a going out for coffee or beer or whatever it is you do with your friends.” 

Getting stuff is good.  But shared experiences are great.

And what about these holiday experiences?  The endless parade or parties, meals, and celebrations?

Don’t they all start to blur into one?  Why do we find it so necessary to make an appearance at all of them, if we’re going to be so run down and overwhelmed that they just run together in our minds anyway?

I think a lot of that is about our fears around offending the person who invites us.  And also the flattery at being invited.  There is a sort-of status in having a hundred different comitments through the holidays.  But most of all, I think we are terribly afraid of slowing down.

Showing up to everything we are invited to is good.  But picking and choosing deliberately would be great.  Always running in fourth gear is good (kind-of).  Being able to shift gears, and sometiems be in first gear and other times be in neutral, that would be great.

We’re halfway through a list of (hopefully) 12 principles around reclaiming the holidays.  Why don’t you chime in, and offer some in other principles in the comments below?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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