Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Change: my role, your role — some thoughts

Disclaimer 1: I'm going to allude to the Reformation. I am doing so only because it is one of the clearest instances of needed and effected change in history. I am not even hinting that any of the specifics I have in mind are that momentous. Important in my judgment, yes, or I'd not care about them. But not of that stature.

Disclaimer 2: if you read this and still disagree with me, as far as I'm concerned, we're still friends. It is not a requirement that all my friends agree with me about everything. But I'd sure be grateful if, assuming you start reading from a position of disagreement, you stop and re-think (wait for it) carefully. Then feel free to disagree.

Disclaimer 3: the specifics I mention range in breadth of impact from not-much to much. They're also illustrative.

Disclaimer 4: the proper tone in which to read this is "chatting." Seriously. Thinking aloud. A little frustrated, but far from angry.

More than once and about more than one subject I've felt was important, good folks have told me to drop it. Stop complaining. Stop talking about it. Move on.

Fair enough. You can have that opinion. May I analyze it? Sweet.
  1. Is what I'm complaining about not real, and that is why you think I should drop it? Am I just wrong? God knows, it happens. But obviously, at this point, I do not see it that way. So you will explain to me why there is really no problem, really nothing to worry about, it's all in my head. Then I can relax and move on to other things.
  2. Is what I'm complaining about real, but you think I should stop talking about it? Well then, given that I am concerned, you'll have to allow me to ask you some questions.
  • Do you think I should stop because you are going to take it from here? That is, are you going to start commenting on blogs, pointing to the things I've been trying to point to? Are you going to write emails, asking why the concerns I keep raising are not being addressed, and explaining (politely) why they should be addressed? Shall I let it go, because you're taking the baton from me and running with it? Show me the evidence of that, and it would be very persuasive. I would probably be delighted to let it go, knowing that others are engaged and taking up the issue and approaching it from their five hundred angles rather than my just-one.
  • Do you think I should stop because, while it is a real concern, you just don't want to hear about it because it irritates you? Well then, I'm sorry. You'll have to remember that you read me in part because I'm not you, since you already know what you think. You read me (presumably) because there's something about how I see things that is helpful and/or amusing to you. You'll have to remember that your right to demand changes in this free service is limited. You'll have to understand that it probably is unrealistic to expect anyone to be right all the time except God, and allow that while it may very well be I who am wrong, it equally may be you. You'll have to ask yourself: if you have the right not to care about what I care about, do I have the same right to care about it? And having expressed your opinion, can you let it go?
Of those two bullet-points, so far the first has never happened.

For instance, just weeks after The World-Tilting Gospel came out, a good and faithful reader emailed me saying he hoped I'd just quit with all this self-promotion! (Poor soul; I'd barely gotten started, so the ensuing weeks and months must have been tough for him.)

Think it through, if you will. I'd spent months and months distilling years and years of study and reflection and preaching and evangelism and care for the church and the lost into coming up with an idea, finding a publisher, and pouring blood, sweat and tears into this manuscript. It had finally seen the light of day.

And now I was supposed to shut the heck up about it, already! Just drop it, willya?

I didn't know how to respond, so, as usual in such cases, I didn't. The only response I could think of was, "Kregel and I will be delighted to hear your superior marketing plan. I'm sure I can speak for them that anyone who has a better idea that he will own and pursue to get the word out about this book is welcome to do so. Then we can both go on to other things!" But that could only have sounded snarky, so I forbore.

Reflect further with me.

This good brother — and really, good brother; I'm not just mouthing that — didn't say "It's a really bad book. God help me, I bought it and I read it, and now I would give anything to have that part of my life back. If I could gouge out my eyes, if I could fry that part of my brain, I would. Best we can hope for is a quick and merciful death to the wretched thing, that you will never ever publish again, and that the world will forget or at least forgive you for writing it." Such an email wouldn't have been happy reading for me, of course, but it would have at least made sense.

This good brother also didn't say, "It's a really good book. I can't for the life of me imagine why other people aren't shouting about it, since they've been begging for books just like this for years. So here's what I have done: I have written Big Name A, Big Name B, Big Name C, and Big Name D, telling them what a terrific book it is and asking them to read it and spread the word. And when I see TWTG-related topics come up on big name blogs, I quote a snip of TWTG and encourage people to read it. I also encourage the blog-owner to read and review it. So thanks for the book, and I'm doing what I can to help you get the word out." Nothing like that. The good brother didn't even say if he'd bought the book or would ever buy it. He just wanted me to shut up about it and get back to providing free product with no strings attached and no investment required.

But it wasn't the last such word about that or similar things. ER2 has brought it up again. These complaints virtually always have these characteristics:
  1. The writer doesn't challenge whether I'm seeing it right (one even said "It doesn't matter if you're right").
  2. The writer doesn't himself/herself document anything he or she has already done or is now committing to do to address or remedy the problem.
  3. The writer finds himself/herself bored/annoyed/peeved with my bringing it up again and again, so that means I should stop, usually telling me it makes me look bad.
This is the sort of criticism that always makes my eyes glaze over, frankly. I mean, aren't there basically three kinds of criticism?
  1. You've got the wrong objective. Stop!!
  2. You've got the right objective but the wrong method. Here's a better method, and I'm signing up, let's us do this instead.
  3. I don't care about your objective, but what you're doing bores me/bothers me/looks bad, so you must stop!
The first one is important and can be discussed rationally.

The second one is respectable and can also be discussed rationally.

But the third? Well, what does that leave me with? Put yourself in my shoes. Assuming that I still care about the objective, and I still think it matters, and I am doing the best I know to initiate change — where does that leave me? Must I drop something I care about, just because you say so, and in the knowledge that you yourself won't do anything about it? Wow. 

So think about the Reformation, simply as an example of a time when change was needed and was effected.

What happened there? There was something terribly wrong, and there was this loose-cannon, obscure, no-name pastoral/academic type who got it stuck in his craw, could not stop thinking about it. It bothered the very life out of him. And he wasn't the sort just to sit and be bothered, or engage in idle chit-chat over scones in the Faculty Lounge.

So he did what he could.

He wrote up 5... 23... 87... 95 things he thought worth arguing about, and he nailed it up for everyone to see. Obnoxious of him, no? The power structure sure thought so.

But then what happened? Here's the part I'm asking you to think about.

If Martin Luther had just nailed up those arguments, people had stood around and agreed, then left it to others to work out... nothing would have happened. The power structure would have had exactly what it wanted (fat, docile, quiet sheep), and nothing would have changed.

If Martin Luther had just nailed up those arguments, and people had said "Okay, you said your piece — now shut up about it," then the power structure would have had exactly what it wanted (fat, docile, quiet sheep), and nothing would have changed.

What did happen? Others took up Luther's cry and forwarded his cause. The RCC power structure found that this egg could not be un-scrambled, because everybody knew, and everybody was demanding action.

So when critics simply say "Yeah, stop, I don't want to hear any more about it," I (A) can and do still love and respect and like them, but (B) can't help thinking "...which is exactly what the power-structure wants people to say, and which will guarantee that change won't happen."

This is just one illustration; others, of other irritating men such as Winston Churchill and Cato the Elder, could be adduced. But I'll hope I've given you something to think about, only trying once again to head off two diversions:

I know this isn't the Reformation. It's just a well-known instance of change.

I know I'm no Luther, Churchill, or Cato...or, for that matter, Kato. They're just well-known change agents.

But I see concerns, and I am doing what I can about them.

Over to you.


Robert said...

Not trying to be over the top, but another example would be Jesus...He didn't stop criticizing the Pharisees' form of worship and living. And that was continued by Peter, John, and Paul. And God worked through the prophets to show the problems with Israel's worship and lifestyle in the OT.

I'd say that we have many Biblical examples to follow in this matter and that people should be able to explain why we shouldn't follow the Biblical example.

I guess this explains your tweet from earlier today...

Robert said...

I just noticed the cat picture: "I don't wanna read all that!"

I couldn't help but to laugh...but then I wondered how many people in the third grouping might have that exact thought about this post...

Mark Patton said...

Observation #2 from a #4
1. “name people” who have a voice got there because the constantly and loudly defend the truth that got them the voice.
2. “name people” who don’t deserve a voice got there because they are good with tricks, or look good, or have a good band.
3. “no name people” who deserve a (greater) voice demonstrate they deserve a (greater) voice by defending the truth that proves they deserve a voice.
4. “no name people” who don’t deserve a voice got there because they aren’t capable of articulating the truth in a way that proves they deserve a voice.

Mark Patton said...

Observation #3 from a #4
1. “name people” should get to keep their voice only as long as they are able to credibly defend the truth that got them the voice.
2. “name people” should be constantly told they don’t deserve a voice because of celebrity and to sit down because they don’t know what they are talking about.
3. “no name people” who are deserving of a (greater) voice often aren’t given a (greater) voice simply because they have “no name.”
4. “no name people” who don’t need a voice are desperate for #1 and #3 to continue to do battle with #2 so we can learn and hopefully move to be #3.

Mark Patton said...

Observation #4 from a #4
1. Irony: “name people” who got their voice only got their “name” because they loudly and constantly promoted the truth in various forums.
2. Irony: “name people” who got their voice only got their name” because they loudly and constantly promoted themselves.
3. Irony: “no name people” who don’t have a (greater) voice are constantly told to pipe down because we want to hear from the “name people” when (as you reference in your post), the only way “name people” get a name is by not piping down.
4. Irony: all #1 and #3 started out as #4 but progress to be a #3. Then someone let them keep speaking loudly and clearly in different forums and they progressed to a #1.

Mark Patton said...

Final observations from a #4

I have read you long enough to know that this post is not a plea for “at a boy, you keep it up”, so I’ll simply say “at a boy, you keep it up.”

Mark Patton said...


Observations #1 from a #4

1. There are “name people” who deserve a voice (MacArthur).
2. There are “name people” who don’t deserve a voice (Furtick).
3. There are “no name people” who deserve (greater) voice (DJP).
4. There are “no name people” who don’t deserve a voice (me).

Mizz Harpy said...

Don't stop but continue. I wish someone would have started/continued in the Episcopal church 2-3 decades ago. Anyone want to know what happens to a church or denomination where people stay silent, don't want to be offensive or allow themselves to be cowed because they prefer popularity? Look at the old, dead mainline denominations. I sometimes wonder who will turn out the light in some churches when the last member out the door is lying horizontal in a casket. I know that's harsh but pastors and congregants who care about souls ought to be worried about now. Worried the way the OT prophets, Athanasius or Augustine and the Reformers were worried.

oddXian said...

Brother, I don't comment much, but wanted to tell you that you are dead on. Keep it coming!

DJP said...

Thank you for your kind words.

I probably should have closed comments. I more was hoping to (as I wrote) spur some thought and some personal heart searching and possibly action.

I don't want to create the impression that everyone agrees with me bec the comments generally do. I have gotten (and rejected) two critical comments. They're both from good folks about whom I think nothing but fond and affectionate thoughts; but the comments were (in my judgment) afield, so I responded personally. And I'll just say to anyone who wants to speculate about the condition of my heart: let's just stipulate that I'm a mix of good and bad, in need of continued growth and sanctification.

But I'm not really the issue, or I wasn't meaning to be. What I wanted (and tried) to talk about is change, power structures, sheep and the status quo.

So with this, I'll close comments.

And I'll ask you to think about the point of the post.

And if it's completely a misfire for you — sorry! Maybe you'll get more out of the next one.