Saturday, August 19, 2006

Prescribed Plagiarism

MacKenzie ends "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" with a little section on the artistry of life. God hands every person a blank canvas and asks us to create a masterpiece.

But then in steps people.

People aren't sure that you have what it takes for the masterpiece creation. People will tell you that you can't quite get it right. They want to draw the lines on your canvas within which you "have" to paint. And your masterpiece moves from work of art to "paint by numbers".

Gordon calls this "prescribed plagiarism." I love this phrase. Way too many of us have caved in to the public hairball and decided that we have to follow the rules, paint inside the blue lines with only the color that the number represents. We become copies, following the prescriptions of others.

Orbits and Hairballs

I just finished Gordon MacKenzie's jewel, "Orbiting the Giant Hairball." Gordon worked for 30 years at Hallmark Cards, retiring with the title "Creative Paradox". As a writer and illustrator, he leaned toward the creative side of life, and struggled with all things corporate and bureaucratic, i.e. the hairball. The hairball represents all the stuff of an organization--policies, processes, rules, etc.

As the hairball grows, it creates mass. That mass has gravitational pull. People in the organization--especially creative people--have two options that they should avoid. First, they can give in and collapse into the hairball. I know I've seen (and been) the creative person who suddenly gets a whiff of corporate power then becomes a hair in the hairball. Before I know it, I'm the bureaucrat that I hated! It is so easy to do this. We see it in not just in organizations, but in churches, parachurch organizations, and denominational groups. Someone moves into a position where creativity is downplayed, where following the rules and making others follow them becomes your job, and it's so easy to play it safe.

But the second option is not any better. Many creative people so resist the gravitiational pull of the hairball that they float off into space, totally free to be their creative self, but totally irrelevant and ineffective in changing the world at any significant level. If I can't do it my own way, I'm going to take my creative ball and go home.

The third option is the best: allow just enough of the hairball's influence on you to balance your own trajectory and enter into orbit around the hairball. Maintain a loyalty to the organization, utilizing the resources there to at once harness, channel and then unleash your creativity with the power of the organization behind it. What a balance, but when it is achieved, it makes success so much easier.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Postmodern Attractions

I'm really a little too old to be Gen X.

I turned 40 this summer, meaning I was born in 1966, the "tween" years between Boomers and Gen X. But throw in the fact that all of my formative childhood years were spent in tiny Texas towns in a pre-internet age, and you could probably peg most of my life in the Boomer or even pre-Boomer worldviews.

So why have I been attracted to the theological implications of postmodernity?

I don't want to pretend I'm an expert theologian or philosopher, but as I understand some of the ideas in the emerging "postmodern" worldview, what I like is the idea of deconstruction. As an introductory caveat, I'm not a total deconstructionist--I do think that words can have meaning as they truly represent truth and ideas (yes, one of my many paradoxes is that I tend to think in terms of both truth and postmodernity). But I believe that Christianity's dominant position in Western society has made it weak in terms of evaluating our contructs that explain everything from church to politics to relationships to morality and pretty much everything else you can imagine.

Humans like constructs. They give us something tangible to "see" mentally and spiritually. But trouble brews when the construct becomes equal with the intangible truth they were built to represent. When our form of church government or policital position or moral stance (assuming these are not clearly dilileated in the Bible, but even that is very challenging, since we all use the Bible to prove our constructs) becomes equal to God's truth in our own minds, it becomes a sacred cow. We tend to protect it at all costs. Eventually we even lose sight of the actual truth that the contruct was built to represent, and our lives and worldviews become powerless shells, devoid of life and spirit.

That's where the part of deconstruction that I like comes in. It is good and healthy for growing followers of Jesus to deconstruct our constructs. We should take a look at the points of view we hold, boil it down, look at it from different angles, read others' thoughts about it, and most importantly, check to make sure it flows from the Scriptures. So many of our beliefs come from what someone other than a biblical author originally penned, but we have to look at those beliefs very closely and authentically to recognize where we have allowed our constructs to add to or push out the actual truth.