Saturday, May 31, 2008

Getting the Proportions Right

A few years back when Supreme Court Judge Samuel Alito was going through Senate confirmation, I was watching the hearings on CSPAN. I know, I know. It’s not as important as ESPN, MTV, or CNN Headline News, but I was watching it. Essentially, the hearings consisted of a bunch of Judge Alito’s friends and colleagues providing testimony about his views and his character. I like that for some reason. What would it be like if all your friends had to testify about your character? Whoa.

I only remember one quote out of the whole time I watched. One of Judge Alito’s colleagues, a fellow judge, I think, made one remark that stuck with me. He said, “He does not mistake the obscure for the profound.”

When I heard that, I said to myself, I want to be like that someday (but I have no clue how to). I think it struck me because I recognize how easily I seek out the obscure for its obscurity or its cleverness or its newness. Being the first to find something garners high praise these days. Maybe it’s just me being white.

In a culture of “lies, hype, and spin,” the possibility of discovering a diamond in the rough is something that feels authentic and genuine, not pushed upon us by advertisers. The disillusionment comes when we find someone who found it before we did. This happened to me when I was talking with my friend Dan about The Myriad. Music is a popular segment of white culture where we search for the obscure in pursuit of the profound. This is probably why we like to root for the underdog too: They’re less popular (see Aladdin, whom Jafar calls “a diamond in the rough”).

But Judge Alito, according to his colleague, knows how to place value in proportion to its significance. He judges well. And that’s something I would love to be true of me, but I just get distracted and read blogs. Placing my values and affections on worthwhile things is part of what I think Christian spirituality is about: seeing what God values and valuing it in a similar proportion. Most of my brokenness expresses itself by mistaking the worthless for the worthwhile. I run after things will make me happy, comfortable, or safe. Meanwhile, God is calling for sacrifice, struggle, and danger, but only because the rest of the world lives in contradiction to how God set the world up to run.

For me, maybe watching CSPAN instead of MTV, ESPN, or CNN was a subconscious attempt to find something of lasting value from a medium that pushes short-term benefits. And therein lies the paradox: I was again looking for the profound from an obscure TV network, and this time I found it. In a culture of “lies, hype, and spin,” a tyranny of the loudest voices and biggest shows drives out the voices of lasting value (still, small ones?) and shows of real significance.

And so, our ongoing search for the profound leads us into the realm of the obscure, but only because the realm of the obvious is ruled by the trivial. And perhaps it echoes another way of seeing the world, one in which the visible things are temporary and invisible things eternal. But seeing the world with eyes for the eternal means going beyond the five senses. And I think that’s what he meant when he said, “Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear should listen and understand.”

Articles that inspired this post:

How Small Stories Become Big News from
The Twelve Men from G.K. Chesterton (HT: Chaka; HT: JT; HT: John Piper)
Technolochurch from Ed Stetzer
How Technology Relates to Permanence, and What That Means for Christianity from Consumed
The Internet Effect on News from Time Mag's Swampland


Dan said...

There's definitely that feeling of discovering profundity that no one else seems to have grasped. But then again, the old words like, "Seek first the kingdom..." seem to be so profound in the antiquity.

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