Well, I didn’t watch the Oscars, thank goodness, because I would have died of boredom. But I did look at twitter after, and I really loved this tweet (I can’t embed, so click the link).
I adore the idea of a sustainable diamond. I thought, when I saw “ethically sourced” somewhere, that that meant that slave labor hadn’t been used to get it. But I like it even better if it was, what do you call that, “recycled?” as in, “owned by someone else?” This is such a wonderful time to be alive. As JP, here, points out.
But what I really wanted to ask, this morning, without being sure about finding an answer, is what is so bad about mediocrity? This question is brought to you by me watching lots of goop episodes, and then also checking in on Rachel Hollis to see what she’s been up to lately. All it was was her morning routine, in which she ran laps around the world while I lay a bed, and concluded by explaining to me that I could do it too, and should, so as to accomplish all the wonderful things that she has accomplished, things such as talking to the self-help guru Ed Mylett and never flying coach again. (I’m too tired to find links. Google is totally there for you all.)
If you were to join me in watching goop (don’t) and wanted to try to file it away under some philosophical system, you would probably slot it under the epicureans. The whole wellness project, as far as I see it, is to achieve “balance,” a balance tilted toward your own absolute happiness, as ethically sourced as possible, of course. But, “you only have one life,” as I’ve heard Gwyneth say, and you should—well, I don’t want to say exactly what she said because this is a family blog, but basically Joaquin Phoenix provided the image in his little Oscar scold. I hope Gwyneth gets some kind of award for doing the Netflix show. Hashtag stunning and brave.
Anyway, Rachel Hollis ostensibly believes in an afterlife, but her version won’t let her rest more than anyone else, because she’s got to achieve her best life now in order to enjoy any kind of life later. I wrote about this somewhere else. Can’t remember when or where.
Which is my point—what’s really so bad about mediocrity? A certain kind of mediocrity is totally fine and, I think, could even be a little bit holy. The drive toward excellence, which I myself have occasionally annesplained, especially to my children when they are lying around moaning about boredom, has certainly crept into the church under the guise of being a faithful Christian, and “not wasting any moment” for the gospel and the lost and all that kind of thing. The whole modern iteration of Christian “discipleship” has too much of the language of personal craft. You, with the help of another person, can “work” on your relationship with Jesus, making it better all the time. You can do the same thing with your marriage and your job until really, you might as well be Rachel Hollis for all the work you’ve got to do.
And that is certainly true. Jesus applies an urgency to the whole business—you do not know the day or the hour of his return. But the command, besides “going” into all the world, is also to “wait” with a certain kind of expectant hope. Paul fills in all the details about how you can struggle against sin while you’re waiting, and take care of others along the way. But his is not the language of Epicurious, of self-help, of achieving some excellent idealized version of yourself.
Most of us are mediocre. We just get up in the morning and go to work, over and over again. Our children grow up and leave home and we keep getting out of bed and doing whatever’s in front of us until we can’t get out of bed anymore. While we’re doing that, the body slowly breaks apart. The mind and spirit don’t get stronger, if anything they get weaker—knowledge isn’t power, it is sorrow. The more you know other people, the more you grieve for them. The more you know yourself, the more you know that you are actually decreasing, and Christ is increasing, as he should.
The things that astonish me about other people are not their excellence, their achievement, their brilliance, their beauty. It is their unsought mercy, their seeing something I didn’t, their care of people the world has been eager to throw away.
If mediocrity were not the great blessing that it is, none of us could be saved. There are some Anglicans in some slums in Kenya who really do know Jesus. They live in horrid poverty, the sewer running past their front doors. They get up every morning and go to work, dropping their children off in the little preschool Good Shepherd and others support. The teacher gets up earlier than Rachel Hollis to make it across town so that the mothers can get to work in the mansions that surround the slum. If you saw her in a crowd you would not pick her out as someone exceptional. And, indeed, she isn’t. She is like thousands of other Kenyans, millions of other true Christians around the world who genuinely care for other people, who are struggling to keep body and soul together, and who are not actually at fault for the poverty of their circumstances.
The search for excellence, even personal excellence, while not exactly wrong, is a little bit decadent. Which is the word the Lord has given me for 2020. I prayed, and he spoke it audibly to me while I was scrolling around twitter. It’s ok just to wake up in the morning and do your duty to God and your family and neighbors. If no one knows about it, that’s fine too. If you slept half an hour too long, and ruined your day, that also is ok. God is God, and he doesn’t need your excellence. He only wants you to wait for him, however hard it is, until he comes again in power and great glory.