Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Don't Try to Be Einstein - Just Tighten The Screws

One of the blessings/curses of the era of connectivity in which we live is the possibility that anyone can become a celebrity or develop a following. This is true of niche blogs like ours, and it is true of the big dogs as well. In many respects, it is a new phenomenon that nobodies can become somebodies simply by speaking their mind in a unique voice. One of the temptations in this day and age that isn't new is the temptation to innovate for the sake of innovation.

In other words, it is tempting to draw attention to ourselves by becoming crackpots. And this is where the show 'This American Life' comes in. In case you've never heard 'TAL' before, it are a radio program which explores different issues in each episode, usually by telling the story of an average person. In episode #293, titled "A Little Bit of Knowledge," the hosts talked to a guy who believed he had disproven Einstein and shown that E does not equal MC squared. So convinced was this man that he quit his job and spent an entire year doing research to show that his math was good. Even though he was not a trained physicist and admittedly not very good at math he nevertheless believed he had felled the giant of physics himself.

The hosts of TAL finally found a trained physicist named John Baez who was willing to spend time with the man's paper explaining his theory and the results were not surprising. After a very short time with this paper the physicist explained that his paper contained errors which seem like the sort that a psychology student taking a physics elective would make. In short, there was absolutely nothing to this man's theory. In truth, he was just another crackpot.

Baez then explained that there is a whole community of crackpots out there who exist to disprove Einstein and what they see as conventional scientists who "tow the party line." When asked to explain ultimately why such people exist, the physicist admitted that these people want to know what the universe is like and to understand it. He explains that it isn't glamorous to do what most scientists do. So what does Baez think it is about the crackpots that distinguishes them from the good physicists?
They don't want to be somebody whose epitaph says that they tightened the screws on a particle accelerator that made a great experiment. They want to be Einstein. And most of us can't be Einstein, and that's the trouble.
So in Baez's interpretation, one obvious reason for the emergence of the crazy is the belief that one can become important and offer the breakthrough of the century. Everyone wants to come up with the idea that will change the orbit of the earth and send children running and singing into the streets while Coldplay simultaneously broadcasts on stations across the globe while confetti blankets the streets. However, Baez explains that this just isn't what physics is like, and it isn't what the nitty gritty of furthering science really involves, either. At some point, innovation must slow down and people have to start tightening the screws.

What if those who are in the ministry or those of us who are preparing to enter the ministry could take these words to heart? What a revolutionary and beautiful thought to concede that no, I'm not here to come up with general relativity. I'm not here to be a Calvin or a Luther. I'm not here to come up with a movement that will bear my last name in a slightly modified form 400 years from now. I'm here to serve my little church, to feed my little flock, and to protect them from the wolves. We must be faithful and not lose heart. At the end of our lives, our success is not measured by anything on our epitaph - it is measured by how many people are following Jesus Christ and growing because of what God has chosen to do through us.

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