True confessions: I love rock music. Classic, alternative, folk, whatever the flavor, I grew up listening to it. So listening to rock creates an experience for me unlike other kinds of music because, I suppose, it connects me to that rebellious time when I was deciding who I was going to be. This music—Boston (my first album), Heart, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Bruce, REM, U2, Dylan—was NOT the kind of music my parents listened to and because of that simple fact, listening to it differentiated me from them. I was driving home recently and was listening to a mix cd Emma had made. Surprisingly, I often like the music my teenage daughter listens to, but it has taken me some time to appreciate Hip Hop, R&B, and Rap. But, I have made some headway and so now I don’t immediately skip over songs. I’ve learned to listen for a while in order to develop a familiarity. On this particular evening, I listened to a song by Seattle rapper, Macklemore. (If you never thought you’d listen to rap/hip hop, but now want to try it out, I’d recommend Macklemore) The song, “Ten Thousand Hours,” is in part about Macklemore becoming proficient and famous as an artist because he put in ten thousand hours of practice. “Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand ants,/ ten thousand ants, they carry me” and “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint/ the greats were great because they paint a lot.” Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book, Outliers. He quotes neurologist Daniel Levitin: “The emerging picture from these studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything,”— p. 40 In case you are wondering, that translates to about 10 years of consistent, dedicated, focused attention to a skill or subject.
As I drove home, this idea of ten thousand hours bounced around and around within me. First I thought, “Yes, we can do whatever we want if we put our minds to it.” But then, at the end of what had been a slushy, grey, not quite spring day on the Palouse I realized that I was deluding myself. Who was I kidding? Every option is not open to each of us. Many of us don’t have the time to remake ourselves even if we wanted to do so. The idea that we can become proficient at whatever we want isn’t false, but I noticed that for me, it easily becomes a delusion. Delusions can sometimes be therapeutic. They can shield us from hard truths and help us cope with very difficult realities. But in normal circumstances, delusions keep us from living the kind of life we value and affirm. The idea that I can become anything I desire if I just practice is a delusion when it comforts me and appeases my anxiety enough that I don’t end up doing anything different. If, however, this idea motivates me to act, change, grow, then it is a generative idea rather than a delusion.
The same can be said about theology. Our ideas about God and how God is present within and among us can be delusions that keep us from acting in the world in meaningful ways, or they can be generative and transformative. I wonder about delusional theology especially at this time of year, when we celebrate the outrageous idea of resurrection: that Jesus was dead, and now is alive. Some of us affirm that events happened 2,000+ years ago transcended laws of nature, while others of us hear the story and affirm it as metaphorically true with a wider scope of understanding, while still others throw up our hands and don’t know what to make of it. No matter how we understand the story of Easter, we can be delusional. Our ideas and understanding and beliefs can make us comfortable and more at ease. These understandings can make us feel like we are on the right track, but if they don’t move us to act out the compassion found at the very heart of the story of Jesus, they become delusions.
It doesn’t take ten thousand hours to learn how to do something well, only to master it. It doesn’t take ten thousand hours of practice to be a faithful Christian. It begins immediately with a few minutes of extending our compassion. When we do, Christ is risen indeed! (No matter what kind of music we enjoy)