I finally ran out of deodorant yesterday.
Okay, that non sequitur requires an explanation, doesn’t it? Several months back, I ran out of my usual deodorant/anti-perspirant in the middle of the week. Not wanting to immediately rush out to the store and get a new stick if I didn’t have to, I double-checked the supplies in the bathroom to see if I had another one laying around that I’d forgotten. Turns out I did – a stick of Old Spice Red Zone that I think may have been part of a Christmas package from somebody, but had never been used. Great, I thought; that saves me a couple of bucks and a little headache. Waste not, want not, right? So I’ve been using it since then – with mixed results.
By “mixed results,” though, I don’t mean that the Old Spice Red Zone didn’t work, that it wasn’t strong enough and failed to keep down the smell or the sweat. No, I had the opposite problem – it worked too well. It was actually too strong.
I wish I were kidding about this, but I’m not. I don’t do a lot of heavy physical activity, partly because of physical problems like bad feet and lack of coordination, partly because I’m a bit lazy. Regardless, unless the temperature is in triple digits (over 38C for those outside the U.S.) I simply don’t sweat a lot. Red Zone seems to be formulated for people who do sweat a lot. The result is that my body wasn’t wearing out the application of deodorant. I tried using half the recommended amount (one “click” instead of two) and it still didn’t help. Furthermore, the stuff is thoroughly waterproof and doesn’t wash off in the shower, which meant that even a half-application would stay on my skin for up to three days. It was like having my underarms laminated.
So now that this particular stick of Red Zone has run out, I guess I won’t be buying it anytime soon. Not because it doesn’t work hard enough, but because it works too hard. A subject with which I’m familiar.
See, I’m your classic Type-A personality. When I have a job, a project, a goal to reach, I go full speed ahead until it’s done. Doesn’t matter how important it is, or when the deadline might be – if it needs to be done, it’s getting done, as quickly and efficiently as possible. It used to be that it was the only way I was able to work (I used to joke that I had two speeds, “on” and “off”). Even now, having learned some about how to relax and trust, it’s still my default setting and I have to be careful. Because, as I’m beginning to learn, putting in too much effort can often be just as damaging as not putting in enough.
As I’ve learned this, I’ve begun seeing the problem in other places, and seeing the effect it has (which helps clarify it in my own mind). Are you familiar with the comic strip Zits? It’s one of the best cartoons around right now, consistently both hilarious and insightful. The strip centers around a teenager named Jeremy, his circle of friends and his exasperated parents. It’s basically a 16-year-old’s version of Calvin and Hobbes in that it portrays the world as the main character sees it, with all the attendant observations and realms of fantasy.
A few weeks ago, Zits had a story line dealing with Jeremy and his girlfriend Sara. Jeremy considered himself a really good kisser; unfortunately, his idea of “good kissing” seemed to involve sucking half of Sara’s head into his mouth. (All the women reading this just winced. I know, gross – that’s the whole point.) Ever patient, Sara spent the whole week counseling Jeremy that kissing was a lot more enjoyable and romantic when you weren’t trying to remove your partner’s eyebrows or tonsils in the process. It’s not that Jeremy doesn’t love Sara or is lacking in passion or enthusiasm – it’s just that like many teenage boys (including me, back in the day), he has a tendency to show off how much he can do rather than sticking with what he should do. The weakness in that way of thinking is that often, less really is more – and more is overkill. Sara’s message to Jeremy was basically, “dear boyfriend of mine, I love you, but you’re trying too hard.”
Or take Andy Richter. I’ve been enjoying the new Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien (in fact, I’ve been thinking of doing a post on it – just haven’t gotten around to it), including the reunion of O’Brien with his old Late Night sidekick Richter. But the show opening never fails to annoy me. Andy, in the old Ed McMahon role, announces the beginning of the program, mentions what guests will be on that night and introduces Conan – but he does it in this voice that sounds like a producer once told him, “turn it up to 11 for this one,” and he never turned it down again. (Click here and listen to the first 40 seconds to get a taste.) Maybe it’s just a matter of personal preference, but as a former radio announcer, I think he’d sound better if he brought it down a notch. He’d still sound enthused and pumped-up, but it would be a lot less grating.
And then there’s the church. So often the American church seems to be divided into two camps: the pew-sitters who do little or nothing, and the participants who are trying to do way too much, often of all the wrong things. You may have heard of the “80-20 principle,” how 80% of the work in a congregation is done by 20% of the people in a congregation. It’s true – if anything, sometimes it seems more like 90-10. (As a Type-A sort, whenever I was a regular attendee of a congregation, I was always among the 10. The Supermodel still is.) This leads to a weekly event in most congregations: some sort of appeal from the pulpit for assistance with an upcoming outreach/project/potluck/whatever, which usually ends up a thinly veiled plea for the pew-sitters to shake off their lethargy and do something, ANYTHING. And what ends up happening? You got it – the people who are roused to come to the pulpiteer’s aid are largely the same 20% (or 10%) who are doing everything else.
I don’t know that there’s anything to be done about the committed pew-polisher. My suspicion is that if they aren’t at least contributing financially, the local congregation is better off without them. If anything, it would probably improve the church’s standing in the world it’s supposed to be reaching if the “lazy majority” weren’t there – if someone coming in for the first time saw a place where everyone was involved, committed and enthusiastic about the congregation’s mission. (This is just my theory; you don’t have to buy it.) But something can be done about all the effort being put in by the 10% or 20% – because so much of their energy is being wasted.
I’ve harped on this before, so forgive me if I start repeating myself. But over the last thirty years or so, the American church has put into play an ever-increasing number of evangelism programs, worship seminars, prophetic conferences, stadium get-togethers, Easter plays, Christmas pageants, Halloween harvest festivals, community outreaches, preaching series, Sunday school curricula, political rallies and who knows what all. All of these things take a huge amount of man-hours to create and present. In that same time, the impact of the church on society has dropped dramatically. The number of people actually becoming part of the body of Christ each year has not only shrunk, in many quarters it isn’t even keeping up with the death rate in the church. We’re putting out a lot of time, energy and cash for things that aren’t achieving the goals we have in mind. We’re trying so hard, and seeing so little fruit from these efforts.
What if we took all those people and instead of getting them hyped up about Program X or Outreach Y, we directed them to spend a fraction of that time and energy getting to know God better, and then just loving whoever they came across? I don’t know if it would be harder or easier to do things that way, but it would have to be less tiring. And besides, it would eliminate the need to ask whether what we’re doing is God’s will – because He’s very clearly stated that it is:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.‘ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
Want to do God’s will? Do those two things. Then maybe we won’t have to worry so much about trying too hard. And let’s face it – nobody is going to criticize the church if what they’re most guilty of is loving too much.
So instead of purchasing “the most powerful wetness protection money can buy,” I’m going to go back to my old brand that did a fine job and didn’t make my armpits feel like they were encased in plastic. And when it comes to serving God, I can work on doing the same – going back to the “old-time religion” (i.e., the New Testament), focusing on God and people instead of gold and programs, and maybe – just maybe – avoiding the “trying too hard” trap. Care to join me?