15 October 2009

Trivial Pursuit


(image from Amazon)

A student once asked Albert Einstein, "Dr. Einstein, how many feet are there in a mile?" To the complete surprise of the student, Einstein replied, "I don't know."

Amazed, the student concluded that the eminent professor was joking. A man of Einstein's stature and accomplishment would know such a simple fact. But Einstein wasn't kidding around. "I make it a rule not to clutter my mind with simple information that I can find in a book in five minutes," he added. Einstein had no interest in trivial information. His passion was to explore the deep things of the universe. His zeal and imagination about potentialities in the realm of mathematics and physics made him a pivotal figure of modern times.

How we are awash in the trivial! Thanks to the internet, we have access to seemingly endless amounts of information (and disinformation). It no longer takes five minutes to discover how many feet are in a mile ~ it takes 0.33 seconds with Google. Exactly. (Hey, another factoid!) And "information" is so highly valued that we are settling for it more and more above what we really need. And what really matters.

"Information is not knowledge," said Einstein. (According to the internet ~ which is never wrong! wink, wink)

For example, I've always had mixed thoughts about a program that our public library sponsors annually called Battle of the Books (BOB). National surveys have shown that our children aren't reading. They are watching TV, surfing the web, playing hand held electronics, texting on cell phones... but not reading. Well-meaning solution: a competition for local schools in which students read a long list of books and then compete in teams to see who can answer trivia questions about the stories quickest. "In what book did a girl twirl around in her rainbow skirt while Michael Jackson sang on the radio?" [Pause] Beep! "Um... The Illiad,?" Wrong! (That's an actual BOB practice question for 6th through 8th graders, by the way.)

Well, it gets them to read, right? Even voluntarily! And it may help a child discover a love for reading. And I will say that a number of the selections are excellent. And I have no doubt that the intentions are noble. But, may I ask... for what are they reading? To what end? Unfortunately, BOB is not equipped to carry the child beyond the means of reading to its actual desired end, the reason we want them to read in the first place: to engage actively with the world of ideas, to join the great conversation of the past and present, to discipline minds and discover truth beyond the print upon the page. To seek wisdom as one's treasure, virtue as one's quest, and beauty as one's passion. Instead, the students try to anticipate what trivial detail will be asked about a book and commit it to memory. For a trophy (which one's school can only actually have, temporarily, if they win three years in a row).

We exchange the truly needful thing for the trivial. The (slightly) better distracts us from the best. In life, instead of playing The Ungame with each other, we play Trivial Pursuit. Did you know that since Trivial Pursuit arrived on store shelves to dominate the game industry in the 1980's, it has now has nearly 50 different versions? The Beatles Trivial Pursuit, Totally 80's Trivial Pursuit, Star Wars Trivial Pursuit... and on it goes. You can even pay US$200 so you can play the Know It All edition. Wow... only $200 to know it all (plus $7.63 for shipping).

But before I point a finger at the world, or more rightly, while I do point my finger at the world in this post, I must humbly realize that I am pointing the other four fingers back at myself.

Is my life a trivial pursuit?

What things drain away my time, my emotional energy, my thoughts, my priorities, my calendar, my checkbook... that are mere noise, mere trivia, mere frenzy. I'm not just talking about "little things," because sometimes the little things are indeed very important and powerful. But things that are no more than little. That don't touch eternity. That obscure my Lord, rather than illuminating Him all the little more to me and through me to others.

What needlessly clutters my mind, my life? What can I untangle and jettison from my daily life so that I can run with endurance the race God has set before me? (Hebrews 12:1)

How about:
  • Unsubscribing to the myriad of email lists that have wonderful ideas about... anything and everything... but that I don't have time to actually read anyway?
  • Not overdoing the birthday parties for my children, trying to live like the parenting magazines entice me to do, so that, in Martha Stewart's words, "everything is perfect."
  • Surely, there is more... But it will take prayer and soul searching of the Spirit to know

Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus as our Prize,
and for the JOY He sets before us,
let us willingly let other things go,
indeed count them as the waste they are,
and run with endurance the race He has prepared for us,
loving Him above all other things,
that one day we, as trophies of His grace,
might hear the only words that really matter,
"Well done, good and faithful servant.
You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.
Enter into the joy of your Master."

And, dear friend, what about you? What are you being asked to dislodge from your grip in order to grasp His joy? If you would like to share about it in the comments, perhaps it would help me and others to loosen our hold on things that don't ultimately matter, as iron sharpens iron.

P.S. I'm not saying Battle of the Books has no merit. It does, in its way. I (exuberantly) cheered my children's school's teams at several competitions, even though my kids were not on the team. (We no longer participate as a school.) I am merely pointing out what I think is ironic and perhaps somewhat absurd about it. As to me and my house, we would rather choose a Family Radio Theatre recording, homemade chocolate chip cookies with milk, and an evening of quiet listening together to great literature by candlelight instead.

1 comment:

Cassandra Frear said...

Good thoughts.

Something we would each do well to ponder from time to time.

Ecclesiastes has always been a great book for me to read to help me regain a proper perspective on the trivial.