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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Spiritual Bike Shed

C. Northcote Parkinson's Law of Triviality, also known as the "bike shed theory" is not only a common dynamic in our institutional and organizational lives.  It is also alive and well in our spiritual lives.

The bike shed theory basically says we have a penchant for becoming consumed by trivial matters while more important ones go unattended.  I think Jesus may have had this human tendency in mind when, in reference to judging one another, he asked, "How can you say to your neighbor 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye?" (Matt. 7:4)  This may also be what is behind the old question, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" which was originally a medieval criticism against over rationalizing faith.  More recent proverbs along these lines are, "Don't loose sight of the forest for the trees." or "Don't let the perfect get in the way of the possible."

However we say it, the truth is we often ignore what's really important in our lives by paying too much attention to minor details and ignoring the bigger picture.  Sometimes in our religious and spiritual traditions, we get so caught up in "doing it right" or proving someone else is "doing it wrong" that we forget common veins flowing with desire, wisdom, compassion, justice, and love that connect all of us.  Too often the wider good is sacrificed for individual satisfaction.

Just as no one person can build a huge skyscraper, the fullness of the Eternal Mystery we call "God" cannot be captured, contained, explained, or experienced in one tradition or religion. Yet we have all built and continue to build spiritual bike sheds on which we continually expend energy about their shape, size, and color, all the while oblivious to God footloose and fancy free among us.


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