Perspective is everything in life. It is remarkable how two people looking at the same situation can see completely different things. One person sees a freedom fighter standing up for the rights of an oppressed minority and another sees a terrorist. One person sees a five dollar bill as an inadequate tip while another sees it as a day’s wages. One person sees a bee as a dangerous insect to be killed, while another person sees it as the source of their livelihood to be protected at all costs. Our view of almost anything in life is affected by where we see it from – our vantage point.
This week I had the incredible privilege of attending the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast event at one of the simulcast locations in the Philadelphia area. Among the many notes that I took, one thing really stuck out. Seth Godin, a marketing genius and provocative speaker made the point that some of the most important innovations take place at the edge of the box. His point was that very often we are encouraged to think outside the box rather than cowering inside some dark corner of our particular box when we are faced with major changes in our world. He challenged that thinking by making the point that if you get too far from the box itself, you have no reference point and may not have the resources that you will need for the changes that should be made. Instead, he advocates for working at the edges of whatever box we may be in. The perspective or vantage point at the edge often enables us to see what is coming while still retaining a grounding in our current reality.
While pondering all this, I was simultaneously experiencing two edge of the box events. I actually read the entire Love Wins book by Rob Bell on a Kindle. Ironically, I liked the Kindle more than I had expected to and was disappointed in the book more than I had anticipated. Let me start by saying that I had hoped to hate the Kindle and thought that Rob’s book might turn out better than it did after all the hype. As a lover of the printed page I was surprised at how quickly I got used to the e-ink technology and ease of use of the Kindle. Downloading a book was frighteningly easy, being able to enlarge the font type was a blessing (not that I need glasses yet or anything), and always coming back to the spot that I had last read was comforting.
I have to confess that I almost fell off the edge of the box at the resource table in the lobby. As I was looking at all of the incredible books that were available I had the gut wrenching thought – “Why would I ever buy one of these hardback books when I could download it for the same price or better and have it saved forever on this device?” I was pulled back from the precipice when I discovered that not all e-books are priced at $9.99 or below (especially not the business hard backs) and that there were no page numbers on the Kindle, just a percentage of completion number making it a little difficult to identify exactly where I was in any given chapter. Having said that, I now understand the allure of this new e-book world that we are living in and will probably read both physical and digital books at various times in the future.
For those of us that have worked and ministered in Christian bookstores and with Christian books, it sometimes feels like our box is on fire. Hunkering down in some corner, however, is probably going to lead to asphyxiation from smoke inhalation and yet going to the edge seems dangerous and discouraging. Getting to the edge and looking outside of our present circumstances is no longer a nice idea, but an imperative if we do not want the flames to engulf us. Not only are the ways that we have done things changing radically, but the content of some the books that we sell is becoming toxic. Don’t get me wrong, there have always been less than exemplary books available in our circles, but most of the really bad ones were exposed for what they were. Today, even orthodoxy is being redefined.
As I stand on the edge of the box, I am praying for one thing – courage. I have always had a fear of heights and normally am not comfortable at the edge of anything (even the stairs at the water slide at the amusement park – ask my boys for further details). Given that reality, it will take courage to figure out how promote the hope of the gospel presented in His written word to a generation that would rather see it on YouTube. Even more daunting may be suggesting that living a Christian lifestyle (as supported by many of the products in your local Christian bookstore) is not a quaint throwback to another time and generation, but actually a counter-cultural statement in a world that preaches diversity, but worships conformity.