Friday, June 5, 2015

Don't Ruin the Chili

Once upon a time there was a guy who was a pretty good cook (Ok, he was an average cook. OK- so it was me! Now let me finish the story!!!). On one very special high holy day (Super Bowl Sunday) he decided to make his world famous (shut up and keep reading!) chili for a group of his friends. He slaved over a hot stove for hours (always wanted to say that about myself) creating a masterpiece. Upon tasting the finished product he quietly (OK, technically I screamed it) proclaimed it the world's greatest pot of chili- that he had ever made! As his friends arrived he could barely contain his enthusiasm over his culinary creation. Several of his friends were excellent cooks in their own right and began to  ask him what ingredients he had used to create the chili. He listed them, and soon the suggestions began to flow- with none of them having actually tasted his masterpiece. But since they were better cooks than he, our hero listened. One said add some garlic- and he did. Another suggested adding can of tomato paste for thickness. And he did. Another said that it didn't sound spicy enough, that perhaps in needed some tabasco sauce. So in it went. By the time he finished "fixing" the chili based on the expert advice he received, it tasted noting like his original creation. They seemed to like it, but he no longer did. All of the fun he and all of the passion he put into making the chili had been rendered moot because he didn't believe in himself enough and didn't trust his creation. His friends knew more about cooking than he did, but in this case, what he had made was already perfect. Too many cooks ruined the chili!

The same kind of thing used to happen when I would attend ministry conferences designed to encourage and uplift those who were giving their lives to various ministries. I heard this fictional conversation happen too many times, including a few times when I was Pastor Bubba and the recipient of the advice. Let's listen in:

Pastor Bubba: We started a program last year where we do an outreach event once a month at the local mall just handing out free slices of pizza and answering questions about church and youth group. We've made lots of connections and our attendance has almost doubled. It's been awesomely rad!
Expert Doug: Yes, we did that same king of thing a few years ago with similar results. But the event didn't really make a difference until we added water balloon cannons, hula dancing lessons and a Spanish speaking donkey. That's when things really took off!

Far too many times the Pastor Bubbas of the world go home from such conversations and begin to implement the changes suggested by "experts" who know next to nothing about the situation or the people that Bubba works with on a daily basis. No matter how much thought, preparation and work we put into something we always seem to be unable to accept that what we have is as good as it can be. We rush to make changes that are not helpful (Spanish speaking donkeys seldom are) because we doubt ourselves and our abilities, or, just as destructively, we are immobilized by perfectionism. If it can't be perfect, why bother? These things infiltrate our lives are cause dysfunction in many of us.

Lately these dual dilemmas have been making me a little crazy in one of my worlds- that of writers. As many of you know I finished writing a novel back in January and since that time a number of new and aspiring writers have had questions for me. Most of the questions begin with the following: "So and So says that I have to do THIS (the THIS varies) or my book won't be any good. I'm just not sure how that fits into what I am trying to do..." My response has become a bit antagonistic. I tell them if it doesn't fit their style, their story and their characters then DON'T FREAKIN' DO IT!!! The experts are not writing your book; YOU are! Writing is not a science, it is an art. There is no list of rules you must adhere to, no absolutes that make your book "right." Technically perfect writing, brilliant editing and the opinions of others are all wonderful things- if you want them. But it is the stories, the characters and most of all the PASSION that make a book great- and those all come from the writer. How did I know when my book was finally finished? When I read it one more time and thought to myself, "Now THAT is what I set out to do!" I had a story to tell and I told it the way I wanted it told. That's writing. If others like it, that's wonderful. And if they don't...sorry, but I just don't care. I listened to critiques and made some changes. There are still things that might be added- by me. But the deal is this- my chili is finished. And you don't get to add stuff...

Too many of us approach our lives wondering if we are good enough and soaking in the opinions and advice of others at an alarming rate. I have writer friends- talented, gifted writer friends- who are seemingly never going to finish projects they are working on because they're never going to think it's good enough. Every opinion, every criticism, every new review from an expert or a friend brings about more changes and another rewrite, sometimes to the point that the original vision for the piece has disappeared completely. Every checklist of ways to "Be A Better Writer" is absorbed like Hemingway himself has spoken to them. There is a great story told about the late Tom Clancy, writer of numerous best selling books. When he was writing The Hunt for Red October he submitted a manuscript in which one of the primary heroic characters was named Jack Ryan. His editors thought the name too bland and pushed Clancy to change it. His response to them was simple and brilliant. "I can't change the name," Clancy retorted,"because the man's name IS Jack Ryan." Jack Ryan went on to become an iconic name in both print and cinema, the featured player in nearly a dozen best sellers. Sometimes an artist, a cook or a youth pastor KNOWS what is right, knows what works and simply needs to say no to any more changes. Sometimes the most important thing is to be done and to be satisfied with your own work. Our work will never be perfect; even God's work has flaws. Just look at me! Just as we are created to be who we are, let our creations be good enough for us. Whatever your gifts are, use them to the best of your ability and don't be overwhelmed by the opinions of others. Especially if they call themselves experts...

So what's the point of this rambling rant that would never make it past a professional editor? Simple. Don't ruin the chili. Have a blessed day and a great weekend!

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous6/05/2015

    Great post CJ. I often find myself paralyzed by doubt and perfectionism. And the Pastor Bubba story made me literally laugh our loud! ~ Chris Cooper

  2. So glad you enjoyed it Chris. But be honest- now you want a Spanish speaking donkey at your next youth event... :)


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