"Scales"

In Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, Outliers, he makes the claim that "ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness" in acquiring a skill, declaring that “you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good." While that assertion has received criticism from some quarters and required some clarification (I have the strong suspicion that I could practice painting for many multiples of 10,000 hours and the result would still baffle the viewer. A small amount of talent is often advantageous) Gladwell’s contention is reasonable. Gaining expertise in most fields of endeavor demands a great deal of repetition, a substantial investment of practice. As the late blues great, B.B. King once observed, when everybody else had gone to sleep, he was in his room practicing scales. Moreover, maintaining expertise demands continuing practice.

Training can be difficult, of course. Doing the same, and sometimes very simple thing over and over without seeing quick and noticeable improvement can be dispiriting. Closets containing abandoned and barely used sports equipment stand as testimony to that reality. Proficiency is usually the result of many hours of repeated behaviour—balls thrown and caught, laps of the pool, circuits of the rink completed, scales practiced. With that repetition a kind of “muscle memory” is created and what used to be hard becomes a way of being. It takes time to develop competence, to become good.

Quoting philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, teacher, pastor, and author Eugene Peterson entitled one of his books, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. The book’s subtitle spells out the challenge: “Discipleship in an Instant Society.” Peterson writes about the process of maturing as a follower of Jesus, what has been called from the earliest days of the church, discipleship. We do indeed live in a world that has no small affection for quickness, a society of fast food, high speed internet, and The One Minute Manager. As Peterson notes, it is a culture where some “assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently.” But some things just take time. This is certainly true in the Christian faith. While becoming a follower of Jesus may take very little time, the following—the growing into the role—that takes some work, no small amount of practice, and frustration and failures are the norm. It takes some time for those awkward repetitions to become habits of the heart. In fact, it is an apprenticeship that lasts a lifetime. So, please bear with us—this is going to take a while. I just have to keep practicing those scales until I get it.

 

(This as published as the "Faith" column in the Parksville Qualicum News on September 15, 2016)