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Sermon illustrations

Mediocrity

Don’t Mediocre Judges Deserve a Chance?

On January 19, 1970, President Richard Nixon submitted to the senate the nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. That Mr. Carswell was hardly qualified was apparent to most, though not to Mr. Nixon. He was rejected, of course, but has attained a certain immortality through his defense by Senator Hruska: “Even if he was mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises and Cardozos and Frankfurters and stuff like that there.”

Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes, Little, Brown and Company. 

George Fox & the Passionate Call of God

George Fox as a youth was religious enough to meet all earthly standards and was even proposed as a student for the ministry. But the insatiable God-hunger in him drove him from such mediocrity into a passionate quest for the real whole-wheat Bread of Life. Sensible relatives told him to settle down and get married.

Thinking him crazy, they took him to a doctor to have his blood let—the equivalent of being taken to a psychiatrist in these days, as are modern conscientious objectors to war in Belgium and France. Parents, if some of your children are seized with this imperative God-hunger, don’t tell them to snap out of it and get a job, but carry them patiently in your love, or at least keep hands off and let the holy work of God proceed in their souls. Young people, you who have in you the stirrings of perfection, the sweet, sweet rapture of God Himself within you, be faithful to Him until the last lingering bit of self is surrendered and you are wholly God-possessed.

Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper & Bros., 1941.

Madonna Struggles with Insecurity and Regret

It’s rare when celebrities acknowledge anything but the carefully crafted image that’s on view to the public. But this excerpt by the singer Madonna reveals that all of us, even celebrities struggle with insecurities. Sadly for Madonna, what has made her successful is also what causes pain and suffering in her life: her fear that she will only be “mediocre,” which to her appears to be a death sentence.

I have so many [regrets] … and I have none. I wish I hadn’t done a lot of things, but, on the other hand, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be here. But, then again, nobody works the way I work. I have an iron will. And all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy.

I’m always struggling with that fear. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting. And I find a way to get myself out of that. Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become Somebody. I still have to prove that Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.

 Lynn Hirshberg, “The Misfit,” Vanity Fair, April 1991, 167.

The Suppression of Creative Genius

For more than thirty years, Gordon MacKenzie worked at Hallmark. Along with challenging corporate normalcy at the card company, MacKenzie did a lot of creativity workshops for elementary schools. In those, MacKenzie would ask the kids up front: “How many artists are there in the room?”

The pattern of responses never varied. In the first grade, the entire class waved their arms like maniacs; every child was an artist. In the second grade, about half of the kids raised their hands. In the third grade, he’d get about ten out of thirty kids. And by the time he got to the sixth grade, only one or two kids would tentatively and self-consciously raise their hands.

All the schools he went to seemed to be involved in “the suppression of creative genius.” They weren’t doing it on purpose, but society’s goal is to make us less foolish. As MacKenzie says, “From the cradle to the grave, the pressure is on: Be normal.”

After his research, MacKenzie came to this conclusion: “There was a time — perhaps when you were very young — when you had at least a fleeting notion of your own genius and were just waiting for some authority figure to come along and validate it for you. But none ever came.”

Mark Batterson, 
In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, Multnomah.

The Threat of Mediocrity

While written over 30 years ago, Anthony “Tony” Campolo shares a valid concern related to the Christian pursuit of success. And while most of us would consider “Christendom” dead in the West, the analogy still works:

Two dangers threaten the survival of Christendom. The one is mediocrity; the other is success. We have been tempted by both of them…Mediocrity has come to characterize the behavior of most people in most of our institutions. People grow up in homes with mediocre parents, receive a mediocre education, become mediocre in their productivity in industries that reek of mediocrity. They live out their Christian commitment in a mediocre fashion within the context of churches that have mediocre programs.

Anthony Campolo, Jr., The Success Fantasy (Wheaton: Victor, 1980)

See also Illustrations on FailureMistakes, Quitting

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Mediocrity. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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