Physically ill. An upset stomach. Butterflies in the gut. Shaking hands. A racing heart.
I suffered through all those symptoms every single Sunday morning I had to preach a sermon, for the first five years I practiced ministry. Somehow I got through those bumpy initial years of my profession, preaching way too many long winded speeches that put folks to sleep. I still had a lot to learn. I was a rookie after all, so new to my calling.
But with lots and lots and lots of practice and experience, I've become better at my craft. Through practice: spending ten hours a week for 48 weeks a year for almost 30 years, researching and writing sermons. Through experience: delivering upwards of 1,400 Sunday talks.
Do anything over and over and over, over a long period of time, and chances are very good you will eventually master it. Become an expert. Preaching. Teaching. Singing. Researching. Building. Managing. Governing.
Or...maybe not. Maybe we can just cut the line of experience and practice and instead be really good at something just because...we think we'd be good at it. Because...we want to be good at it. Because...we can be an expert by just declaring to the world, "I'm an expert! Trust me!"
We are living in an age when the idea and ideal of experts and expertise is under attack. Think of how "up for debate" the hard science of climate change still is, even though the numbers are incontrovertible and rising tides don't lie. Just ask folks who live in Boston's Seaport district. Or how about the news? Attack hardworking honest journalists often enough, hard enough, loud enough and eventually no one, no news outlet or body will be trusted as experts or truth tellers. Goodbye Walter Cronkite--you'd never make it in 2018.
Or consider the recently announced candidacy of actress Cynthia Nixon, running to become governor of New York state, an office with responsibility for almost 20 million citizens and a budget of $168 billion. Nixon is a talented person, an expert in the arts, a Tony award winning Broadway actress and former TV star of "Sex and the City". But in formal governing or public office? She's without any experience. None. Not even time on a local school board.
As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote recently about Nixon's lack of experience: "You wouldn't want to be operated on by a surgeon with only a few surgeries under his or her belt, and the assurance that this doctor brought a fresh perspective to anesthesia and incisions....So why the romance with candidates who have never done a stitch of government work before?"
Great questions. Why would a reality TV star be qualified to win high office? Why are experts and expertise now so suspect to so many of us?
The internet doesn't help. Once knowledge and expertise was contained in books and libraries and "experts" alone. Now seemingly all knowledge is available to us immediately, with just a "click" or a swipe, so much so, that we are tempted to conclude we are experts. Why? Because, "Hey! I googled it!" So too the line between opinion and fact: there is no line anymore. Believe that something is true long enough and it will become true, at least in one's own mind, even if factually, it still isn't true. Not one legitimate scientific study has ever linked childhood vaccines and autism and yet: millions believe that this is so, a fact. Experts and scientists be damned.
I applaud Nixon for her civic spirit and sincere desire to change things for the better. She'll absolutely shake up the race for governor. But in a larger sense I wonder what will happen to us as a society if we continue to move the line or erase the line that marks the difference between a neophyte and an expert, a rookie and the master. Give me the wise one who is thoughtful and competent, from years of experience. What scares me is the fool who speaks up the loudest because they think they are an expert, and so they must be an expert. Right?
Life doesn't work that way. God gives each of us raw talents and gifts and our job is to then work hard and long to hone those skills into true expertise. Life finally takes practice and experience.
I know I've still got lots to learn. How about you?