In Praise of Eccentricity

When you were a kid did you used to have those anxiety dreams about going to school in your pajamas? Or without shoes? Well, I still have those, only my nightmares are about turning up to casual social events in a suit.

It’s not that I’m anxious about drawing attention to myself (those of you who know me personally can stop nodding now). It’s more that I’m afraid of what wearing a suit represents to me: a kind of deadening, monochromed conventionality.

Hey, if in your professional role you’re required to wear a suit, that’s cool. It’s not the actual piece of apparel I’m uptight about. It’s just that the older I get the more terrified I become of being straightjacketed. I genuinely fear I’m becoming a square.

Did you know that the word eccentric comes from a combination of the Greek terms ek (out of) and kentron (center). When put together, ekkentros means “out of center”. The term gained currency in the late Middle Ages when astronomers like Copernicus dared to suggest that the earth was not at the center of the solar system. By claiming the earth in fact orbited the sun, Copernicus became the original eccentric.

Enter Richard Beck, a professor from Abilene Christian University, who pushes the definition of eccentricity a bit further. In his book The Slavery of Death, Beck takes its literal meaning (out of center) and suggests that an eccentric identity is one where the focal point of the self is shifted away from the center. He says, “The ego, in a kind of Copernican Revolution, is displaced from the center and moved to the periphery. The self is displaced being the ‘center of the universe’ so that it may orbit God.”

In other words, all Christians who have made God the center and focus of their lives can rightly be called eccentric. Off center.

I really want to be eccentric, in the true sense of the term.

 

I have this theory that real wildness is a life lived with God at the center, and that following the corporate dream is the tame option.

We often think the reverse – that Christians are boring, and “the world” is where the action is. But when you find yourself a slave to the machinery of business, obsessing over the kind of car you drive, or whether you have the right designer bag, or how many yoga classes you’ve taken that week, I think you’ve been tamed.

When that happens you’re experiencing what Martin Luther called incurvatus in se, the self “curved inward” upon itself, with the ego at the center of our identity. Luther suggests that sinfulness is rooted in self-focus, self-absorption, and self-worship. It’s Me at the center. A true conversion to Christ involves displacing me, orbiting God, and becoming truly “off center”.

How did Christianity allow itself to get so boring? When did church become a business? And religion a product? And faith a program?

 

When we forgot our calling to a wild, strange, beautiful, countercultural kind of eccentricity.

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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6 thoughts on “In Praise of Eccentricity

  1. Hi Mike. Thanks for stimulating thoughts about eccentricity. I recall that when I worked in heavy industry, I had to inspect large turbines that rotated at thousands of RPM. If there was any eccentric features in a turbine rotor, it would become noisy and cause vibrations that could be felt a long distance away. If a rotor was finely balanced and the weight was distributed evenly within fine tolerances, there was minimal noise and vibration. I think that the call to be eccentric is a calling to make noise and vibration in society. What are the most significant ways that we can make noise and vibration ( ripples) in society today as followers of Jesus?

    1. Oh, that’s a great analogy, Richard. Brilliant. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Love it Mike. Go you good blogger!!!

  3. A cleft has opened in the pitiless
    walls of the world, and we are invited to
    follow our great Captain inside. The
    following Him is, of course, the essential
    point. – Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis

    There seems to be no more exciting and wild life than following our Lord as he ignites the landscape with the dawning of the new age. However, the prince of the power of the air will stop at nothing to keep us calm, tame, and distracted by this world and the flesh (Ephesians 2). The Great Apostle reminds us that our job is to resist the enemy with the power of God. And I think that while resisting we can find our rest and reason for existence in walking with the King.

  4. I took the day to pray and meditate on Mark 10:21 – annihilation of my right to myself and Luke 14:26 – unconditional identification with Jesus. I then came across your post in my twitter feed.

    These pair nicely.

    As Oswald Chambers said “very few of us know the GO of abandonment to Jesus.

    Here’s to the Wild Life!

    1. Beautiful!

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