TRANSITIONS: The Tension Between "How" and "What"

by Phil Johnson

While creating this issue, the editors of Pietisten took the action of establishing Pietisten as a nonprofit association under the laws of the state of Minnesota. This means that Pietisten is now an entity. It is a legal personality. This may not strike fear in the hearts of others, but it does in ours.

The practical consequences of this change are that supporters who may be moved to contribute to Pietisten will be able to deduct contributions from their taxes, that we will save on postage, and that there will be some facilitation of the ability to do additional publishing.

It has been fun just to do what we want, to have no need for reports or formal accounting, and not to have to answer to anyone but ourselves. We will regret whatever losses we may experience in these matters by making the transition to an association.

This is one of a number of changes and possible changes that have caused me to think about the "how" and the "what."

I refer to the distinction between how one is doing something and what one is doing or making. An inventor makes a certain special engine in his or his garage and sells it to personal customers for a living. If he or she is successful, by one popular but limited measure of success, he or she creates a corporation, issues stock, builds a plant, hires workers, and focuses everything on the what that is produced — the engine. Meanwhile, the how has changed drastically. He or she now dresses up, goes to an office, writes memos, makes phone calls, and so forth. This is a different how.

When someone with an interest and a passion begins creating or making something, it is the activity itself, in many cases — as it is in the case of Pietisten — which the person, or persons, involved enjoys.

In our case, we have created issues of Pietisten by meeting a couple times a month, talking, laughing, sometimes tending to business, and gradually deciding what will be in the coming issue. It is my pleasure, my how, to put everything on the computer; get the proofreader, who will make many positive changes, to read it; print up a master; and get it to the printer.

We meet to address envelopes when the issue is ready. The question has been raised, "Why don't we let the computer and printer print out the labels?" Some day we may, but we can't without changing how we send out each issue. The readers come personally to mind as we hand address each envelope.

If we strictly think of the what — the product, an addressed envelope — the thing to do is get a machine to do it so we can do more more quickly. If we make that change, we no longer have the activity together around the table.

Obviously this presents a tension. Right and wrong are not at stake, but things more important are, whatever one chooses, Marshall McLuhan taught us that the medium is the message. We can't change the medium without changing the message

But, no one could keep things the same, even if one dedicated oneself to it totally. Nor would many really want it that way. What makes sense to me is to be guided by finding Grace in the changes that come and striving to make all these matters servants of human, personal life. This means seeking the courage and wisdom to rely on the charter Jesus gave us when he said that the sabbath is made for us, not us for the sabbath.

So, we intend to see that the legal entity, Pietisten, is made for us, not us for it, and to continue to enjoy the conversation that Pietisten generates. PJ

Phil Johnson is Editor Emeritus of Pietisten.

See all articles by Phil Johnson