Deep and Simple


This past week, as I was watching an excellent personal film entitled Mr. Rogers and Me, the narrator described a conversation he’d had with Mr. Rogers about the nature of life. Taken from a book by Bo Lozoff, Deep & Simple, the concept resonated with me.

Humanity is made to be deep and simple, but our world pulls us to be complex and shallow.

This statement causes my heart to cry out, “Somebody gets it!”

Now, real complexity can have some true beauty to it. The computers we carry around in our pockets are, after all, complex devices. But I don’t think Mr. Rogers was talking about true complexity, whose beauty can only be appreciated when it coalesces into simplicity. Rather, I think he was speaking with the complexity of life which has us running around trying to grasp on to an ever-increasing number of connections – few of which are related to the any of the others. I’ve typically referred to this state as “being busy,” but complexity may capture the idea on a better level.

The problem is when our connections continue to increase, and become ever more estranged from each other, our relationships inevitably become shallow. Depth takes time, as well as a willingness to see time spent with others as valuable on its own. But because we are driven to be in constant motion the time we need to know people 1 is see as being better used for “something productive.” It’s a lie, but it’s one our culture believes is true. Growing up we even had a song about it, which has recently been repurposed for a commercial which tries to sell the virtue of staying on the “complex but shallow” treadmill by show how much good we can do if we financially plan.

Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride
Nobody gonna slow me down
Oh no
I got to keep on moving
Ain’t nothing gonna break-a my stride
I’m running
And I won’t touch ground
Oh no
I got to keep on moving 2

It’s got a great tune, and it will never get out of your head once it gets in there. But this song is also the anthem for “complex but shallow” living. Never slowing down, barely even touching our feet to the earth as we run, is the path upon which we “win.”

The question is, “Win what?” Even more important is the question, “Is whatever we ‘win’ on the ‘complex but shallow’ treadmill really worth it?”

I crave depth, and therefor I tend to keep things simple. This might sound funny to people who know me socially. A lot of these folks tend to see me as “the computer guy,” and assume that my life is as complex as the skills I’m often called upon to practice. But this isn’t the case. Left to my own devices, I try to schedule my hours so I have time to study, and I’ve never once felt guilty for sitting around for hours reading a book or reflecting on something for a blog post, sermon, or novel. And even if I have no plans I use all my vacation time, every year.

I also don’t feel the need to drive from connection to unrelated connection in an effort to look “busy.” Rather, I try to make several personal connections with folks a day on the phone 3or in their home 4, and tend to have set times when I pursue that disciple 5. This means I’m not present everywhere, but when I’m there with folks under my care I am actually present. This is important to me.

I’m not perfect, I can fall in into the “complex but shallow” trap just like everyone else. And any church I pastor is going to find it equilibrium at a relatively small size as a journey toward depth takes root. It means I don’t pursue programs to “grow the church” and wait to pursue new ideas only when there is someone in the congregation who feels so strongly about a mission who will both lead it and inspire some others to join them. In the end this path is more difficult, because of the need for patience if nothing else, but it ends up being more healthy.

On an unrelated side note 6 the difference between “deep & simple” and “complex but shallow” is probably why Analytics are killing professional baseball. There are so many numbers out there now, even for a game which was all numbers to begin with, and the end result of that complexity is a shallow game where almost nothing happens other than home runs, strike outs, and grounding out into a shift. “Complex but simple” is boring.

  1. Including ourselves. 
  2. “Break My Stride,” Lyrics from
  3. This includes text, social media, or an actual call. Just in case you were wondering. 
  4. With prior permission, of course 
  5. Typically between 11 AM and 2 PM. 
  6. All Generation X has left is irony. True story.