Friday, August 29, 2014

Live well in the 'uninstagrammable'

How can we become less avoidant of- and more present- to life?
"The Twitter stream of a thousand thoughts in real time and the Instagram curation of an unsustainable aesthetic imposed on everyday living and the Facebook Likes and Friend Requests and Updates Updates Updates and the emails in my inbox about designing a smartphone app to win a chance to meet the Dalai Lama — “Tech for compassion!” it reads, and I shiver.

We live in era obsessed with capturing, keeping, sharing, spreading. But it is the moments we can hold only in our flawed and failing minds that make up our real lives. It is those moments, then, reckless and out of sight, uninstagrammable and untweetable and lost in the instant, that make us human."

From The Stanford Daily and by Jennifer Schaffer, Book Review: “The Circle” and the Masking of Workaholicism  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sabbath: A School for the Desires

It occurs to me that Sabbath is a school for our desires, an expose and critique of the false desires that focus on idolatry and greed that have immense power for us. When we do not pause for Sabbath, these false desires take power over us. Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance

Like a searing diatribe of a Micah or James or Jesus, Walter Brueggemann's latest volume doesn't waste words or time getting to core of the biblical theme of the Fourth Commandment in Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of NOW. (2014) Yes, it's a short 88 pages.

needed: a sabbatical from multitasking 
A long time reader and admirer of his writing, I'm always appreciative of Brueggemann's facility in the Bible whole and the interconnections of the Decalogue.

My first question was answered fairly early on: God didn't need a Sabbath in Jesus' declaration in John 5:17  (there's no work stoppage with him or the Father). But, however you read this passage, it's clearly not about God actually needing a break, it's more about God taking a break, resting on the seventh day of creation, for our sake. The Sabbath was made and modeled by God for the purpose of humanity.   

Readers will find an excellent discussion of the Sabbath in the context of the Exodus, and Brueggeman's well-known juxtaposition of the Sinai covenant community versus the system of Pharaoh's Egypt. Israel is delivered from slavery, a place where the only thing that matters is the number and speed of commodities produced. Neighbor- and God- are reduced to a means of self-service.     

The Sinai covenant represents a deliverance from a system of both idolatry, covered by the first two Commandments, and greed, addressed in the last Commandment. The Sabbath, the Fourth Commandment, is thus the fulcrum on which the first and later Commandments turn. It both bridges our worship of one God and our living in a community of "neighborliness,"  facets of which are harmony, consideration for others, and shalom (peace with justice).     

The author shows that wherever the prophets of Israel do denounce the Sabbath, it was not Sabbath itself that was the issue, but rather, using it to justify idolatry, greed and injustice to neighbor. As a part of the biblical prophetic critique, multitasking is lambasted. Why? Multitasking in the prophets is about scheming to get what's not ours (coveting), all the while supposedly at worship.

We deceive ourselves if we think that the multitasking that infects every facet of our living doesn't also somehow greatly diminish our spiritual health and our loving God, neighbor, and self.  But that's what idolatry does. The Sabbath is intended to break the cycle of our own competing, coveting, and planning to get and do more and more and more. And more, in the end, can never be enough.  

The reader will find Brueggeman's insight into- and the range of- biblical texts to be impressive, the basis for a grand invitation to rest- and let that be enough. Preachers need to drink deeply of the message of this little volume. With the teaching of Sabbath comes the recognition that Christian clergy have been, as a rule, poor practitioners of true, life-giving Sabbath, often in the name of successful ministry, production of numbers-  and the more recent fixation on formulaic "fruitfulness."

If we do not Sabbath, then why would we expect the ones we serve to do the same? Or to care? Should we be surprised whenever we discover ourselves running on empty? 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Does Everything 'Happen for a Reason'?

Time to engage, not suspend, thought 
Can there be a more deadening chorus of our culture than everything happens for a reason? Its prevalence is probably a good indicator of the complete dearth of thoughtful reflection, a malady caused, in part, by life-in-nanosecond.  

Perhaps post modernism has had its way, but instead of post- modern faith, which supposedly finds whatever works, regardless of origin, these words have become the mantra. The purpose of mantras is to suspend thought, not engage it. 

Like bumper sticker theology before it, theology by hash tag can come up with some goofy stuff. No, there isn't a reason for everything that happens. In Scripture, we again turn to The Preacher in the famous third chapter to find what's actually in the Bible: 
 There’s a season for everything
    and a time for every matter under the heavens:
  a time for giving birth and a time for dying,
 a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted
  a time for killing and a time for healing
 a time for tearing down and a time for building up,
  a time for crying and a time for laughing,
    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,
 a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,
 a time for searching and a time for losing,
    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,
a time for tearing and a time for repairing,
    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,
 a time for loving and a time for hating,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

We'll note that there is a time and season for absolutely everything. God designates the seasons, the times, and the nations. Acts 17:26  What about reasons for everything? Not for us to worry about, or at least to know about, right now. Or maybe ever.

Who cares who said it first?  When it comes to actually explaining goofy, catch phrases, like the old-school game kick- the- can, whomever last says 'there's a reason for everything' is IT."    

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Expect the Unexpected- More Senseless 'Advice'

Being slow to speak is a virtue, according to James 1:19
"God will never give you more than you can handle."  "There but the grace of God go I." Like other words that come out of our mouths to make us feel better, offering a popular phrase like "expect the unexpected" may be more cruel than beneficial.    

This trite bit of verbiage I've heard from physicians, clergy, spiritual directors, and others who should know better. Maybe it's a simple confession of ignorance, but using these words does not help.  

Where does it come from? The best I come up with is Ecclesiastes 9:11 (CEB):

I also observed under the sun that the race doesn’t always go to the swift, nor the battle to the mighty, nor food to the wise, nor wealth to the intelligent, nor favor to the knowledgeable, because accidents can happen to anyone. People most definitely don’t know when their time will come. (italics added) 

I appreciate italicized words in the NRSV. It simply states "time and chance happen to everyone." 

I get it, life is unpredictable and fragile. Most of us prefer certainty to mystery, because like fool's gold, the thought that life can be had on our terms may keep us avoiding our own powerlessness. But when someone is in crisis, mouthing this little ditty to them is not wisdom but idiocy. Yes, we know life is unpredictable. We didn't choose to be in this difficult place. Don't heap on the misery by stating the obvious. If it helps you, save it- and keep it- for yourself.  

The best way to overcome living by thoughtless sound bites is to be ourselves, as we really are- with another human being. It is to be our own best self. That means when faced with the terrifying uncertainty of our own -or another's- living or dying- we don't rely on catch phrases, but on the compassion of God as we have nurtured it-  and have experienced it.  

If we don't have God's compassion, we cannot offer it. No amount of repeating what you heard in that Dale Carnegie Seminar will change that.  

Oldies but Goodies