Refuse to be Passive

Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

When Simplicity is Enough

In Uncategorized on September 22, 2013 at 9:42 am

My brain is garbled. I am having a hard time thinking clearly about anything. I’ve lost my center. I’ve failed with flair. These past two weeks have been a living failure for me, I’ve forgotten the things that keep me centered and sane. I let stress at work overcome me, as well as the boredom of tedious tasks. I’ve filled my schedule so full that my faith and my health have been relegated to the sidelines. I’ve neglected my daily time with God, and only pray when it strikes me as convenient or necessary. I haven’t been making it to the pool or the gym. And rather than living my life surrounded by the concept of simplicity and having enough, I’ve fallen into the cultural trend of wanting more—lusting after desires that in the end reflect nothing on the state of my soul, the wellness of my being, or a healthy connection to community. Push harder, go faster, commit more…these are the phrases that have been driving me the past weeks. But there have also been these phrases—relax, you deserve it; it’s not my responsibility. I’ve relaxed, knowing that our culture touts relaxation as one of the keys to health. But what is relaxation? I’m fairly certain that it’s not simply watching hours of Netflix on end and munching on my weight in marshmallows or crackers with bean dip. I think that our culture has lost track of what true relaxation is.

Today, for the first time in two weeks, I cracked the book I was reading on stability and spiritual development. I was having a hard time focusing on the words. My mind darted as the words tried to slow it down, tried to make it listen. But listening is not what my mind wanted. My mind wanted to act. So much to do, so much action. But then a paragraph caught my eye in light of the particularly busy week I’ve had, and the way in which I have spent my small amount of relaxation time.

Rest is not a couch where we kick back in front of the TV….Rather; it is a place where we learn the rhythms of the work we were made for from the One who made us. Rest is coming home to the way of life that fits, learning to inhabit the story of God’s people and practice the craft of life with God wherever we are. p61 — The Wisdom of Simplicity in a Mobile Culture by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Those words jolted me back to center. It made me take a look at the past two week in dismay, but also look forward in hope. The stressors of the world, the desires of the flesh, they are not what matter. It is my role as a member of my community that makes up the family of God, the creation of God.

The traditional practices of Christian faith—prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, works of mercy, hospitality—all these are things that have fallen off my radar. If they have made an appearance, selfishness is the root from which they have grown. It’s been months since meditation has been a part of my life, but now I am beginning to see its purpose—to keep me grounded in the things that matter, to enable me to live in such a way that I live in simplicity and am content with enough.

As someone who loves the culinary arts, I suppose that the easiest way for me to illustrate the point of enough is with food. People who are immersed in the food culture are always looking forward to the next meal, the next experience of taste, texture, balance, and presentation. They look forward to it with a zealousness that is idolatry in its truest form—gluttony in its truest form. It is an idolatry I struggle with daily. The fact that our culture has made the worship of food permissible makes it that much harder. The fact that the church also endorses it, citing scripture in regards to fellowship, has lead to a gluttonous church where many members forget that when we gather together to break bread, it does not have to be a complex task. Notice that scripture chooses on of the simplest foods as a picture of sharing in hospitality—bread. It is not fancy deserts, pates, or piles of food—it is simple. It is enough. In fact, the first century church was berated for their gluttonous ways, and the church in this century is no better.

But I digress. My point was, that as a foodie, when I am out of sync with Him who made me, I am always looking forward to my next meal, my next snack. I want it to be luxurious—filled with sugar, salt and fat—be it chocolate chip cookies or an elk burger and sweet potato fries. But here’s the thing—concept of simplicity and enough say that I am going well beyond the realm of enough. Not every meal has to be the best meal ever. We eat three times a day. If having our best meal at every meal is our goal, we doom ourselves to a self-indulgent life leading to obesity and physical malaise. An indulgent meal should be a treat, not the norm. It is not our right to indulge while others go without. The concept of enough suggests eating simpler foods—whole grains, legumes, fruit, vegetables. Fancy preparation is not required. If your lunch consists of black bean soup and a side salad, that is enough. If you’re daily going out and looking for a large plate of pasta drenched in Alfredo sauce and topped with sautéed shrimp, that is too much.

 The norm needs to be to aim for enough. The norm needs to be simplicity. Without that norm, we relegate ourselves to spiritual, physical, and mental illness. We need our lives to be centred around something more than a product we consume. When our lives become about consumption and materialism, we will fail with flair in all the parts of life that matter. As I was jolted back to centre, I hope this post gives you a jolt as well. Have you lost your centre? Where have you found your new centre? And what will you do to get back to where you need to be?

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The Wisdom of Stability in a Mobile Culture

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2013 at 8:06 am

When you pray, be careful what you ask for. You just might get it. So when you pray for discernment of God’s will and for him to show you his way, be ready for the answer. Often it is neither what you expect nor what you hope for.

About a month ago a friend emailed me with a job opportunity in central London. The pay was appallingly low, but I had the skill set and believed in the work that they were doing. I applied for the position, noting that I was an international applicant, and, provided that they couldn’t find a local applicant, they seemed interested in bringing me over on a work visa. I have been working towards a return to England ever since my semester abroad at Oxford in university. As I already am a bit of a nomad with a good dose of wander lust, this opportunity seemed to be the perfect match.

Now, a month later, the closing date on the post looms less than ten days away. I’ve been praying consistently about this opportunity—for wisdom and discernment of God’s will. After all, if our hearts are willing, there is no limit on where God will take us. There have been a number of times in the past where I heard the word, “Go,” and made plans for departure, having only a semblance of an idea of what was in store.

This time was different though. The more I prayed, the more I got a niggling feeling that I was not going to hear that word. I was not going to be told, “Go.”  But that doesn’t make any sense to me. Isn’t God in the business of sending people? Isn’t that what the great commission is all about? I set aside the feeling of unease that was rising and continued to pray.

Two weeks ago I was sitting in church. We were reflecting on a passage of scripture. I no longer know which one, but I do remember that it had absolutely nothing to do with my future in England. And yet, as I read one of the lines of scripture, the words came to me. “You’re not done here yet.”  Immediately following that was a list of all the blessings that God has poured out on me following my return to Edmonton, chased by a list of all the reasons I couldn’t leave—all the opportunities to develop, all the opportunities that are part of my roll as a Christ-follower. Could God use someone else? Absolutely. Is he calling me? Yes. As this realization dawned on me, I wanted to go into denial. My eyes welled up with tears and I had to leave the service. Maybe this was just my mind, and not the Holy Spirit speaking to me. Regardless, I was so distraught over this that I said, “Well, if I have to stay, I might as well get involved.” I volunteered for three events that day. Maybe that was a bit of an emotional decision. Thankfully two of the three are for one-time events.  But still, God could change his mind, couldn’t he? Not that he’s really known for that, but it happens. I took hold of one little word out of that entire sentence—You’re not done here yet. That last word, the word yet, gave me a bit of comfort. England may still be in the cards for the future, just not now.

If there was any niggling doubt left in my mind, it was solidified a week and a half later. This past Wednesday I went to my evening Theologizers group, and had my friend present me with a book I’d requested from him last week. It was a book by an author I greatly admire—Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove—who is a member of intentional community and the new monastic movement. I didn’t know what the book was called, but when my friend mentioned he had a few extra copies, I jumped at the chance to get one. As he handed over the book, I looked down at the title: The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I knew exactly what I would find within the pages of the book. I left the meeting that night and walked to the bus stop, waiting for the number 8 to come and whisk me towards home. It was a balmy evening and I sat on the bench, waiting. I took out the book, and opened it, deciding to bite the proverbial bullet. The foreword was by another of my faith heroes, who is also an excellent author—Kathleen Norris (I don’t think she’s related to Chuck). As I began to read, I knew I was right. She spoke of the gutsy move it was for Wilson-Hartgrove to write a book on staying in place, building faith and community in a culture that is always encouraging to go bigger, go wider, go farther. She spoke of the roll that stability and putting down roots plays in developing our spiritual life, and the way that we only ever find true stability when we quit our wandering. In that place where we commit to our Christian community, our neighbhourhood and our city , we find out purpose. We find life. Life is relational, and relationships take time. The fulfilment that our culture is looking for by being constantly on the move can only be found when we slow down and take a closer look. Our society once again is grasping at straws in the dark. They don’t see the greater purpose, they don’t see where fulfilment can be found.

I’m only a couple of chapters into the book, but I’m already drafting my letter withdrawing my application for the position in London. I know that if I don’t do this, and they eventually offer me the position, that I wouldn’t be able to say no. I’ve always listened to the spirit in the past when he said, “Go.” What a hypocrite I’d be if I didn’t also listen when the message was, “Stay.”

So be careful what you pray for. Be careful when praying for wisdom and discernment about opportunities in your path. God answers prayer. Are you sure you want to know?