Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ordering Private Worlds

The church that takes seriously the fact that Jesus is Lord of all time will not just celebrate quietly every time we write the date on a letter or a document, will not just set aside Sunday as far as humanly and socially possible as a celebration of God's new creation (and will point out the human folly of a seven-day working week), will not just seek to order its own life in an appropriate rhythm of worship and work. Such a church will also seek to bring wisdom, and freshly humanizing order, to the rhythms of work in offices and shops, in local government, in civic holidays, and in the shaping of public life. These things cannot be taken for granted. The enormous shifts during my own lifetime, from the whole town observing Good Friday and Easter to those great days being simply more occasions for football matches and yet more televised reruns of old movies (with, often enough, no sign in the television schedules of anything remotely to do with Jesus or the gospel!) are an index of what happens when a society loses its roots and drifts with the prevailing social currents. The reclaiming of time as God's good gift (as opposed to time as simply a commodity to be spent for one's own benefit, which often means fresh forms of slavery for others) is not an extra to the church's mission. It is central.

N.T. Wright, from his excellent book "Surprised By Hope," challenged me this week to think about how I order my own life. Or more specifically, how I let external forces order my own life.

Why is it that Holidays like Thanksgiving & Christmas are spent around the television screen watching football games? And when we're not there, around the dinner table gorging ourselves?

I guess I've really been re-thinking priorities & order lately with the recent collapse of the Red Sox in the AL East race with the Yankees. It almost feels like an annual tradition now: the Red Sox collapse in August or September, and they scratch & claw to hold on or at least win the Wild Card.

I'm sick of it. No, not just of how pitiful the Sox close seasons. But of how much I invest in hoping that they somehow find that mojo & pull their way out of their hole.

I guess I really started thinking about all of this last summer when I was trekking around on my Ballpark Pilgrimage. The more tickets I purchased, the more disgusted I was at how much it costs to go watch a professional baseball game. It is obscene. That's not hyperbole; I think that's the best word to describe it. It is OBSCENE how much money baseball franchises and athletes make off of ordinary Americans who enjoy baseball & want to take their families to the ballpark.

And why do I love baseball so much, anyway? Is it because of MLB's savvy marketing that they hooked me when I was a kid? I loved Craig Ferguson's remarks on marketing & youth in a comedy sketch he performed last month.

So why do I love ball? And give it so much in terms of fanhood & devotion? Is it because the game is pure? No, it's certainly not that anymore. Is it because the players are more noble & play for the love of the game? Ticket prices made me re-analyze that concept. Is it because the people who run baseball love America & love their fanbase? Let me go on record: I feel a lot of animosity toward Bud Selig. We'll leave that at that. So what is it, then? Is it just because (as Craig Ferguson suggests) I loved it as a kid and feel manipulated to fulfill loyalty to a brand?

Maybe so. It is still a fun game, though. I love the game. I'm just not in love with the state of the game at the very top anymore.

And its really kind of a shame that it took ALL OF THAT to call into question for me why I'd invest more and more time & money & passion into that enterprise. Because it should have been my faith! It should have been my own sense of what's really important stemming from my worldview & my commitment to the Kingdom.

Our Church family just had Revival last week. It was an encouraging experience. But in many ways the experience is over. As much as we enjoyed the spiritual high, you can't capture & bottle all that emotion forever. So after that wonderful experience last week -- and after reading some N.T. Wright -- I got to thinking about, "After the Mountaintop experience, what then?"

Thankfully, a Randy Harris sermon came to mind. I remember him talking about Abraham & Isaac up on Mt. Moriah, as recorded in Genesis 22. What a mountaintop experience that must have been, huh?

But what happened after that emotional experience? Well, they had to climb down the mountain I guess. Right? Set up camp. Fix breakfast -- Isaac keeping one eye fastened on his Dad, just in case he got any more ideas.

They had to do regular stuff! The mundane! You know, about 95% of life consists of the mundane. Of commutes, and cleaning dirty dishes, and everything else that has to be done. They're important things. But they're also mundane. And we want more EXCITEMENT in our lives. So sometimes we begin to neglect the important things because they feel mundane, and we waste our time on silly things because they feel more exciting. And in the end our life gets out of order. And then it's amazing how we begin to wonder why we're so spiritually empty.

I'm convicted about this. As a Church, we have to establish for ourselves appropriate rhythms of worship & work & rest. I think, like N.T. Wright does, that this should be a hallmark of the Church: that people look at our lives & see healthy rhythms. That we bring wisdom, and a fresh order, wherever we go.

It's a fight to order your own private world.

And here's the real sinister reality: if you don't work to order it yourself, it will be ordered for you. And I'm sure whoever establishes that order for you will be happy to rake in your money. Whatever it is that is YOUR over-indulgent pleasure: whether MLB, or Mafia Wars (or Farmtown, or World of Warcraft, etc.), or shopping, or whatever it is.

I guess I just don't like the idea anymore of the principalities & powers (Eph. 6:12) setting my daily agenda for me. I hope you don't, either.


coffeedrinkingpreacher said...

Amen, brother. Over the summer, we started evaluating what we were allowing to control our schedules. Soccer practices, games, gymnastics, scouts, school....we had little quality time to just be together and talk about the Lord. When we were home, we just wanted to veg out after all the activity.

I found that our spiritual quality was suffering. The Lord's commands were becoming burdensome (1 Jn. 5:3) because they were interfering with servicing our blessings.

I found that I would avoid guilt by compartmentalizing the Lord's work to what fit my schedule of serving my blessings. If I did X, Y, and Z, then it is someone else's job to do the rest. I do not need to worry it.

That mentality has made me sick to my stomach, and I am scared to death that it is a heart that I am training my children. We have been careful about how much to get involved in different activities this fall.

Philip, praise God for your honesty, examination, and sharing it with the rest of us. May the Lord be with you as you order your world around His kingdom.

Emily :) said...

This was for me Philip! I was actually thinking about blogging about the very same subject today. I struggle often with the mundane, routine tasks of life. I often feel like I'm living in Groundhog Day washing dishes, washing clothes, washing kids...

God has really been speaking to me about seeking Him in the mundane things and developing a servant's heart. Thanks for sharing.