Consider the BORG

 

A few years ago I decided I would give up busyness and worry. It would have been easier to give up coffee and red meat. I made it about three days. I discovered how much I am addicted to busyness and worry. Withdrawal is worse than a caffeine headache. I discovered what I suspected: if there is nothing to worry about, I find something; if I have a few hours of uncommitted, discretionary time, I find a project and get busy doing it.

I have internalized a cultural value that embraces busyness and mistrusts idleness. It is wired into my nervous system. I am struggling to get it out of my system. I am in recovery.

Reading Thomas Merton helps me in my recovery. In one of his journals he wrote:

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times.”

His point: to embrace this somehow tears into the fabric of our identities. We are less and less authentically ourselves, and more and more defined by what is outside of us. We become more driven by what is expected of us (or by what we expect of ourselves), and loose touch with who we might be, what lies at the center of our own souls. It is a depersonalizing act of violence. We are drawn and quartered. Worse yet, we tie the ropes onto our hands and feet.

There is much about being human that is beautiful and good, and has absolutely nothing to do with producing anything. We are so much more than the things we do. If we jamb our days till they overflow with projects, we are at risk of loosing important parts of ourselves. Do we recognize the value and importance of simply having tea with a friend, of breathing in the smell of a damp field, of listening to the rain, of simply sitting together opening to God?

Merton suggests that not only are we missing significant pieces of our human experience. We are at great risk of misdirecting our lives. Our compulsive busyness becomes a source of violence as we begin to value others and ourselves less as people, and more as objects in relationship to our projects and goals. We fail to notice and begin to pour the dark side of our personalities over each other.

Again, Merton:

“When we live superficially, when we are always outside of ourselves, never quite ‘with’ ourselves, always divided and pulled in may directions by conflicting plans and projects, we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be without meaning in our lives…this inner contradiction, derived from the alienation and frustration in American life, is one of the roots of violence in our society. We seek release by fantasies and dramas of violence.” (Love and Living, Harcourt, 1979, p. 43.)

Even the church is complicit when it surrenders without critical thought to cultural models that surround it. A good Christian becomes defined as a busy Christian, purpose driven, fully engaged in a 24/7 busy church. Busyness becomes a substitute for real discipleship. People unconsciously become valued more for what they do to help the church meet its goals, than for who they are as sacred persons.

A path to recovery? Recognize and name our addiction. Reclaim the beauty and power of sabbath time, silence, listening to God, of play and idleness. Value each other first as persons, and then figure out what we might do together.

We do have much to do. We are called to feed the hungry, clothes the naked, visit the sick, to respond to the needs of others that surround us. But out of compassion, not as projects that prove our significance as an organization. And we need to keep real boundaries in place, least we turn ourselves and others into cogs in some productive machine (Borgs).

We need to recover our sacred, human center.

Consider the Dolphins

A few weeks ago my wife and I spent a weekend in Cape May. We stayed on the fifth floor of an ocean front hotel. Our balcony faced the ocean. I am not an early riser, but sunrise over the Atlantic is a thing not to be missed. So I got up early in the morning and sat on the balcony with my coffee. The sunrise was spectacular. The sun rose, a large white-pink disk. Half the sky shimmered, soft greens fading into shades of yellow and pink. Low clouds were like rose colored mountains floating just above the horizon. I listened to the waves striking the beach and the water flowing back to the sea.

Then I noticed that there were at least a dozen dolphins swimming just off the shore. One at a time, then in pairs, then in groups of three or four, blue-gray thick bodies would rise, arc above the water and disappear. They were feeding, or dancing, or perhaps just playing.

It struck me, as I watched the dolphins, that all of this beauty and the joy of the dolphins had nothing to do with me, my agendas, the things I can become so caught up in, the things I take so seriously. Yet there they were.

Since I am a clergy person, I tend to think in religious categories: yet God created them, keeps them, sustains them; for their own sake and not mine. Here is an obvious thought: God’s world is a lot bigger than mine! Yet how often I act as if my concerns are the center of God’s agenda! Or at least should be.

I wonder how much our religion is an attempt to domesticate God, or at least is an expression of a desire for a domesticated concept of god.

Think again about God’s response to David through Nathan the prophet, when David first proposes to build a house, a temple, for God: “Go tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD, Would you build a house for me to live in?’ ” (2 Sam. 7:5) Think how silly the idea that God who created all things needs someone to build a house in which God is to live? David’s thought is to honor God, but maybe also to harness God’s presence and power to his political agenda.

Maybe even in our churches, our desire is less to release ourselves to God, and more to domesticate God, to have God be present in this place, this time, this building, to hear and tend to our agenda.

How much richer our faith and freer our experience might be, if we were able to release ourselves into infinite sphere of God’s creation, rather than try to draw God down into the tiny space of our anxious minds, into the sphere of our churches, our goals and agendas, and even our religious doctrines.

Thomas Merton wrote somewhere that God is no-thing. We struggle with no-thing, so we make God into something, and then worship the something we create, not the living God. The result is idolatry. We even fight wars over whose concept of something is more true.

God and God’s realm are much larger, more beautiful, more joyful, than we imagine. God is the God of the sunrise, the oceans, the dolphins, of 100 million galaxies. Perhaps our most appropriate response should simply be awe and gratitude, that we, our neighbors, even our enemies, get to be part of it.

I’m Back

It’s been awhile, but I am back to blogging. A new look. A new theme. A new beginning.

I remain convinced that faith is about becoming more human, more alive, and perhaps even more vulnerable.

So much of what we experience can dehumanize us. Faith is a path of resistance.

It is not a path to a life beyond mediocracy. It is not a passion driven embrace of a purposeful mission statement. It does not help us move from good to great.

It is a reclaiming of an essence.

Reread Jesus’ parables. He deconstructs all concepts of what is good and what is great. He cracks open our concepts so that we might glimpse a different paradigm.

I look forward to our conversation.

Bill