Summer Activities: Intentional, Slow, Reflective

This summer has been a sabbatical of sorts for my family and I. For the past 11 or so years, we have been involved in church planting efforts here in Syracuse and in Philadelphia during, and for a short while after, college. As the saying goes, sweat, blood and tears have gone into our efforts and in many ways we are now in need of some rest.

Awhile ago I posted Summer Reading: Intentional, Slow, Reflective. There I listed the books I was going to be engaging with, not for information alone, but for their formative aspects as well. I have since completed the first two and have enjoyed them immensely. “Enjoyed” isn’t the proper word; it is more like finding a soothing balm for my soul. It has been said that God meets us in the things we love. Reading is something I love and have found God’s subtle whisper in many of the pages I have covered.

And yet, rest is not the cessation of activity. It is not a pulling away from work. (Indeed, reading itself is not rest; it requires quite a bit of attentiveness, reflection, and vulnerability. It is not nothing, as some might assume.) Rather than simply putting the brakes on certain things and allowing a void, my wife and I have put down some markers for our summer. Just as I have purposely engaged in intentional, slow, reflective reading as a portion of my formation, we have purposely placed before us some activities that are equally as formative. One might call it a rule of life for the summer. I share them here in hopes you might find some encouragement, insight, or furthering of your own ideas.

Getting In Bed By 10pm

One of the main disciplines I have always struggled with is sleep. Yes, sleep is a discipline. Many of us, myself included, are unaware and thus very unintentional about our sleeping patterns. We have assumed our spiritual lives have nothing to do with our sleeping or lack thereof. Like small children, we all get cranky, apathetic, and/or sick due to insufficient amounts of sleep. For many, our physical bodies have had nothing to do with our Christian discipleship – beyond not having premarital sex – and yet we wonder why lethargy creeps in emotionally, spiritually, socially, and many other ways when we are constantly tired. We are whole beings, living with bodies intimately tied to our souls, both needing rest. For my wife and I, being aware of our sleep, especially with 3 small children, is vital to our overall health, both physical and spiritual, which are eternally tethered.

Working on the Farm

We joined a Community Supported Agriculture community for the summer and early fall. This means that we have financially contributed to the well-being and productivity of a local farm, 1860 Organics, in exchange for a weekly share of their produce. Theological convictions coupled with ecological and economical realities have pushed us into doing this and we have already learned much.

In an effort to engage in hands on learning, we have decided to help out at the farm once a week. Receiving local, organic fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis has already changed our outlooks on food, but we want to learn the skills necessary for cultivating these things. The 15 or so minute drive to the farm is well worth the education we have been receiving in understanding the ins and outs of what it takes to put food on the table. Thankfully, we have been able to bring our daughters to the farm and our oldest daughter has been able to do a small amount of work alongside me. Having their imaginations formed in a way that sees food as something that takes time, patience, and tenderness instead of just easily picked up as a grocery store commodity is something we see as highly beneficial.

Moreover, it has been eye-opening to see the deep correlation between church planting and actual agricultural work. Planting, weeding, watering coalesce with patience, humility, and openhandedness in a way that brings to life many of Scripture’s stories. Yes, it is work, but it is a work that has been subtly formative as we endeavor to understand the dust we are made from.

Being Attentive to Our Neighbors

One of the recurring themes within the missional, church planting movement(s) is being attentive to our neighbors. I firmly believe this to be true, especially as we move deeper into the neighborhood in our efforts to join with God as God works. However, one of the most overlooked and underdeveloped practices of many in the missional conversation is this actual attentiveness to our neighbors. The busyness that comes along with trying to cultivate, organize, and equip missional disciples often manifests itself in leaders who have little to no time for those living next door or down the street. I know this was and is true of me and I have heard similar stories from many church planters.

So, we have been intentionally sitting outside with our girls. And not out back, which is still open to seeing others due to being on a corner lot, but out front. In the little time we have been doing this daily activity, we have already had frequent conversations with our next door neighbors and have also met “new” neighbors. Hearing the stories of our neighbors’ work days, children’s schedules, and summer traveling has furthered the posture we believe Jesus wants to develop in all of us: being listeners. It’s amazing how much learning can be done by simply being present to people.

These are just three areas we are purposely engaging in for the summer – and (hopefully) longer. Each one is intentional, slow, and reflective, for which time, patience, and rootedness are prerequisites. Certainly, there seem to be shortcuts, quick results, or unconscious efforts we could engage in. Unfortunately, we often do seek to skip ahead, fast forward, and ignorantly become concave people. The life this brings about generally reeks of self-importance, self-aggrandizement, and self-contentedness. Our hope is to push beyond this in restful ways this summer.

My prayer underneath all of this is from the beginning of the Benedictine Hours: Apertis oculis nostris, which means “Let us open our eyes.”

Education: Freedom or Bondage?

As of Monday, subsidized student loan interest rates have doubled. You can read about it here and here. I’ve often reflected on my own journey through college and seminary (graduate school) and the cost I have accrued. I’ve said it before, but if I could go back and do it all over again, I would have done community college then a state school and then seminary. Not only for the changing tides from Christendom to post-Christendom and the need for an employable skill set outside of the Church, but also for the cost. Private, religious education doesn’t come cheaply.

But besides the financial restraints that come along with education, we must be aware of what sort of character bondage are we falling prey to. Institutions of education, whether public or private, faith-based or not, high school or college, are places of formation. They do not only make impacts on our wallets, but also on our being. They – along with everything else in this life – hand us stories and practices resulting in identities comprised of both character and skill: being and doing. If we aren’t walking through life with eyes and ears attuned to these stories and practices, we will be formed in ways that we are not cognizant of. And not always for the best.

So, in many ways, I wonder how education has either brought freedom or bondage to our lives.

Norman Wirzba brings this to our attention with the following quote. Notice how he ties together our financial costs to our current primary way of identification, namely as consumers. In a world deeply marked by individualistic consumerism, we would do well to ask in what manners education is forming us to become just that: individual consumers. As we perpetuate and participate in consumeristic stories and practices, our identities are subtly, yet profoundly, shaped to the point where consumerism simply oozes out of us. And, as inwardly bent consumers, we are often blinded by prices, efficiency, and ease; the very things which keep us buried beneath “ignorance and incompetence.”

In the end, we must begin to wrestle with the inextricable tie between all areas of life. We fool ourselves when we think our economic decisions (doing) don’t flow directly from our character (being). In a world striving after the proper credentials, we need to be strident in our simultaneous cultivation of our character.

Freedom or bondage?

Though we may produce remarkable communicators (often communicating little of value) or efficient managers (often managing sites that are exhausted or degraded), the fact of the matter is that current education does precious little to develop in us the basic competencies of life – growing and preparing food, raising a family, judging quality, maintaining a home, practicing hospitality, or making a toy – that are vital and indispensable to a healthy and successful life. Because many of our educational agendas are driven by “the career of money,” most basically in the form of corporate funding and in the promotion of the most lucrative (especially to corporations) fields of study, we should not be surprised that the most essential skill graduates must learn is how to write a check or lay down a credit card. Education, rather than leading us to freedom, fosters various forms of bondage as we move further into economic debt (beginning with our educational costs!) owing to our collective ignorance and incompetence.– Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, 134. 

Sabbath and Salvation

I’m currently in Cleveland, Ohio on vacation with my family. My wife grew up out here and so we periodically make the trek to spend time with her family. I’m always amazed at the extended family’s relationship and the culture it has produced. Cousins, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, and grandparents get together over food, swimming, beach trips, new babies, and more food. We shed some tears, laugh beyond control, and live without demanding schedules for a week.

It is very good for my soul.

While here, I’ve been reading Norman Wirzba’s Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight. My wife and I are taking a bit of a sabbatical this summer, as we’ve been engaged in church planting for the past 4 years or so (on our own) and have been actively planting churches for the past 11 years or so in a variety of roles. (I’ll write more on it later, I’m sure.) Anyways, this week in Ohio has been our first week of resting and delighting.

One quote from Wirzba’s book has really stuck out and challenged my imagination. In it he ties together Sabbath and salvation in a way that pushes us beyond the typical post-mortem view of salvation where an escape to a spiritual heaven is the end goal. The quote struck a chord with me due its inherent embodied, incarnational nature.

I know I have tended to work without rest – to the point of extreme weariness and exhaustion. It manifests itself as competition, irritability, angst, and a complete lack of prayer. In many ways, I have been caught up in the industrial/consumeristic rhythm of life: work, work, work and, if you can, rest here and there. The fallacy at the heart of this mentality is that more and more sweat will bring more and more productive results. It stems from a dominance over the world instead of being a creature intertwined within the ecosystem of the world.

It happens all the time, and I see it in many Christian leaders, but the tendency to run ourselves into the ground is generally a lack of understanding that we are creatures. We are embodied things, existing in time and space. As such, we get tired and worn out, yet when we begin to see the manifestations of our weariness it is often too late. Damage has already been done, not only to ourselves, but our families, co-workers, and the rest of those people learning about Jesus primarily through how we actually live our lives.

In many ways, I have allowed myself to fall prey to non-Sabbath being and doing: I have not taken into account the interdependency and interconnectivity of life. I work myself to death and wonder why my children seem to drive me up a wall. I have to mow the lawn today or else I won’t have time to prep for teaching. I have to be “on mission” at my 50 hour a week job, yet I don’t know why I don’t have time for those whom I’m in a discipling community with. Because of this holistic reality of life, I can’t expect to run myself ragged without it taking a toll on all aspects of my life, not just my “ministry” or “family”, as if they were separate realms. In short, I lose the delight of life when I don’t have the rest of life. 

And so Wirzba draws our attention back to this interconnectedness and interdepedence through an understanding that salvation isn’t an escape, but rather a “deep immersion” in our world. Salvation brings a harmony between us and creation, not an escape from it. This is what the Sabbath is about: resting in the delightful created order and its pleasurable existence. What is lost from the original Sabbath is restored in salvation.

So here is Wirzba.

Christ…does not take us out of creation to save us, but rather saves us precisely by enabling us to enter more fully and more harmoniously into it, and then to find in this deep immersion the reality of God.

In what ways have you separated Sabbath and salvation? Are you weary? Are you tired? I’d love to hear.