Friday, February 5, 2010


Recently I was watching a rebroadcast of Ken Burn’s marvelous series on the National Parks. At one point the narrator shared insights from the great naturalist John Muir. Introducing what would become Yosemite National Park, Muir said, “You can’t really experience life at 40 miles an hour.” Those words were uttered when 40 miles an hour seemed a breathtaking speed. Today 40miles an hour is a slow pace. And yet, Muir’s statement is still profoundly true. We live in a time of utter overload. Rarely do we take adequate time for rest(Sabbath or otherwise), recreation (re-creation!), or recovery. One scholar in the field, Dr. Richard Swenson, writes: “Life in modern-day America is essentially devoid of time and space. Not the Star Trek kind. The sanity kind. The time and space that once existed in the lives of people who regularly lingered after dinner, helped the kids with homework, visited with the neighbors, sat on the lawn swing, went for long walks, dug in the garden and always had a full night’s sleep. “People are exhausted. Like the mother of four from LaGrange, Illinois, who said: ‘I’m so tired, my idea of a vacation is a trip to the dentist. I just can’t wait to sit in that chair and relax. “People are stressed. Like the neurosurgeon who quit medicine to open a bagel shop. People are breaking at the speed limit of life. Like the man who confessed: ‘I feel like a minnow in a flash flood.’” (Richard A. Swenson, M.D., The Overload Syndrome Learning to Live Within Your Limits, p. 11) I am convinced this is a part of the reality of modern life. I know it is a part of my life. I keep getting pushed back to some of the insights shared by Tom Albin at the clergy Day Apart. Burnout is a common term in modern life. It is new because now, like never before, we are overstressed by the pace of living. An old Chinese proverb says that a long journey begins with a single step. Allow me to share three simple examples of how to take a few small steps. (I know I am writing to myself but hopefully the reader can reflect and make the appropriate self application.) 1) Get home at a set time! One significant thing we can do for our marriages and our families is to have a meal together each day that is not interrupted by the phone, TV or just plain lateness. Make being home and being together a priority. Quantity of time has a quality all its own. 2) Turn off your cell phone for a period of time each day (while you are sleeping doesn’t count). I know this may surprise you but somehow we managed to live without always having a phone on next to us. We’ve done it before; we can do it again. I remember listening to Charles Osgood reflecting on how many cell phone calls were really unnecessary. Have you ever hand the conversation where you are simply reporting to people your location? Turn the phone off and get some quiet time to live with yourself or talk to your spouse. A cell phone Sabbath is a good idea! 3) Take 15 minutes each day to simply be still before God. This is about understanding who is really in charge. It is about honoring the first commandment –“you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Actually, 30 minutes should be the minimum but start easy and expand. Well, it’s time to go. I have to hurry home. May your Sabbath this week be a joy from God.


  1. There is a distinct and definitive type of question that should be answered by all of us who serve as clergy.

    The question is "Why did you decide to ________?

    -Why did you decide to leave the phone on?
    -Why did you decide to not take your day off on a regular basis?
    -Why did you decide that something else was more important than daily devotions and Bible reading unrelated to sermon preparation?
    -Why did you decide that it was necessary to attend all meetings (and scheduling them in the evenings)?
    -Why did you decide to sacrifice your family and your health for the sake of the church?
    -Why did you decide that saying "no" was not an act of love.

    My own answer to these and other questions like them . . . is as shallow as it gets . . . "It is expected of me . . ."

    And the bad part about answering this way . . . is that I have to explain that I feel it is an "implied" expectation. I can't tell you the name of anyone who told me that ministry had to be this way.

    However, when I served as the only pastor in a church . . . I felt the "implied expectation" was part of the system we work in. Now serving in a multi-pastor staff in a larger church . . . I have had the opportunity to work within a different system of sorts . . . and as a result have felt free to take time off . . . to rest . . . to develop better habits (unfortunately, they seem to develop best one-at-a-time.)

    Thank you, Bishop, because if I hear you correctly, you are saying in part that the system is what has to change, as well as our own accountability for our decisions and habits.

  2. I applaud you for seeking this for both yourself and as a challenge for others. Having served in both large churches in affluent (aka "successful", and therefore workaholism is almost celebrated) parts of town with huge staffs and in medium-sized churches with limited staff and a heritage of the congregation expecting you to do all things, be at all things, etc., I appreciate this. I think I have been fairly successful at unapologetically setting some strong boundaries for my own soul and for my family's, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that there are times I feel guilty for it. Thanks for making me be able to say, "The Bishop said it's ok", haha!