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.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Last night I had the joy and privilege of attending Perkins School of Theology Alumni Award Banquet. The receipent of the 2010 Distinguished Alumnus Award was Rev. Adam Hamilton, the Lead Pastor of UM Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. In a movingly eloquent and deeply thoughtful acceptance speech, he spoke of the need to combine the head and the heart. Dr. Hamilton noted that this was a common characteristic of Methodism. He is right that at our best we combine the head and the heart. And yet, I think that we, both lay and clergy, need to be more dilgent in the clarity and depth of our theology as expressed from the pulpit and in our teaching. What is the last new book on theology that you have read? How have you been chanllegned to think through your faith (and its expression) in light of the human dilemna. It is easy to unthinkingly reflect the bias of our own education and cultural situation. It is hard to think widely and reflect deeply. The early Methodists were required to do theological reading as the traveled on the circuit. Maybe it is time for us to reinstitute such a policy by covenanting to read and reflect together.