Monday, September 10, 2012

A Glorious Ruining

Of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, the one most tell me the struggle with it patience.  I can’t recall that I’ve ever had someone come up to me and say, “I really had a hard time being kind” or “I need to work on gentleness.”  No, it’s pretty much always “I keep asking the Lord to help me be more patient.”  (Sometimes it’s “I need to stop asking the Lord to help me be more patient, because he keeps sending me situations that really test my patience!”  But same thing.)  Maybe it’s because impatience is a universal problem that everyone struggles with.  Or maybe because it’s easier to admit to being impatient than it is to not being good, faithful or even gentle.  But maybe there is something else going on.
We live in a drive-thru, instant, smartphone culture of fast  everything.  When we went from dial-up to high-speed DSL Internet access at my house, we all reveled in how much faster web surfing had become.  Now I have to endure the endless assaults from my adult children whenever they are home because our Internet is so slow, and I have to contemplate the increased cost of cable Internet.  Smartphones and tablets provide amusements anytime and any place, so no time is dead time.  When any news from anywhere can be known right now via real-time Twitter stream, when any question can be answered with a quick Google search on a mobile device, when any song or book can be purchased in an instant without going to a record store (a what?) or a bookstore, and when there seems to be an app for everything, waiting for anything that takes more than an instant seems prehistoric.
If the Middle Ages gave us The Seven Deadly Sins, the 21st Century has bequeathed The Two Must-Avoid Sins: slowness and boredom.  Kids often call things “boring” or “slow” that they either don’t understand or which would take too much time and energy to make even an attempt at understanding, and I fear that adults are falling into that adolescent trap as well.  When I was a kid I used to think that watching baseball on T.V. was the most boring thing in the world.  The game just moved so slow, and there was hardly any action.  But the more I played the game and watched the game—in other words, the more I understood the game—the more intriguing it became.  Every pitch was a game within the game, and depending on whether that pitch was called a ball or a strike changed everything.  It changed the pitcher’s approach, the hitter’s approach, whether a runner would attempt a steal or the manager would call for a hit and run.
When I was a child, I thought that worship was like baseball, slow and boring.  But now I know different.  Nonetheless, more and more people are demanding that worship services be fast-paced, entertaining, and immediately applicable to their lives.  I get that, and I do think it’s important to eliminate dead time between elements, to keep worshipers engaged, and for sermons to be helpful on Monday morning.
But I'm also reminded that some things take time—that, indeed, the most important things in life take time and cannot be rushed.  Developing the spiritual life is a slow process.  The soul is fed more from a crock pot than from a microwave.  That is because what seems on the surface—and is often presented as such by Christian marketers hacking their wares—as something simple: “Read the Bible and pray for a few minutes every day!” is really quite complicated, but in a glorious way.  Rushing through it, trying to over-simplify it, trying to reduce it to something that can be contained in an app on a mobile device not only cheapens it, but also guarantees that what results will be some lesser version of the real thing.
And maybe that is all right.  If all you’ve ever eaten is microwave lasagna, then you’ll be satisfied with it.  But once you’ve taken the time to bake real  lasagna, you’re ruined for the fast and cheap stuff.
And in the spiritual life, it’s a glorious ruining.

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