Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Cultural Criticism’ Category

A radically disruptive result of keeping the sabbath is that it denies the dominant cultural belief that we must always be working and doing. Particularly in an American culture that still suffers under the bastardization of the Puritan work ethic (which conflates righteousness with industriousness) and a sense that we are always missing out on something important, choosing to cease for one day every week is a disruptive witness to our neighbors. And it’s an act of faith in God’s providence—an embodied argument that fullness is not found in the desperate struggle of busyness. And yet it is hard for Christians to take a sabbath rest because Christianity can easily become yet another thing that fills our constantly busy life—something really no different from following football. There’s always another event to do, another study to read, another program to attend, another way to catch up, get ahead, or try to get out of the hole. A sabbath rest is an act of spiritual defiance against the ideal of existential justification through production and consumption. It is a denial of the founding principle of the American Dream—that if you want to get ahead and reach the good life, you must always be working or self-improving.

A sabbath rest is a rest from our good works, even while it obligates us to works of service. The difference is that the rest is a rest in Christ’s finished work on the cross. Sunday is not a day to “clean up our act” or “get right with God.” It is a day to rest in our imputed righteousness by Christ and turn that joy outward (the double movement) into fellowship with our brothers and sisters, meeting together and sharing the table, ceasing from our labor, meditating on the Word and on God’s natural revelation, and doing acts of service for our neighbors. I believe that sabbath rest also involves play—but it should be redemptive play, not the kind that consumes us and leaves us more mentally and emotionally drained than before. We should be refreshed, even if we are tired.

My recommendation is to see this time as a special time to love our neighbors. We might convene a small group on Sunday evenings or have people over for lunch or dinner. We should work hard throughout the week so we don’t have to work on Sunday, but remember that there is grace for those moments when work must be done—the lost sheep must be found. It’s wise to avoid shopping or work as a reminder that the marketplace is not the center of our lives, but a tool of culture we can use or abuse, like any other tool. We might also choose to rest from screens, or just smartphones and computers, and so create space for contemplation, reflection, and conversation. Alternatively, we might restrict our screen time to activities that are intentionally communal: watching a movie together, playing a game together, sharing photos and memories, or video chatting with family.

Thought of this way, the sabbath is a foreshadowing of the rest we have in Christ, which is not contingent on our good works. We don’t need to work seven days a week to be valued and important, and we don’t need to achieve spiritual maturity to receive God’s grace. But it also foreshadows the end of this age, when we will rest from the curse of toil. And what a beautiful thing that will be! By resting and refusing to participate in the rat race, we act in faith that God will care for us and that this race is no path to salvation.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

We are constantly distracted not just because there are so many things vying for our attention, but because we also cram in distractions between each of our activities. … I struggle to walk upstairs without opening my phone to see what the latest news is. Calvin Seerveld described this condition and its causes in 1980, in what probably seems like a quaint passage today:

As human time is geared to machine time to save time to give us “leisure,” the pace of human life becomes inhuman. There is less and less slack time because the machines go so fast—conveyor belt-elevator-telephone-taxi vacuum cleaner-printing press—they begin to set the over-all tempo and kind of lickety-split, clickety-click kind of time, machine-time, for our lives. And if there should perchance be an instant break somewhere, an enterprising fellow is certain to fill it with something for somebody to “consume”—coin operated candy machine, billboard, jukebox, transistor radio.

Oh, for the days when we only had to worry about enterprising fellows filling our time with candy machines and transistor radios! A practical, achievable step we can take toward reclaiming our attention and creating some space for reflection is to cut down on filler distractions. Make dinner without listening to a podcast. Use the bathroom without bringing your phone. Walk upstairs without checking Twitter, Alan. Stop seeing “unproductive” time as a problem to be solved and instead open yourself up to the possibility of undirected thought.

A habit like this can allow you to see God’s creation anew, to process experiences, to reflect on sins, to be grateful. Most important, such a habit is an embodied claim that “redeeming the time” for the days are evil means redeeming it for God, for his glory, not for profitability, productivity, efficiency, or plain busyness. How on earth can we redeem each moment for him if we are so absorbed by the next thing that we forget he exists at all?

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

The effort to live aesthetically disrupts our secular vision of the world as it is processed and packaged in the marketplace (which promotes endless stuff but not endless good) by unsettling our notions of a containable universe and the self-defined individual. There is a gratuitous quality to living aesthetically; it defies pragmatism and utilitarianism, but also greed and envy. Aesthetic living is unnecessary for survival, but it’s an appropriate goal because it reflects the gratuitous creation of the world by God. The universe itself is contingent on God for both its creation and continued being. So aesthetic living reminds us that there is always more out there, and that “always more” points definitely toward a particular God, not an absence. Done well, aesthetic living is not a burden or an obligation for those privileged with time and money. Because God created a beautiful and vast world, we don’t need wealth or an inordinate amount of time to order our lives to reflect that majesty. We need only the will to acknowledge and live openly in this world.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

[M]y typical morning routine was that shortly after waking, I’d grab my smartphone. Like digital caffeine, it would prod my foggy brain into coherence and activity. Before getting out of bed, I’d check my email, scroll through the news, glance at Facebook or Twitter.

If humans rescue a baby animal in the wild, the animal is said to be “imprinted.” It accepts the human as its mother. From that point on, it will believe that all good things come from people. It is no longer wild and it cannot live on its own. The nature center in my town houses imprinted animals—baby mountain lions, raccoons, and porcupines who rely on humans for food, water, shelter, and protection.

My morning smartphone ritual was brief—no more than five or ten minutes. But I was imprinted. My day was imprinted by technology. And like a mountain lion cub attached to her humans, I’d look for all good things to come from glowing screens.

Technology began to fill every empty moment in the day. Just before breakfast, I’d quickly scroll through email, Facebook, Twitter, a blog. And then again an hour later. I’d ignore my kids’ persistent calls for milk and snacks with a distracted “hold on” as I vaguely skimmed an article. I’d sneak in five minutes online as they ate lunch. I’d return from an errand and sit in the driveway with the car running, scrolling through news on my phone, and then I’d check my screen again before bedtime. Throughout the day I fed on a near-constant stream of news, entertainment, stimulation, likes, and retweets. Without realizing it, I had slowly built a habit: a steady resistance to and dread of boredom.

We have everyday habits—formative practices—that constitute daily liturgies. By reaching for my smartphone every morning, I had developed a ritual that trained me toward a certain end: entertainment and stimulation via technology. Regardless of my professed worldview or particular Christian subculture, my unexamined daily habit was shaping me into a worshiper of glowing screens.

Examining my daily liturgy as a liturgy—as something that both revealed and shaped what I love and worship—allowed me to realize that my daily practices were malforming me, making me less alive, less human, less able to give and receive love throughout my day. Changing this ritual allowed me to form a new repetitive and contemplative habit that pointed me toward a different way of being-in-the-world.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

Read Full Post »

The immanent frame comes in different forms. It is possible to feel that we live in a closed immanent frame, which means that there is no higher, transcendent reality. The material universe we live in is all there is and ever will be. But it is also possible to experience life within an open immanent frame. By this Taylor means that although our daily experience isn’t imbued with the supernatural, we believe that some transcendent being exists and that he can break into our world at certain times and places. What is notable here is that even when the immanent frame is open, it is still the immanent frame.

To get a sense of what this look likes, consider for a minute what it is like to attend church on Sunday. You are awakened by an alarm on your cell phone, an amazing piece of technology and testament to the power of human mastery over the natural world. You eat eggs for breakfast. They come, almost miraculously, clean, large, and white in a carton that has been inspected by some government agency to ensure it is safe. The carton lists the nutritional composition of the eggs along with a few words about their health benefits. Everything has been considered. You get dressed in clothes that you bought ready-made. You drive to church in a glistening, energy-efficient sedan with advanced safety features, and glance occasionally at the cars next to you, in which people are completely preoccupied and content with the technology around them. As you drive through the city, everything you see appears as a work of human achievement: stoplights, fire trucks, businesses, freeway overpasses, and skyscrapers. By chance you see a bluebird, and you immediately reflect back on a recent episode of an animal show you watched that featured the bluebird. “Bluebirds are part of the thrush family,” you say to no one in particular. At church, you sing songs praising God’s provision, his mercies, his creation, and his grace. But everything you experienced on the way to church, from the food you ate to the beauty you witnessed, testified to humanity’s ingenuity and mastery of the world. Your experience of the world was a testament to humanity, not God, because everything in your experience conditioned you to look to this world and its physical laws. It all makes sense as a self-sufficient immanent world, even though you know that Jesus is our Creator and Sustainer. And so, we experience life in the immanent frame even as we confess that it is open to an outside, transcendent force.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

Whatever the merits and demerits of worldview studies, the popular understanding of worldview analysis easily leads to lazy and misguided thinking about how people actually experience and interpret the world. This not a necessary slide, but it is a common one. The very structure of worldview studies pushes us to draw hasty conclusions about actual people. An experiential understanding of worldview would be much more accurate, in which we would need to include everything a person experiences, because a true “world view” is utterly comprehensive and infinitely detailed and ultimately untraceable. A bad breakup in sixth grade, the death of your father, your favorite band, and your experience as a prematurely bald man will have deep effects on you, just as will your parents’ conservative politics and your school’s teaching on origins, maybe even more so. Witnessing a relative abuse the welfare system to fund a methamphetamine addiction or having to rely on food stamps to feed your own family for a while can both deeply alter your beliefs about the state’s role in providing aid. The way humans view the world is always necessarily embodied, and it includes a perception of reality strongly formed by our past experiences.

Worldviews are composed of all the data we receive in life, and no less. James K. A. Smith has demonstrated that traditional worldview studies overemphasize rational, intentional, and cognitive beliefs over the way habits shape our desires. I’d add that our experience of being is just as formative as how we perceive reality; and liturgy, experience, memories, and even personality are largely ignored by worldview studies. Which means that a true worldview is irreducible to categories. In this sense, Marxism was only a worldview for Marx. What we call Marxism is not really a worldview at all but a broad ideology or belief about people, history, and governments. It may or may not have widespread implications for most areas of life, but those implications often will not materialize. Because, while ideas have consequences, they do not necessarily have consequences. And they never have the kind of totalizing consequences implied by the term worldview.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Read Full Post »

It is important to see that the fact that people rely on the Bible as an authoritative guide when it comes to knowing God in no way sets knowing God apart from any other ordinary act of knowing. Coming down to us from the Middle Ages has been the idea that the Bible contained revealed truth, and thus its claims were accessed by faith, while principles, say, of science were accessed by reason. When reliance on authority as a credible source of knowledge became disreputable, the religious enterprise was discredited also. By arguing that all human acts of knowing require authoritative guides, I hope you see that I mean to challenge this time-honored but false and unfortunate dichotomy. We trust our parents, we trust the nurse, we trust the Magic Eye directions, we trust the auto mechanic, we trust the piano teacher, we trust Scripture. If you like, you may call it faith. But you must call it faith when the topic is breast-feeding or golf or auto mechanics just as it is faith when the topic is God.

— Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing to Know 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »