life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Monday, September 18, 2006

exhausted lives...

I've been puzzling over why so many of us live exhausted lives. It seems to be epidemic in the western world, where our Puritan roots have yielded for many a strong sense of responsibility and an out of kilter, killer work ethic. I know this is disappearing in many of our younger people (not all), and that disturbs me. But it also disturbs me that it disturbs me. Because there is a fine line between giving an honest day's work toward our employment, or parenting our kids, or supporting our churches and service clubs, and becoming messiah for whatever situation we are involved with, whether with work or with avocation.

This is especially true of some in our churches, which offers quite an irony, doesn't it? Someone considering themselves indispensable when the church already has a Messiah? Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting an attitude of irresponsibility either, nor am I suggesting that self-sacrificial love on behalf of others is wrong. Not at all. And I, for one, certainly believe the the call of God to specific tasks happens, if for no other reason, just because of personal experience. I'm just of the opinion that something other than self-sacrificial love or the "call of God" masquerades as such much more often than we realize.

How do you spend your time? I used to worry a lot about money, how we were going to pay for this or that, or how we were going to financially absorb this or that disaster. Though I still worry about it, it has taken a distant back seat to the issue of how I use my time and what time I have available. In the past, I saw an "open door" as God's direction to enter it. No longer. I am surrounded by open doors when it comes to my time. Too many open doors.

Then there is that incessant voice (demonic, I'm beginning to believe) that drives me to productivity every waking moment (and in some moments that I shouldn't be awake, but am). Because of age (I know a lot of people older than me who would scoff at that self-characterization!), I can't stay physically active that long. Fatigue, especially due to lack of sleep, forces me to collapse once in a while (as I did last night in my recliner). But even then, unless I am literally falling asleep--and sometimes even then--my mind is racing, analyzing, playing with how to say something, dealing with human crisis, and worst of all worrying about this or that situation or person, over which I obviously have no control. And I ask the question, "Isn't there some kind of off switch that I can flip? Preferably one that's not permanent! Wretched man that I am? Who will deliver me from this work ethic of death?"

I have lived an exhausted life too long.

This is one of the reasons I am participating in the Zoe Group Growing Deeper program this year. I can proudly say that I am learning (in very, very small steps) to waste time. And since the new cohort doesn't begin until sometime next spring, here's my advice:

If you are living an exhausted life like I have been, stop reading my blog, or anyone's blog for that matter. Turn off the computer. Don't open your email program. Inventory what your time is committed to every week. And ask yourself whether anyone (including Jesus himself) could reasonably expect themselves to keep up that schedule and still have any kind of energy left. If you are waffling about the answer to that last step, ask yourself if you've read the job description for messiah.

Get out your calendar (written or electronic) and erase some things. Make some blank places. Don't use them to fix the sink, do taxes or balance your checkbook. Find a quiet place where you can be alone for awhile. Sit on the front porch and count the trees in your neighbor's yard across the street and marvel that you've lived in your home all these years and never knew how many trees he/she had nor what kind. Sit outside and listen to all of the sounds that you miss because you are in such a hurry. Watch your children play. Sip a diet SOBE peach tea (or whatever you prefer) and just sit. Go fishing. Make a list of all the ways you could waste time, especially with God, and don't revise the list until you've tried them all. If you believe in God, find a quiet place every day and practice some form of meditation, contemplative prayer, etc. Practice mindfulness. Or just sit quietly. Do something like this even if you can only manage five minutes a day. Just do it.

If you do nothing else, I at least think the Serenity Prayer used so effectively by 12-step groups is rather appropriate here (yeah, I know this thing has confounded some of you -- sorry):

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

This may seem heresy to you, this slowing down, this wasting time. Rather, I would suggest most of us have been practicing a rather destructive heresy in the way we've packed our calendars. I know I have.

Think about it.

Grace and peace,



Blogger Marshall said...

Hi, Owen,

Your post gives me pause to reflect upon a number of things. I hope that something here might prove useful.

For a few years, as you know, I attended a charismatic assembly, and I remain impressed by some of their practices. One was that, whenever they hired a new minister, worship team leader, etc., they made sure that s/he first took a class titled "Boundaries," to make sure that the flock didn't eat him/her alive. They also made sure that the head pastor took one Sunday off per month.

I reflect, too, upon a couple of New Testament passages that touch me as much today as ever. One is Galations 6:2&4. Verse 2 says to "carry each other's burdens," while verse 4 says that "each one should carry his own load." That puzzled the heck out of me for a while, until I learned that "burdens" and "load" are different Greek words. Now I always think of them as "carry each other's broken-down-truck loads," but "each one should carry his own backpack." I watch a lot of people carrying a lot of backpacks.

The other passage is forever flavored for me by something that Casey McHone once pointed out: that Jesus praised people for giving a drink to those who are thirsty, but not for digging them a well; for visiting others who were sick, but not for building them a hospital.

I also reflect upon something I read long ago in Peter Matthiessen's Indian Country back in college:"The northern spruce muskeg of James Bay, described by ' only for flooding,' is known to the Cree as Kistikani, the Garden." One man's "wasted time" is another man's rich blessing, I suppose...

I wish you boredom, Owen. :-)

6:48 PM  
Blogger Shane Coffman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Shane Coffman said...

You just preached the first half of Darryl Tippen's book "Pilgrim Heart".

I'm halfway through, and it has been nothing like I was expecting.

Have you read?

8:16 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

No, I haven't read it yet.

Perhaps the crazy pace demanded by modernity has "slapped..." a number of us "up side the head," so that we are corporately realizing the futility of such a pace.

I like Psalm 90:12.... "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." As I grow older, I recognize more and more of the wisdom in that verse.

I've heard good things about Daryl Tippens' book. I'll have to pick up a copy sometime and give it a read. Given what you say about the first half, I would be interested in seeing how he concludes in the last half!

7:56 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...


Thanks for your good wishes! Of course, with my "disease", boredom breeds frenetic activity if I'm not careful! ;-)

Despite all "rugged individual"istic protestations to the contrary, how possessed we are with the spirit of the times! Even when we try to break out of the mainstream, we end up looking like a gathering of Goth teenagers -- very different from everyone else, but as alike each other as eggs in a carton! It's laughable, really.

For all the dangers of "group think", I think we may have been designed (or evolved into) as a species who relies on community, both for thought and action. Anyway, however it got there, it may just be our nature. Something else to chew on (and discuss :-D ).

I like your take on Galatians 6:2-4. I wish I knew better the difference between a truck and a backpack! ;-)

Wishing you peace and health and a good dose of boredom also...


8:07 AM  
Blogger Marshall said...

The wise man knows that it is better to sit on the banks of a remote mountain stream than to be emperor of the whole world.
~Zhuang Tzi

11:29 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Wise man, Zhuang Tzi.

12:06 PM  

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