Sitting in a Room doing less

Already in 1654, the French philosopher and devout Christian Blaise Pascal quipped:

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Blaise Pascal

Can you imagine that coming rom a person that lived in a time when things were still done in a seasonal manner? Outdoor activities like horseback riding or soccer, but also wars were done in summer, while winters were mostly spent inside.

At that time, the industrial revolution had not taken place, the US was not yet in existence, modern means o transportation like the railroad had not been invented, letters were still being written with ink and feather.

Today, we live in an age when acceleration is accelerating. Not only that every generation lives faster, higher, busier than the previous, the lives of people within one generation are speeding up as well.

What if we as Christians would slow down, instead of adding our Christian activities on top of the already exhausting lie we think we have to live?

We think that, in order to survive the pressure that modern life puts on us, we need a growing number of additional, so-called re-creational, refocussing, and re-empowering church activities added on top: Sunday meetings, weekly prayer meetings, helping the needy, going to the streets, house church meetings. We just add and add to an already overwhelming load.

How about slowing down?

Well, in order to slow down we first have to decouple two links that has been made for centuries.

  • We believe that our church activities are central for us Christians in sustaining our Christian lifestyle and belief system so we do not lose our place in heaven.
  • We belief that our busy lives are necessary and central to sustain our very lives, which we equate with sustaining our lifestyle.

First, Jesus did not die to provide for our ticket to heaven. He died in consequence of showing us how to live a truly human life. The people in his time, believing that it was their lifestyle and belief system of following the rules that got them to heaven, were not ready to hear his message and had to kill him. We do not have the chance to physically kill him any more, but we can ignore his message and stick with the rule keeping. And rule keeping means to not forsake the meetings, so we stack meeting on meeting. It means to care for the poor, so we work harder in order to afford the care packages for the poor to allow for them to maybe have a piece of our extravagant lifestyle. It means to pray more and thus to shorten our much needed time of sleep, the primary recreation system built into creation.

Second, we do not need all the stuff we accumulate, we do not need to provide our children with all the extra school activity, we do not need new cloths every few weeks, we do not need to outperform the Johnsons.

How about slowing down?

How about building a society that is self-sustaining and has a hierarchy of values that does not focus on saved and lost nor on successful and failure. It is this mixture of values and the way we show them off or try to attend them that have brought us into this conundrum.

What if everybody is saved and has always been, and our lost state was because we got lost in our man-made jungle of assumptions rather than a God-made system of requirements? We could then go to church because we like it, and church could be likeable again, not having to save people.

What if everybody has the potential to be successful, just not in the narrow definition given today when success is usually defined in monetary and materialistic measures: own money and stuff. We could participate in society in manifold ways and actually be happy if everybody was valuable not because of their contribution, but because of being themselves. This could lead to happiness and abundance, with less clutter and more meaning.

How about slowing down?

How about coming up with some simple questions you ask yourself? Do I really need that? Is this activity really necessary? What can I actively change to slow down and lead a more meaningful and less busy life?

We have seen an outcry of society in that direction. Actually many. Some are unconscious and come to the forefront in burn-outs, depressions, and suicide rates. Others are very intentional like the growing movement around minimalism.

How about a conscious church minimalism?

How about church becoming a place where essential enabling replaces busy activism? How about slowing down in activities, in lifestyle? How about getting rid of buildings, unless they survive the question: do I really, no, truly need them? Maybe the answer is no, as you recognise that those meetings on Sundays and Wednesdays to gather the in-group could be done differently all together.

I know that most ministers have minimalised their lives regarding materialism out of sheer necessity. We need to take a look there as well. Is full-time ministry truly necessary? If so, how can we finance it without perpetuating the pressure on tithing and therefore the pressure on economic growth for the members, perpetuating the hamster wheel life that I talk about here?

I am not saying that we have to forego our basic needs of safety, security, love, housing, food. But it’s also taking stock when your basic needs are met.

Take the midnight trip to 7/11 to get some chips. Something that shocked me when I was in the states in 1980. To lose no time, as every need needs to be fulfilled in less and less time, we took the car. So this is also probably worthwhile to consider: walking there and back as activism and recreation. Or not have these chips in the first place and sleep for recreation at midnight.

I think that all this would require us to sit in a room more often. First to ponder our value system.

I am reminded of Susan Cain’s famous TED message. She speak about her granddad, a Jewish rabbi that spent most of his life in his room with his books and hardly looked at people when he preached, and still, the people lined up at his funeral. It is not quantity, it’s all about quality.

And if you now think that you have to adapt and keep up, think of this:

The reward for fitting in is that everyone ends up liking you except you.

Rita Mae Brown

And that will only be true as long as you function according to their expectations.

How about slowing down?

What would be your set of questions? How could you slow down and provide slow-down to your congregation, friends, business? Let me know in the comments.