Tag Archives: distraction

Giving Up the Deadly Distraction of Abstraction

This year as I engage with lent during my recovery from a challenging season of life, I have been led to give up abstraction and take on presence. Abstraction has a few definitions, and I am speaking primarily of allowing ourselves to be diverted to a general idea or quality rather than an actual person, object, or event which leads to the state of someone who is not paying attention to what is happening or being said. To illustrate what I am getting at I would like to tell you a parable.

While on a deep sea fishing trip, some men came upon a family that was clinging to a crudely constructed log raft. When the family saw the boat approaching they began to call for assistance and the fishing boat drew nearer. When the fishermen saw the raft they immediately began questioning the construction of the raft, discussing the knots that were used, the type of wood, and that the raft obviously needed a bit more buoyant wood. Eventually they drifted past the family and continued their fishing trip while discussing the principles of raft building. Later, when the mother of the family and the surviving child were picked up by the Coast Guard they asked through their translator why the other boat kept going past them.

This is the danger of abstraction that the church and I have to address in ourselves, that allowing ourselves to be distracted by issues puts others’ lives in real danger. I have to confront the desire for self-protection that pulls me away from engaging others’ lives. I have to ask myself who I might be passing by when my care could be the difference between being “lost at sea” and someone reaching a “safe and dry” shore. During this Lenten season, I am laying issues like the nature of biblical authority, whose interpretation of the will of God is valid, and what constitutes sin aside and am instead taking on being present to others no matter what. I would like to think that I will be successful at this intention, but old habits are hard to break, and I am in the boat, not the raft. I don’t have the urgency of being forsaken driving me. I am not in danger of death.

That is the truth that God is leading me in, that my calling is not to debate abstractions, but in the words of the old chorus I’ve Got a River of Life, to be a channel for the river of life that flows from God’s Spirit. The truest test of the strength of my faith is not in whether I can win all the spiritual debates, but whether I have a river of life flowing out of me that makes the lame to walk and the blind to see, that opens prison doors and sets the captives free.

Are we ready to step away from the abstract spiritual debates that bring more wounds and distract us from God’s mission and instead be present to those who are wounded and hurting no matter the cause or cost? I don’t know if I am, but with God’s help maybe we can let go of the deadly distraction of abstraction together.

God’s Economy

We, like everyone else on this planet, live under a worldly economic system, and the presence of fallen humanity in those systems has far reaching consequences. A butterfly flaps its wings on Wall Street and thousands are out of work in Bangladesh. The world’s economy, regardless of its ideological or theoretical basis will function according to the priorities of the world and will in some way be broken. Can we look at any nation in the world and truly say that economic justice fully exists there? As long as we live under a worldly economy the answer to that question will be “No.” The question that comes to mind is that of what it means to be a Christian, an ambassador of God’s kingdom while living under a worldly economy. How do we promote what is good and confront what is evil? How do we figure out if we are in alignment with God’s values or need to shift our focus a bit? Jesus knew this was no easy task, and is very upfront about the seductive nature of money. Knowing our limitations Jesus kept it really simple for us  in the Sermon on the Mount.

19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-20

Here we have a directive followed by a redirection. The directive is simple: When God gives you more than you need to live up to the responsibilities you have been entrusted with, don’t hoard the abundance. The economy of God’s kingdom is not focused on accumulating more, but on loving more. When we look for opportunities and invest in God’s kingdom, we are creating a different kind of wealth and are operating from a true sense of God’s abundance. When Jesus talks about an abundant life, he is not talking about having more money and stuff, but is talking about having a life that is worth living. Jesus is talking about a life that is filled with love, not with more unnecessary stuff. Now, I can’t tell you what is unnecessary, that is part of the discernment work each of us has to do. We must discern God’s calling, what responsibilities God has given us, and then we can start making decisions about what we need to accomplish those purposes. Each one of us has been gifted with something needed by this body to build up this outpost of the kingdom, and when we allow ourselves to be distracted by the concerns of human economies; we miss the opportunities to invest in the growth of God’s kingdom. We don’t have as much to maintain or protect and that gives us more time to build relationships and have healthy patterns of rest and renewal.

Jesus is not talking about “pie in the sky,” when he mentions treasures in heaven, but is referring to something much more important. The economy of God is not centered on little rectangles of plastic, little pieces of paper or small chunks of round metal which bear the images and impressions of our “Caesars”, but on that which bears the image of God. God loves people so much that he gave up everything in order to save as many as he can. God’s economy is based on his beloved creations. The call on us in every area of our lives, individually and collectively, is to have that same priority. In the prophets we see a continual calling back to God’s economic values of justice and righteousness. Jeremiah 22:13-15 says “13Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages; 14who says, “I will build myself a spacious house with large upper rooms,” and who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar, and painting it with vermilion. 15Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him.” There is plenty more, all through the prophets, which made selecting scriptures a bit of a challenge since there were so many I almost could include a third of the Old Testament. I want to share one more with you from the book of Ezekiel because it speaks to a morality that challenges economic systems as well as personal involvement in them. Ezekiel begins with the usual list of idolatry and sexual immorality as things the righteous are to avoid, but then adds this in reference to the oft ignored economic laws in the Torah: The righteous one “does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 8does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, 9follows my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully—such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God.” Ezekiel 18:7-9 Some of the things in this list are part of the foundations of our current economic system and are just as heinous in God’s eyes as the other kinds of sin that we talk a bit more about.

Jesus understood that what we do with money and other treasures strikes at most of the assumptions human cultures operate under. So he gives us an easy way to redirect our energies away from the self-focused cultures around us by telling us that what we do with our resources becomes our priority. If we want to change where our heart is we can start by putting what we treasure, our money, our material goods, our time into the priorities of heaven. These priorities call us outside of ourselves and direct us to the two great commandments, Love the LORD your God with all your heart mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. I recommend taking the time to do a personal and family priority audit. Here is how you do it:

Step one: For one week track everything you spend money on. Write it down and ask yourself what priorities are revealed by the way you use your money.

Step two: For one week track your time. Track your daily activities and the amount of time you spend on everything from sleeping to walking the dog. Write this down and ask yourself what priorities are revealed by the way you use your time.

Step 3: Find someone you trust to share this information with and ask them to help you maintain your focus on God’s priorities for your life.

That last one is the hardest step, but also the most important. God did not call us to follow him alone. He places us in communities of his followers so that we can help each other along in our roles as ambassadors of his kingdom. I need you to help me keep my focus on God’s priorities, and you need me and each other. There are plenty of distractions out there friends, and I am easily distracted. Does anyone else smell bacon? Where was I, ah yes, distraction and priorities. Quite often the distractions in my life become my priorities and those are where my treasure ends up. Let us come together now to wait in silence, commune with God and each other, and allow God to open to us how we as the body of Christ can best use our time and treasures to draw our hearts to God, his kingdom and his way of being and doing what is right.

I kind of jokingly referred to food as a distraction that has become a priority, but the truth is that I am reaping the consequences in my own body right now. My excess weight has caused me to have degenerative disc issues and now I have a lot of work to overcome the consequences of my distraction. That is I guess the ultimate lesson here, when we operate under the economy of the world and allow the distractions to become priorities there are physical, spiritual, and emotional consequences.