About this time of year, eleven years ago, I wrote an article entitled, “Has Rest Become a Four Letter Word?” It was printed in the “In My Opinion” part of the Oregonian, and it was intriguing enough that I was soon interviewed on a radio station. “Rest” is something of an oddity in our culture.
Back then, we were moving our family back from The Netherlands, back from a way of life that was more cyclical. As I noted then, returning home to America felt like entering a perpetual hothouse. The heat is always on, and the lights never turn off. Missing was/is any sense of rhythm, ebb and flow, stop and go. “Off hours” was a foreign concept that is even more so today. In a recent book, “OVERconnected” William Davidow, a former Silicon Valley executive, writes about the hazards of overconnection and the web. He warns of the real threat that things can suddenly spin out of control. Culture can no longer keep pace with technology, no longer accommodate to the change. I realize it’s much scarier now then it was in 2000.
Eleven years ago, I wrote about an observed hurry, in which we have lost our bearings, our sense of proportion. “Unavailable” seems a word from the past, going the way of cursive writing. But of course, with the aid of technology, it is more severe. We have the capacity to always be on, and if we let technology and social networks continue to influence our lives, we might forget how to shut down. And all of this is leaving us rather thin. As D.T. Niles describes us—we are a culture in which we “gather impressions but have no experiences, collect acquaintances but have no friends.”
It wasn’t perfect in the 90’s in Holland, but it was sane. We did not initially appreciate the rhythm of stores closed in the evening, shopping areas vacant on Sundays, and the absence of “Lowest Price of the Season” on the windows. Save for a few stations on TV broadcasting Snooker or Dart championships, there was little to see on TV. We weren’t rushing home from church; meals were whole evening affairs; and a long walk along the North Sea was a regular and centering ritual.
When I wrote this article, my hope was that a reader might take notice, tell the world he/she refuses to be defined by consumerism—exercise a defiant “no” to the word “sale.” Above all, disconnect, take an occasionally fast from technology, and reflect. Get away from this hyper culture. Remember who you really are, restore eternity to the soul, live in kairos rather than be consumed by chronos, and seize the divine moment.
The irony is that eleven years later, it is I who needs to read and reread this most. Subtly, I have capitulated to much of the culture around me, its pace and even its values. Eleven years of being bi-vocational, really tri-vocational—directing a doctoral program, teaching at a masters level, and pastoring a church, has made rest—maybe not a four letter word—but an estranged one.
Amazingly, and I would like to think it is by God’s grace, life has not been that out of order. In a strange sort of way, the demands of pastoring an expat church were far more stressful. Seven years of learning to turn on and turn off prepared me for coming back home. I’ve just learned to do them in smaller, strategic segments. I still pause before going to Home Depot on Sunday to ask—can it wait? What has stayed with me is a warning from Peterson that hyperactivity is a form of sloth. We can be lazy at the center, refusing to do the real work of caring for the soul. I do not impress myself nor attempt to impress others with busyness and hurry (I hope not anyways). The invitation of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 is one I need to embrace. Hopefully, it will define much of my upcoming break along the Pend Oreille River near Canada.