Human beings, not human doings

Guest Column by The Rev. David Shirey

At a weekly staff meeting, our director of music observed that Sunday’s string of nine announcements was followed by our singing a hymn titled “Come and Find the Quiet Center”: “Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead, find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed: clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see all the things that really matter, be at peace and simply be.”

We all smiled. How ironic that we followed a long list of “dos” with a hymn that encouraged us to simply “be.”

Addicted to doing, we’re a busy bunch and proud of it. In an insightful blog post titled “The Disease of Being Busy,” Omid Safi, director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, tells of seeing a friend and asking her how she was.

He says she whimpered: “I’m so busy, … I have so much going on.”

He then ran into another friend and asked him how he was. He got the same tone and response: “I’m just so busy, … I’ve got so much to do.”

Then he tells of asking a neighbor if their daughter and his daughter could get together and play. The girl’s mother reached for her cell phone and pulled up her calendar. She scrolled and scrolled before announcing, “She has a 45-minute opening two and a half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just … so busy.”

Dr. Safi asks, “Why so busy? How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?”

Eugene Peterson suggests, I think rightly, that chronic busyness is symptomatic of vanity. In his words:

“I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself — and to all who will notice — that I am important. … I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.”

The busier I am, the more important I am. Theologically, that’s called “works righteousness.” I am righteous — right in the eyes of God and others — because of my works. What I do. The more I do, the busier I am, the more I am. It follows that if you think your self-worth is tied into your full schedule, you’ll do, do, do until you’re done, done, done in.

Jesus lived life differently. Jesus wasn’t plagued by the disease of busyness. “In the morning,” Mark tells us, “a great while before day, he arose and went to a lonely place to pray” (6:30). He began his day not at work but at rest. Why? I think it’s because Jesus knew he was “Beloved of God.” Before Jesus did anything, God told him, “You are my Beloved.” Secure in that knowledge, Jesus didn’t have to busy himself to death. Rather, he could rest himself to life. That is, Jesus began his day being — resting in God, not doing – busying himself.

John Ortberg, a favorite author and keen observer of modern culture, tells of a spiritual director he consulted once. He described to the man his weekly schedule, his responsibilities, and the general pace of his life and then asked, “What do I need to do to be spiritually healthy?”

The man said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Ortberg responded, “OK, I’ve written that one down. That’s a good one. What else is there?”

“There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Ortberg concludes, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. … For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”

It’s an honor and pleasure to serve as your chaplain for this week at Chautauqua, one of the most restful, renewing places I know. There’s no hurrying here. Plus, given the quality of the lecturers, presenters and performers who join us this week along the lake, far from skimming across the surface of life, we can be assured we’ll be led deeper.

I’ll do my best in the realm of the soul. Given our arts theme this week, my first morning sermons will delve into the treasures of art and music. With Yo-Yo Ma in our midst later this week, how can we not relish such God-given gifts in worship? Then we’ll explore two very different texts, one rather exhausting (Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with the angel. Or was it God?), and one simply soothing, though revolutionary in its import (Jesus’ healing of the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus’ daughter). I’ll close the week by attempting the impossible — provide first an overview of Jesus and the next day the entire Bible … in 20 minutes.

Though I hope my messages will be worthy of worship at the Amp, my most sincere hope is that we’ll all check our busyness at the gate. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives for six days on these holy grounds. Together find a quiet center. As Jesus said to his disciples alongside another lake, “Come away … and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).

Chautauqua beckons.

The Rev. David Shirey has served as Senior Minister of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Lexington, Kentucky, since 2014. He holds a bachelor’s in religious studies from Indiana University and a Master of Divinity. from Vanderbilt Divinity School. For the past 35 years, Shirey has served churches in Tennessee, Missouri, North Carolina, Indiana, and Arizona. His congregations have each been characterized by vibrant worship, a deepening commitment to Christian education and spiritual growth, and service to the community. In Lexington, Shirey supports the many ministries engaged in by Central Christian Church, including a satellite of God’s Pantry, a Thrift Store, ministries for the homeless, the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Worship Service, and the Black Church Coalition.

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