Book Club Channel
Choosing What Matters: An Interview with Arthur Boers
The subtitle of your book, "Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions," describes a common theme in our culture, and one that has inspired a number of prescriptive books already. How do you understand "choosing what matters"? And what does your book uniquely offer to the conversation?
First of all, it's true that there are several fine books out there on these matters. Some of them even put "distractions" into their sub-titles! I have not found, however, many books that approach these matters from a deeply Christian perspective. And the Christian faith—with our celebration of God as Creator, the legacy of Sabbath, and Jesus' hopeful promise of abundant life—has so much to offer. I am sorry to see that Christians often feel as busy, distracted, and off-balance as everyone else.
Second, I would not call my book "prescriptive." It's not about suggesting rules or guidelines or prescriptions. My goal is to help people identify the good things that are missing from life, good things that we've all experienced at one point or another. And I also want to explore how those good things sometimes get displaced by the ways that we rely on gadgets and devices. Those two moves—naming what we long for and identifying what often goes awry—helps us to choose differently.
You explore and encourage the idea of "focal practices" in your book. Can you describe what you mean by that, and what some of your own favorite practices are?
My favorite focal practices include eating with my family, hosting people at the table for meals or as guests staying in our home, cooking, reading, prayer, walking, kayaking, and worship in our local church. My wife shares those priorities and has a few more besides, including knitting, getting to know new people, baking, gardening, creating beauty in our home, and discovering new recipes.
A focal practice is an activity that has three qualities. First, it takes energy, effort, discipline, and acquired skill and thus points us to realities that are larger then we are. Second, it connects us widely and deeply—to other people, to traditions, to nature, to the environment, to God. And, third, it reminds us of the things that matter the most, that are most important. Douglas Steere's definition of prayer could also apply to focal practices; they help us "pay attention to the deepest things we know."
What is it about simple practices such as cooking, gardening, and walking, that have the capacity to ground us and re-orient us in our culture of busy-ness?
If I go too long without a walk or a calm meal with my wife or breathing fresh air or worship or prayer or reading, I start to feel "off," at some level I forget who I am. Those various practices give me a chance to decompress, to breathe a little more slowly and deeply. Then I have a chance to see where my life may have gone somewhat off course lately, perhaps where it's gone off balance, maybe where I've spent too much energy on things that are not that important or are not really my priorities. I can then recall what is most vital. Besides such practices are fun, they leave one refreshed and invigorated, ready to take on the usual challenges of life. When I spend enough time with them, it is easy for me to believe in God as Creator and Redeemer and Inspirer.
Do you expect this book to change anyone's mind? About what?
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team in 2009, after more than ten years of managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of music/theatre programs for children, and a music minister.