The virtue that is laziness

A week or so ago I posted “The Faith to be Idle,” something Dan Kempin wrote about our need to stop working so much.  It provoked some good discussion also.  I want to call your attention to something Larry Hughes wrote in a comment, since I suspect hardly any of you are still following that thread:

Thanks Dan. I loved what you wrote. I read it to my wife because we’ve been on and off discussing this issue. It was so encouraging. I think, no rather, I know you’ve nailed it. That last sentence was golden, “do you have the faith to be idle”. It rings of Luther’s similar statements recognizing unbelief hidden inside “virtues”. Few between Paul and Luther, and damn few after Luther recognize the devil’s real tricks. Even a pagan recognizes the “black” devil as Luther put it, few recognize the “white” devil (the angel of light) as he also put it.

E.g. when Luther was once asked what he’d do if he found out Christ was coming today his reply was “plant a tree”. He recognized the unbelieving trap behind the question of Christ’s sufficiency. Similarly Luther points out numerous times the good works, that false piety or unbelief guised as faith would never in a thousand years allow as good works as being when the believer eats, drinks, sleeps, etc… Luther in kind commented on he and Phillip drinking beer while the Word delivered the blow to the pope.

An analogy might be a child completely secure in his/her home who simply eats an apple or play in the mud with great joy. They do not toil and spin in anxiety over satisfying their parents as if to “merit” their love, they believe their parents love them, so in this earthly faith over earthly parents they play and laugh in perfect secure faith in their parents supplying all they need. They believe their parents. They know supper is coming because they are children and not slaves or rejected whereby they must merit their meals, bed, clothes, shelter, etc…

The scriptures are pregnant with this. Christ Himself says the lilies of the field and birds of the air do not toil and spin but in perfect created placement know their heavenly father knows their need and gives to them. Jesus sleeping on a cushion as the storm waves rage about the boat in PERFECT faith, yet the disciples start to become anxious and then toil in their unbelief. It apexes at the cross where Christ on one hand cries out “why hast Thou forsaken me”, then “into Thy hands I commend my spirit”.

But we don’t do that, and America has become the nation now that is most unbelieving as a whole. Not so much by its immoral issues, but because of its virtues.  Iit thus toils and spins in rank unbelief. It eschews, in reality, its holidays, it’s restful weekends. Oh we give it “lip service” but we don’t really enjoy these gifts of God. Israel as the nation of God had entire feast months, seasons and years, forgave debts, etc…” This is unheard of in America. Decades ago the old Soviet Union early on attempted in its anti-christic state to shift to 10 day work week in order to grow the nation powerfully and be “more productive”. At length it found that diminishing returns increased as it exhausted itself. God has ordained 7 days with at least one day of rest, man in vain usurps this. Now America has never “officially” ordained a 10 day work week, but we all well know it de facto has gone there for the most.

This is no legalism on “you can’t do anything on the Sabbath” but recognizing the creature gift of God of rest and leisure. Luther comments in his LC on the third commandment for example: “But to grasp a Christian meaning for the simple as to what God requires in this commandment, note that we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians (for they have no need of it [holy days]), but first of all for bodily causes and necessities, which nature teaches and requires; for the common people, man-servants and maid-servants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week, that for a day they may retire in order to rest and be refreshed.” . . .

Carl Trueman, I believe he is Reformed, writes well on this: “Indeed, we have surely lost the virtue that is laziness. As Kierkegaard once said, ‘Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good’ — a truly amazing theological insight. Some may think that that maybe going a bit far, but compared to the idea that the essence of humanity is busy-ness, it is much to be preferred.”

“… laughter in the face of adversity and hardship not only being vital in this regard but also, of course, an almost exclusively social phenomenon that requires company; drinking beer with friends is perhaps the most underestimated of all Reformation insights and essential to ongoing reform; and wasting time with a choice friend or two on a regular basis might be the best investment of time you ever make.”

Who of us unbelieving workaholics among us exhausted by the incessant work we think is a virtue does not secretly feel deeply the need for this and laments its loss!

I love that line, “Indeed, we have surely lost the virtue that is laziness”, i’ts just like “do you have faith enough to be idle.”

via The faith to be idle | Cranach: The Blog of Veith#comment-128736.

You’ve been saved. Now what?

Michael Baruzzini at First Things has a thoughtful discussion of novelist Walker Percy, bourbon, and existentialism.  But it all comes down to vocation:

Will Barrett, the protagonist of Walker Percy’s novel The Last Gentleman, complains that he cannot figure out “how to live from one minute to the next on a Wednesday afternoon.” Even Christians, with a solid theological and philosophical grounding, can find the question troubling. So you believe in God, and you believe the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate and died for your sins. You’ve been baptized. You’ve been saved. Now what?

Here is where Percy’s existentialist-inclined Christianity comes in, and his famous paean to the South’s whiskey. In his essay, “Bourbon, Neat,” Percy’s literary mind was perceptive enough to find the connection between taking an evening drink and finding meaning in a daily life. The mind inclined to the questions of existentialism, like Percy’s, struggles with a particular problem: the question of how to be in a particular time and place. Percy slyly suggests that bourbon is the answer. No, not in the sense of drowning sorrows in alcoholic stupor, but in recognizing that it is in concrete things and acts that we are able to be in the world. “What, after all, is the use,” Percy asks, “of not having cancer, cirrhosis, and such, if a man comes home from work every day at five-thirty . . . thinking: ‘Jesus, is this it? Listening to Cronkite and the grass growing?’”

No, this isn’t it, says Percy. It isn’t all just about the fatal acts of nature and the crass manipulation of mass society. It is distinctively personal acts, like having an evening glass of bourbon, that construct a life. It is this aesthetic, this incarnation, simply this way to be, which gives a glass of bourbon its real value. But this incarnation of being extends beyond evening drinks, and informs every action we make in our lives. Take affection, for instance. Husbands and wives do not merely sit across the room maintaining a cerebral love for each other. Affection is made concrete with actions. Handshakes between colleagues, hugs and kisses between friends not only display, but actually create or make real the respect and affection between people. The true value of a family dinner lies at this level: we are a family because we eat together; we eat together because we are a family. It is in this act that our being as a family is made real, not fantasy. To take what may be the most powerful example, marital love is incarnated in the marital act. The coy euphemism “making love” has more truth to it than we may realize.

Looking to the concrete helps us discover the Christian notion of sacramentality. It is in water that we are born again; it is with bread and wine that we encounter Christ in the flesh in today’s world. It is these things that make our Christianity more than an academic exercise. So Percy would answer Barrett’s question by saying: just do it. It is Wednesday afternoon and you are a Christian: sing a song of praise, or go to Mass and eat God’s flesh. You are a loving husband, so kiss your wife. You are a father: play catch with your son or help him with his homework. You are a man at the end of a day of work: make a cocktail. If you want to be these things—a husband, a father, a son of God—there are things to do to make it real.

Christians must choose, among myriad options, how to be in specific ways in the world. But how do we know what to choose? Percy’s own conversion was motivated by his reading of the Catholic realist Thomas Aquinas, in addition to the Christian existentialist Kierkegaard. Rejecting the nihilistic varieties of existentialism, Percy recognized that there is an absolute truth surrounding the multiple ways to choose to be. Some ways are in more conformity with truth and happiness than others.

The Christian answer to the dilemma of how to be lies in the concept of grace and vocation. Here is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Vocation is the Christian call to be in a specific way in the world. It is a call to truly be, in a concrete way, who God has called you to be. It is not to be a robot obeying a program; it is to be an eagle joyfully choosing to fly or a mole enthusiastically choosing to dig, because that is what you are, what you are good at, what you love. It is an existential choice, but one that is grounded in God, outside of the isolated self.

via Walker Percy, Bourbon, and the Holy Ghost | First Things.

The faith to be idle

Longtime commenter on this blog Dan Kempin has posted on his church’s website these reflections on  Proverbs 23:4:  “Do not wear yourself out to get rich;  Have the wisdom to show some restraint.” (NIV)

 Ask the young what they want their life to be in ten or twenty years and you will hear a great variety of hopes and dreams and aspirations with one thing in common: “Oh, and I want to be rich.” (I know, because I ask the young that question every chance I get.) We live also in a land of great opportunity where work is rewarded and where those who are gifted and bold can literally build a fortune. It is the American Dream because it is the dream of the human heart. (And because it is possible in America.) And so we study. We work. We dream. We work. Sometimes we even buy lottery tickets or stop by the casino because, you know, it just might be our chance to get rich.

But the proverb warns us here, and the interesting thing is that it does not warn us against wealth. It does not denigrate the rich or even say that it is wrong to pursue riches. It says, “Do not wear yourself out . . .” Don’t wear yourself out to get rich.   It’s not worth it.

 So, then, let me pose a few questions: How have things been in your life lately? Hectic? Busy? Are you feeling a bit . . . worn out? Do you feel, at times, that there is not enough time in the day and that you are stretched too thin by your commitments? (Or do you just feel that way ALL the time?)
You see, I think our culture is in real trouble about this. For some reason we have gotten to a point where we fill our lives up to the point of bursting. Work, school, sports, friends, facebook, family, bills, church, clubs, hobbies . . . everything is an OBLIGATION, and it is relentless. Whether blessed with a highly successful career, or struggling to make ends meet, there seems to be no difference in this regard: We are so BUSY that we are wearing ourselves out. . . .

We can accomplish so much more so much more easily than previous generations with all of our labor saving devices. I seem to recall that those devices were invented so that we would have time to relax. Yet every minute we save, we quickly fill with something else! It is almost a cultural compulsion. Is this really good? Does it really serve God to rush through life at maximum speed by devoting ourselves to so many different things that we are too worn out to truly enjoy any of them? (And by our example teaching our children to do the same.)

Or perhaps we deprive ourselves of that joy because in some way we feel guilty doing so. It is a guilt that we accept without thinking by letting someone else set our agenda of expectation. I have to be THAT mom; I have to provide THIS standard of living for my family. I have to say YES to everything that is asked of me. I can’t let THAT person down. I need to be a starter in ANY sport I pursue. Do we devote ourselves to these things because we truly love them? Or do we, perhaps, wear ourselves out chasing them because we think that they will fulfill our deeper need to be accepted and approved? Yet even as we choose voluntarily to overburden ourselves, we paradoxically long to be free of the very things we choose to pursue. . . .

Have the wisdom to say no. Have the wisdom to be less than perfect. Have the wisdom to not be a hero without feeling like a failure. Have the wisdom to settle for less than your maximun potential. Have the wisdom to, you know, do nothing every now and then, and instead of chafing at your idleness or the things that are not done, remember that everything you see in creation was provided by God without your assistance. He didn’t need your reminder to send fall, even though you nearly missed it for being so busy. And your place in His kingdom was purchased and prepared (without your assistance) long before you became so important.

And it will be ready for you when it is time for you to set all of this busy-ness aside and come home.
The question is whether we will arrive at that day by collapsing in a heap of miserable exhaustion, or whether we can discover the Lord’s own command of “Sabbath.” Rest. Do you have the faith to be idle?

via “Do not wear yourself out . . .” – Pastors’ Blog – St John’s Lutheran Midland MI.

Kamikaze update

You know that recent post about Heather Penney, the female pilot who was ordered to take down Flight 93 on 9/11 by ramming into it in a suicide attack?  Well, it gets even worse.   As far as she knew, her FATHER, a United pilot working out of the east coast, might have been flying that plane!

See  F-16 pilot was ready to down plane her father piloted on 9/11 – The Washington Post.

I asked what was disturbing about all of this, but some of you couldn’t seem to tell what I might be referring to, in some cases going so far as to laud her heroic willingness to sacrifice her life. Here are some things that bother me:

(1)  Our military was going to take down an airliner, killing all of these innocent Americans, which was what the terrorists were planning to do.  If the purpose was to defend the White House or the Capitol building, evacuate those structures.  But the military is supposed to defend their countrymen, not kill them.

(2)  Ordering a suicide attack is monstrous in itself.

(3)  If we have jet fighters ready to defend us, why were they unarmed?  What good are military aircraft without weapons?  Were we really so unprepared, not only to obtain intelligence of a terrorist attack, but also to counter a military attack against our country?

(4)  Yes, I’m bothered by women in combat.  That they are in airplanes, far above the fray, dropping bombs and shooting missiles, is supposed to make a difference?  Women have the power to bring new life into the world.  They shouldn’t be put in the position of ending people’s lives.

(5)  This woman would have not only killed strangers, but her own father?

 

Vocation Day

This blog has, for a number of years, been engaged in a crusade to co-opt the secular Labor Day and to get it on the church calendar as a holiday that celebrates the Christian doctrine of vocation.   I think it is working.   I’ve been hearing people making the connection.  (Did you hear that on Sunday?)

Remember that vocation does NOT just mean your job, which is important for the over 9% of Americans who do not have one.   Our calling from God also and even more importantly has to do with our positions in our families (as son or daughter; husband or wife; father or mother), the church (pastor or “hearer”), and the state (ruler or citizen).  All of these are estates to which God stations us to live out our faith in love and service to the neighbors that each office brings into our lives.  “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17).

The reason we celebrate Vocation Day by NOT working, even though we are honoring economic labor, is to give recognition also to our other vocations:  our families (by spending time with them) and our country (to share in a national holiday doing cultural-specific activities such as grilling out and thinking about sports).

We will honor Vocation Day on this blog by not posting about our horrible problems.  We’ll go back to that tomorrow.  In the meantime, today is about celebrating all of your different callings.

 

Pleasure in toil as God’s gift to man

Your theme for Labor Day, I mean, Vocation Day:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12)


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