Transformation: The Culture(s) in Which We Live and Their Blind Spots (Why Hurriedness is So Pernicious)
After recently returning from Zambia, I was reflecting with a friend that every culture has a few blind spots which make it difficult to hear, let alone heed, Jesus’ invitation to transformation. In that country, for example, it is common for men to have mistresses, even among conservative Christians and pastors. As we drove down a Zambian highway, I asked my host, “So how do churches address that?” Long pause. “Well…they don’t, really.”
I sat there, figuratively scratching my head. This would not fly in the US, a culture hyper-concerned with sexual mores. Yet the Gospel is always imprinting itself on a pre-existing culture, and we should not be surprised when there is unique resistance from a unique context to some part of the Gospel. American churches are often Johnny-on-the-spot to point our moral standards around sex, but less so on, say, greed or gluttony. And further, there is no doubt American culture—and American church culture—has a collective blind spot to our addiction to hurry.
Think about all the ways that on a daily basis we are encouraged to live hurried lives which may rob us from ever being fully present in the moment, over-stretched and over-stimulated, rushing us from one thought or desire or impulse to the next. Facebook engages us in 1,000 conversations at once without requiring that we be fully present in any one of them, all the while feeding us carefully cropped and filtered images of how life “should be.” The promise of social media is that by being plugged into technology, you can overcome loneliness by being “connected.” But the connection, so called, can leave us feeling more alienated and alone.
Indeed, social media subtly encourages us to rush around trying to live up to ideal, if unattainable, images. And there, right on your Facebook feed, you are encouraged, through an endless barrage of advertisements tailored specifically to you, to buy more and to have more. Forget social media, they now play advertisements at many gas stations, as if we need every random moment of potential quiet plugged with a patch of noise! And, you don’t have money to buy all these things that you “need” right now? Buy it on credit! You’ll have to run around paying it off, but at least you’ll have it. Out of energy from all that running around? Don’t worry, we have energy drinks and caffeinated lattes and herbal enhancers that will keep you going, like the Energizer Bunny.
Truly, the message is all around us: resist and overcome your limits. Your boobs are sagging? Get a surgery! You don’t feel satisfied, make more money! (And we’ll show you how…just buy our course, on credit, of course). At the root of all this hurry is our fear of the ultimate slowdown, death itself. By running around in hurried mode, we can avoid the aching longing of our soul which is crying out for life even as we settle for the cold consolation of numbing out, avoiding our fear of death.
To stem this wet-blanket party, let me say that I have a Facebook account, and I enjoy it. I have a credit card and use it often. And I like caffeinated lattes. (Though, full disclosure, I have never had a boob job.) Most anything enjoyed within clear limits and within the orbit of our conscience is no problem at all, as the Scripture makes clear. We live in an amazing epoch of technological progress, which is often worthy of awe and celebration as human beings live as creators, in the image of the Creator. But Jesus also asks us to read the signs of our culture, and there’s no doubt we also live in a culture desperately rushed to find meaning, and sometimes through means that will never bear fruit. We are led to believe that real life is one in which we “have it all,” whereas Jesus tells us that in losing our life (as we know it), we’ll find real life. As followers of Jesus, we must recognize that the Gospel call to transformation will fly against the headwinds of the dominant cultural imperatives in which we live. And one of the strongest imperatives in our culture is the drive to a hurried, frenetic, busy life, devoid of margin.
Perhaps you can recognize the need for unhurriedness by thinking about your own life:
Have you ever had that sensation that you need to stop or slow down for your soul to catch up with your body? No doubt you have; we all have that from time to time. It’s the whisper of God’s Spirit telling us to stop and abide. If you constantly feel this, it’s an indication that you need to re-order your life. This turns out to be critically important but also elusive work. We seem to be addicted to hurry, living at a “normal” speed that may actually do great damage to our souls. How, then, do we follow Jesus and move forward as his disciples, committed to learning to live as he would teach us rather than by the dominant pattern of the culture around us?
We can live into our discipleship by, as Dallas Willard said, “ruthlessly eliminating hurry from our lives.” And this will mean a rigorous commitment to unhurriedness, established by practices which make The Slow Life a natural habit of our minds and hearts.
 See, for example, I Corinthians 8ff. Though “food sacrificed to idols” requires some cultural study for contextual understanding, the principle of following Jesus by honoring conscience is clear and transcends culture or era.