Everyday Theology (5) » Interpreting Cultural Cadences

Jan Vermeer.Christ in the House of Mary and Martha.1654.Oil on CanvasI had low expectations for chapter seven of Everyday Theology (“The Business of Busyness: Or, What Should we Make of Martha?”) but was pleasantly surprised.

Thus far, we focused on cultural texts which present themselves in a relatively plain manner. There they are for all to see, or read. The far more difficult “texts” to recognize and interpret are the trends which take no physical form but are equally and powerfully present. Let’s call these cultural cadences or rhythms (Anderson calls them trends). To identify, read and interpret these, one needs an even greater capacity for discernment and wisdom. Sadly, this is something I saw in very short supply in my years of pastoral ministry.

Discernment is one of the most important tools in cultural hermeneutics. No text or trend is all good or bad – they always demonstrate signs both of creation (God’s original good intent) and the fall (with its corrosive effects from sin). Thus, we should expect to find points we can affirm and critique in any cultural work (p. 160)

Holy Busyness

What especially intrigued me about Anderson’s interaction with the cultural cadence of busyness was the subtle differentiation between “idolatrous busyness” and “holy busyness.” The idolatrous variety understands itself “in terms of how much it can accomplish, whether individually or corporately”; its motives being as varied as “economic gain, recognition from others, or something laudable like social justice.”

Holy busyness, on the other hand, is that proliferation of activity oriented toward God in “motive and practice” as exemplified in Paul for example. While both varieties of busyness are characterized by a great deal of activity, holy busyness is “grounded in the gospel” in which case who we are comes before what we do.

Being grounded in the gospel means that relationships – with God, others, and creation – preceded activity…So, holy busyness does not begin with what we do but with what God does. (p. 165)

Don’t we need to say more than this?

I rarely hear anything interesting, much less theological, being said about the cadence of busyness and for that Anderson should be applauded. There are great insights here regarding different modes of time, instructions for discernment, and biblical resources for developing a cultural hermeneutic for busyness. Yet, don’t we need to say more than this?

When reading and interpreting our rhythms of life – especially related to busyness – we must do everything that Anderson counsels and go one more step beyond. This is what is needed: We must distinguish between the various streams of life in which our chosen rhythms are lived out. It is one thing to say we should be busy in a holy manner, but this gives us little resource for applying it to our lived existence in the pluraform ways our lives are manifested.

For the sake of discussion (I would love some feedback) let me suggest four “streams of life” that comprise our lived existence and to which our chosen rhythms for living apply:

  • Personal Spirituality (Interior Life) › Spiritual pathways and disciplines, recreation and play, Sabbath, evangelism, compassion, social responsibility
  • Communal Spirituality (Shared life [koinenia]) › Ministry, corporate worship, friendship, accountability, mentoring, evangelism, compassion, social responsibility
  • Vocation/Calling
  • Family

295696_8856.jpgOur chosen cadences are expressed and experienced within the context of these streams (or elements) of our lived existence. These streams should never be put into a hierarchy but be allowed to exist elastically with each other – constantly giving and taking – within a sphere of relationships characterized by trust and accountability. These are the people that you give permission to call you out when one stream is taking dominance over the others – when elasticity is becoming rigidity.

Failing to identify such streams and considering the application of our cadences to them in their dynamic relationships to each other, leads only to simplistic solutions or hierarchies of relationships which simply don’t work (God first, Family second, career, etc…).

Comments or responses?

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5 thoughts on “Everyday Theology (5) » Interpreting Cultural Cadences

  1. Pingback: recente aankopen « from dialogue to discipleship

  2. “Being grounded in the gospel means that relationships – with God, others, and creation – preceded activity.”

    A great statement in a world that is focused on the calendar of events and to do lists. To often it is our relationships – with God, others and creation, that suffer from shallowness and superficiality. John Ortberg says that one of the great dangers facing Christians today is not that they will renounce their faith and storm away from the church, but rather we will become so busy with the idolatrous busyness that Anderson refers to, and remain shallow in our relationship with God and others, only skimming the surface of how great our God is. We will not truly engage life as God has called us.

    Kent, I agree that we must become intentional about each of the different rhythms of life and recognize that they do not fit perfectly into the Franklin Covey pie chart. By placing these rhythms as daily priorities and allowing them to exist elastically with each other is a very realistic and practical application. By placing all four (personal spirtuality, communal spirituality, vocation/calling, and family) within the context of holy busyess is the key.

    This is a great review and I thank you for your practical and very real application.

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