Crossing the Thresholds

Earlier this week I posted on having a “different center” – being eccentric. It’s clear enough that we should give ourselves to those things that are more meaningful. We want our lives to count. To actually move that from wishing to reality, we need to make daily choices in line with whatever worthy end we’re pursuing.

This leads me with a simple question: “Why is it so difficult?”

Each individual choice is easy enough, but as a whole, why do I find this so challenging? Certainly some of it is the human condition. As the Apostle Paul says, “The very things I don’t want to do, I do” (Romans 7) and I certainly avoid doing those things I want to do, too. Why?

If you remember my last post, you’ll recall that I just finished Living Into Focusby Arthur Boers. He followed up the discussion on fundamental and daily decisions by talking about thresholds. Quite simply, we have a hard time living a focused life because the thresholds for doing something meaningful are much higher than the thresholds for doing something relatively insignificant.

That’s why I’ve started blogging for the third time. I kind of like writing. I love that writing helps me clarify my thinking. It’s what Boers calls a focal practice. This is an area where I want to grow – and I believe it’s a worthy foundational decision, but too many times I make poor daily decisions that prevent me from actually following through with blogging and, more importantly, processing some of the great stuff I read.

Let’s get back to thresholds – obviously I’ve got some work to do on this staying focused, eh? The threshold for writing is high. I need to get some quiet at home – not easy with three kids. I need to organize my thoughts – not easy with my brain. And then I need to put fingers to keyboard to make it happen without embarrassing myself – also not easy. That’s a high threshold.

Let’s consider something less meaningful. Flopping on the couch and disengaging my brain while I scroll through Netflix and ultimately settling on Arrow if I’m feeling frivolous or Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary if I’m feeling like a smarty. Either way, it’s easy. Sit down, click the TV on and let Ken or the Oliver Queen do all the work. Low threshold.

Boers cautions throughout Living Into Focus to beware a facile acceptance of technology. He’s not anti-technology. Rather, he encourages a wise use of it and this is where it all comes together with the thresholds. He urges the usage of technology to lower the threshold on significant practices and to raise it on more trivial practices.

For example, we just moved into a home with a great backyard with a nice shady tree. I can see myself reading and blogging here regularly. It’s delightful – or it will be when the re-seeding and the fertilizing (manure!) is done. The threshold is being lowered. Reading and writing can be a pleasurable experience.

As far as my time wasting tendencies on Netflix? Perhaps I need to set some self-imposed parameters on getting a blog post done before I watch. Or blocking it on my computer so I don’t watch things at times when I should be studying. You get the idea.

In short, make unproductive easy things harder and meaningful hard things easier – and don’t be afraid to use technology to do so. If you’re going to run a marathon, get good shoes. Let technology serve you, don’t serve the technology. But that’s a whole other issue.

For now, how are you making meaningful things a more central part of your life and making it easier to do them and how are you making those short term distractions and actions that may be easy, but lack significance more marginal in your life?

Message from Mike: Words at Work

The Branch Church is the second campus of a single church – Cypress Church is the other campus. Mike McKay is the lead pastor of this single, united church and the teaching pastor at the Cypress Church campus. Each week he writes a congregational email – usually on Thursdays. We’ll provide it for you each week here at the Branch Church Blog. Here it is …

In Praise of Eccentricity

If you know me, you likely wouldn’t call me eccentric – unless you think being a Christian is eccentric. After reading Living Into Focus by Arthur Boers (Brazos 2012), I’m inspired to become a bit more eccentric. In the final chapter of this wonderful little volume, Boers points to the etymological meaning of “eccentric,” which means “having a different center.” Certainly I want Christ to be that center, but we live in a world filled with distractions. We always have and always will, but technology seems to be churning them out at an unprecedented pace. Boers’ book is about living a life of focus amid the barrage of technology that we are all subject to (to some extent) and many of us embrace uncritically.

As much as I’d like to summarize the book for you, I’m not going to. It’s worth a read – and some time to soak in. It wasn’t a gripping page-turner. I’d read a chapter here and there, which was good in the long run. It gave me time to cogitate. I’m thinking of ways my life should change so I can live more centered. I don’t know that I can give a higher recommendation than that. What finally moved me to really ponder life-change as opposed to just enjoying the journey with this author was the final chapter.

Boers has been heavily influenced by author and thinker Albert Borgmann and he borrows his “vocabulary for talking about living with greater discipline, discernment, and intentionality. He speaks of fundamental decisions and daily decisions” (p. 191). Fundamental Decisions are the big decisions we make that set a priority in our life “for some time to come.” For example, running a marathon or writing a book or being a parent. These are big decisions and worthy of serious focus.

Daily Decisions are the daily choices we make that either align – or don’t – with our fundamental decisions. For example, if we have made the fundamental decision that we want a healthy lifestyle, drinking soda daily is a decision at cross-purposes with our fundamental decision. We’re not going to get very far.

This is good information, but it’s difficult to implement in real life – even if we know better. Why? We’ll get to that in the next post, but for now, what are your fundamental decisions I life? What is your center? What are you willing to give yourself to and for?

Oops! No sermon online this week.

There was a little glitch in our system so we don’t have an online sermon this week. However, I assure you Brett Holleman did a great job of showing us how we can love our neighbor through our work.

Do More than Barbecue on Memorial Day

I wish I could say I have always loved Memorial Day, but I’ve probably loved the three day weekend that marked the beginning of summer more than anything else. If someone brought it up, I would briefly reflect upon its significance, but it never really weighed upon me – even though I knew it should.

For some reason it’s settling heavier on me this year. Perhaps it’s our recent move to a city with a strong military presence – where our house is a stone’s throw from a joint forces training base gates. Maybe I’m getting more appreciative as I age. I think more than anything else, is what I’m reading and watching. I’m reading A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White, Jr. and watching the 1990 PBS Ken Burns Civil War documentary. Lincoln’s an extraordinary leader, but tonight I was struck by Burns’ presentation of the Battle of Gettysburg and the massive carnage. It was terrible. Tens of thousands of casualties in just one battle.

Why? Certainly slavery was a huge issue that drove the states to war, but, at least from what I’m reading, freeing the slaves was not a powerful motivator to many of the Northern troops or citizens (though there were many who advocated for it passionately and they eventually won the day).

So again, why? They loved the Union. It was worth fighting for. So much comes so easy to so many of us that I can’t imagine spilling that much blood just to maintain a union that the other half is willing to spill just as much blood to dissolve. That’s a stunning of love of country. It humbles me to think of what these men sacrificed a century and a half ago to hold a nation together.

And it humbles me to think of the many since then who have given their lives for the sake of our freedom and union – and the freedom of others all around the world. Memorial Day should settle heavy, indeed. We owe much to those who have paid the ultimate price because they loved their country and, by giving their lives, loved us as well.

This willingness to sacrifice is noble and it, of course, reminds us of the words and actions of Jesus, who suffered unjustly that He might bear our sins on the cross for our good and God’s glory: “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13).

Do more than barbecue this Memorial Day Weekend. Give thanks.