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Simplify? Really?

By November 12, 2017Journal

It’s been the mantra of modern spirituality as long as I’ve been involved in modern spirituality. All through my local pastor preparations, throughout seminary, now in the Provisional Leadership Academy, it’s the same. It’s proclaimed in sermons, podcasts, Ted Talks, wherever people gather to listen to other people talk, they hear, sooner or later, or over and over again, the same refrain.Simplify, simplify, simplify!

Our lives are too complex. We have too many gadgets. We have too many distractions. We have too much going on in our lives, and we need to purge it all, put down our devices, get away, escape, and simplify.

Yes, OK, I’ll admit it. I’m sitting here, right now, in a coffee shop, with my MacBook connected to the internet through the wifi hotspot on my iPhone, and just now my Apple Watch gave me both a haptic signal on my wrist and an audible reminder over my AirPod headphones that it’s time for me to stand up and walk a bit. So I’ll set my bluetooth mouse down next to my iPad and take a step.

Yes, there are gadgets. Yes, I, personally, need a multitude of gadgets just to keep my schedule organized. Yes, I am busy. Maybe even too busy.

And, yes, there’s plenty of scriptural commentary. I mean, yes, Sabbathing is part of the Big 10. But Jesus also modeled taking a breather:

But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. 1

Yes, yes, yes! Sometimes we have to get away! We have to set down our burdens and re-align ourselves with God’s voice. It takes prayer; time to commune with God. And sometimes it takes silence.

Here’s my problem: many, many, people use scriptures like this as evidence that we have to live in a kind of simplicity all the time. That we have to live outside of the business, dedicate ourselves to stripping our lives down so that we can focus more fully on God.

Hey, I’m all for focusing more fully on God.

The problem is that one of the most significant ways we focus more fully in God is by focusing more fully on our neighbors. And that’s something we can’t do if we are too busy trying to not be… busy…

Jesus didn’t stay away from the multitudes. He got away from them. He lived in the complexity of life, and recognized that he sometimes needed a break to recharge and refocus. And when he was off praying, trying to be alone, and the crowds found him, he dove right back in to the complexity of living life in this world, and serving our neighbors in this world, in his context.

Our call to separate is a response to our need to be together.

Our call to Sabbath is a response to our obligation to be busy for our world, and for one another.

Complexity is not a vice.2

When the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon the prophet Jeremiah gave them advice on how to live in Babylon. They could have zoned out, given up, or they could have fought a war, rebelled, seeking freedom. But Jeremiah told them to live into the complexity of their situation, and so they would work through their situation until they were once again restored to their home:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.3

Hey, you know, for some people simplicity is what they need, and how they’ll best serve God and community. I guess what I am saying is that it’s OK to shut out the voices that urge us that we all have to live that way. We can acknowledge their good intent, applaud them for living into God’s call in their lives, and then pick up our iPhones and text our friends and loved ones that God is moving powerfully in the world in ways we embrace, and ways we can honor without embracing them.

Stay simple, stay complex. Either. Both!But stay in love with God. If you do that it doesn’t matter how many devices you have sucking up your electric bill. You can stay connected with the world as much as you feel called to do, as long as you stay in touch with God along the way.

References   [ + ]

1. Luke 5:15–16 (NRSV)
2. Every time I think of this I think of the West Wing episode in season 4 called “Game On” in which Bartlet finally debated Ritchie, and CJ reminded us that we live in a complex world, and to live in it completely we have to live in the complexity.
3. Jeremiah 29:4–8 (NRSV)

Author Pastor Steve

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