Monthly Archives: June 2011

Boredom

Boredom is as foreign to me as modesty to Anthony Weiner. I’m not complaining. The absence of boredom is a profound blessing. Musing about boredom (which, by the way, is not boring) made me wonder why it is absent from my life. It also made me wonder if I have any wisdom to share with you all, especially those with rambunctious bored children. So yes, I have some insights that might help.

The demise of boredom began in my childhood. When I first tell people I am an only-child, they often look at me askance, as if beholding some freak of nature. It’s one of those millisecond reactions people try to conceal but slips out before they can hide it. People are even more incredulous when I go on to tell them my wife has seven siblings, as if wondering how our marriage could possibly work. Granted, there can be a lot of selfishness in us only-children. It can take a lifetime to overcome the feeling that the universe revolves around me. But before I ramble off track, here is an observation you might find helpful.

In the bygone era of my childhood, children (especially those old enough to ride a bike) were often expected to entertain themselves. Yes this meant more trips to hospital emergency rooms for stitches and to set broken bones, but it also resulted in an entire generation growing up with less susceptibility to boredom. Today, children are in multiple after-school and summer activities like baseball, soccer, hockey, guitar lessons, karate, piano lessons, camp; whatever will keep them occupied and out of trouble. Parents hover over their child’s every move.

As an only-child growing up in that bygone era, I occasionally felt utterly alone. Don’t feel sorry for me. I learned to amuse myself, to dream and be creative in play. I became keenly aware of the natural world around me. I built forts in trees. I rode my bike to throw rocks in nearby ponds. I waded and swam in muddy creeks. I discovered secrets under rocks and in the branches of trees. And I made friends with neighbor kids.

I was also fortunate because my dad spent time with me in just the right increments. For instance, he would take me fishing, but more than that he taught me the harmony of fishing. You see, non-fishers think fishing is about putting a worm on a hook, throwing it into the water, and endlessly waiting for a fish to bite. No, no, no! Fishing is about studying the weather and seasons. Is it too windy, too hot, or too cold? Is it cloudy or sunny? Is the moon full at night? Successful fishing is really about the accumulation of knowledge. Knowing hot weather drives some fish into deeper water. Knowing fish usually feed in the early morning or at dusk. Knowing what species of fish inhabit the waters where you fish. It’s talking to other fishermen to find out what the fish are biting. It’s studying water depth, color, clarity, and currents. It’s reading books and magazines about fishing and knowing the correct gear to use. It’s about placing the right bait in the right place at the right time of day in the correct season.

What does this have to do with boredom? I’m getting there. To fish like a Zen master requires clearing the mind and eliminating distractions. When I fish, it is only me, the rod, and the almost invisible filament of line snaking out into the water. All my focus is on the tip of the rod and the feel of the line running across my finger. Here’s the secret: there is an entire world of fish just under the surface of the water. One of them could take the bait at any second. No worries, no racing thoughts, it all fades away and there is just me, the rod, and the line waiting for something exciting to happen. Ohhhhhhmmmmmmm! I could sit for hours in that blissful state of mind waiting for something exciting to happen. I’ve caught enough fish to confirm that the wait is worth it. When a fish strikes, there’s a thrill that runs up the line, down the rod, through your arm, and into your brain.

I can’t fully explain why, but once I experienced complete focus in anticipation of something exciting (through fishing), boredom was no longer a problem. You see, all of life is the anticipation of something. God created this spectacular world full of fascinating critters, humans, and seasons. The anticipation of even simple discoveries is exciting when life is approached with innocence. That’s a profundity that merits repeating: The anticipation of even simple discoveries is exciting when life is approached with innocence.

Too often we get addicted to elaborate entertainments so that our mind and heart requires ever more complex or voluminous diversions.

Your path to innocence doesn’t have to be fishing. I’m sure there are many activities that mimic fishing’s focus and anticipation. But parents, maybe too many activities do more harm than good. Maybe it’s better to search for the right activity instead of throwing legions of activities at bored little minds. You’ll recognize the right activity when it happens because your child will eventually begin to display an uncanny focus and desire for more of the activity. Parents should not give up on an activity too soon. I spent hours testing my dad’s patience by horsing around on the bank of the pond and throwing rocks in the water before I figured out the harmony of fishing.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to tell your children GO FIND SOMETHING TO DO, and let the creative juices flow . . . within reason. Unfortunately we no longer live in a society where many parents can turn their children loose to roam the neighborhood or play in fields and woods. It’s simply too dangerous. But you can encourage your child to be creative in play and help them find an activity that resonates in their soul.

Advertisements

Church Needs

A Christian psychologist once told me the church was a big enabler. Imagine my surprise. After all, the word “enabler” has a negative connotation with someone who, through action or inaction, permits another to indulge a destructive behavior. I now understand what he meant. Though the church is the place of miraculous encounters with God, it often looks the other way as some congregants run themselves ragged serving God by serving the church.

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of a handful of Christians and a church-planting professional to discuss the possibility of starting a church in a nearby neighborhood. One attendee, the mother of small children, asked the leader how to avoid the burdensome scenario of only a few people doing all the work behind the scenes of a new church. The leader said unfortunately it’s almost unavoidable. I thought, oh boy, slap me hard and sign me up . . . when pigs fly!

From my perspective in the pew, the current church model of a few of the same overworked people doing all the work to keep a church running for everyone else is unsustainable, if not outright immoral. Why? The forty hour week has become a dinosaur as people work longer hours to make ends meet. For most families, maintaining a basic middle-class lifestyle requires both parents to work. Spouses of pastors increasingly have careers outside the church. Many parents fill evenings, weekends, and summers with a host of activities for their children. Boomers find themselves postponing retirement and caring for aging parents as life expectancy improves. All of this means fewer available volunteer hours for church leaders to tap for running the church. Don’t get me wrong, I somewhat admire the insatiable work ethic of volunteers who keep churches chugging along. And as an American I’m keenly aware that any new venture requires extra effort. I just think it risky and unhealthy as the cares of modern life increasingly encroach on the time of those led to serve through volunteerism in the church. Learning, growing, and connection with Christ take time and contemplation, difficult to do in the rushed throes of busyness.

Modern congregations expect dynamic preaching, professional quality music, vibrant ministries for children and teens, and other cutting-edge ministries. Maybe the time is right for us on this side of the altar to adjust our expectations about church. Maybe we don’t need as many programs as we think. Maybe church leaders should focus more on building a healthy pool of volunteers or developing broader choices for volunteers. I don’t know. I don’t have an easy answer. I just know we ignore this problem at our peril.

Unfortunately, many churches will continue asking a handful of congregants to add more duties to their schedule. From what I gather, Jesus didn’t ask Peter to help Him build a world-changing church while Peter kept his day job as a commercial fisherman. If Peter did both, he likely didn’t do both in perpetuity. We could learn much from the recruiting methodology of Jesus. I am not suggesting Christ expects every Christian to quit their day job to teach Sunday school, but often something in our life must be released in order to serve God. If we ask people to fill church needs, we should clarify that we are asking many of them to take something else off their plate. And lest you think I’m ignoring congregant personal responsibility . . . yes, we in the pews can often help by simply saying no.

Respectable Tattoos

I went to the local natural foods co-op recently. The store was busy and hunting an empty space in the parking lot was like navigating a Volvo and Prius dealership. Once inside I saw several hipsters sporting tattoos. These days, tattoos are featured on a wide assortment of body types  and on both genders. I’m from that stodgy generation that rarely saw a tattoo on a human body. When we did see a man sporting a tattoo, he was usually in the military. Don’t get me wrong, I think some dudes and lassies quite capable of using the tattoo as a fashion motif that makes them look über-cool. But I am puzzled by the prolific tattoos on the bodies of Christian young adults. This got me wondering if it is a sin for Christians to tattoo their bodies.

I found only one reference to tattoos in the Bible. In Leviticus 19:28 it says: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”

All right, well, that was in the Old Testament (I mean old-school Old Testament) so we wonder if it applies to modern Christians. I’m not sure but I suspect the Leviticus tattoo prohibition is likely referring to tattoos that had some connection to pagan worship. As long as modern Christians don’t tattoo themselves with a tiki god, it is probably not a sin. But I can’t let you whippersnappers off the hook that easy. Allow me to share an example of a serious flaw with one type of tattoo.

A friend recently told me how her twenty-something son had tattooed both his arms. This upset her. When she learned that her son had his arms tattooed with her name and his father’s name, she was even more incensed. Her son told her he tattooed her name on his arm to show her respect. She was not impressed. She told her son, “You mark your arms as a sign of respect? You want to show me respect? Get a college education and find a professional job with honor; that will show me respect.”

I think she’s on to something. From my perspective as a parent, I delight in the ambition, education, creativity, and loving spirit of my adult children. If they tattooed my name on their body I doubt I would brag about it to my fishing buddies.

Christians can tattoo crosses, Scriptures, and “Jesus” on their bodies, but I’m not sure it delights the Lord as much as simply growing in ways that please Him. Yeah, tattoos are cool, they tell stories . . . I get it. But inquisitiveness, integrity, creativity, maturity, and love are much deeper (more eternal) than a tattoo.

Thoughts Escape Me

Hello Humanity,

My name is Grady Walton and I created this blog to communicate helpful hints and insights about Christianity and life inside the modern church. My approach is different because I am not a member of the clergy, I speak from the perspective of a person who has spent decades in church congregations. There are loads of excellent blogs, books, and magazines written by gifted ministers of the faith, but I think the time is right to hear more voices from folks on this side of the altar. We will discuss our likes and dislikes about all things to do with this Christian life and the purpose and approach of the church in our modern culture. By sharing our experiences and ideas we can improve the effectiveness of the church in our culture and impact our personal lives in helpful ways. I hope you will participate in the conversation and encourage others to join us here. I will strive to be candid. Some of the things I say will be provocative, others humorous. I look forward to our time together.