Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Common Rule | Embrace + Resist Daily: Presence Is Life

" ... The daily habits are: kneeling prayer at morning, midday, and bedtime; one meal with others; Scripture before phone; and one hour with phone off. The weekly habits are: one hour of conversation with a friend; curate media to four hours; fast from something for twenty-four hours; and sabbath. ... " + The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction

"A friend asked me whether the Common Rule helped us care for ourselves, and my answer was, 'yes, because we're made to be happy when we're focusing on others.' These habits are designed to help us spend our days for the sake of others, rather than just ourselves." (Another amazing book that complements the themes in The Common Rule is Tish Harrison Warren's Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life.)

This is the 2nd post of 3 reflecting on how to receive our days as gifts and blessings to share with others (the 1st can be found here: The Common Rule: Discovering the Freedom of Limitations). We'll begin with what we can embrace daily and how this helps us resist in order to love well.

"Embrace + Resist Daily in Order to Love Well" excerpts adapted from Justin Whitmel Earley's The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose in an Age of Distraction

Embrace is a reminder that there is much good in the world God made. God's presence  not his absence  is the primary foundation of the world. That we need each other  not that we harm each other — is the primary truth of being human. In the habits of embrace, we try to train our bodies and our hearts to love God as he actually is and to turn to our neighbor as we were made to do. The habits of embrace are:

+ sabbath, 
+ prayer, 
+ meals, and 
+ conversation.

Resistance is when we acknowledge that evil and suffering are very real, though they aren't how the world was made to be. Our world is full of a thousand invisible habits of fear, anger, anxiety, and envy that we unconsciously and consciously adopt. Should we do nothing, we will be taught to love the very things that tear us apart. So we must take up the fight, open our eyes to the way media form us in fear and hate, the way screens form us in absence, and see the way excess and laziness train us to love ourselves above all else. But remember that resistance has purpose: love. The habits of resistance aren't supposed to shield you from the world but to turn you toward it. They aren't so you can feel good about what you've done for you. They exist so you can feel peace about what God has done for you. The habits of resistance are:

+ fasting, 
+ Scripture before phone, 
+ phone off, and 
+ curate media.

Embrace Daily Habit 1: Ways to Start the Daily Habit of Kneeling Prayer at Morning, Midday, and Bedtime

Morning: Spirit, I was made for your presence. May this day be one I spend with you in all that I do. Amen.

Midday: Jesus, I was made to join your work in the world. Please order the rest of my day in love for the people you have given me to serve. Amen.

Bedtime: Father, I was made to rest in your love. May my body rest in sleep, and may my mind rest in your love. Amen.

Praying with the body. Kneeling is a great way to mark the moment with physicality and humility. If kneeling is physically challenging or you are in public, try gently turning up your palms, setting them on your knees, or walking to a window.

Embracing repetition. Just because prayers are repetitive doesn't mean they're meaningless. Often these prayers form us over time because of their constant presence. Absolutely intermix spontaneous Spirit-led prayers into your day, but building the trellis of repetitive prayer is the way to encourage more prayers to grow.

Habits as Light

Ken Myers argues that the kind of atheism we experience in America today is less a conclusion and more a mood. This is an incredibly important observation. We cannot disrupt a mood with an argument. We must disrupt it with a presence. 

Many are resistant to hearing verbal proclamations of the gospel. What's more, it seems some of them really can't hear it. We no longer share a common vocabulary for communicating whether truth exists, what can be called good, and what love means. But that is okay. God is not alarmed. Our age is still the place of evangelism. One of the reasons I'm so compelled by the life of habit is that I see habits as a way of light in an age of darkness. 

Cultivating a life of transcendent habits means that our ordinary ways of living should stand out in our culture, dancing like candles on a dark mantle. As Madeleine L'Engle once wrote, "We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe ... by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."

Embrace Daily Habit 2: Ways to Start the Daily Habit of Eating a Meal with Someone

Eating may be our best chance for evangelism. Rosaria Butterfield described this powerful ethic in her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key. She herself was converted from being an aggressive antagonist of the Christian faith to a devoted follower of Jesus through friendship with a pastor and his family who continually invited her to their table. Don Everts and Doug Schaupp also write in their book I Once Was Lost that one of the main things our neighbors who don't know Jesus need is simply to trust a Christian. That begins at the table  a table lovingly set with good conversation and an extra chair.

The table as formationSome of the ways my family tries to make mealtimes intentionally relational is by lighting a candle, having prayers everyone knows so we can take turns, and having regular questions to ask and answer. In the morning, ours are "What are you hoping for today?" and "What are you not looking forward to today?" At dinner, it's "One good thing, one bad thing, one funny thing." With friends, I've always appreciated the One Conversation Rule. That means, at some point in the meal, everyone has a single conversation instead of lots of side conversations.

Turning meals inside out. My friend Tom tries to hold Friday nights open. His family eats the same inexpensive and simple homemade pizza meal. That way it is low prep, and no one has to think hard. Each Friday, they invite someone new. This is a great way to take the family rhythms of dinner and flip it open to a neighbor. Another way is to eat in your front yard or on your front porch instead of your backyard or back porch (if you have a house; for those who live in condos or apartments, this could be done in a common space in the building).

Presence as Life 

Presence is at the heart of who we are, because presence is at the core of our relationship with God. From creation to salvation, the story of God in the Bible (see Creation, Crisis, Covenant, Christ, Church, (New) Creation) is fundamentally a story of presence (also see Immanuel, God with Us, Has Always Been His Plan for Us). 
Creation: Eden was Eden because the unmediated presence of God was there. God was with Adam and Eve, until sin broken the bliss of that presence. 
Crisis: After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve suddenly wanted to cover themselves with clothes and hide. This is the hallmark of life as we know it now. We hide from each other, and we hide from God. We long for the face of God, but we can't bear his gaze either. Sin has turned a people meant for presence into a people of absence. 
Covenant: Since humans first walked east of Eden, away from the presence of God, God has spent the rest of the story tracking his people down. First he followed them through deserts and wildernesses. He appeared in clouds of smoke and burning bushes, he found them in midnight dreams and pillars of fire. He manifested his presence on a mountain, in a tabernacle, and in a temple. The Israelites are known as God's people because of one thing: They had God's presence among them. 
Christ: Jesus is called Emmanuel because it means "God with us." Jesus came to see to it that God and man could be together again. He did this through his death and resurrection. By atoning for our sins on the cross and breaking the back of death in the resurrection, he cleared the path for the presence of God to once again become the cornerstone of our reality. 
Church: Now, like the Israelites, a Christian is defined by "God with us," and this is why we have the Holy Spirit. 
(New) Creation: In the kingdom to come, God will look at us, and we will look back. In his gaze, we will find the definition of our own lives and indeed the definition of all things. That is why, for a Christian, presence is at the heart of everything.

Resist Daily Habit 1: Ways to Start the Daily Habit of One Hour with Phone Off

Hour at home. I find that having the same hour every day goes a long way toward creating a rhythm of presence at home. In my house, somewhere around 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. is the best time for phones to be off for conversation, play, and presence.

Hour at work. Picking an hour every morning at work to keep your phone off may be the way to start for you. Choose a time when you know it's okay to be unavailable or a time when you need to concentrate or get creative work done.

Hour for silence. You may choose the first or last hour of your day to turn your phone off. This can create meaningful space for solitude and silence.

A place for phones. Whether at work or home, consider having a place for your phones. Set up a charger, put your phone there, and leave it there. At work I keep mine across the room, where I can't reach it or see it. At home I put it up on the mantle or in my dresser drawer. Consider having a charging station at the front door, so when your friends come over, you can offer a place where they can leave their phones. Having a place for phones goes a long way toward putting them in their place. 

The News and Morning Liturgies of Anger and Fear

Anger and fear have something in common: we become the center of things. This is why so many of our conversations about headlines start with "Can you believe ... ?" We're amazed and indignant that the world doesn't understand like we do. It solidifies a new identity for us: We are the righteous judges who get it  and those who disagree with us don't.

At one point in my life, I would get so mad that I could not wait to read the headlines when I woke up! I hungrily scrolled Twitter and news alerts to be the righteous judge. This became my new morning routine. It's important to realize how natural and unnatural this is. It's natural because all people are generally scared and judgmental. That's what sin has made us to be. But it's unnatural because media companies prey on that. The news is tailored to incite anger and fear for a financial reason: Nothing brings us back for more headlines (and therefore ads) like anger and fear. 

At one point, I picked up a commentary on Isaiah. I had forgotten the historical context: two sides (countries in this case) battling to be Israel's savior while the Lord told them not to capitulate to either and that he would be their savior. I began to make Isaiah my morning readings, and I quickly fell headlong into a very, very different story of what was going on. It was a story of a God who loves and defends the poor and the vulnerable, a God who knows how to be righteously angry over injustice while remaining tender to both the victims and the perpetrators of that injustice. Isaiah began to east me away from being the one who is mad at those "who don't get it." Isaiah made me doubt that I was the one who knew what to do, and it made me wonder if my justice compass needed to be re-tuned daily by the words of the prophets. Most of all, Isaiah rebuked my fear of doom while still giving voice to righteous anger. God will avenge all injustice. There's not question of that. That's why we can be at peace even when expressing righteous anger.

The questions of whether we let pundits or prophets calibrate our morning identity is an urgent matter of neighbor love. So long as we look to the news for our identity, we won't respond to the information with genuine care and concern for our neighbor. We'll respond by being indignant, a feeling alleviated by aligning ourselves with a tribe against a perceived wrong. All you have to do is pick a side; conveniently, that requires no repentance.

Aligning our identity to the king  over the country  is radically different. Only when we're secure in our identity as children of the coming King, who will right all wrongs, can we read the news for the sake of our neighbors' needs instead of for the sake of our own inadequacy. Only then are we able to repent, and not just blame another side. When we're Christians first we can finally be good citizens second. That's the only way we can avoid being, in the words of Reverend William Sloane Coffin Jr., either uncritical lovers of country or loveless critics of country. But when we're citizens of heaven first, we finally become loving critics of country next  which is the truest kind of patriotism. ... The Bible tells a story of us, not as people who were made to see and be seen or judge and be judged, but as children who were made to love and be loved. Only when we feel that in our bones can we use news and social media to love neighbors instead of trying to get their love.

Resist Daily Habit 2: Ways to Start the Daily Habit of Scripture Before Phone

Reading plans

Psalms. Whether you go through them in order or otherwise, reading a morning psalm is always a great place to start. 
Matthew. The Gospel of Matthew has 28 chapters; try reading one each morning for a month. 
Romans. The book of Romans has 16 chapters; try reading half a chapter; try reading half a chapter each morning for a month.

Creating a new routine. Try starting with a week and leaving your phone alone for the first hour of each morning. Do a warm drink and Scripture and then add journaling, meditating, other readings, or exercising. 

Journaling. Journaling is a keystone habit  that is, it changes everything else in your life. If you make a habit of filling up one blank page while you read or pray or are silent before picking up your phone, your life will change.

Soli Jesu gloria.

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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