The power of rest?

Rest is undervalued in our society. We reward and sanction overwork and personal neglect. In fact, some would say that our modern way of life is at odds with the design of our bodies and brains.

Writing in The Twenty-Four-Hour Society, physiologist Martin Moore-Ede makes an alarming claim:

At the heart of the problem is a fundamental conflict between the demands of our man-made civilization and the very design of the human brain and body… Our bodies were designed to hunt by day, sleep at night and never travel more than a few dozen miles from sunrise to sunset. Now we work and play at all hours, whisk off by jets to the far side of the globe, make life-or-death decisions or place orders on foreign stock exchanges in the wee hours of the morning. The pace of technological innovation is outstripping the ability of the human race to understand the consequences. We are machine-oriented in our thinking — focused on the optimization of technology and equipment — rather than human-centered — focused on the optimization of human alertness and performance (37).
To borrow the title of a book I recently heard about from a friend, we are not gadgets. Writes Wayne Muller (again quoted in The Power of Full Engagement):
The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life (39).
This perspective, that we aren’t gadgets, is central to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. Consider the words of the 23rd Psalm: “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” As humans we have limitations. These creaturely limitations are not something that we can attempt to overcome without pretty serious repercussions.  

One of those side effects is stress addiction, a very real risk for many people especially people in ministry. Stress causes our bodies to release stress hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. Over time the repeated experience of stress causes us to be unable to operate in any other way.
In fact, in Japan there is a phenomenon known as karoshi — death by overwork (41). The factors that lead to this being the cause of death include:
  • Extremely long hours that interfere with normal recovery and rest patterns
  • Night work that interferes with normal recovery and rest patterns
  • Working without holidays or breaks
  • High-pressure work without breaks
  • Extremely demanding physical labor and continuously stressful work

It’s interesting to note the only country in the world where workers work routinely work more hours than the Japanese is right here in the United States. 

In light of this, let me suggest five ways to reduce the amount of stress in your life:
  • At the end of your workday, turn off your computer and do not restart it until next morning.
  • Leave your iPhone in the car when you get home. If it’s not at hand, you won’t reach for it.
  • Create explicit boundaries with your co-workers about when you will and will not return their emails.
  • Find rituals that will allow you to unwind when you get home or before you go to bed (take a shower, read fiction, dim the lights)
  • Don’t drink caffeine after lunch – elect decaf coffee or caffeine free soda

It’s a crazy world out there…how do you manage your pace of life?

Poverty, Chastity, Obedience…[Updated]

One of my favorite professors from college was fond of telling us that we should seriously consider taking a voluntary vow of poverty sort of like monks. Bear in mind that this was in the mid-nineties, before the current popularity of Christian movements like the New Monasticism. (I’m pretty sure Shane Claibourne was doing what he’s doing now, only mainstream Christianity neither knew nor cared much about it. BTW – we were at PTS together. Pretty sure doesn’t remember me and as you’re abouto read, I thought radical stuff was, well, ‘weird.’)

When I first heard him say it I thought, ‘weird.’ Ok. I pretty much thought it was weird all the way through college. I was way too traditional an evangelical to think that intentionally changing the way I lived could have spiritual benefits for me. I’ve been pretty slow to learn that lesson, truth be told.

Here’s the weird thing about me. I seem to be getting more radical the older I get. It’s weird because as I look at all of my friends from college, I’ve noticed that they are emphatically _not_ getting more radical.

Granted, I was pretty conservative in college and graduate school. I mean, frankly, I dressed like an old man through most of both. Seriously. My wife thought I was married and had a job while we were in seminary because I just kinda looked like a married dude. Please note: it is a *miracle* that this woman married me.

And I’m not radical now in an especially external way. I’m more of an interior radical. Most of my radicality (is that a word?) is in the life of my mind. From the outside I’m pretty boring, but inside, I’m like freakin’ Che Guevara. [At least when compared to my other suburban friends.]

Honestly, I think some it has to do with being a third culture kid. I’m reading a lot of Lesslie Newbigin right now and I love it. I love it because in his work (I’m reading _The Household of Faith_ at present) he speaks of translating the Gospel for a given culture. He writes [wrote, he died in 1991 I think] as a bishop in the Church of South India (btw – look it up on Wikipedia, it’s pretty cool) and as a western european living in a very foreign culture. More importantly, when he returned to the UK he was able to right some incredibly helpful stuff about Gospel and culture in the west precisely because he’d spent most of his time outside of it.

Not that I want compare myself to Lesslie Newbigin, but having spend a good portion of my formative years overseas, I think I have something of that ability in me. More on this later. In short, there are a lot of things I like about North America and some that I don’t.

So in 2009 we’re hoping to make some changes with the hope that we can be more intentional in living out the values we profess.

In coming posts I’m going to write about some ways we hope to be more counter-cultural including our plans for the garden, the CSA (nothing to do with the confederacy, sorry), and fixed hour prayer. Stay tuned.

[Update] – Anna tells me that she didn’t think I was married, but that she did think I dressed like a politician or something. Again…it’s a *miracle* that this woman married me. Also, by radical I really mean *counter-cultural*.

Multi Gen Homes: A Return to Ancient Wisdom?

“…Now, although multigenerational households are more common among low-income families, architects and builders are designing multimillion-dollar homes that cater to the more wealthy among this niche market, and owners of existing homes are adding 5,000 to 6,000 square feet to accommodate relatives…”

I am unsure precisely when the United States housing market lost its mind. I don’t know at what point architects and builders agreed that the only homes worth building are those for the super-rich. There is a large part of me that absolutely detests the trend in our cultural consciousness of wanting more, bigger, better. It is that part of our collective unconsciousness that is not satisfied unless what we can somehow be described as owning something that is: luxury, executive, professional.

What really mystifies me is that cultural commentators can bemoan the lack of community, sidewalks, local stores, and markets with the result that developers create faux Seaside communities for the hyper wealthy. Here is Chapel Hill it is places like Meadowmont and Southern Village. Here you can experience community and local shopping options if you are able to buy a $400K condo and shop at places where clothes cost over a $100 for a shirt. In Birmingham you can move miles into the exurbs and live somewhere like Mount Laurel. It is another faux community, this time with an organic farm. You can live in harmony with nature, buying fresh foods, if you are able to buy a $500K house. And of course nothing says commitment to organic living like commuting 25 miles to downtown in your Chevy Suburban and clearing out acres of pristine forest.

This is madness. It sends the message to me, a very low middle class person, that the only people who deserve these things are the hyper-wealthy. Why? I have no desire to live in an artificial community in the midst of nowhere. If you do, that’s okay. What is not okay is that the real root of these efforts has nothing to do with the innate superiority of a way of life, but rather a desire to create a niche market that will cater to a certain group of people. Good economics; bad living.