The old idea still causing us problems

Time recently published its 2012 list of 10 ideas that are changing your life. Some of the usual suspects appear: “Computers are destroying our brains,” “Humanity is destroying the earth,” and (hold the front page!) “We’re destroying ourselves with stress.” There’s also the bizarre: new food preservation techniques can keep meat edible for up to seven years (think I’ll give that BBQ a pass). But at least half the entries mask a core idea that’s been causing us problems for 6,000 years—the self-centered desire and demand for independence. Here are its latest disguises.

Living Alone Is the New Norm: In one of the biggest societal changes ever witnessed, the number of Americans living alone has increased from 4 million in 1950 (9 percent of households) to 33 million (28 percent of households) today.

But don’t feel sorry for the “new loners.” NYU sociologist Erik Klinenberg tell us this is the ideal life:

Living alone serves a purpose: it helps us pursue sacred modern values—individual freedom, personal control, and self-realization—that carry us from adolescence to our final days. Living alone allows us to do what we want, when we want, on our own terms. It liberates us from the constraints of a domestic partner’s needs and demands and permits us to focus on ourselves.

The Rise of the Nones: “The fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. (16 percent) is the category of people who say they have no religious affiliation.”

That doesn’t mean “the Nones” don’t want any kind of church; no, they just want to do be free from “rigid dogma” and do it their way. The unofficial chaplain of “Not Church,” a regular gathering of American expats on Mexico’s Baja peninsula, said, “The underlying drive is to distance themselves from organized religion and build a rich if unorthodox spiritual life.”

Black Irony: Touré described for Time how many black Americans are turning their backs on conventional forms of blackness and want to “take a more independent even irreverent look at the subject.”

There’s that “I” word again . . . .and again: “Black irony’s imperative to use blackness inindependent ways responds to the mind-bending complexity of modern blackness . . . Sometimes we simply want to feel free to be independently black rather than worship at the altar.”

Privacy in Public: The drive to be free from others, from their scrutiny, and from accountability, has become so strong that the courts have now enshrined a right to privacy in public.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against law enforcement using GPS signals to track a suspected drug dealer, even though the cops monitored only where the suspect went on public streets. “Thanks to that decision, for the first time in American history there is now a legal right to privacy in public.” Previously, courts agreed that Americans voluntarily gave up their Fourth Amendment protections almost as soon as they left their homes.

Niche Aging: It’s been worrying to watch retired people increasingly withdraw from society into “retirement communities,” often at great loss to themselves and at even greater loss to those from whom they withdraw their knowledge and experience. But now: “the generic retirement model is starting to give way to what developers are calling affinity housing—niche communities where choosy boomers can opt to grow old alongside others who share a specific interest” (e.g. Country Music, Feng Shui, and even LGBT). The idea would appear to be, “If I can’t be completely independent, then at least let me live beside those most like myself.”

Large Capital “I”
I’m not saying all of these ideas are completely wrong; some of them are understandable and even well motivated. But, taken together, do they not frame a picture of a large capital “I”? “Let me be me, let me be separate, having as little relationship with, dependence upon, or accountability to others as possible.”

But that’s not how God designed us to live. In the original creation, God created us dependent, both upon him and upon one another. Adam needed Eve, Eve needed Adam, and both needed God. And all was very, very good. It would never be better. Mutual need and dependence was part of God’s perfect order and part of our happiness.

In fact, what spoiled it all was a sinful desire for independence—the desire for “individual freedom, personal control, and self-realization.” Adam and Eve did not just want independence from God; they wanted to be god themselves. After sin entered, that desire for independence only accelerated as our first parents blamed each other and pushed away from one another.

Mercy of Dependence
In great mercy, God sowed dependence back into humanity with his first gospel promise (Gen. 3:15), calling us to depend upon him to send a Devil-destroyer and humanity-saver. In a judgment full of mercy, he then built sorrow and difficulty into two of our core callings, work and child-bearing (Gen. 3:16-18), again to make us need and depend upon one another and, above all, on God himself.

Of course, in a sinful world where interdependent relationships can be so easily abused, independence is sometimes more moral and ethical than dependence. For example, negative peer pressure or national oppression must be resisted and sometimes even fought. However, self-centered expressions of independence are far more common and reveal our fundamental flaw, rather than how to repair it.

Am I arguing for the return of a dependency culture? Yes, but not the “depend on government” culture envisioned by so many of our politicians, a dependency that only increases our separation and alienation from one another and from God. Rather, I have in mind the original divine order that built dependence on God and on one another into the very fiber of our beings and of our world.

And let’s not only be quick to spot the big capital “I” in the latest fads and fashions of our world. Let’s also keep a close watch upon ourselves. May God help us to weaken our own stubborn streaks of independence, and to strengthen God-glorifying, community-building dependency, his plan from the beginning.

Now there’s an idea that would change our lives, our families, our communities, our churches, and our world.

This article was originally published here on The Gospel Coalition Blog.


Check out

Grace at the Grocery Store
“Spiritual struggle” isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when I think about buying my food. But lately, I’ve noticed a lot of judgement as I work through the aisles – from other people to me and from me to other people.

Gracious Candor: Speaking the truth in love
Wish I’d read this 25 years ago. Would have saved me a lot of grief.

How to receive criticism like a champ
Again, something I’m just beginning to learn.

The Joy of Calvinism
Joe Thorn: Those who are reformed will benefit from this book by being reminded of the humble joy the doctrines of grace should produce. In my case my early years in the Reformed faith were characterized by pride. This was not the fruit of Calvinism, but the byproduct of a heart that was not yet grasping the theology I was reading. I was missing the forrest for the trees. God was gracious in directing me to a few specific books that helped me to see much of what Forster writes in The Joy of Calvinism.

11 Ways the Book of Revelation is Relevant


5 types of work that fill your day

One of the most enjoyable assignments (at least for me) that I set my students in our Leadership class is to get them to fill out a “Ministry Timetable.” Basically I ask them to imagine an ideal week in ministry and present it to the class in a one-page spreadsheet. It’s especially fascinating because we have such a wide range of cultures in our class – from North America, Africa, Asia, Europe, etc. Quite a lot of stereotype-smashing takes place!

It’s also quite amusing to watch the faces of students as they realize they’ve left themselves only four hours sleep a night, or that they’ve forgotten they have a wife and children, or that they might need to eat from time to time!

And then there’s the fear that begins to spread across their faces when it begins to dawn on them that much though they’d love to spend 30 hours on every sermon, it’s probably going to be closer to 10! And what happened to all that personal reading time that they were looking forward to? It’s been mercilessly swallowed up by administration, meetings, and more meetings.

And of course, like the best war plans, even the most realistic ministry timetable doesn’t survive the first encounter on the battlefield of pastoral ministry. Nevertheless, it’s still worthwhile for pastors (indeed all of us) to analyze our working days from time to time and ask ourselves if we are allocating time correctly. Scott Belsky recently did this and identified five different kinds of work that fill his day.

  1. Reactionary Work: Responding to messages and requests – emails, text messages, Facebook messages, tweets, voicemails, and the list goes on. You are constantly reacting to what comes into you rather than being proactive in what matters most to you.
  2. Planning Work: Planning Work includes the time spent, scheduling and prioritizing your time, developing your systems for running meetings, and refining your systems for working.
  3. Procedural Work: Neither reactionary nor strategic, procedural work is the administrative/maintenance stuff that we do just to keep afloat: bills, tax returns, recurring items.
  4. Insecurity Work: Includes the stuff we do out of our own insecurities – obsessively looking at certain statistics, or repeatedly checking what people are saying about you online, etc.
  5. Problem-Solving Work: (I’d rather call this Creative Work). This is the work that requires our full brainpower and focus, whether it be preparing a sermon, writing an article, posting a blog, etc.

Scott then goes on to give hints on how to audit your work day and how to manage each type of work best. His most telling admission is probably true for most pastors as well – that the majority of each day goes into Reactionary Work.

What other kinds of work should a pastor have in his day? I can think of quite a few.

Any that should not be part of our work day? I can see a very obvious one.


Check out

Pastors: Don’t just quote, be quotable
“I think it’s more effective for you to meditate on the passage a bit longer and say something that is yours rather than quoting all these guys. Be gripped by the text; I’d rather hear you then them.”

Visual Theology: The Trinity
Difficult to picture what the Trinity is. But Tim does a good job of picturing what it is not.

Be a real husband and Dad
“As much as deadlines and workload would tempt us to believe otherwise, parenting doesn’t wait until we’ve finished those remaining M. Div. credits. Neither does marriage — perhaps especially marriage. There are no footnotes to Ephesians 5 that qualify Paul’s instructions as pending until graduation.”

93rd Foot Regiment
“ Not only were these Presbyterians zealous about their personal faiths; they also encouraged fellow soldiers to respect authority, to live uprightly, and to fight knowing that God would direct the battle. Men of the 93rd fought for God, their families and the Empire. In a phrase, they displayed a Protestant war ethic.”

Khan Academy: The future of education?


The softer side of leadership

Want to learn how to empower others rather than how to command them? Here’s a summary of Gary Burnison’s tips on how to Learn the softer side of Leadership. There’s only one of these that I would want to adjust or for pastoral ministry. Which one? Take a guess.

  1. Leaders are the mirrors for the entire organization.  If the leader is down, the organization will follow. If leaders reflect optimism and confidence, the organization will rise.
  2. Leadership is taking charge to help others execute.  A leader does not tell people what to think or do, but rather guides them in what to think about.
  3. Leadership is awareness of what you’re not hearing.  People won’t tell you what you really need to know, only what they think you want to hear. To keep from being isolated, you need to be out there and engaged with customers and employees.
  4. Leadership should be humbling.  Humility is the grace that constantly whispers, “It’s not about you.” Humility means that you know who you are, where you’ve been, and what you have accomplished. With that knowledge, you can get out of your own way and focus on others.
  5. Leadership has an endpoint–organizations should not.  Leaders must recognize the endpoint of their leadership is not the endpoint for the organization. Just as leaders took over from someone else, so others will follow them as successors.
  6. Leadership is all about how you make other people feel.  Your achievement as a leader is measured in the success of others…Leadership conveys and embodies the enduring purpose and deeper reasons for an organization’s existence.

You can read the whole post here.