catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 21 :: 2012.11.23 — 2012.12.06


Stoop sitting

The discipline of doing nothing

Cities not only have different time zones, they have different concepts of time.  Some cities, like New York, have a fast, frantic pace.  You can stand in Times Square at 2:00 a.m. and it’s just as busy and alive as it is in the middle of the day.  Other cities, like New Orleans, have a slow, relaxed feel where time seems to just crawl by. Chicago, where I live, is somewhere in between.

Different cultures have different concepts of time, too.  Some cultures prioritize being punctual and being on time, while other cultures are more event-oriented.  Early on, when I moved into a predominantly African American neighborhood, I would show up at exactly the time I was told to meet up and end up waiting for 45 minutes for the next person to arrive.  Eventually, I realized that those in my community did not have such a rigid view of time as I was used to in my white culture.  I’ve grown to appreciate the difference.  I realized that sometimes I can be a slave to time, which closes me off to relationships, and then I miss out on meaningful interactions with people.

Many of my neighbors in Chicago like to sit on the stoops of their porches.  It is a way to escape the heat, but also a way to pass the time.  Stoop-sitting challenges the mainstream view of time.  Time is money, as they say.  Because we find our worth in how productive we can be, we pack our days with as much activity as possible, even to the detriment of our health or families.  Our lives are shaped by the values of the economy, which prioritizes efficiency, productivity and monetary gain.

Stoop-sitting flies in the face of all of this.  Sitting on the porch is a very inefficient use of time.  But where do we get the idea of efficiency being our highest ideal?  Stoop-sitting is not productive.  Nothing tangible is accomplished.  But who says that our lives are measured by how much we produce?  Stoop-sitting is not about monetary gain.  But how did we come to believe that our value is in how much money we make?  These are false markers for finding meaning and purpose in life.

Stoop-sitting is counter-cultural to mainstream culture.  It is a way of being present in the moment and being present to those around us.  Henri Nouwen talks about prayer as “being useless before God.”  In God’s presence we do not have to be efficient or productive or successful to gain acceptance.  Our value is not in our results, whether they are effective or poor.  The way of prayer is to just be with God.  Stoop-sitting is about just being with another, just being in the moment.  Sometimes we mistake frantic activity for missions, rather than just being and communing with one another.  Faith and intimacy are built as we allow ourselves to be useless before God and each other.  Stoop-sitting can be a means of resisting cultural lies. It reveals our false identities and leads us to where meaning is really found. I’ve learned that doing nothing can be a discipline.

Stoop-sitting is really about community. Stoop-sitting teaches us that life is much better when enjoyed with others.  On the stoop, you talk life, sports, faith, race, politics, family.  You see people pass by and make conversation.  Stoop-sitting prioritizes relationships which is where we gain real meaning.  The stoop is a seemingly timeless place where you forget about schedules and deadlines and just be.  It is where you learn the beauty of hanging out.  It is where life happens at its own pace.

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