catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 18 :: 2005.10.07 — 2005.10.20


House of inefficiency

Adam Smith wouldn’t like living at my place. There is no division of labor. There is no maximization of efficiency. The father of economics would probably get antsy watching my wife and me walk to the grocery store together, needlessly teaming up for a mundane task and stretching it out by ignoring the car. To be fair, Smith is quite right that our lifestyle doesn’t lead to prosperity, or even order. There are a lot of things we don’t have the time to do, including putting everything away neatly. We are not so much disproving him as we are shrugging our shoulders at his assumptions of wealth. To me, time is wealth, freely available but easily squandered, and I choose to lavish it on my relationships and my well-being.

Our cat-sitting business isn’t any more efficient. We routinely spend more time hanging out with the cats than we’re being paid for. We work on jobs together, even though we don’t charge more than other sitters. We have forgotten clients’ keys at our apartment more times than I care to remember, and have had to turn around and get them. A strong boss could squeeze so much more into our schedule, keep us on track, whip us into shape. But we like being our own bosses. We like the freedom, the flexibility to look at how our souls are doing and spend some of the potential money we’d earn on taking time off to care for ourselves.

Serving at our church is another story. Any time there are more than a few people involved, it demands a certain level of structure, schedule, and agenda. As small group coordinators at our church, we work at constructing and implementing a vision for community depth, spiritual growth, and leadership development. But our pastor is clear that the church system is only useful insofar as it serves the church body, that it tends to people’s souls. My wife and I tend to refer to our small group handbook as a living document, ready to be shaped by experience perhaps more than it does the shaping. If we let our agenda override what God has planned for us, we could miss out.

When people notice my inefficiency, perhaps they chalk it up to a Gen-X slacker mentality, or perhaps immaturity, laziness, or co-dependency. But I hope that, in God’s eyes, it reflects the spirit of the Beatitudes. It seems to me that the Sermon on the Mount is an exaltation of those without an agenda, those who are wholly open to God’s will in a particular moment. Whenever I’ve mourned, life slows to such a crawl that I’m aware of every breath. I can’t think about next week or tomorrow, but put everything aside to seek comfort in God’s arms. When I have been poor, I can’t help but pay attention to what food I prepare at each meal, how much sleep I can afford, where I spend my time and money. If I have been a peacemaker, it has not been the result of imposing my will on anyone but of listening, being aware, looking for cracks in the surface where change can take root. If I have been merciful, it is not my natural instinct, but rather a letting go of my own desires and submitting myself to God’s agenda. Being persecuted for the sake of Christ, in the small measure I’ve experienced it, strips away my ego and my sense of security and reminds me to trust only in God. Jesus was telling us to be available to him and to the leading of the Spirit in every moment. I like how author Christopher Levan phrases it: “Our role as disciples is to discover where God’s reign is breaking out in our world and to be present and attendant at its new birth.”

Agenda is an enemy of presence. Priorities are an enemy of presence. Whenever I find myself setting goals, even noble goals, I feel entitled to ignore anything that does not contribute to those ends. I skimp on sleep. I speed in the car. I get angry at long lines. I start to become efficient, multitasking dinner with work and e-mail. I tell myself this busyness is necessary to fulfill the requirement of family life and church service—of loving God and loving people. But what I have done is define narrowly the people whom I honor (not the people in line, nor those I share the roads with), as well as the places in which I meet God (not by treating my body well, not by engaging him in the kitchen). “I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices,” God says to an Israelite community that has busied itself with the minutiae of religious life. “I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.”

So often I need to be brought back to this truth. I’ve learned to ask myself over and over: Am I open, receptive, and present to the hand of God in this world, or have I already predetermined where and how I will meet him? Am I absent to his prodding? The parable of the Good Samaritan depicts two religious men who are too sure they’re in the right with God to go near a possibly dead body, but the Samaritan, who takes time to detour from his agenda—who travels the road of inefficiency—is the one whom Jesus praises. What might God have for me today if I am open?

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