“What is wrong with people?” the writer asked. “At a time so ripe with weighty questions and serious issues for consideration, how is it that so many people (he didn’t use the word ‘masses’) are Facebooking, Instagramming and Tweeting about such trivial matters . Why have people filled social media with what they had for dinner, or their baby’s latest, tiny achievement!?”
The article went on in a similar vein, lamenting the triviality (he felt) that such twittering represented. The fact that he was reading so many micro blogs and tweets about babies and food confirmed for him that the new social media were really the new opium of the masses and that these trivial obsessions really represented a pathetic withdrawal from intelligent engagement with the world. Was he right?
It wasn’t the first time I had heard this thought expressed. One of my own Facebook friends had barbed, “Paul, do you realize how much you blog about food?” Her concern was that, for a pastor and a theologian, this was really a bit beneath me. So I got to thinking.
Social commentators where I live in Australia have been observing since the GFC a trend to cocooning. In other words, part of people’s strategies to survive times of anxiety, uncertainty, and insecurity is to pull their horns in and live in smaller worlds. One could see this trend in tweets and micro blogs about babies and food. But I see something different.
I have been reading the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. It’s a book that puts a lot of good Christians off. They are unsettled by its most remembered slogan: “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” Or in modern parlance, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.” I have read the book a number of times and I am beginning to think that you have to read it at certain moments in life to get it. In its pages I find something far more life-affirming. I hear the writer say that wisdom is the best thing to have but that in this perplexing life you can look too much for meaning. And that if you can enjoy your home life, find satisfaction in your work, and have time for good food and a good wine, then you should count yourself blessed by God. These things are the fat of life. (Ecclesiastes 3:13, 5:18) I say Amen to that.
I have done enough chasing the wind (to use the book’s phrase) and lived through enough circumstances in which meaning is hard to find to appreciate deeply the pleasure of a happy home life with good food and drink, and to count myself blessed when I can enjoy such things. At a deeper level than in my youth I can affirm the words of James in the New Testament, “Every good and perfect gift comes from…the Father.”
In my friends’ tweets about dinner with their family I find a recovery of a genuinely spiritual sensitivity. I love it because I believe many of us are recovering from patterns of faith and spirituality which have declared the everyday stuff of life to be of only little value, irrelevant to the “great” matters of building Christian organizations. We have often got the balance wrong and in our great “visions” for ministry and society lost sight of people.
There is a learning to breathe again that I sense in the churches and in these micro blogs. I sense a move towards a more holistic view of what it means to live a godly life. This hunger for a way of connecting real everyday life with our faith in God lies behind the tremendous revival of interest in Celtic Christian Spirituality from the era when Celtic missionaries were first evangelizing Britain.
Read all about it in my book
Be Thou My Breastplate!
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The ancient Celtic Christians’ faith was one that consciously engaged the awareness and love of God in every aspect of life-including the sharing of food and the celebration of home life. This is why so many breathe a sigh of relief and recognition when they first read Christian writers from that tradition.
This wider view of the meaning of life as a believer has deep roots in Puritan soil. As they moved away from monarchy and clericalism as models for church life, and rediscovered the priesthood of all believers the Puritans affirmed the holiness of serving people with your skills and industry and the interest that God has in how we interact with one another in business and society as well as in church. The Puritans rediscovered the churchhood of the family home and the deep value for true spirituality of what we might call soul-friendship. This spiritual sensitivity that opens the whole of life-not just church-life-to God is, I think (if I can comment as an outsider), profoundly American too.
I hear its notes on the prairie as the fine Puritan, Charles Ingalls, provides a foil for his wife, Caroline’s, beautiful but somewhat church-centered faith. I hear these same notes echoing in the faith of another archetype of American religion-John Walton on Walton’s mountain. Again he is the earthy foil to his wife, Olivia’s, somewhat prim religion. Today I hear this same music in the blogs and tweets of friends as they share their appreciation of a new recipe, of time spent with friends, of conversations that have been wonderful, and of their babies’ first steps. Surely these things are the fat of life.
The Waltons and the Ingalls families – American archetypes
of Puritan spirituality – people with little but enjoying the fat of life.
When in the Gospel of John Jesus promised life in all its fullness – sure he does not mean us to withdraw from the great issues and needs of our day. He does not want us to withdraw into the confines of our own homes. (Neither did Charles Ingalls or John Walton, by the way.) But I believe there is a holism there that enables me to celebrate the fat of life with all kinds of people and say with a whole heart, “Do you realize that right now we are enjoying the blessing of God!” I might even mention it on Facebook!
P.S. By the way for dinner we had the most beautiful lamb shanks in a red wine and brown sugar reduction. Our two-year-old lapped it up!