Ordinary

ordinaryOrdinary
Sustainable Faith in a Restless World
by Michael Horton

At a dinner party recently, I was asked by the man on my right, ‘What do you do?’ I breathed in and answered with as much conviction as I could muster, ‘I’m a housewife and mother.’  ‘Oh good for you’ he replied, which was generous, I thought!   Turning to my left, I just couldn’t quite believe I’d be so lucky a second time and so waffled on about looking for a job as obviously being at home was a mind-numbingly tedious, insignificant and pointless existence which anyone with at least an iota of intelligence, (which I was eager to claim) would eagerly want to escape.

What is at the heart of this inability to answer honestly?  Fear? pride?   I was afraid that each of my companions that evening would make a judgement about me based on what I do and I wanted to be thought well of.  I wanted to be thought interesting and very definitely didn’t want to be thought ‘boring’.  Aren’t many of us guilty of the same?  I just can’t admit that I haven’t done anything of particular note, my achievements count for very little and are largely unknown, and the impact of my life extends only to very few people, mainly my husband and children and church and hey, let’s face it, I’d have liked to have been a little less ordinary.

‘Ordinary’ – a dirty word?  Not an adjective you want to be used to describe your daughter or your looks or your cooking or your holiday.  Here is a book, however, that has brought the extraordinary back into ordinary as Mark Galli, Editor of Christianity Today has put it.  In essence Michael Horton shouts from the rooftops of this 211 page book – ‘Ordinary isn’t mediocre!’  but not only this, it is God’s very means of working in this world to bring a people to Himself.

Starting his book with a six chapter outline of the ‘radical and restless’ world in which we live, he pierces the heart of western culture’s lust for the new, the sensational, the life-changing and gently invites the evangelical world to recognise its own desire for ‘The Next Big Thing’.  We run after novelties  out of a right desire for excellence but Horton reminds us that ‘Excellence is [only] a virtue when it has God’s glory and our neighbour’s good in view’.  Unfortunately we turn this virtue into a vice by using our service as a ‘stage for my performance’ rather than for the good of others.  The illusion of self-justification has crept in.

It can become a terrible drug.  Rather than placing our trust in God, we learn to trust in our own piety and devotion.  Our tireless service is driven more by a desire for self-justification and self-acclaim than by being secure in Christ enough to tend now to the actual needs of others.

The alternative presented to us in the second half of the book is to be ‘ordinary and content’.  We are to resolutely re-place our trust, our justification, our significance  in Christ alone which will free us to serve others in ‘ordinary and unheralded ways’.  Rather like George Elliott’s Dorothea Brooke whose example Horton cites and who cropped up in a previous post, we are free to live ‘faithfully a hidden life’ serving others because they need it not in order to curry favour with God or enhance our reputation as ‘keen’ and ‘really going for it’.

Michael Horton is an incredibly honest writer confessing that he has himself fallen into the trap of making others the ‘supporting cast’ in his own ‘life movie’ rather than serving them out of love for Christ and for their good.   Having read this book, those who have fallen into the mirky bogs of egocentricity will find themselves liberated to pursue unashamed ‘a patient commitment to daily routines, routines that to the outside observer seem dull, trivial, worthless.’  With renewed confidence in God’s chosen means of grace, namely weekly church gatherings, preaching, prayer, baptism and The Lord’s Supper, we can allow Him to quieten our hearts and avoid the exhaustion and burnout that is worryingly prevalent in some churches.

I’ll still have to work on my dinner party answers but in the meantime, since reading this book, I am a little less perturbed by the ordinariness of my existence and have a renewed respect for other non-celebrities out there who cheerfully and without ego follow their callings under God whether noticed or not by those around them.

 

Advertisements

Whatever happened to the ‘hidden life’?

Will You Be My Facebook Friend?
Social Media and The Gospel
by Tim Chester

Available from 10 of Those

71d9wTi7aPL

‘Over 700 billion minutes are spent each month on Facebook.’

This is just one of the striking statistics with which Tim Chester wakes us up in this short, highly readable 46 page book.  46 pages that any user of social media would do well to re-visit on a regular basis.

The author outlines the problems, dangers and benefits of online activity whether it be tweeting, blogging, flickr-ing, downloading, searching or sharing and ends by penning a handy 12 point guide to using social media that would make a good screensaver.

I first came across the book as a smug non-user of Facebook nodding sagely as I read about the obvious pitfalls of time wasting, declining levels of concentration and ‘selfism’ but then was humbled once I’d opened an account to see how quickly I found myself doing the very thing the apostle Paul urges us not to do: ‘seeking to win the approval of man’ and ‘trying to please men not God’ (Galatians 1:10). Rather than leaving the reader condemned or mistakenly resolute to change his or her ways through will power, Tim Chester gently points us to Christ who ‘more than meets the needs that social media appear to satisfy’.

Some of the warning signs Chester offers include:

  • Do you check your Facebook page more than once or twice a day?
  • Do you find it difficult to imagine a day without technology?
  • Have you ever stayed up beyond your normal bedtime because you were on Facebook or playing online games?

Convicting stuff!

The book insightfully recognises that on Facebook our lives can assume an apparent significance that we may feel they otherwise lack.  We get an audience. Maybe we’ve always craved attention. Quoting an Australian, Stephen Marche, Chester cites how ‘Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting and superficial behaviour’.

What the book does not do is to promote a more constructive use of social media, for the encouragement of our ‘friends’ or the communication of useful or edifying information to those with whom we’d normally have lost touch.

George Elliot writes at the end of her 1870’s novel ‘Middlemarch’ of how her heroine Dorothea Brooke had an enormous impact upon those around her simply by the way she quietly lived a life of love.  The language is exquisite:

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

In our culture today we have a terror of anonymity and so engage in a constant search for significance. So we put photographs on our Facebook page and think out loud on Twitter for any who might pause to look at our status.

imagesWithin about two days of starting to use Facebook I’d already noticed the onset of ‘Like’ anxiety and had hastily made a crass comment in one of my posts which could have caused offence except for the gracious response of the person who read it. Having thought that it’d be easier to watch my words online I found that the tongue makes just as great boasts through the medium of the written word as it does in every day speech.

So Tim Chester’s book is out on the kitchen surface with the iPhone and the iPad (now broken – will we survive without it?!) just to remind me to focus my energies on the people with whom I’m physically present rather than give scant attention to those online who, let’s face it, can manage perfectly well without my comments.