Thursday, December 31, 2009

What to Leave Behind in 2009: The idol of Efficiency

I have said before that my middle name is Efficiency. Ashlee E. Alley. Well…that’s a bit of an untruth…the E. stands for Elaine instead of Efficiency, but, close enough. I really, really like to get things done in an efficient manner, requiring the least amount of effort for the greatest amount of impact. For example, at one point while doing some work on personality, I discovered a chart that had a listing of greetings that different personality types (as determined by the Myers-Briggs test) had for one another. I laughed out loud when I saw the one for my type: “Have an efficient day!” I laughed, because a common greeting for me at that time was, “Get lots done!” I was in seminary and, apparently, was concerned about the efficiency of the workload for myself, and others.

Unfortunately, efficiency is really not the way that Christian maturity works. We can’t do mass discipleship (that’s indoctrination). We can’t do speedy spiritual disciplines (that’s the world’s way). We can’t have reactionary solutions to problems (they’re merely band-aids). Efficiency simply is not the way that God works. Think about it: how efficient is it that God entrusted the task of evangelism, of telling the Good News of Jesus Christ (and him crucified and resurrected) to the flakey disciples. Granted, the disciples (and we) have a H.U.G.E. advocate in the Holy Spirit, but God still uses humanity to introduce Christ to a lost world—this isn’t the most efficient manner of telling others about himself. No…what God could have done if efficiency were top priority is to have preserved multiple written copies of “God’s plan” (sorta like tracts) all over the known world. Also, surely God could have given us a Methuselah to live for 1000 years and verify the veracity of these tracts and God’s plan. And yet, we do have the written words of Scripture, which some of us seem to (try to) discredit. And God has given us prophets, teachers, and the Holy Spirit to testify to God’s plan of redemption for the world by following the way of Christ. But, due to our human nature, we see that efficiency didn’t work, so rather, God relies on the hard work of transforming us, his children, and entrusting us with telling the story of Jesus Christ. In short, efficiency is not the way that God works.

Not only is evangelism not efficient, but neither is discipleship. In my own relationship with Jesus Christ, I’ve had to learn not to bow to the idol of Efficiency. It’s not easy for me, as I tend to schedule myself with small margins of error between meetings, events, or appointments. But I’ve found that Efficiency requires a pretty steep price. My creativity is sacrificed in order to balance multiple trains of thought. Also asked of me is my ability to focus singularly on one thing. My multitasking brain thinks about several things at once and even when I’m trying to focus on a sermon for next week, my mind wanders to the service project for this weekend. And often if I do try to focus on one thing, I get through my first event feeling a sense of panic when the next activity appears as the next first priority.

As I approach this new year, I am casting down the idol of Efficiency. I’m praying for God’s grace in letting go of this idol that for so long has grasped my priorities, my values, and my calendar. Instead of bowing to the idol of Efficiency, I am resolving to be patient. Patience, as one of the Fruit of the Spirit, is something that only grows through the grace of God. I’m asking for more of God’s grace this year, that I might not seek to accomplish the most things, but rather, that I would seek to accomplish the things to which God has called me. I’m asking God to give me the patience to “wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord”, instead of making it happen myself.

There is a song that I remember from my childhood that reminds me of what patience looks like: “Have patience…have patience…don’t be…in such…a hurry. When you get…impatient…it only makes you worry. Remember…remember…that God is patient too…and…think of all…the times…when others…have…to…wait…on…you!”
If I recall, the tune is somewhat of a bumbling, slow, and unwearied sort of a tune. It’s true: impatience (or efficiency) does make me worry. And God is patient. And my efficiency has a cost for others.

As I usher in the year 2010, I ask for God’s grace to release Efficiency and embrace Patience. Thankfully, I also get to release worry and being scatterbrained. It won’t be easy, I’m sure, as I’ll have to embrace other qualities along with Patience (like relinquishing control and trusting God and others). So Efficiency—be gone! Patience—come! Please. And even if you don’t come quickly, I resolve to prepare myself for your arrival. The fruit of Patience is a much more desirable harvest—a heart singularly focused on responding to God’s call in the world. May it be so in 2010.

Friday, December 18, 2009

SC Chapel Podcast

Do you like to keep up with what's happening at SC's chapel even though you aren't in Winfield? We now have Chapel available for you to subscribe to through iTunes or your other favorite system for mp3's. You can subscribe through searching Southwestern College in iTunes or go here and subscribe. We've had a great semester...I hope that you can listen in!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

What are we waiting for?

I have a good friend who is expecting a baby. Due to some complications, the baby could come any day between now and the middle of January, the full-term due date. When she first experienced the complications, the baby would have faced serious challenges, had he/she decided to be born. Thankfully, he/she has decided to stay put (for now) and my friend has focused her energy into preparing for the baby to be born.

During the first days of the complication, my friend began counting each day and celebrating the weeks of passing. I don’t think that I have observed waiting and preparation in such a focused way as one does in the anticipation of a child. The intentional decisions to avert travel, eat healthy foods, and save money, among other decisions, indicate the focused intentionality of welcoming a baby who will change their world.

I’ve been reminded when I see my friend of the coincidental timing of the expectation of their baby along with the expectation of the celebration of the birth of Christ. I confess that I often eagerly anticipate the time spent with family and friends or the fun entertainment that is often associated with the season of Christmas. However, the greater reality of Christmas has really not much to do with these things. Talk about changing our world…the birth of God in human form is pretty revolutionary!

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, the season when we eagerly anticipate the celebration of when God became human and “moved into the neighborhood,” as the Message translation of the bible says. Are awaiting the excitement of it all or are we remembering the magnitude of the incarnation? What are we waiting for?

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John 1:14 (The Message)