The hectic gospel of GTD and the hopeful gospel of God


In the cult of GTD there is only one time: now. Everything must happen now, because if it’s doesn’t happen now, it won’t happen later. Time is scarce, attention is scarce, so map your project, define your next action, find your flow, and get it done now.

In Christianity, there are two times: the time which is passing away and the time which is coming. There is the time when we were slaves and the time when we will be freed, the time when the creation is subjected to futility and time when it will be renewed.

As Paul writes, ”the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

For Paul, the present is not an empty moment of potentiality, ready to be filled with next actions. ‘Now’ is an in-between time. The first fruits have been seen and tasted, but the harvest is yet to be brought in. It’s not a time for GTD but a time for waiting.

James encourages us to “wait patiently” for the coming of the Lord, like a farmer waiting for a crop. The Psalms sing constantly of patiently waiting for the Lord to act, to redeem his servant and bring justice. We can’t make everything right, so we wait for God.

When we’re impatient for change and focussed on getting things done, we can lose sight of other people and trample them with our plans. But in Christ, God has given us everything needful for life and salvation. There is nothing we need to get done.

I don’t mean that we have nothing to do. We have been given a gospel to tell, a church to love and a world to bless. Stanley Hauerwas says that in Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been given all the time we need to care for one another. Our life is about people, not plans.

The worst thing you can do for your legacy is spend time being friends with a disabled person. The worst thing you can do for your career is to leave work on time to get to bible study. The worst thing you can do for your social life is help at a soup kitchen on the weekend.

But in Christ, God has given us all the time we need to care for one another. There’s no rush to get anything done, because there’s nothing that we need to do. We are free to spend our time doing things that give us no return, no advancement and no recognition, because we belong to God, and wait patiently for him to make everything right.

The hectic gospel of GTD and the hopeful gospel of God

Keeping the C. S. Lewis Week magic alive


For those who enjoyed Scott Stephens‘s visit to Perth for C. S. Lewis Week and want to keep the magic alive, or for those who weren’t able to make it and would like to get amongst it, here are some places to begin.

From the lecture

Scott’s lecture yesterday was based on C. S. Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man. Lewis says that schooling has created “men without chests”, people with no feeling for what’s good and right. More than that, our vision of the world as a bunch of blindly bumping atoms has left us unable to imagine that there’s anything more to life. The book was originally a series of lectures, so it’s brief and accessible – you could knock it over in an afternoon.  The Internet Archive has it for free in a number of formats, or if you prefer a more traditional medium, it’s at Amazon.

To speak into this culture we need to tell better stories, Scott suggested, quoting from this brilliant article by Alan Jacobs. He also asked, where is the next C. S. Lewis? Who in our time can help us feel the world reverberating with divine love? Lewis was unique, Scott said, and so we thankfully read his work. Perhaps the better question is, who is the next Flannery O’Connor, who will shout for the hard of hearing, and draw large figures for the blind?

Scott briefly discussed this question in this interview, and suggested that the closest writer we have might be the wonderful Marilynne Robinson, whose novels illuminate the sacred nature of ordinary life. You’ve got to read Gilead.

Do you have any other suggestions of Christian novelists, poets, artist or film makers who are telling better stories? I would love to hear them on the Facebook page.

For more about Lewis’s life and work, Scott recommended Alan Jacobs’s introduction The Narnian. And Alister McGrath, who will visit Perth in February next year, has just written a new biography, C. S. Lewis: a life. He also wrote this short piece for Scott’s website, on why Narnia is still so popular fifty years after Lewis’s death.

C. S. Lewis often said that it was the Scottish minster and author George Macdonald who “baptised his imagination”. Macdonald’s novels helped Lewis feel what it’s like to be Christian, something that the Narnia Chronicles have done for so many of us. George Macdonald was C. S. Lewis’s C. S. Lewis. He particularly mentioned the affect the novels Lilith and Phantases had on him.

From the round tables

At Sunday’s round table, some of the conversation was shaped by Bonhoeffer’s first work (and doctoral thesis) Sanctorum Communio. If haven’t read Bonhoeffer before (why ever not?), his short book on Christian community, Life Together, will give you enough to get on with for the rest of your life.

Scott also recommended Sam Wells’s book God’s Companions.

Speaking about the challenges of speaking as a Christian into a journalistic culture characterised by Bulverism, Scott referred to his blazing response to some of Richard Dawkins’s most bigoted remarks on Islam.

Relive the memories

Yesterday Scott also spoke briefly about Lewis with ABC local radio (audio here).

And the lecture at UWA was recorded by the ABC. They say it will be broadcast on Radio National either next Tuesday, 14 May or next Thursday 16 May. I’ll post an update when we know for sure.

Coming up

Our Unichurch minister Rory Shiner will give a lecture on C. S. Lewis’s conversion on this Thursday evening 9 May, 6pm in Fox Lecture Theatre (Arts), UWA (Facebook event).

A C. S. Lewis dinner, with readings, tweed, and hearty English fare, to celebrate his life, on Friday 22 November at St George’s College, UWA.

And Alister McGrath visiting Perth in February 2014.

Keeping the C. S. Lewis Week magic alive

Better stories

girls mag 2

Girls is perhaps one of the saddest TV shows ever made. Hannah (a proxy for writer Lena Dunham), her friends, and her misogynistic kind-of-boyfriend Adam, live in a world divested of both meaning and consequence. In next month’s First Things, Alan Jacobs calls the show out. Contrasting it with the rich world of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, he points out that:

The two moral worlds I have been describing do not, as far as I can tell, touch at any obvious point. To hold one is to reject virtually every premise of the other—though in fact, while Austen’s understanding of human behavior consists of a complex set of interlocking propositions, the moral world of Girls may have only one premise. It was articulated some years ago by Woody Allen, when he was in the news for having commenced an affair with his long-time lover Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter. Asked by a journalist to account for this, he had but a brief explanation: “The heart wants what it wants.”

How to respond? You can’t decry it as the blind nihilism it is – that criticism makes no sense in the world of Girls, and you just look like a bigot. Nor can you hope that such a story will peter out in time – to what will fans turn, and more importantly, how much harm will they do themselves and others in the meantime? Instead, we need to offer an alternative. We need to tell better, truer stories than Girls:

What we need is not condemnation of Adam, or condemnation of Hannah for liking Adam, but better art and better stories—better fictional worlds, by which I mean fictional worlds that rhyme with what is the case, with what is true yesterday, today, and forever. Not the abolition of mythic sandboxes but the making of sandboxes in which to play with true, or truer, myths: fictive spaces in which Hannah can do better than Adam, and Adam can be better than what he is, a bitter prisoner of past angers and resentments.

Better stories than a TV show about over-privileged Brooklynites doing things over-privileged Brooklynites imagine they would do if they didn’t live in a world where jobs and hearts and minds are actual things? I think we can manage that.

Better stories

Difficult Father Nathaniel

Flickr | camil tulkan

At the First Things blog, Wesley Smith tells the story of Father Nathaniel, an Orthodox monk whose tom-foolery was a thorn in the side of his abbot and the local Soviet authorities alike.

The church in Russia suffered eighty years of violent persecution at the hand of the Soviets, yet survived and is now thriving, thanks to faithful Christians like Nathaniel. The monk’s gift was rebelling even as he was doing the very thing he had been asked:

Fr. Nathaniel repeatedly thwarts attempts by the abbot to inspect his cell. Finally, the dreaded invasion could be prevented no longer. As the abbot enters the room, he asks, “Why is it so dark in here? Don’t you have electricity? Where is the light switch?”

Fr. Nathaniel tells him mildly that it is on the right. “Just turn the handle.” A horrible cry rent the air, as if some unknown force had cast the abbot straight out of the pitch-black darkness of the cell, into the corridor. Speeding out after him into the light came Father Nathaniel. Within one second, he closed and triple-locked the door of his cell once again.”

His domain safely secured, Fr. Nathaniel tells his (literally) shocked superior about how the light switch broke back in 1964 “on the occasion of the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God,” the very day that Khrushchev was removed from power. “That was a sign!” he tells the abbot, explaining why he never repaired the switch. “Come, I’ll just open the door again, and we’ll slip back in!” But the abbot had already fled in ignominious defeat, never to mount another incursion.

But Nathaniel’s gift for obedient rebellion was felt most sharply by the Soviet authorities on an election day:

The First Secretary of the Regional Communist Party insisted that the “black beetles” vote in town rather than at the monastery as a way of teaching “the atavistic deviant non-working-class element of society” a lesson. Before the abbot could protest, Father Nathaniel whispered into his ear “a piece of advice that was both innocent and extremely subtle in its defiance.”

On election day—a Sunday, of course—“from the monastery gates came streaming forth a magnificent procession of the cross, with priests bearing crosses and icons . . . in a long line, singing hymns and in full ceremonial dress towards the polling place.” When horrified bureaucrats protested, the abbot declared that they were just doing their duty as Soviet citizens as required by the First Secretary.

Nathaniel’s story and those of other faithful Russian Christians is told in a little book Everyday Saints and Other Stories, newly translated from Russian. I haven’t read it, but maybe I’ll put some other stories up when I do.

Difficult Father Nathaniel

Animals on trial

Flickr | a_kep

In the middle ages, animals were often put on trial for their crimes and misdemeanours. This article in Slate points to a sow and her piglets, who in 1457 attacked and killed a five-year-old boy. These days the bad piggies would be immediately put down, but instead they faced a court. And it was serious – a judge, witnesses, a prosecution and a defence. The sow was found guilty, but the piglets got off, partly because they were young and partly because the court found they had a rough upbringing.

Why go to all this trouble?

According to the article, historians generally give two explanations:

The dominant explanation from legal scholars and historians is that, in a society of people who believed deeply in a divinely determined order of being, with humans at the top, any disruption of God’s hierarchy had to be visibly restored with a formal event. Another hypothesis is that animal trials may have provided authorities an opportunity to intimidate the owners of animals—especially pigs—who ran roughshod through the commons. A sow hanging from the gallows was, in essence, a public service announcement saying, Control your pigs or they’ll die sooner than you hoped.

Either, or both, of these could be the case. But there’s also a third explanation – that people in the middle ages thought that the animals were responsible, that in some way they know what they were doing. In short, they had more respect for their animals and gave them more credit than we do.

Overlooked by these interpretations is something that, as we increasingly remove animals from public view, becomes harder to appreciate: These people saw aspects of animal behavior that we don’t see anymore. In this sense, these seemingly odd trials have much to teach us about how fundamentally our relationship with animals has changed over time and how, more poignantly, we’ve lost the ability to empathize with them as sentient beings.

Unless you were rich enough to hire someone to do it for you, in the middle ages you lived with your animals. You got to know them and appreciate the way they think and behave. It wasn’t possible to imagine that animals are lumps of meat that happen to move around for a while before they are loaded on to a truck and taken away for processing.

If you live with animals, you are confronted every day by the fact that there are other thinking, feeling beings in the world, and that as your animals, they deserve your care and respect. Everyone who has owned a pet knows this on some level.

When God created the world, he chose not just to create one thinking, moving thing. God loves diversity, so he created animals of all shapes and colours and levels of tastiness, and he made us responsible for their care. Maybe the sanitized, out-of-sight way we keep and kill animals has desensitized us to these facts.

Animals are meant for food and work, as well as for companionship and beauty. But they are never a utility or a commodity.

Animals on trial

Worry, weeds and the Pope

The landscape is changing

One of the surprising things about Jesus is that he was usually pretty relaxed about things. In fact, he spent a lot of time telling people not to worry. Over and over in the gospels, while teaching the crowds or talking with his disciples, Jesus basically says, “Don’t worry; God has things under control.”

Beside the obvious sayings in the Sermon on the Mount, where he compares us favourably with the birds and the grass (if God looks after them, how much more will he look after us), there’s a similar message in a number of Jesus’ parables and other teaching.

The seed sown among thorns is choked by the worries of this life. The rich fool dies in his bed with barns full of grain because he worried about body more than soul. Martha is told to stop worrying and to sit down with Mary.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells another such parable, this time specifically about the kingdom. A man sows his field with wheat, and during the night an enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat. They both sprout and grow, and when the servants see the weeds, they get ready to go and cut them down. But the master tells them not to worry. Let the wheat and weeds grow together, he says. Wait until harvest time, and then separate them, the wheat into the barns and the weeds into the fire.

Jesus tells the disciples this parable just after he’s explained the parable of the sower. He knows that soon the disciples will be starting churches, and when they do, there will be hard ground and good ground, wheat and weeds. So Jesus says, don’t worry. Don’t worry about trying to pick out the weeds. Instead, leave it up to Jesus to judge at harvest time. Until then, wait and look after the field.

(Jesus is not, of course, talking about false teachers, which he elsewhere calls ferocious wolves.)

One of the glories of the Church is its diversity – there’s a place for everyone, and a hundred ways of doing things. We’re blessed to live in a time when the Church is doing many different things with many different people. But this diversity can also be worrying. What if there are people in our churches who are weeds? What if some of the churches in our denomination are weeds? What if this or that way of doing things is a weed in the kingdom?

Jesus say, don’t worry. There will always be weeds. Instead, work out your own faith, care for your own church, and wait for harvest time, when the wheat will be gathered.

Last night the Pope announced that he would abdicate at the end of this month. He is 85 and he is feeling his age, and he has wisely decided to step aside for the sake of the Roman church. It’s a courageous decision, and a surprising one, but I have been dismayed to see brothers and sisters use the news as an opportunity for jokes at Catholics’ expense, or worse.

There may well be some weeds in the Roman Catholic church. There may be weeds in our own churches. There could quite possibly be churches in your city which are weeds. Some of the things we do might be wheat, and some might be weeds. Your church may be the only stalk of wheat in your whole weedy suburb. But Jesus says, don’t worry. Wait until harvest time, and he will deal with the weeds. Until then, he just asks us to tend the field.

Worry, weeds and the Pope


A guest post by Roz Zanich

So I’m taking a gap year. Except it hasn’t been the usual travel-the-world-type year that’s expected when a 20-something decides to take a year off. I get a few raised eyebrows when I explain this. What does one do with a whole year without responsibilities if not travel? For me this year has been a year of learning. This seems to further confuse the raised-eyebrow crowd. Who takes a year off after completing their degrees to learn? Apparently I do.

This adventure started mid-last year as I finished up my degrees and honours thesis. Burnt-out and exhausted with graduation looming I realised that jumping straight into full- time degree-related work just wasn’t a good fit for me. And if I planned to survive the corporate world I needed to learn to rest.

I realised that sustaining me throughout this exhausting period was a great God. I also found that the times I was most happy was when I was using my gifts and talents to glorify Him. I found that despite the over-full weeks, marathon writing sessions and a to-do list longer than a wet week I always felt revived when I returned to scripture, regularly attended Bible study and made concerted efforts to engage with my church community through service. With that in mind the gap-year made sense and the year began to take shape.

I was convicted with the knowledge that with time on my side and few grown-up responsibilities to attend to I was well placed to invest my year in ways that time-poor friends couldn’t. But where to start? Where to invest? After much prayer I talked through some options with a friend. We discussed my strengths, hopes, availability and areas where I was willing to be challenged. I prayed for opportunities that would inspire me, challenge me and help me to grow. Not long after opportunities began to present. But I was mindful that this year was also about rest and that taking on every opportunity was not wise.So what can one accomplish in one year of rest, service and learning? Thus far I have:

• helped plan and run Unichurch Camp 2011

• sewn four dresses, a skirt and two blouses

• thrown a dessert party

• made time to read the Bible with friends

• taken TAFE classes and learned how to make my own sewing patterns

• explored Sydney

• learned to cook Coq au Vin, raspberry

soufflés, biscotti and pie

• visited family in Manjimup

•made centre pieces for friends’ weddings

• taught Sunday School

While the shape of my year continues to confuse the eye-brow raised set, I am excited and grateful for the opportunities I have been given to use my rest, my service and my learning to glorify God and encourage others. However, the icing on the cake has been the way that this year has given me opportunities to explain how I have chosen to spend my time with non-Christian friends.and family. My choices have opened doors for conversation, a most precious gift indeed.