Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Theology, Practice, and Time to Think

About a month ago, I decided to (temporarily, but indefinitely) stop listening to sermons. My brain had simply overloaded. I had listened to a sermon a day (and sometimes more) with very few breaks since I started my job in late July. That's a lot of sermons. I found myself with two problems: more teaching than I could process, and an increasing tendency to zone out while listening.

Around the same time I started thinking about how little time I had spent just thinking recently. One of the best avenues for thinking for me is to listen to good music. Whether the music challenges me directly with its lyrics, or simply provides a sonic environment in which my thoughts flow more naturally, I contemplate more when I am listening to music.

Finally, I realized (again!) that all the good teaching in the world profits very little unless it is applied. It is possible to have too much teaching. This runs contrary to the normal thought patterns of those of us who deeply value Scripture and teaching. That valuation is well deserved: the preaching of the word of God brings life to the hearers, is the means God has ordained for the spread of the gospel, and is utterly necessary in the life of churches and individual believers. But we can inundate ourselves with teaching, giving ourselves no opportunity to process, meditate on, and apply what we have learned.

So I am on a hiatus. I've been listening to a wide variety ranging from Rich Mullins' A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band and Page CXVI's Hymns to Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End to the best classical CD I own, Great Recordings of the 20th Century: Elgar and Vaughan Williams. You should own at least one of those (and better yet, all of them).

I have also taken days to simply be silent: to think in the relative quietude of a moving car. These are also helpful. Silence and time for thought are rare in our culture; we have to actively cultivate them if we wish to enjoy their fruits. We need to shut out the constant cacophony sometimes; never has any generation lived with such a constant stream of input of every variety, with little filter and no ceasing. In consequence, we find ourselves perpetually distracted, trading some of the best moments of life in exchange for a constant flow of sound and sights.

As I spoke with a coworker yesterday, I remembered how my parents enforced a time limit on my computer use as I grew up, insisting that I spend time outside instead of allowing all my time to drain away. It was a good decision on their part. I have much stronger memories of those mandatory outside times—riding my bike around our culdesack or then-unfinished roads in our neighborhood, skinning my knees, being Peter in The Chronicles of Narnia (with Beth and Abi as Susan and Lucy respectively), and lassoing fenceposts in the backyard—than of any video game I have ever played.

We can lose those better, more human moments if we submit ourselves entirely to the lordship of the screen. I am hardly advocating that we stop using computers and technology, that we stop using our screens, that we stop listening to sermons or to music—I am, after all, writing these thoughts in a blog post. These are all good things; we should enjoy them and give thanks to God for them. However, just as it has been profitable for me to take a hiatus from the constant flow of sermon content, sometimes it is profitable to take a hiatus from all content and simply be.

What about you? What distracts you, overwhelms you, demands your attention constantly, and pulls you away from the human side of life? How do you fight it?


  1. I've had the same experience with "sermon overload."
    On the other hand, I've have the opposite experience with music. Unless I intend to think about the music, I cannot think about other things while music is playing.
    Muzak is a different story, as I am currently enjoying some quality thinking time in a coffee shop that is playing music in the background, but I find most music largely irresistible. Consequently, my thinking times are not accompanied by anything on my iPod or by the radio in the car.
    Solitude is a discipline. No discipline is pleasant at the time. It produces a harvest of peace and righteousness, however. I am currently in Texas, away from my environment of unimportant urgencies, seeking some solitude of my own. I am trying to make "personal retreats" a more regular part of my walk - as they are becoming increasingly invaluable.
    Speaking of thinking times, one of the reasons I really appreciate your blog is that you help sharpen my mind with your thought-provoking insights and observations. I hope you find steady encouragement to keep at it.

  2. It's interesting: some music I can tolerate, some I cannot. Which a given piece of music fits into varies with almost no correlation as to the particulars of era, genre, or style. In any case, I understand being distracted by music, and we need silence as well as our other environs for thinking.

    Thanks for the encouragement—it's comments like yours that provide steady encouragement to keep at it!

  3. "Solitude is a discipline." Great insight, Travis, and great post, Chris!


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