John Mark Comer’s book of this title has hit a spot with many people–good– though I suspect I am not its target audience. I’m too old, a baby boomer, and I am not often told these days to slow down. Nor did I greatly enjoy the humble-bragging (I’d spoken at six meetings that day), nor Comer’s perhaps slightly insecure need to keep telling jokes through the book. As a reader, I felt sometimes I was a sea-lion to whom he needed to keep throwing fish.
Still though. I really appreciate John Mark Comer’s wider goal (of which this title is a part) of learning and teaching spiritual formation in a digital age. I could use some of that. And there’s lots to learn from this book and the real and helpful experiences of the author. Even though I’m hardly on social media, I still find plenty of ways of wasting time on a smartphone, and he has some useful, if drastic, solutions. And some things you can’t say enough:
Do one thing at a time, stop, think, then do another thing.
If you’re too busy, do less. Make a list of the things that are important or life-giving to you and do them. Slice off large parts of the others.
Make time for life-affirming things: cooking, conversation, play.
Be (and think of yourself as) as marginal player, happy to be a widget in the great machine, even if people can’t quite figure out what you’re actually for.
I’ve been re-reading Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity:
It’s fascinating and refreshing. I found it slightly worrying that most of his references are to his own, or his associates,’ academic work, but then as a Christian among sociologists, as I understand it, his is a lonely furrow to plough.
His main conclusion is that the central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained atttractive, liberating and effective social relations and organizations (p211). Among other examples he suggests:
Christians did plagues better, by being will to nurse and die rather than run away.
Christians did family life better by being better for women in that era and much better for unborn and just-born women, who sometimes blocked Roman drains by being dumped in them. Incidentally, Christians did fertility better in an age when the populations of cities or indeed Roman Empires was not self-sustaining.
Christians did urban life better by offering sustaining networks that built new structures of belonging across a chaotic jumble of tribes and tongues
Christians did mercy better by teaching of a God of mercy who required mercy
In addition, Stark argues that (as with all minority cults which Christianity was at the time), Christianity disproportionately attracted the 1st-century equivalent of college graduates with no particular belief in anything. Once attracted, these people had the talent and the resource to become the kind of able people who were able to sustain and grow a popular movement.
With these and other advantages, the Christian faith then grew at 40% per decade, on his numbers, for three hundred years. Constantine’s conversion, at the end of the period, was more of a bowing to the politically inevitable than a surprising gleam in the dark.
My friend and colleague Jason Mandryk wrote recently about how prayer and church growth are often not instant, even though we wish they were, but more like a canyon being carved over generations by a river just being being a river.
I wonder if in other places where a vigorous Christian faith has taken root and grown (South America, China) it has grown for similar reasons?
In any event, Rodney Stark’s analysis is right, Christianity’s prospects in a confusing, multi-ethnic, in places deeply cruel world, with a large number of people unmoored from any religious attachments — the rise of the religious ‘nones’ which is often given as a sign of decline of Christianity — are actually rather promising.
A lot of people can see the bits of the future, and quite a lot of us have the extra talent of somehow taking hold of a bit of the future and wrestling it down into the present.
‘I can imagine a day when cars are electric,’ someone might say. Or maybe an executive in a car company might say, ‘I predict one day there’ll be a lot of electric cars on the road.’ Both are seeing the future but not necessarily doing anything about it.
Someone else might say, ‘I’m going to build and mass-produce electic cars.’ Such people don’t just see the future. They drag it into the present.
Lovers, farmers, teachers and entrepreneurs do this all the time. Perhaps nearly all of us do it sometime, when we look at some future target or goal and move from ‘that would be nice’ to ‘I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.’
The world of the prophet
True in everyday life, this is also true in Christian discipleship. The Christian faith adds quite a bit to our innate human ability to drag the future the into present. We add God and prayer to the equation, and also the theological sense that there is a good future held in God’s hands. It can be sampled, if not fully fulfilled, in our ordinary lives here. Even more controversially, perhaps, God can promise us things.
This leads us to the world of the prophet, or intercessor, that lonely place where someone has taken hold of God, or God has taken hold of someone, who will pray and work and agitate and cry and pray again until the future is born on earth, because God has led them into that lonely place. They feel he has promised them something and they have altered their life around that promise.
This is a subtle and difficult place. Because we can be completely wrong. Think of the pastor counselling a series of young men in a church, all of whom think God has promised them the same girl will be his wife. We can also be incompletely wrong, in that God has genuinely promised something, but we have embellished it over the months, and our embellishments don’t happen, even if the promise does. Or we can be wrong in that God was promising and we were wearing tin ears, so the fulfilment of the promise comes as a total surprise (think of the disciples’ response to the resurrection).
But for all the misuse, there is good use. Think of the two characters, Simeon and Anna, around Jesus’ first presentation at the temple. They had waited decades, into great old age, and possibly the temple authorities thought they were a bit mad, but Simeon was finally able to say, ‘you may now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen…’ 1. Note that in Simeon’s and Anna’s cases, the temple authorities’ robust common sense may not have been a good guide. This unlikely pair each saw something and held onto it, improbable as it was.
That quiet, burdened person in your church may be bearing the future in a womb of lonely prayer somewhere. Or it may be a false pregnancy. Or even (to mangle the metaphor) a bit of both. Be kind to them.
Wherever you ripe fields behold, Waving to God their sheaves of gold, Be sure some com of wheat has died, Some saintly soul been crucified; Someone has suffered, wept and prayed, And fought hell’s legions undismayed.
Arthur S Booth-Clibborn, ‘There is no gain but by a loss’.
I had to speak #the other week on the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13: ‘love is patient, love is kind.’ I did think that, though Paul then goes off on a bender of ethical description that gets poetic and astonishing in its simplicty and range (love always hopes, always perseveres), you could almost stop just at those two phrases: love is patient, love is kind.
Kindness is hard to argue against in any ethical system, perhaps, but patience, I think, has to have a reason. A motto of Silicon Valley is ‘move fast and break things’. Revolutions, it can be argued, are all about timing, seizing the moment. But love is patient. Why? Isn’t there a lot to be angry and impatient about?
I think it only works because ours is not the main hand on the steering wheel. God is taking the universe somewhere, somewhere good. And a patient life is a long meditation on the goodness of God.
Sorry if you are a regular reader and already Breaded out. My book (to be published Feb 19 2022) is on Netgalley, which is a site where reviewers and early editions of books meet, and I’ve seen a couple of reviews. It does something nice inside me when if I see people are finding the book helpful.
Here’s one of them:
I just finished the book Bread by Glenn Meyers in one day. Like everyone else in the human race, I am in the midst of an existential awakening. Through the fears, doubts, pain, and damaging health implications of these times, I find the author’s experiences and ultimate wisdom helpful. What I liked most is his ability to face his circumstances without fear but with reality that leads to humility, wisdom, and strength. I especially liked the questions he includes to evaluate one’s life. The answers help put everything in proper perspective. One day at a time, one step at a time, even through pain, we move to who and what we were always meant to be.
Another Advanced Review Copy reader (a friend this time) wrote to say that his wife and he
have both read your book and talked about it more than we have talked about any other except perhaps the Bible … I have never read such an authentic account … think it should be required reading for anyone trying for a caring profession.
So this is great.
You can still — for a few more days — download the free Advanced Review Copy here. Thanks to those of you who already have.
I have supplied copies of the pre-publication edition of my book Bread to about 40 people by now, and some have come back with comments. At one point my book talks about ‘doing small things well’ even if ‘big things have collapsed all around you’ (p 39 of the draft).
Both my suppliers-of-comments applied that idea helpfully to aging and decline. I hadn’t thought of that. In my book I’d applied it to failure and shattered hopes. Perhaps I should start thinking about decline: certainly I notice that on walks that I have taken for thirty years, formerly with our dog, and now alone, lots of extra hills and slopes have apparently been fitted. I couldn’t probably manage a dog now though that is strictly speaking a health issue rather than age in my case.
The fun part about decline, my correspondents tell me, lies precisely in doing small things well even when big things have slipped out of one’s grasp. How wonderful, when declining, to aim to be the sort of person who lifts the spirits of everyone who they meet. How wonderful to be joyful, kind, giving, happy, even as the body seizes up.
And you meet people like that. For them the downward slope to physical dissolution is rather overtaken by the upward slope towards the glory of God.
A fine thing to aspire to, as the night falls.
You can still download a free pre-publication copy of Bread just here:
And a reminder: I do welcome comments, via the comment section here, and I especially welcome honest reviews. To do those, go to your favourite review site (Amazon, for example) and just share a few honeyed words about what you think. Readers are smart: be honest about the deficiencies; it won’t necessarily stop them buying the book. I think you may have to wait till after publication day on Feb 19 2022 to paste in your honeyed words.
(Here’s one: Question: a snake and a lawyer fall from a 12-storey building. The snake is slightly smoother and more slippery than the lawyer. Who hits the ground first? Answer: Who cares?) And it’s true despite the wanton gluttony of commercial law: I heard, second hand, that £100m of the £700m or so spent rebuilding Wembley Stadium a few years ago was lawyers’ fees. No earth was moved but some chargeable hours were sure clocked up.
But it’s true. I’ve been thinking a lot about autocracy, as you do, how someone takes over the country and tries to dismantle whatever structures would preserve democratic legitimacy.
Such niggling strictures so get in the way of the aspiring autocrat. So who is first in your sights? The journalists and the lawyers and the lawyers who have become judges. What you need to do, aspiring autocrat, is dump the independent and principled and clever poeple, and replace them with compliant people. Ideally, the compliant ones will be so dim that they think they have their new jobs on merit.
This battle is being played out all over the world, and it’s a conflict of the slow (the lawyers and journalists) against the rash, impatient autocrat. Judges in Malawi threw out a crooked election. The EU is arguing with the Polish government about its policy of sacking independent judges. Judges in the US threw out nearly 50 claims of a crooked election.
Then, helping the helpless. I’ve watched defence lawyers, unthanked individuals, defend abjectly needy people in court with careful preparation and beautiful logic. (I am passing over the cynicism here that also dogs much of legal practice.) At their best, I think lawyers are about the rule of law, all of us equal under the law, rather than the rule of low cunning, or the rule of One.
Advent (the four Sundays before Christmas) is a time of waiting.
I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered, why did God take so long? God made promises to Abraham but then Jewish history meandered for 2000 years until Jesus came.
One thought is that through that long wait everything had been tried –slavery, empire, exile; theology, literature, philosophy– but nothing had been found to satisfy the human soul or give coherence to the human story. History’s crayon, like a brass-rubbing, only revealed the outlines of a missing King.
God made us wait. Perhaps that should still be an intentional component of our lives. Surely we can be too hasty, casual, or on autopilot in our approach to God. Perhaps next time we are stuck in a long night of insomnia, or even waiting for a bus, we can re-use the time and redirect our thoughts to seek to know him better, to love him, to meet him.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ (Lamentations 3:24, in the Old Testament)
This is at the heart of slow. I have been in a conference this week where one of the speakers reminded us about God answering prayers ‘immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine’1.
There’s a scale here and an extent that stretches out beyond the limits of our imagination and does so because of the compounding effects of time.
It is impossible that the Apostle Paul, writing those words to a group of Turkish and Greek churches in the first century could believe what was going to happen. Twenty centuries later, the world is more complex than Paul could have guessed, but as earth turns, the sun never lights up a moment there when thousands, probably millions, are not reading Paul.
Would John Milton know that five centuries after his passing, someone, me, would be listening to Paradise Lost on a thing called a phone via a thing called a podcast while travelling at speed in a car?
What will Time and God do with the little things we offer him?
Look at this from Private Eye‘s wonderful ‘MD’ (aka Dr Phil Hammond) (15-28 October 2021 p 8)
The model of general practice – trying to manage multiple complex risks and needs in very brief encounters – has long been unsafe and unsustainable. You have 10 minutes to help an 80-year-old woman who is arthritic, breathless, recently bereaved and on 12 tablets. It takes three of those minutes to walk her from waiting room to consulting room.She wants to talk about her late husband; you want to ensure her breathlessness was not a red flag for a life-threatening condition or a side effect of the pills you have prescribed.
It takes another three minutes to undress her and get her up on the couch to be examined. And yet her main reason for coming was loneliness.
A study of Norwegian health records, published in the British Journal of General Practice, found that — compared with a one-year patient-GP relationship — those who had had the same doctor for between two and three years were about 13 percent less likely to need out-of-hours care, 12 percent less likely to be admitted to hospital, and 8 percent less likely to die that year. After 15 years, the figures were 30 percent, 28 percent and 25 percent.
Healthcare depends crucially on relationships, and staff knowing and understanding you.
Imagine a GP being resourced enough to combine a vocation as a doctor with the time and stability to develop relationships with patients. Vocation and relationships … just like in a book I recently wrote, which I may have occasionally mentioned in this blog. And which is still ‘forthcoming’…