Friday, June 28, 2013

Needed: "Garden Time"

Playing in the Lake Michigan surf
Linda and I just returned from a wonderful week at our annual conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We appreciated connecting with Leif Hetland, Joe McIntyre, and Robby Dawkins. We got a lot of spiritual and intellectual input. Now, it's slow-down-and-reflect time.

We're at my brother Mike's (And Sue's) home tonight and tomorrow.  Then, we get to spend six days in "the garden." We'll be sitting the Lake Michigan beach for hours each day reading, thinking, watching, sleeping, swimming, pondering, contemplating, writing, note-taking, and etcing. And creating. Creativity springs from the garden, from getting away.

In 1984 I was writing my doctoral dissertation. I was bogged down in the massiveness of the thing, unable to see the forest for the footnotes. I was walking across Northwestern University's campus and ran into a professor friend of mine. He asked me how things were going. I said, "My writing is stuck." He said, "You need to get away from your writing for a few weeks." So I did. Two weeks away from the dissertation. Could I afford it, I wondered? The truth was I could not afford not to get away from the writing. In not-focusing on my research, ideas about the dissertation began to grow out of the hard soil of my stuckness.

Needed: slow down and engage in meditative thought. The slow-cooker (rather than the microwave) is where the creative juices flow.

Leo Marx contrasted between ""the machine and the garden" - the industrial ideal and the pastoral ideal" ( Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, Kindle, 2860-72).  "The industrial ideal of efficiency poses a mortal threat to the pastoral ideal of meditative thought" (Ib., 2873-84). Carr writes:

"The development of a well-rounded mind requires both an ability to find and quickly parse a wide range of information and a capacity for open-ended reflection. There needs to be time for efficient data collection and time for inefficient contemplation, time to operate the machine and time to sit idly in the garden. We need to work in Google's "world of numbers," but we also need to be able to retreat to [Hawthorne's] Sleepy Hollow. The problem today is that we're losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind. Mentally, we're in perpetual locomotion." (Ib.)

Information overload is worse than ever. ""Today, more information is available to us than ever before, but there is less time to make use of it - and specifically to make use of it with any depth of reflection." Tomorrow, the situation will be worse still." (Ib., Carr quotes David Levy)

I see this battle - between tending the machine and contemplating in the garden - in the pastors and Christian leaders I teach. The need for deeper leaders is greater than ever before. Deeper leaders are refreshed leaders, with more needed energy and creativity for advancing God's Kingdom in our shallow world.

Everyone needs "garden time." I'm thankful Linda and are getting a lot of it this coming week.