Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The acceleration of everything (spiritual)

The book by James Gleick Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (Pantheon, 1999) argues that everything is speeding up; technology, entertainment, work and the pace of invention and change. "If there is an ultimate limit to the pace of entertainment, we must now be approaching it...In some ways, we are past the limit. Any day now, lawyers will take note of the considerable quantities of television text-including copyright notices and advertising fine print-that flash by too fast for any human to read it."

We hear of 'hurry-sickness' and the advent of real-time communications and delivery of work seems to intensify this by creating higher expectations. The distinction between work time and free time seems blurred, as employers expect more time from their employees and if they are at a certain level to be always 'on call' through an 'electronic tagging device'.

"At least in industries like high-tech and finance, quick-wittedness rules," observes Nicholas Lemann, author of The Big Test. "Some companies, such as Microsoft or D. E. Shaw, the stock-picking firm, are particularly known for hiring on the basis of mind speed and for peppering job applicants with SAT-like questions in interviews so as to bring the quality into high relief." There is an obsession with time-management among executives - seeing every instance of communication as a battlefield where they must win the war for productive time.

Gleick points to this obsession with accelerating everything and the effects of it as "mania" which is "defined by psychologists as an abnormal state of excitement, encompassing exhilaration, elation, euphoria, a sense of the mind racing. Maybe our hurry sickness is as simple as that. We-those of us in the faster cities and faster societies and faster mass culture of the technocratic dawn of the third millennium C.E.--are manic. The symptoms of mania are all too familiar: volubility and fast speech; restlessness and decreased need for sleep; heightened motor activity and increased self-confidence…. These are the time obsessions of complex civilizations, populous nation-states with many technologies."

"This is not a state of affairs that would, at most times and places in history, have been considered normal and healthy". Ironically it is something of a state of mind since it has been shown that Americans have almost five hours more free time per week than in the 1960s. Yet there is a perception of less time and more stress. That free time is, however, more defined and controlled by the media and commercialised 'lifestyle' anxieties than ever before.

This busyness of life easily spiils into the time that we give to spiritual things if we are not careful. Devotions and family worship become accelerated with one eye on the clock. Perhaps we start to feel we only have time for one or the other. We feel that we have not time to give to reading that will enrich our souls so we feed only on religous news or comments. We are so harrassed by all the communications that pour into our eyes and ears that we do not have time at the end of the day to cast up our spiritual accounts and deal with our wanderings at that time as we should.

It seems surprising to us that the question: "When may a Christian be said to pursue the affairs of the present life, so as to prevent his advances in grace, dishonor God, and injure his soul?" may have been asked in the mid-eighteenth century. The minister Samuel Hayward in addressing this responds that "the Christian may be said to pursue the world, so as to dishonor God, prevent his growth in grace, and injure his soul, When it breaks in upon his opportunities of attending to spiritual duties". "It is not enough that we spend one day in seven in attending to the concerns of our souls. The Christian must not let the week slip away, even if his worldly engagements are never so great, without conversing with God and his own heart; if he does, it is a sad sign of his being in languishing circumstances. Spiritual meditation, self-examination, prayer, religious conversation, and reading the scriptures, are all duties of great importance; duties in the performance of which the Christian life is maintained, corruptions are subdued, graces are strengthened, and he is enabled to make some progress in his way to Zion. I say not how often a person must pray, read, hear, etc., that he may grow in grace. But when we find our worldly engagements breaking in upon our spiritual duties, and gradually curtailing our opportunities of attending to them, we should take the alarm. We have many enemies to encounter with in our Christian warfare. We have but little strength. We had need be much upon our guard, be much in prayer, and in the use of those means, which are necessary to our spiritual prosperity. When the world therefore encroaches upon our time, so as to leave but little for these duties, we have reason to be afraid of a decline. Many have begun well, have set out with attending to the duties of the family and the closet; but the world, increasing upon them, has taken up their time; they have left off all family prayer, and are, I fear, too little in the duties of retirement, and plead, for an excuse, they have no time. They content themselves herein by a persuasion that the work was begun some time since, and therefore they are safe, though they cannot so well attend to all the duties they once did. Whether these persons are Christians or not, I dare not determine; but I apprehend we may without hesitation conclude, that they are not growing Christians. They bring no honor to religion. They who give up such opportunities as these for the world, reflect thereby upon the concerns of the soul, as of a trifling nature, and far inferior to outward enjoyments: and I need not say how much this grieves the Spirit, and brings a consumption upon the new man. But if, whilst you are pursuing the world, you will reserve time for family and closet religion, for looking into your hearts, and attending the means of spiritual improvement, you may be growing as to both worlds".

"How much should each be concerned to examine himself with regard to his pursuits of the world! If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 1 John 2:15. The covetous shall not inherit the kingdom of God, I Cor. 6:10. This should put us upon inquiry, whether we fall under this character or not. We should inquire, whether we do not dishonor God, and injure our souls, by a too diligent pursuit of inferior comforts? Does the world take up all my time? Can I easily omit duties, the duties of the family, or of the closet? Do I find a growing coldness to spiritual duties? What is my end in pursuing the world, to gratify an unbounded ambition of honor, wealth or pleasure; or is it to improve every mercy, and employ every talent for the glory of God? With what frame do I pursue the world? What impression, what influence has it upon me? God knows how it is with you: I must leave it to your consciences to answer."

"What matter of lamentation is it, that there are so many professing Christianity, who are of so worldly a temper? Does it not call for a tear, when we see so much of a covetous, proud, carnal, trifling spirit amongst those who call themselves Christians? Alas, alas! How much time in the world, how little with God? What eagerness in worldly, but what coldness in spiritual pursuits? How cheerfully are opportunities embraced for the world, but how they are omitted for God! How does the world lift us up! What readiness to lay out any thing upon self, how backward to use it for the good of others! What self love amongst Christians! Is it not so? Canst thou stand the test, Christian? Is not thy heart too much divided? Art thou not too greedy of earthly gain? Dost thou not trust too much in thy riches? Where is thy love to God, thy zeal for his glory? O be ashamed, ye professors of religion, be ashamed for your earthliness, your coldness, your carnality and unprofitableness."

"Consider amidst your pursuits of present things, that they are all transitory and uncertain, Luke 12:16–21. Consider, and walk under the view of that day, when you must give an account of your improvement of time, with all your enjoyments. Consider the obligations Christ has laid you under to him, and what a short time you have to do anything for him or his people. Consider how much more excellent spiritual enjoyments are than temporal. And may the Lord enable us all to keep a watch over our hearts, and to use this world so as not to abuse it, knowing that the fashion of all things is passing away."