Microadventure day 11: fighting zoombies

This is part of our microadventure in lockdown series throughout April. You can find the rest of them here. Do keep letting us know what you’re up to during this time!


You’re just recording whatever you do in your day – these aren’t microadventures!

Several of you have joked this with me recently, and I must confess, that in my desire to create achievable microadventures that could be done by most people in lockdown, they may have come out as quite basic at times. Particularly the broadening of #microadventures away from purely physical activity. But none-the-less I’ve been heartened by all of you who’ve sent in pictures and stories of you doing similar adventures, I stand by the definition given and now present to you what I think a millenial adventurer may find the hardest microadventure yet. But please excuse the forray through Twitter, into the Judeo-Christian worldview to get there. The Zombies will come on stage later.

Scrolling the infinite feeds of Twitter

Twitter is not the place I usually turn to in order to see where public opinion lies, but occasionally I get drawn in to the rabbit warren of threads and replies on random topics. This one was a local councilor who was campaigning to open the centre of Belfast (shops etc) on Sunday mornings for tourists and others who may want that. One comment beneath was telling, though quite representative of the main thrust of comments (and I paraphrase):

“I used to think those religious nuts who campaigned to lock up swings and shut everything on Sunday were hilarious. I still do. But some of what they campaigned for, I actually see as really helpful now. Keeping shops shut on Sundays gives the worker a chance to take a break from the incessant work expectations. It gives family-run businesses and start-ups a chance to have a break, so that they can compete with the bigger chains in the long-run. It gives the individual worker the chance to say no, when their big company pressures them into working Sundays, despite technically saying they ‘don’t have to‘.”

Fighting Legalism

Christians have embittered some societies in the past with a high emphasis on rules and regulations of what one can or can’t do on a Sunday. The focus was that “God says…” and then the specifics of what they did, made it sound to the rest of society like “God says….lock up the parks” or “God says…you can’t do your gardening”. The untold effects of legalism (going beyond what God actually said) on this issue and many others will continue to ripple in our society today, as the picture of God that is portrayed is a false one.

Even within Christian homes, many have been turned off views of Sabbath, by needless over-extension of authority on the issue – I still remember when a tennis ball was confiscated from two teenagers at a church camp, because the minister did not approve of it being thrown between two people on a Sunday. At the same time many wives (normally) were made prepare “Sunday lunch” which often had them working several hours to get the feast of the week ready. This, for whatever reason, was considered not only acceptable, but in some households, necessary.

Fighting for Sabbath

Such strict or inconsistent interpretation of “resting all that day from our work and recreations, and spending the whole time in public and private worship, except the time spent in works of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 60), with no freedom of conscience within these things, is bound to draw the ire of even those who agree that the Sabbath day of rest is a creation ordinance, set up for all time, even before the law was given on Sinai, flowing from when God rested in his work of creation. One of the better accounts of this view is given here.

An increasing body of other Christians, follow D.A.Carson’s lead that the Sabbath is no longer compulsory for God’s people in the same way it used to be.

Lockdown re-teaching Sabbath?

But what all these believers hold in common is that ‘Sabbath’ rests, whether literal or categorical, are still useful for the world, no matter what we believe. A day off in the week has been acknowledged by many societies in the world to be a necessary thing, despite attempts to re-shape the week in other ways (like 10 days weeks). As many millennial drive themselves with such purposeful (often brilliant) work, 24-7, and struggle to stop, it would be a useful tool in our travel bags to have, if we could remember to stop. Ironically, studies would show that we end up being more productive by doing so, rather than less. I’m so glad my parents helped me to pattern life this way, even from early days in studying for school exams and the intensity of sport and music training 6 days a week for competitions.

And similarly for us in lockdown, where all days melt into one. Would re-establishing concrete patterns of work and rest, not be helpful for many us who mentally or physically struggle during these days?

Originally at  https://www.flickr.com/photos/60216816@N00/79201360 and available under CC license

Fighting Zoombies

But rhythms of Sabbath (that have always been more than the weekly Sabbath, in Jewish society), have helpful consequences far beyond a day of rest. How can I protect myself from constant “screen fatigue” or becoming a “Zoom”bie as some have said?!

One useful commentator suggested:

If one works with one’s hands, take a sabbath by resting with one’s mind. If one works with one’s mind, take a sabbath by resting with one’s hands.

And certainly the latter has always helped me. Spending an afternoon in prayer while doing something physical, is sheer bliss, to free my mind from worry and over-thinking and analysing things that draw me back to feeling like work.

If one works with one’s hands, take a sabbath by resting with one’s mind. If one works with one’s mind, take a sabbath by resting with one’s hands.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel

Fighting Screens

The tricky thing about working on Zoom (or other online video-call applications), is that if one has friends that one wants to connect with in one’s free-time, it is very hard to avoid yet more hours on Zoom! And so despite changing modes (work to rest), I still end up feeling exhausted at the end of the day, having spent it all in one posture. This therefore involves careful planning, and I’ve increasingly decided, intentional time away from screens.

A colleague in another “Zoom” meeting

There are many challenges to this, given I read a fair bit on Kindle (on my laptop), and I call family and friends at regular times each day. But without being legalistic, I decided to try for a 24 hour Sabbath from screens.

One day fighting

Given my phone is what wakes me up in the morning, the temptation is already there, to turn it on and browse messages sent in the small hours of night, by those I think are far more productive than me. But today, I must resist, turn my alarm off, and leave my phone on my bedside table.

Somehow, after enjoying my usual coffee during a devotional time with God in the morning (which I would not normally have my phone on anyway), by breakfast, I already found myself with my phone back in my pocket. Still turned off, but in my pocket none-the-less. Weirdly, it felt right to have it there.

Several times that morning, I took it out of my pocket simply to give myself distraction from what I was doing. Distraction because I wanted time away from my book I was reading. Distraction because I wanted somebody to tell me that they’re missing my online presence in these few hours, simply by viewing the “like-count” of a social media account. It’s blank “off” screen always disappointed.

Fighting something deeper than screens

Perhaps this little experiment away from screens was telling me something far greater about my heart, character and reality of my life.

The trickiest thing was that this was a day off. So there was 14-16 hours to spend without screens. One can only read so many books. And all my music was largely screen based these days too. I’d been for a run, but in lockdown that was not going to take hours of time.

Several times during my reading, I tried to persuade myself that I actually would be better off, if I understood the text I was reading better, by checking a reference on Google. My finger loitered over the “on” button.

Perhaps hardest was persuading myself that I could draw my housemate into this mad game, by offering to end our binge watching another series on Netflix, and instead play a game on the table or something else.

However, at the end of a day (where I was all too happy to go to bed at a reasonable hour in the evening), I looked back with fondness with all the things this day had taught me. Had a learnt far more today, than any other day I had access to Google and online educational materials? Would I be able to regularly discipline myself to stop reaching for my phone to scroll at any slight opportunity of boredom or discontent?

The Fight continues…

Perhaps this should become a regular Sabbath for me. And perhaps, just maybe, Sabbath could start being good news for the world – something that the Christian tradition can start to hold out with confidence again.

Suggestions from Justin Earley in his book, The Common Rule (see below)

A few resources that may help convince us of the need of wider Sabbath rhythms, and help you in life:

  • Fight Hustle, End Hurry Podcast by John Mark Comer and Jefferson Bethke (yes, the man who did that one-hit-wonder video back in the day). They both have similar books out on the topic, which, you guessed it….I was too busy to sit down and read.
  • The Common Rule: habits of purpose in an age of distraction – this book is a lifestory of an American missionary entrepreuneur in China, for whom all of life was rosy. Until small distractions, became bigger issues, and bigger issues started to kill him, mentally, physically, spiritually. In his life story, every millennial I’ve met who has read it, has tended to say “that’s me” to some degree. Well worth reading – I’ll write a longer review soon.
  • 12 ways your phone is changing you – this book shines a light on things we struggle to acknowledge but gives hope for us all.

Rest on the road

Our culture is taking part in what the famous Christian cultural commentator Os Guinness calls the “survival of the fastest”.

One click ordering; cutting sleeping hours; being on our phones sorting other things while we’re doing something else; fast-food and internet pornography to quicken supposed intimacy. Don’t get me wrong – there are many great things about living life at a fast pace!

But many are suffering from the inability to slow down and be present in one place at one time. And even more are struggling with the paralysis of having so many choices, as I noted in chapter two of my book where I quoted from another author. But considering the topic of rest while considering pleasure travel is an unusual one. Isn’t travel already so pleasurable and restful that we ought not worry about this topic?

Well, from talking to other travellers, I think it is still vital to mull over what rest could mean for us, even for those of us who feel so free that we lose track of the days! I remember coming home from holiday and suggesting to my housemates that I need a holiday to recover from my holiday!

Travelling people seem to still feel rushed for several reasons:

  1. Travel has admin. There is always more to book in advance. Weather changes. Hostels are full. You meet someone who tells you about a must-see attraction. You fall in love with a place and want to stay longer there. There are always things to change, and that’s hard, even when you enjoy tasks like admin. Even something like making Instagram pictures can start to weigh in on your mental energy not to mention editing vlogs or keeping in touch with people.
  2. Time is not infinite. Most of us only have a certain amount of time travelling. There are exceptions of those who’ll stomach being away from any friends and community for long enough that they can always be on the road, but even they after a few years often grow weary of constant transitions and lack of depth in relationships. And even for those who can afford years on the road, they only see a fraction of what the world has to offer. Their one Instagram account does not account for every place that millions of other users have been to or seen in a different light. There is often a lust for more that drives us onwards and equates resting with missing out.
  3. The bigger we are in our own worldview, the more we’ll need rest. The more we’re consumed by our own goals, our own problems and our own desires, the more we’ll find life exhausting. Partly because we’ll frustrate ourselves, and partly because all the circumstances around us will frustrate our goals and desires. This is fine if it just means we’ve to find perfect matches of people to travel with, and perhaps cut out the people in our lives who are toxic, so as to avoid stress. But when major illness, relationships going wrong, or difficulty occurs in life, it’s harder to control. This is not to say that the solution I suggest is belittling our own humanity, but finding some way to free ourselves from being consumed by ourself.

So what’s the solution?

In short, there aren’t any easy solutions. Life doesn’t come as easily solved problems, and your life is different to mine. But here’s a few pointers that I’ve been mulling over on all three – why not leave a comment with your thoughts or what you’ve found to work?

  1. Find your rhythms. Humans seem to be built for tradition and rhythm, over chaos. Whether that’s doing all your emails at one point in a day, or only letting internet messages/apps have your attention at certain points, or reading up on your travels weeks/months before you go – find a monthly, weekly and daily rhythm that suits you.
  2. Find something that motivates you, without consuming you. You’ll never sort the problem of being a finite being with finite time and energy. The world is some ways, is not your oyster. A small part of it may be. But nor do we want to just give up on desiring travel, just because we can’t have it all. Somehow we’ll need something in our worldview which will stop us hurting when we don’t see everything, and will so give us perspective, that we’ll not be consumed by our desires, yet will still take great interest in life and the world.
  3. Find something bigger in life. For a secular person, it might be daily reminding yourself of how small you are as a human in history and science, which will lower your expectations that the world should revolve round you and fulfil you in every way – why ought that be the case? For a spiritual person it might be meditating daily on something higher. Neither particularly explain why we feel so bitter and so robbed when major catastrophes strike our lives, but they at least put problems and desire in perspective a bit more.

And how does this look in practice for me?

  • Well, in worshipping an infinite God, I find something bigger to give me perspective. My problems are dwarfed by His big-ness and ability to solve them.
  • In having a personal God who comes close in the person of Jesus and the Spirit of Christ, I find one who honours my humanity, and crafts it uniquely and individually. His big-ness doesn’t lose my humanity.
  • In worshipping a creator God, who calls us to enjoy His creation, I’m given an appetite to roam and enjoy all things (in their place).
  • In living in a world described as broken, that ought to be better, I set my expectations accordingly, for suffering, for being broken, for not always being fulfilled.
  • In being made for an infinite New Heavens and New earth, I know that I don’t have to be consumed by my travels here in the old order.
  • And in being made in God’s likeness, we’ve been given rhythms to heed. Daylight to enjoy. Darkness to rest in. 6 days to work, 1 to rest in.

So today I stop, to meet with God’s people, to enjoy spending time meditating on His character and words, and to do things that I wouldn’t normally do on other days in the week. It’s a rhythm that worked for me in the middle of important exams, when I’ve been most under pressure at work, and even as I travel. It may be counter-intuitive, but it sure is effective, and I’m glad I didn’t need to invent it or keep it in balance myself.

So, how will you enjoy rest on your travels?

Travel for rest

“What about travelling just to rest?  You didn’t mention that in your talk.  Sometimes I have no energy for anything but chilling out.  What do you think?”

This was one piece of helpful feedback I got from a student as I spoke in University of Limerick Christian Union.  As always I try to differentiate the question behind the question.  None of our questions are asked in a neutral mindset.

But from a theological point of view, rest is important.  I’m someone who needs to hear that.  It’s not wasted time.  It’s not any less spiritual than working or mission.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2)

Unlike I heard in a Youghal church one Sunday fifteen years ago, here, even God in His infinite being and capacity rests and calls a day “set apart” or holy.  For me, I think this creation ordinance that was kept long before the 10 commandments were given (Exodus 16 one example at least), is one we still have to keep today, for our good (and the good of society).  In the world that screams “survival of the fastest” (Os Guinness), nothing is a greater joy than to….

…stop.

20161204_153407

The view from a recent flight (Cork – Birmingham)

Stop and enjoy time with each other, and if you believe, time listening to God and with His people.  It’s the only way many small [family] businesses could still compete against corporate giants, if the country legislates against 24/7 opening.  I did it throughout my university education (at Nottingham) and thrived mentally because of it.

But our question lies in whether holiday should be complete rest time.  For some like myself, who are so consumed in pastoral situations across an island (both where I grew up and primarily in Munster), some of the mental freedom will come from completely removing myself from a situation and escaping somewhere where the phone can be switched off and the emails can’t be read.

20161205_130211

One of my past “escape” places, re-visited on a recent trip to England – University of Nottingham main campus (where I studied).

And so I think we also need rhythms of rest and work, and periods of life where things are complete rest.  Does this often need to be travel?  Perhaps not (as the older generation will often testify in their lives).  Can travel help mentally with this?  Most certainly.  My question would go back:

“Are you using your holiday to love God and love others?”

And sometimes, that’s completely resting and not visiting missionaries, nor growing in understanding about the Christian Church nor sending postcards to encourage others in the faith.  All this rest for the sake of honouring our bodies and minds that God has given us to use wisely, and for the sake of serving others better when we return.

As I grow in my love and enjoyment of Him, I tend to find however, that even my resting can be intentionally an active rest without forfeiting how deep-seated a rest it is.  We love to hide behind labels of introvert or extrovert, personality type, strengths and weaknesses, and I’m not saying these are insignificant.  But let us not unthinkingly hide away from sacrificial godliness because of a label.  I can tell you my Myers Briggs result, my Strengthfinder test results and many other results.  But it doesn’t stop the Holy Spirit taking my weaknesses and using them for the glory of the Father.  In fact, so often it’s what He delights to do.  Using me in areas I know are not my strength, at times I least want to be used by Him, and in places I want to get away from thinking about God!  What a joy!

20161209_162916

London, a city that never sleeps.  But still, rest can be found, perhaps even more so than in places that it’s possible to think you can capture every moment the city is awake.

Was our questioner keen on justifying travel without serving, or were they an over-burdened heart that was fast growing weary of this world and over-working to justify themselves?

My heart always tries to find Godly sounding reasons to justify what it wants to do (resting or over-working).  Perhaps they were too.  But in some cases, they’d be very right to rest completely.  So let me hold my heart accountable but not assume negative of others!