We live in a little personal bubble in the busyness of urban life and need God to pop it to see what he has in store for us outside
One advert that makes me smile is the cosmetics pitch to 'get the London look'. In this case the London look is Kate Moss after three hours in makeup. In my experience, the London look is a pasty and puffy white face, nicely set off by black bags around bloodshot eyes. There is another dimension to the London look too: the vacant look gaze which is fixed in the middle distance. It tells everyone around that they are not relevant because whatever is in your mind is not here but somewhere else. Mobiles, blackberries and the iPod touch -- among others -- enable us to keep our focus other than where we are, ensuring that those demands, which would have waited for us in the recent past, are now brought right into the present, squeezing our attention. It is like a perverse form of eschatology, where the future is brought into the present to transform our experience of it, only for the worse and not for the better.
It is what I would describe as living in the bubble. We are conditioned to acting in atypical ways in the car because we usually cannot make eye contact with other drivers, tempting us to treat them in anti-social ways. A similar attitude is developing among pedestrians and those we meet in the course of our daily lives. We feel like they get in the way of what we do - and this is largely because we are managing our time with ever greater ruthlessness to deal with the pressures of an accelerating culture. We talk endlessly about time management without thinking through the implications of this, which is that if we are constantly managing time we are not allowing the Lordship of Christ the unfettered freedom to direct our paths. The clinical and measured way we order our days does not allow for much spontaneity. As a result we are reluctant to rip up the agenda in front of us unless faced with an emergency.
Living in the bubble also makes the destination in life more important than the journey in life. We make a virtue out of describing someone as 'focussed' today. Yet by definition, someone who is focussed on the goal in front of them is not able to focus on anything around them. They become like a motorway driver who is unable to look at the surrounding scenery for any meaningful length of time because of the speed they are travelling.
The bubble also drains curiosity out of our encounter with the world. The Psalmists are full of descriptive wonder at the world God has made and invite us to join them in adoration. This is not just about the mountains, the streams and the valleys he has made -- what you might call Alpine theology. It is also about the wonderful and fearful way he has made us, unique human beings relating one to another. Curiosity in human life and human relationships deepens our understanding of the God who made us and redeemed us. There is an endless fascination about humanity which we forfeit if we become process driven.
Although Jesus lived in a much slower culture, he was faced with an overwhelming number of demands from needy people. Yet nowhere do you get the impression that he was hurried -- quite the opposite in fact. God's desires are often at variance with ours. What we deem important isn't necessarily what he holds dear. What matters to God is often of little initial interest to us because we are living in the bubble. This means that the best thing to slot into the middle of a day is the request for God to pop the bubble we always slip into, like a child poking a bubble before it drifts out of reach. It's unsettling emerging into a new kind of world, but the surest way we will achieve what God is asking us to, rather than the arbitrary goals we often set ourselves at the start of the day.
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