Monday, September 1, 2014

Has Patience Become a Sin?

The first desktop computer I ever used was an IBM 386, delivered by a cheerful IT technician in 1984. I was mesmerized. Four years later, we bought our first home computer, an Apple IIGS, a few months before Apple abandoned the Apple II.

As impressive as those computers were at the time, the fact is that my iPhone today has more capabilities than those computers did. My iPad is far more portable than my laptop and can do just about as much. In fact, I have two iPads, a work laptop, a home laptop, and a home desktop. And my Kindle.

I’m wired.

And I’m socialized, too. Twitter (a personal account, individual and corporate accounts I manage for work, an an organizational account I manage). Facebook (a personal page and two organizational pages I manage). Google+ (personal).  And a bunch of other stuff I rarely have time to get involved with. And this blog, too, which I’ve been doing longer than social media.

At work, I’m usually living and operating on internet time. Fast. Sometimes frenzied. A crisis or two a day. One day we had six online crises happening simultaneously. The organization I work for has only recently began to understand a glimmer of what’s at stake when you operate in internet time. Many of the people I work with are doing a lot of their work they way it was done pre-internet, and even pre-email.

One of the effects of all of this technological capability is the end of patience. Our definition of fast has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. When I first accessed the internet, about 1993, I was amazed at what I could access in a few short minutes. Today, I am frustrated if anything takes a few short minutes.

Even the way we talk has changed. With the impact of television, politicians (and then the rest of us) learned to talk in sound bites. Now we talk in sound bits, preferably with a seven-second video.

This is a kind of technological madness. Ask my wife how much time she spends dealing with our sound system / cable access / television / internet. It’s quick, all right, when it works.

Our technology has made patience at best seem antiquated, at worst a sin.

In Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, Christopher Smith, John Pattison, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove suggest something different.

“Western culture,” they write, “and increasingly global culture, is built on impatience. The inner restlessness of humanity is nothing new, bur for at least the last two centuries, the quickening march of technology and industrialization has formed us into a culture on instant gratification – which is another way of saying instant dissatisfaction.”

This impatience has permeated many of our churches, and it is the church that should be offering the alternative to it. This isn’t some ethereal theological discussion, but something that impacts us and our churches every day.

And the discussion is important. Patience, the authors of Slow Church point out, “is how compassion is embodied in our lives.” The less room we have for patience (or longsuffering, which is closer to the Biblical concept), the less room we have for compassion.

Compassion comes from rootedness, staying with the same local church body for the long haul, and not flitting from one church to another where our needs “might be better met.” It’s the continuity of being part of a local body where we Christians learn patience and compassion.

I’ve been devoting Mondays on this blog to a discussion of Slow Church, which I believe is one of the most important books I’ve read about the church. This chapter is entitled “Patience.”

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

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