January 17, 2006
May I be frank? If not, click here.
Still with me? Thank you very much. I have a favorite toilet.
Perhaps favorite is too strong a word. But somewhere along the way at work, I realized that whenever I went to the bathroom I gravitated toward the same stall. In fact, I reckon that if you lined my shoes with some kind of ultra-violet ink, and then replaced all the light bulbs at my workplace with black light, you’d notice a remarkable continuity in the path my steps take—even beyond the bathroom.
I’m a creature of habit, I guess. I have a number of routines, from the steps I take in making coffee to the alarm I set for purging my spam. In that respect I could be the poster child for Presbyterianism, where everything worth being done ought to be done “decently and in order.”
For the most part I’m comfortable with a life marked by routine; predictability can be quite comforting. But there’s an opportunity cost to routines in that they are highly resistant to change, and sometimes change is needed.
It’s possible to get stalled in life. I’ve certainly been there, in relationships, in my profession, in the state of my soul. If we are people in process, which I think we are, then stalled is a dangerous condition, which makes routines, for all their day-to-day value, dangerous. My dad often explores new routes when he’s driving to familiar destinations. Sometimes we get a little lost, but only temporarily; when you ask him why he’s taking a different direction, he replies, tongue in cheek, “So the terrorists can’t find us.”
The history of the church can be understood (though probably oversimplified) as a cycle of renewal—followed by routines—interrupted by renewal. We have some experience that spurs new creativity and energy in our self-discovery or our understanding of God and his claims on us. New church movements, from the formation of the Franciscans to the emergence of Emergent, inspire new hope and enthusiasm for the things of God. Gradually these new movements, in order to move from vague enthusiasm to meaningful impact, create systems and routines, even jargon, to empower their day-to-day progress. Over time, these systems and routines can cause a movement to atrophy, until they are interrupted by some kind of renewal.
It happens at the personal level as well. I like to read, and when I started taking my faith seriously my reading life was revolutionized. The things I read and the duration of my reading time were entirely different. But I reached a point where people started telling me I needed to get out of my head and into my body. I had atrophied in my routines. I needed renewal.
I’ve had a hard time getting out of my head and into my body. The routine is incumbent; it’s difficult to unseat. But I know my routines can be changed, because I’ve done it. My favorite toilet for 2005 was not my favorite toilet for 2004. And so far, my favorite toilet for 2006 is one other than the title-holder for 2005.
Changing a routine is difficult, however: I get a bit of vertigo when I remember to change at the last minute, and when I forget I’m tempted to chastise myself. And let’s face it: changing toilets is not going to change the world or the fundamental condition of my soul. But it’s a good occasional reminder that change is possible.
The most meaningful renewal, of course, doesn’t originate with us. Most often we are the objects of renewal—not the subjects. God is in the business of renewing and has been since the second week of the world. Our routines are practiced in response to that renewal, and in the process redemption is taking place. In the words of the psalmist:
These all look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things. . . .
When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.