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The Pharmaceutics of Conscience

November 28, 2006

Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.
In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.
The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
Zephaniah 3:14-17

I love these passages and draw encouragement and consolation from them.

Because I cherish this text, I don’t like to think that it contains blessings that God has somehow made to other people but not to me. I adhere to a covenant theology perspective that God has made a single covenant with his people–the Church–from the foundation of the world. This means that these promises of God’s salvation, love, and joy over his people were made to his Church, and that I will and I do enjoy them as part of his Church. His exquisitely lyrical language was a song written as much for me as for the rest of Israel. It is only reasonable that my theology would feed my spirit and fortify my faith.

Those of other doctrinal persuasions would reassign these blessings, and with them, their encouragement and consolation, to other people, to some other “Israel,” as though I were not of “Israel.” For me, such a theology would be robbery.

As my pastor says, “All things are disciplined by theology.” This is true: All things, from meditation on the Scriptures to eating in a restaurant, are disciplined by theology. In the secular sector, theology may be translated, “world view.”

I wrote earlier about becoming waylaid by distractions when actually seeking consolation. A simple formula for distinguishing these has occurred to me: Consolation uplifts the soul, and distractions are robbery. They rob the soul of the meat of consolation and leave it hungry. They are intrusive and leave the soul with a sense of inelegance.

Unless I am vigilant, I am robbed daily. I am battered with unintelligible stimuli if I leave my house. I am battered with unintelligible stimuli if I need my computer to do something the way I think human intelligence would rationally route the task, but a computer designer has taken a different route. Ultimately, all of these robberies and batteries are traceable to world view and doctrinal collisions.

My aversion to world view and doctrinal collision keeps me out of the maelstrom more than I sometimes realize. I never understand what billboards are saying–there is some kind of universal joke I never get. I haven’t watched a program on TV in 15 or 16 years. My church is blessedly small. I shrink from offers of free trips to Hawaii. I don’t want to go to Hawaii. Clerks offering the free chances look stunned, perhaps dismayed, probably wondering how it is that people from my planet speak English.

When changes in my health reduced my ability to enjoy the outdoors as I used to, I had more reasons to retreat into virtual agoraphobia. Without long bicycle rides or mountain hikes, the world’s beacon outside my modest home environs has dimmed. It is not unusual for me not to leave home for four days running. This is a luxury made possible by the feasibility of running many errands and maintaining fellowship over the Internet. I don’t have to duck the fallout of colliding world views; I can engage or avoid, and I avoid.

Coffee shops have nothing to offer, except when we go in the evening for performances by talented members of our church. During the day, the work before me is not there. I like my own tea, I don’t like chipped cups. Because the point from the shop’s perspective is making and selling coffee, not letting people drink it in peace, it is too noisy for conversation. I can’t bring one book to read because I always need other books for further reference. Their chairs are not ergonomic and the music and din is obnoxious. Not to mention the occasional bolthead who just wants to make sure I know I don’t need to be alone. Slither along….

I have observed over the years how restaurants increasingly have taken it upon themselves to serve up some form of simulated relationship. It’s creepy: It’s some kind of postmodern dilution of meaning designed to make everything mean the same thing. If the restaurant can convince us that we have a “relationship” with it, we’ll want to come back every night. “How was your day?” from the waiter tends to elicit a response from my husband, “I was just getting ready to tell my wife about that.” But the waiter wants to be our chum. He’s paid to strike up relationships, not merely to serve food. “Professional” has no meaning anymore; everyone wants to be a professional. The waiter is a professional “fine dining experience expert.” In the waiter’s world, it is probably very weird that we came here to eat and enjoy our own relationship, not to make new friends. The place is there to fill some void they imagine in our lives. Relationship is part of the packaging, the ambiance, and the very purpose of the place’s existence. Not to us.

A neighbor comes over while we are pruning our grapes–big mistake to have anything quiet to do in the front yard–and asks what I think of the various minor scandals throughout the neighborhood. I answer her, “I don’t think about them.” It’s true: I observe them passively, and don’t think about them. I didn’t obsess much over the Berlin Wall, either. I never even know who’s playing in the Superbowl.

In no way do I think any of this relationship-dodging with worldly edifices makes me spiritual or pious. It neither signifies nor reinforces piety. But it does make spiritual undertakings more possible. It does conserve my limited energy for what is most important to me. By minimizing distraction and stress, I maximize my acceptance of my limits and find consolation in what I do. It makes no sense to succumb unnecessarily to the blows of robbers if one can deflect them.

I used to have a bookmark from a local bookstore with a quote, I think, from Mark Twain: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” For me, stores, banks, cafes, the neighbors, and the like, are like the inside of a dog. Freeways are like the belly of a great fish.

My husband assures me that I look well to the ways of our household, and eat not the bread of idleness (Proverbs 31:27). I slay dragons and dustbunnies that crowd our curtilage on a daily basis. I take joy in my portion.

For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart. Ecclesiastes 5:20

6 comments:

HZ said…
One of my favorite of your posts. And this is going in my quote file:”Consolation uplifts the soul, and distractions are robbery. They rob the soul of the meat of consolation and leave it hungry. They are intrusive and leave the soul with a sense of inelegance.”

I may just paste the whole post in though….

7:26 AM  
Mrs. B said…
Cosmophobia is an “I” thing. “E”s are not afflicted and cannot understand. You are so remarkable–an introvert compelled to ride a bus full of extroverts in order to join a press of extrovert shoppers in an extrovert mercado. It makes me shudder.
7:45 AM  
HZ said…
I suppose yes. 88 percent was what diagnosed for me, and I have a feeling that my Christianity is what salvages me from being a complete I. I only make it to the grocery store once or twice a month though, while I am unwell. And only then, with Ruben. I forayed out initially by myself a couple of times — but was deeply traumatized when a man behind me breathed heavily in his broken English “I leave you.” Perhaps I need propranolol to face being left on the bus by some other man.
8:05 AM  
Mrs. B said…
Yes, which is to say that one girl’s party drug is another girl’s mall drug.
8:16 AM  
Vic said…
What a ramblingly wonderful post.I appreciated the double entendre “robberies and batteries”, considering how much time is robbed in recharging our various spiritual and gadget batteries.

But Hawaii wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to go there. It’s a nice concept in the abstract–for about an hour or two.

I think more and more that the only valid “Professional” occupation has to do with our Christian profession itself. Of course, Calvin said that we should view our jobs as a calling, and waiters certainly could follow that. But that means they should pursue and develop their craft and not go beyond their appointed bounds. I suppose I’m slipping into curmudgeondom again, but I really don’t need a relationship based upon the latest marketing script.

I can see the freeway being something like the belly of a fish: confining. I usually see it like Exodus 8:24: “and there came a grievous swarm of flies.”

Even there, however, there is great consolation in God’s promise.

12:27 PM  
Mrs. B said…
The Cat was consoling himself just now by shredding your music. He is always disconsolate when I have a laptop in my lap. Not that he wants to be there.I favor the idea of appointed bounds. As for self-asserted professionals whose work fails to substantiate the claim, it would be kind of fun to ask them what, exactly, they profess.

I think I image the freeway as the belly of a great fish because I am always so amazed I am vomited off alive at the exit. But this, of course, is an old association, as I now avoid freeways altogether.

1:00 PM  
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