Yesterday I posted about the restlessness and bustle of the world around us. Today I thought I’d share a few thoughts about what we are to do about it, and share a song that I think speaks well to our challenge.
It seems to me there are three approaches we can take to the busy world:
1) We can buy into it completely, live at the world’s pace, always wanting more, always doing more, always taking more. Most of us, sadly, do this from time to time. We decide to fill our lives up with activity and are unable to consider that there could be another way. This way buys into the old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
2) We can become frustrated with the world for its frantic pace, and withdraw. This is always a temptation for Christians, whatever issue we’re talking about. Difference equals deadlock. This way says, “The world has chosen the fast lane over God, and it’s hopeless.”
3) We can take our role as witnesses, as the body of Christ, seriously. We can take our vocation to be “in the world but not of the world” seriously. We can take seriously Jesus’ statement that he gave his life “for the life of the world.” This way realizes that as Christ’s body, we are called to live in the world according to a different set of assumptions. The world may be “go-go-go” but we don’t have to be. We are to be the people who take time for God and for others and for the world around us, standing in the midst of the world but with a different posture. We are to be the people who see the problem with the world’s ways, but rather than walking away we stay put as witnesses and people who pray.
The song linked here, “I Want the World to Stop,” by Belle and Sebastian**, gets this exactly right.
The song’s refrain, “I want the world to stop, give me the morning, give me the understanding,” serves two purposes: first, it is an acknowledgement that the world is moving faster than it ought to be and a prayer for a different way; but, second, it is an expression of frustration with the world, frustration that tempts us to want to withdraw and to think that we’re above it:
Let me feel the air again,
The talk of friends,
The mind of someone my equal
But this is no good. We can’t get away, and there is no point in deceiving ourselves that we can. No matter where we go, the frantic pace of life follows us. The “Tinseltown” (Hollywood) way has gone out to every part of the world, even to those places we idealize:
Tinseltown has followed me
From tinseltown to grey adorable city by the docks
On one way of looking at things, our whole world is filled with phoniness. Everything is covered in a mask that hides true reality, but “the girls don’t care as they paint themselves at dusk.” If we can’t stop the world, what are we able to do?
As Christians, we are responsible to the world around us. We are “our brother’s keeper.” But we can’t force anyone to change or to be what we want them to be. What we can do is bring them before God, look on them with compassion and love, and live a different way in the midst of it:
Towns’ and cities’ populations up and grow
The workers move to the suburbs
In between I watch and go
I run along side rush hour traffic, a prayer for every car
As everyone else is in their mad rush, the singer represents a restful, prayerful presence (note that he’s on foot, not quite conforming to the world’s ways), living in the midst of this world-in-a-rush, as difficult as it is, because that never-stopping world needs his prayers.
God has called us to live in this world too, but to be a restful, prayerful presence in its midst, to be Christ to a frantic world that needs him so badly. Jesus himself never abandoned the world, even as he consistently modeled rest and prayer for those around him. And from that posture of rest and prayer, of resting in God, he served the frantic world in the love and Spirit of God. Can we do the same?
**Note: Belle and Sebastian, my favourite group, is not explicitly a “Christian” group. The leader, Stuart Murdoch, is a Christian, and seems to have come to faith through a very long and slow process that you can trace through their albums. God, Jesus, and the church have always been part of his lyrics, though in their early songs in the 1990s, it might have seemed like he was mocking or at least poking fun at Christianity. With their albums of the last ten years, especially the one this song comes from, things have gotten more and more clear and directed toward God. If he was talking “about God” before, now he’s often talking in God’s presence. Their music may not sound like what you imagine Christian music to sound like, but seems to me to give a great picture of the stance Christians are to have toward the world: loving it, hoping for its salvation/rescue, and encouraging/challenging it to a different way.