Monday, October 29, 2012

Year of Plenty Part 4: The Material v. the Spiritual and My Struggle With It

I've been working on another blog post for the better part of a week and still haven't posted it. It's about a great topic, but I was having trouble narrowing it down. So I'm going to keep working on it and will post this instead.

I always start off the weekend days with a grand plan for how I'll spend them and what I'll accomplish. In Sunday School today, we talked about how Year of Plenty author Craig Goodwin struggles with the dualistic divide in the Christian faith between the spiritual and material in which the spiritual choice is seen as the better option, i.e. joining a monastery instead of apprenticing with the local blacksmith (a random medieval example, but it works.) The physical/spiritual dualism isn't as much a struggle for me as it is for Craig, but I do struggle with another kind of dualism: what I should accomplish and what I actually accomplish.

For instance, I got a free compost bin at the Spokane Solid Waste Fair yesterday. I had planned to set it up in my backyard yesterday afternoon, but when I went out to set it up, I ran into one problem after another. The bin is basically a sheet of rolled-up, stiff black plastic that you're supposed to be able to arrange in a neat 3x3 square, but it had been rolled up so tightly that it didn't want to unroll. I had to jump on top of it to make it stay flat and put spider-webby bricks on all corners. I also realized that to actually put it together, it needed stakes, which I didn't have.

Basically, I realized in dismay that I do not have the brain for mechanics or tactile creativity. Putting this compost bin together was far beyond my ken. Instead, I planted 12 daffodil bulbs, swept a ton of pine needles off the back porch and thought about how I had spent way longer on the compost bin than I intended and still accomplished very little. And my Sunday sped by with little care for my carefully crafted weekend to-do list of which I crossed off exactly two things.

The problem that the compost bin revealed is that I have trouble concentrating on reading or writing when material things are left undone. The contemplative tasks get pushed aside for the tyranny of the urgent. Reading my newest creative nonfiction book can wait, but if that pan sits there another minute with a film of potato soup, it will be a nightmare to clean.

In A Year of Plenty,Craig's year of eating and buying locally required intentionality and contemplation. The Christian life should require intentional choices for every aspect of life. The end goal is that these God-honoring choices become second nature. But for Craig at this point in the book, he still has to think hard about nearly every decision he makes. In an attempt to honor God with my time, I think hard about how to spend my time after work. However, unlike Craig, whose thinking inspires him to action, I often respond to the choices of how to spend my time with paralyzed non-action, hence the dualism between what I want to accomplish and what I actually do accomplish.

And ironically, this dualism gives way to the very dualism that Craig struggles with. (And here I thought I had escaped it.) What is a better way to spend one's time? It depends, of course. There's a place for both the material tasks and spiritual tasks, and God can be glorified in both. But when it comes to the nitty gritty details of how I spend my time, I get mired in the material at the expense of the spiritual. Though both are good, is it possible that one is still better? (I'm thinking of Mary v. Martha.)

I continue to wrestle with this issue and really don't have a good answer to give. How do you see the material v. spiritual playing out in your life? Is there tension between the two? How do you deal with the tension? I'd love to hear from you in the comments. (Maybe you can help me sort this all out!)

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