Boredom: Christianity’s gift to the world (Realistic Christianity 3)
Rev. Vincent Gardner 28/2/16
This morning is the third sermon in the Realistic Christianity series. In this series we attempt to look at various cultural changes which are affecting church life. In the first sermon we looked at the philosophical and theological changes: from Modernism to postmodernism. We saw how the church was re-discovering the early church understanding of what a person ‘is’. That Jesus Christ is the only objective part of this world. Everything else is subjective, even we this morning might or might not be here. I was at a clergy deanery meeting the other day and I am pretty certain I and a few colleagues were definitely not objectively present. The second sermon looked at Holy Scripture and its role in directing/revealing to us Christ. That we needed a fresh or early church relationship with the bible and that liberalism and evangelicalism we successful forms of modernism but now we need to leave them behind if we are to engage with the positive aspects of post modern life.
Now we move on to the practical side of this view. And the first task is for us as a church to strive to be more boring. Or at least to create space where boredom can exuberantly happen on a regular basis. (film series).
Unfortunately the church historically has taken a different view. Let’s start with the following statements: Disagree adamantly with all three statements for different reasons.
the devil makes work for idle hands. We are never idle. Remember in the first sermon we stated that we are not separate ‘individuals’ (Descartes) but dynamic ‘persons’ always moving and changing. So even if we are ‘bored’, Idleness is a wonderful human action and has great virtue.
It’s not okay for children to be bored in church ( yes it is, if church isn’t a safe place for them to bored where is). Boring as watching paint dry. One of the most beautiful, life enhancing and revelatory experiences in life is watching paint dry.
the art critic Susan Sontag. From the recently released volume of Susan Sontag’s diaries has written a meditation on the creative purpose of boredom as a form of attention: Function of boredom. Good + bad.
Schopenhauer the first imp[ortant] writer to talk about boredom (in his Essays) — ranks it with “pain” as one of the twin evils of life (pain for have-nots, boredom for haves— it’s a question of affluence). Disagree with him too. Two others who we could possibly disagree with Nietzsche and Tolstoy.
People say “it’s boring”, that service was boring, that journey was boring, this relationship is boring— as if that were a final standard of appeal, and no work of art had the right to bore us. But most of the interesting art of our time is boring. Jasper Johns is boring. Samuel Beckett is boring Rothko is boring, Etc. Etc. Maybe art has to be boring, now. (Which obviously doesn’t mean that if something is boring it is good but can mean sometimes things which are good for us are boring.) And maybe church has the need to be boring too.
How many times have I heard ‘we no longer go to that church, after the new minister came it got a bit samey, you know boring. So we found a more exciting church close by, the music is much better and the sermons are so stimulating. It’s definitely not boring.’… Church is boring so what. In a life now which is dominated by the responsibility to be constantly stimulating wouldn’t it be nice to go to church find a space which is safe, free of the anxiety that constant activity brings.
After the church began it only took around two hundred years and people began to say this is boring, it’s the same every Sunday. Why don’t we get people to dress up a bit, a pinty hat or two. The men could play instruments on the one side, the women could dance down the midlle. What about the smell? Swing some incense. Cover all the walls in pattern. Then the reformation, that’s naughty. Then modernism that’s boring. Etc etc.
We should not expect art or church to entertain or divert us any more. At least, not high art.
Boredom is a function of attention. We are learning new modes of attention — say, favoring the ear more than the eye— but so long as we work within the old attention-frame we find X boring … e.g. listening for sense rather than sound (being too message-oriented). Possibly after repetition of the same single phrase or level of language or image for a long while — in a given written text or piece of music or film, if we become bored, we should ask if we are operating in the right frame of attention. Or — maybe we are operating in one right frame, where we should be operating in two simultaneously, thus halving the load on each (as sense and sound).
Back in 2009, a 16-year-old British girl was fired from her office job because her manager saw – on Facebook – that she had said her job was “boring”. She was called into her manager’s office and given the following letter: “Following your comments made on Facebook… we feel it is better that, as you are not happy and do not enjoy your work we end your employment with (our company).”
She was fired because she was bored with her job? Well, it a good thing Solomon was King… because he said pretty much the same thing about his “job”. He not only found his job boring, he wrote:
“I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:17
Solomon found his job not only boring… but empty? But he got on with it to the best of his ability.
: Just to prove my point, I want to share a popular set of rules for the office that in vogue back in the 1800’s. Rules like this were common in most offices, and they all looked a little bit like these:
1. Office employees will daily sweep the floors, dust the furniture, and showcases.
Each day they must fill lamps, clean chimneys, & turn wicks
2. Windows must be washed once a week.
3. Each clerk will bring in a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s business.
4. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle your nibs to your individual taste.
5. This office will open at 7:00 am and close at 9:00 p.m. daily, except on Sunday, on which day it will remain closed. Each employee is expected to spend Sunday by attending church and contributing liberally to the cause of the Lord.
6. Men employees will be given an evening off each week for courting purposes, or 2 evening a week if they go regularly to church.
7. After an employee has spent 13 hours of labor in the office, he should spend the rest of his time reading the Bible any other good books while contemplating the glories and building up of the kingdom.
8. Every employee should lay aside, from each pay, a goodly sum of his earning, so that he will not become a burden upon the charity of his betters.
9. The employee who has performed his labors faithfully and without fault for a period of 5 years and who had been thrifty and attentive to his religious duties, is looked upon by his fellowmen as a substantial and law-abiding citizen, will be given an increase of 5 pennies per day in his pay providing a just return in profits from the business permits it.
One of the most extreme examples of this is the story of Howard Hughes. In 1966, he was named the richest person in the world. His fortune is estimated to have been worth more than $40 billion in today’s dollars.
On a trip to Las Vegas, Hughes had a disagreement with the owner of one casino. So, he bought the casino and several around it. Money was his answer for everything.
Hughes was also nicknamed the world’s greatest womanizer. He dated various beautiful Hollywood actresses, including Ginger Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, and Katherine Hepburn.
In his prime, Hughes was a daring aviator and tireless tinkerer who spurred science to new heights. He was an industrialist, entrepreneur, and world record setter.
He built the largest airplane ever to fly. Do you know what it was called?
That’s right: The Spruce Goose.
Howard Hughes had it all. The power, the prestige, the possessions.
But despite all of that, for the last 20 years of his life Hughes lived as alone. He refused to appear in public or to be photographed. He became a hypochondriac, with an unnatural fear of germs. He refused to cut his hair, his beard or his nails. And the only people he saw were his doctors & his personal servants.
And when he died… he died alone.
And nobody cared.
Modernism: the age of stimulation and relentless pursuit.
Post-modernism: the age of creative interplay and reflection.
We will talk in future about ‘Duty’, a related theme necessary to living as a realistic Christian .