Sometimes I need a good hard kick in the behind to be reminded to act the way I know I'm supposed to. I got that the other day in the form of a teenager named Joel Wood making a speech for one of those national Christian leadership training events. I'll let you read it, and then I want to make some of my own observations at the end.
_“Ok, here’s the deal… I’m only here because my dad wants me to do this speech thing. So…I don’t really want to even do this…I just need to fill however many minutes it is (4 maybe?) so I can say I came to this lame church thing.”_
Let me introduce you to “Sloth.” Of the seven deadly sins, none is less famous than sloth. More a sin of omission than of commission, sloth seems out-of-place among the likes of greed, lust, pride, and wrath. True to its nature, it is inherently not noteworthy or significant. Or is it?? Sloth is actually more dangerous because it is insidious, sneaking in the back door, often disguised as “keeping a level head” or being easy-going or open-minded.
Most people think of sloth as just sitting around doing nothing, being physically lazy. But Whitestone Journal defines sloth as a kind of spiritual indifference, not making it a priority to do what we should, or change what we should in ourselves. Sloth is disengagement, the avoidance of being an active participant in life. Sloth, we assume, only affect those with pizza boxes stacked in the corner, people who sleep till the crack-of-noon to check Facebook for… you know, a while…. Sloth, we tend to think, doesn’t affect people working real jobs, meeting real deadlines and caring for real kids…. But we would mistaken.
It might be…
· …the middle-aged mom who, disappointed with her life, lives vicariously through reality TV or tabloid news.
· …a young adult not bothering to vote for anything, ever.
· …people of any age, who, born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths, never engage enough to realize their own potential or contribution to the world.
This is in stark contrast to the life of David we read about in the Old Testament. 2 Samuel continues the picture of young David painted in 1 Samuel. While 1 Samuel tells of David’s youth and long exile, 2 Samuel focuses on David as king—leading, uniting, inspiring his people. 2 Samuel didn’t paint David as a flawless character or perfect model of courage and strength. David had striking weaknesses. But his appeal was that he was completely, passionately alive. Whatever he did, he did with all his heart. He held nothing back. David was not a victim of sloth.
Don’t picture sloth as a harmless, laid-back couch potato. Sloth is more like the grim reaper, the messenger of death who pokes his bony fingers in the places in our lives that ought to be thriving… and watches them atrophy from lack of attention.
A few months ago in California, a 15-year-old girl was raped and beaten over a two-hour period by at least 10 people just outside her high school homecoming dance, while two dozen people saw the rape without notifying police, some of the onlookers jeering and taking pictures with cell phones.
Or the case of the 16-year-old Chicago honor student who was beaten to death last fall after crossing into a fight between rival gangs at a busy bus stop. Several people took videos that they later posted on YouTube.
We hear about these and are outraged and shocked, as much at the onlookers as at the assailants. What would cause so many to stand idly by, walk past, or fail to call 9-1-1? Perhaps sloth truly is a deadly sin.
So why is it thriving? According to author Wendy Wasserstein, this “sin” has become mired in a theological catch-22: sloth is bad because it impedes progress; progress is good because it enables us to be slothful. You see, for several hundred years, the great innovations in science, technology, and engineering—the wheel, the bellows, the cotton gin—were focused on reducing the amount of back-breaking labor humans must endure.
However, more recent technological innovations—the three-in-one remote, the riding lawnmower, the Clapper, & the robot vacuum Roomba—have seemed somewhat less momentous. Progress has moved beyond preserving human dignity to encouraging human sloth. Far from being a sin, it has become an aspiration.
The problem is, when we have more ‘takers’ than ‘givers,’ the system is no longer sustainable. We do need to change some things on the societal level. For example, passively watching a crime is not a crime itself, unless the victim is younger than 14.
But in reality, the only way to change slothful attitudes and behavior is one person at a time, and the only person who can change you is YOU. First, we need to make a series of small, incremental changes that, over time, will change ourselves and those around us. We can no longer afford to live with tunnel vision and assume that we responsible only for ourselves. We start that process by WAKING UP!
_Oh, look at that, I blew right past the 4-minute minimum… And I actually enjoyed it._
Given a choice between feeding my slothful nature, and completely, passionately living up to my God-given potential as David did, I’ll choose to live, to engage, to participate!
Okay, so what are my thoughts? As a former AIMer, I know the temptation of wanting to be behind-the-scenes in the local congregation, of looking for a church that's large enough for me to hide in (while still looking for one small enough to feel like family - quite the conundrum!). I know the tiredness that comes from constantly giving yourself to others spiritually, with none of the gratitude that should be a prerequisite from those who enjoy the benefits of your efforts. And I so I know, I think, where the danger of "sloth" comes for us. I really benefitted from Joel's reminder that sloth IS absolutely dangerous, and, as he said, so easy to get trapped in. From one potentially slothful ex-AIMer to another, let's not!
- Donovan Fox