Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Breathe

posted by xscot mcknight

This for a magazine for Cornerstone University and also posted here; the theme was called “breathe.”
â??Breatheâ? as a Lifestyle
Cramming, after my sophomore year in college, was not an option. Ron Mayers, my philosophy professor, gave us a choice: You can either take a final comprehensive examination or you can write an outline to the history of philosophy. I chose the latter â?? and if I remember accurately, I finished my outline at 4:30am on the day it was due. The first half of it was solid; the rest began to get wobbly as the synapses in my brain became just as wobbly. I learned very early in my academic life â?? and it has lasted now for more than 35 years! â?? that the best way to learn was daily work, the deepest way to write something was steady preparation, and the healthiest way to live was to avoid cramming.
Some people â??breatheâ? or relax or refresh themselves the way many college students cram â?? instead of breathing on a routine basis, they hold their collective breath as they fill their schedule with meetings and phone calls to make and events to attend and places to go and e-mails to write and checkbooks to balance and movies to watch and games to play and services to attend and Bible passages to read â?¦ I could go on. Discovering that their pace is so breakneck, these same busy folk schedule a weekend off â?? but to pull it off, they must go out of town or take a whole week off. In other words, they â??cramâ? into their busy schedule some relaxation but have to get out of the house to breathe.
Ever try to cram in some relaxation? It helps, but it doesnâ??t solve the problem. Perhaps you feel in the expression â??cram in some relaxationâ? the tension that cramming creates.
Kris and I aim to live our lives and schedule our time in such a way that breathing is our custom rather than our cramming. We donâ??t want to have vacations where it takes three or four days just to unwind. We choose to breathe to begin the day, breathe in the middle of the day, and breathe in the evening. We learned years ago to begin the day and end the day with prayer â?? that prayer is not something we cram into an overloaded schedule but something that assumes a sacred rhythm. I even wrote a book that chronicled some of what we learned about praying at set times (called Praying with the Church [Paraclete, 2006]).
Breathing for us is the routine of a professor (me) and a psychologist (Kris). We aim to keep our lives simple by doing four things: keeping our evenings as free as possible, not taking on extra jobs at work unless they are something we discuss (and we have veto power with each other), realizing our commitments to one another and to our children are a high priority, and â?? and this might be the most important one â?? avoiding debt.
Financial decisions, so we think, often create a life where couples and families hold their collective breath until the next paycheck. Debt leads to working more. That means we have to jam more into less time â?? less time for the ones we love, for the God we worship, for the church in whose embrace we fellowship, for the neighbors we enjoy, for the hobbies that create living space, and for household responsibilities that give us pride.
My suggestion for most of us this: the graduated backdown. Many of us need to begin right now graduately backing down from too much debt, too much work, too little of time, and too little of breathing. If we find ourselves cramming breathing into our schedules, we can begin to find some sacred space by the principle of the graduated backdown. Maybe we could learn to tithe one tenth of our overloaded schedule to the Lord per year â?? and maybe in a few years weâ??ll wake one day and find that breathing is natural.



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RJS

posted September 14, 2007 at 5:31 am


Scot,
This is becoming a recurring theme on this blog – and one that challenges me every time it comes up. If only you would keep to academic topics, or even topics such as Mother Teresa – to be discussed from a safe distance.
More later – I have to run.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 14, 2007 at 6:23 am


Scot, I agree this is so important and in one way I think I’ve done this all my life, and in another way, not.
I wish I would have lived better as far as all of what you say above goes. But I’m thankful for God’s grace in helping me breathe better even in the midst of pressures.
Your thoughts here, though, are needed by me and surely by many of us. They help affirm and confirm us in this good direction. Glad you folks are good models for so many of the rest of us.



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Rick

posted September 14, 2007 at 6:32 am


One difficulty I have seen is how new seasons of life quietly overwhelm us. Before we realize it, we can’t breathe. We then try, and at times can be successful, to get things back “under control”, thus hoping to allow time for breathing. Then the children hit new stages of life, or there is a job change, etc… and a new season begins- only to slowly and quietly sufficate us once again.



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Diane

posted September 14, 2007 at 6:45 am


I agree with Rick it’s a struggle. I can’t agree more with Scot that lowering expenses and trying as far as possible to be debt free is so key to breathing. My family inadvertently took on some debt last spring ( a car unexpectedly had to be replaced and a trip unexpectedly blew the budget in a wild way) but we can handle it and still breathe easily because we basically had a wide margin. But then I buy books … Alas …
I do think slowing down is one of the most subversive steps we can take in this overscheduled culture. I worry when I read articles that people are not retiring or meet 60-something women who have worked all their lives in offices who tell me with great longing … quit your job if you can … and many of the young graduates I work with (for another couple of days) who worked nonstop to pay for college, never getting a breath and still coming our with a load of debt … I feel they didn’t have the same college experience I did … and kids are so programmed. I wonder sometimes if we’re all becoming slaves.



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RJS

posted September 14, 2007 at 7:10 am


Scot,
This is an interesting topic, and as I said above one that challenges me every time you have the audacity to bring it up.
But – it seems to me that there are three pieces to this “learning to breathe.”
The first is setting priorities, working with a plan, and avoiding the necessity for “cram” situations. This is a skill and lifestyle that carries well beyond University years. Oh I wish my students would learn this. In the class I taught last year we used “technology” (horrors) to enforce a requirement that students in a large lecture (1) attend class; (2) prepare ahead (reading quiz opened each class); and (3) pay attention during class. The scores and grades were higher than I’d ever given before – and I have taught this same class many times.
The second relates to financial decisions and debt. The tendency for debt and materialism adds stress to any relationship and drives the need to work more, harder, etc. We have made it a point to pay off credit cards monthly – in total, and assume no other debt beyond house payments and occasional car loans (but none now). Of course it is also essential to maintain housing costs within budget – even when it meant a family of four for 14 years in a small, one bathroom house.
Ah – but the third, this is where you challenge me every time. If an overloaded schedule arises not from procrastination and poor planning and not from debt and financial woe – from whence does it come? Ambition? Pride of reputation? Drive for accomplishment? Desire for success and respect? Aspiration for power? Longing for even modest fame? Are these good? Bad? How should priorities be arranged? Ambition also means we have to jam more into less time. (But household responsibilities that give us pride may be part of the problem, not a benefit of the solution.)
Ah well … on to the work of the day.



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Jeff

posted September 14, 2007 at 7:33 am


Scot,
I appreciate your wise counsel.
I have served as a pastor (both on the staff of a church and as a solo pastor), and I am now teaching at a college. In my experience, these priorities were very difficult to meet when I served in a church, especially the evenings free and extra responsibility aspects of your comments.
Jeff



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Brian

posted September 14, 2007 at 8:02 am


For sure, get out of debt. But I would also say break the connection between work and debt. Work needs to be connected to more noble ends. I am blessed to have an employer that sees its work as doing good for the world.
About half way down this page is a clip from a priceless song called “BusyBusyBusy.”
http://www.sandraboynton.com/sboynton/boyntonmusic.html



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My 2 cents

posted September 14, 2007 at 8:25 am


Ok, I’ll breathe…after the errands this morning.



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Bob

posted September 14, 2007 at 8:47 am


Scot, I appreciate this post.
Wrapped up in our ability (or lack of ability) to breathe is our definition (or twisted definition) of what is “enough”.
Is enough food what it takes to sustain us or is enough really “I couldn’t eat another bite”?
Is enough time ordering rest, work, prayer, meals, and play and allowing time for each or is it trying to cram in just one more activity?
Is enough money what it takes to buy basic food, shelter and transportation or is enough “just getting another $20 a week”?
Developing a theology of “enough” was my first step to being able to breathe.



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John W Frye

posted September 14, 2007 at 8:57 am


Excellent article, Scot, and a way to model a life of living in rhythm with God, one another and the responsibilities of life.



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pat

posted September 14, 2007 at 9:04 am


Yes, I have learned long ago to give up things and take time to breathe. A result for me of overspending and overscheduling and overindulging is definitely over stressing. Sometimes at school the pace is too hectic. One definite reason to hang up the whistle next year!
Enjoy your weekend!



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Diane

posted September 14, 2007 at 9:31 am


“If an overloaded schedule arises not from procrastination and poor planning and not from debt and financial woe – from whence does it come? Ambition? Pride of reputation? Drive for accomplishment? Desire for success and respect? Aspiration for power?”
RSJ has hit on THE question for our culture.



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Michael Mercer

posted September 14, 2007 at 10:22 am


Wise and well said, Scot.



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Elizabeth

posted September 14, 2007 at 10:59 am


And this is why I took up yoga and meditation- to give myself space to breathe in my week. Yoga is all about focusing on the breath. In…and out, in a very deliberate way. When I meditate, which creates for me a space of calm in the world, I focus on my breathing. I’d encourage anyone to set aside even five minutes a day to try either of these things. With meditation, focusing on a simple phrase (a short prayer is good) or your breathing works wonders. It just takes practice.



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Mykl Krause

posted September 14, 2007 at 12:45 pm


I think it was Dallas Willard who gave John Ortberg the advice “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.” That phrase has stuck with me and I find it echoing in your post.
However there are times where I wonder how you can possibly be so prolific as you teach, read, post and write so much in such a short time. (It causes me stress!) Your productivity must in some way be a result of “breathing.”



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RJS

posted September 14, 2007 at 4:42 pm


“We choose to breathe to begin the day, breathe in the middle of the day, and breathe in the evening.”
No question â?? so not really inviting comment, but I will reflect once again anyway. On sacred rhythm, time for prayer and the God we worship â?? this is so important. About four years ago, being sick of “cramming,” I made the commitment to get up one to two hours earlier than “necessary” 7 days a week for precisely this purpose. Of course rising earlier means I naturally go to bed earlier. It has effectively allowed me to set aside – if not a tithe, at least half a tithe – of waking hours. Intentional and disciplined time to breathe, not that I ever used that term for it before today.
Now for the rest of the day (middle and evening), the weekend, the vacation, – time for the ones we love, for the church, for the hobbies … maybe later. I am still challenged.



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Anonymous

posted September 14, 2007 at 7:02 pm


From my blogroll this week « Confessions of A Small-Church Pastor

[…] Scot McKnight’s post on “Breathe” as a lifestyle. Good stuff on regular “breathing” vs. cramming. […]



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Peggy

posted September 14, 2007 at 7:37 pm


So, Thomas Merton: The rush of life is a form of violence.
That quote hit me square between the eyes three years ago. And looking to recover the balance God desires has been my journey since. Diane is right–this is THE issue of the current generation. And God’s answer is VERY counter-cultural. (and I mean church culture, here 8) )
I find that daily (hourly?), I have to go with the flow and breathe–learning to say “yes” to God first, “maybe” to others, and “no” to some…especially blogging.
I miss the time I spent earlier this year, but that was a season, it seems…



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Christine

posted September 14, 2007 at 10:22 pm


Thank you, Scot, for an enormously helpful and wise post. Beginning a new school year after a wonderful summer break always feels like the true “new year” and how helpful to read your words just now. Thanks much.



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Diane

posted September 15, 2007 at 8:32 am


Since most of us don’t *have” to do all that we do to get food on the family table, how do we slow down? Sabbathing as someone mentioned … reminding ourselves maybe of the book of James and the problem of panting ambition leading to war and strife … and most of all, as Peggy says, just being conscious. Thanks for bringing this up again Scot.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 15, 2007 at 12:30 pm


I think we have to somehow learn to live in all we do with this breathing more and more becoming a natural part of that. So when we’re not so breathing, it is noteworthy and an alarm to us to get back into this “rest”.
Jesus was one who was busy, but certainly not at the expense of this breathing. I think reading between the lines to say that he was active but never in a hurry is a good clear read of the gospels. And in and with him, we’re to follow and live.



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Anonymous

posted September 19, 2007 at 5:25 am


scott mcknight on “breathing” « signs of life

[…] Read the rest at Scott’s blog, The Jesus Creed. […]



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