In our first year of marriage, it was not uncommon to find me steadily peering down toward my lap whenever we had guests at the dinner table. I had to be prepared. If the conversation remained superficial or became dull, I would discreetly turn my eyes from our guests, and to my wifeâ€™s horror, begin reading the book of choice, placed carefully in my lap.
I was present but absent.
Everywhere but Nowhere
This is, perhaps, an apropos description of modern life. Head down and heart disengaged, our thoughts are elsewhere. We are â€œdislocatedâ€, as Jeremy Writebol posits in his new book, everPresent. Teeming with technological distraction, or simply absorbed with Self, we are often missing from the present. We have lost the wisdom of Seneca who warns, â€œTo be everywhere is to be nowhere.â€
Consequences of Dislocation
The consequences of dislocation often go uncalculated. Jeremy does some of the math for us. Our sense of place is, perhaps, the first to go. Preoccupation blinds us to the sights and sounds of our surroundings and, as a result, we fail to fully enjoy the gift of the moment. Our environments devolve into means. The inherent value of place is lost on us and, as a result, restoring broken places is often far from our minds.
Worse still, people are affected. In my foolish stints at the dinner table, I dishonored my wife and neglected persons, sent to my home to receive hospitality and love. Fifteen years later, Iâ€™ve improved my dinner table conduct considerably, but face a similar temptation with the Smartphone. Dislocation is now socially acceptable. Our children may suffer the most from our disengagement with the present. While we may scoff at the hippies who escaped parental duties in pursuit of a high, our substance of choice may actually take us further away from our children. Certainly, the substance varies from person to person. For some, it is accomplishment. Kierkegaard writes, â€œLet us never deceive youth by foolish talk about the mater of accomplishing. Let us never make them so busy in the service of the moment, that they forget the patience of willing something eternal.â€
Of course, the lure of accomplishment can be cloaked in the eternal. â€œMinistryâ€ is not immune from our disease. What then is the cause of our illness? Dislocation from God. Jeremy cautions that â€œsoul dislocation is terminal.â€ This is true not only for us but also for those around us. Our diversion not only impedes communion but also disengages us from mission.
Â We desperately need relocation.
Â The Gospel Relocates usÂ in the Present
The Christian faith possesses rich resources to remedy this crisis. EverPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the PresentÂ transports us to those resources with fresh language and focused practice. It signals profound hope in the incarnate Christ who affirms place, and in the dying-rising Christ, who relocates us back into the all-satisfying presence of God. We do, after all, have a God who is omnipresent, with us and for the world in every moment. Jeremy sensitively and prophetically calls us to join God there, in the present, for our flourishing and the sake of the world.