The Dithering Age

February 12, 2014 | Viewpoints | Number 4
Phil Wagler |

It shows up in the smallest of ways. Send out an e-vite or ask people to confirm their attendance and you’ll see proof that we are part of the Dithering Age.

Perhaps, like yours, our church routinely asks people to sign up for events with ample notice. Every conceivable means of communication known to the #drowninginoptionshumanrace is used, and yet increasingly without fail almost no one will RSVP until the very last minute, and then only after complaining they just found out about it. I’m beginning to think we should simply tell people it’s always the eleventh hour (Matthew 20:6). I must confess, I can play the almost latecomer as well as anyone else and am grateful for the grace that pays the same wages.

And then in my daily tour of online papers, I came across an article by Sarah Boesveld on our culture’s peculiar attitude regarding children. Some recent studies revealed this ground-breaking truth: Couples who decide not to have children tend to be happier than those yoked to pipsqueaks. In other news, the sun is hot, Manitoba is cold and Maine will not anytime soon become South Quebec.

Forgive my Canadian sarcasm, but these studies could have been done by second graders asked to draw pictures of what their parents looked like half-way through summer holidays. Of course, intentionally childless couples are happier than their burdened counterparts in the Dithering Age. It can’t be otherwise. After all, we define happiness in purely selfish terms these days and, frankly, children bring the end of that once “happy” place. If happiness means doing what we want, then this can only lead us to dither. After all, what if I make a commitment today for something 10 days away, only to discover I don’t “feel” like going the day of? What if it doesn’t make me happy?

It is one thing to apply this thought process to showing up to a Saturday workshop; it’s quite another when we make this the lens by which we measure the investment and commitment of our lives into things that ultimately mean the end of us. And this, any parent or youth worker will tell you, is precisely the unhappy lesson of investing in the next generation.

Call for volunteers

Now this little tirade is not about children or parenting at all, for being purposefully single or childless can be a greater kingdom investment than married parents ever make. Boesveld’s article simply awakens the point that we are the Dithering Age and, I would argue, this growing cultural inability to choose any meaningful convictions or commitments by which to live our lives, including spiritual ones—apart from the yearning for the burden-less freedom to experience whatever we choose—is a cancer in our churches and an eraser of the witness of the good news of God’s kingdom fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Boesveld quotes family historian Stephanie Coontz, that North America has shifted to “thinking of freedom as freedom from obligations, not the freedom to choose our deep commitments.” This is a radical and deeply ironic shift.

Older generations of Canadians made great sacrifices to find freedom where certain commitments and convictions could flourish unhindered for them and their offspring. Many reading this are the beneficiaries of those sacrifices. Many new generations still enter our country every day seeking this hope.

If Coontz is correct, however, the tragedy is that we are now enamoured not in the least with a land where we are free to choose deep commitments and throw ourselves into them. Now we simply want be free from any commitments whatsoever! Does this not smell like the end of genuine freedom? And what does this mean for the future of Christ-centred mission and the fellowships and organizations seeking to live it out? Discuss amongst yourselves, if you can get anyone to commit to the conversation.

Phil Wagler dithered for a long time about what to write here. Isn’t that ironic? He and his family live in Surrey, B.C. If you get around to it, you can converse with him at phil_wagler@yahoo.ca.

--Posted Feb. 12, 2014

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