The Myth of "Doing" v. "Being"
Aug 26, 2009 by Don Payne | 1 Comments
Among the most fashionable emphases in recent years is the elevation of "being" over "doing". This understandable reaction propels much that we find in the spiritual formation movement among evangelical Christians. I say it's understandable because if evangelicals are known for anything it's busyness; a noble drivenness to make a difference for eternity. The particular form of eschatological-mindedness found among many evangelicals contributes to this frenetic pace of life which, in turn, has simply left countless believers weary and jaded.
Naturally, with such an unhealthy, one-dimensional, and disconnected approach to activity, a turn to simply "being" signals a welcome restoration of the inner life. It raises awareness that being fully human can never be reduced to or even well-represented by what we can accomplish. To speak of "being" instead of "doing" suggests that God graciously cares about us, values us regardless of our performance; that He wants communion with us and to have us simply delight in Him. So far, so good.
Without losing those timely and truthful notes, we need to sharpen our thinking about the relationship of "being" and "doing". Frankly, these are not as separable as they can appear to be by simply having different words for them. Perhaps it would be better to speak of our interior and our exterior worlds, or something akin to that. At any rate, these dimensions are unavoidably interlocked. Yes, we go through seasons of activity and seasons of rest. The problem, however, is that we have not properly related our inner and outer worlds. When polarized or isolated, "being" and "doing" each become toxic and lead away from a fully human, godly health.
This has gnawed at me for several years now, mostly at the intuitive level. Recently, I found a writer who explains this (sometimes quite technically) and offers a compelling and provocative account of how action and reflection are related. John Macmurray (1891-1976) was a Scottish philosopher whose published Gifford Lectures present a probing analysis of the tension and the relationship between action and cognition; or, we might say, "being" and "doing". See www.johnmacmurray.org for more on his life and work, but the first half of his Gifford Lectures (delivered at the University of Aberdeen in the early 1950s) is entitled Self as Agent. This is a must read for all who are concerned with how the inner and outer dimensions of human existence relate and function to express something genuinely glorious.
Basically, and I'll end with this "pot stirring" claim. Macmurray argues that active agency logically precedes and defines rest and conceptualization. If that triggers questions and reactions, let's talk further. Better yet, read Macmurray! He is an underrecognized and underread resource who can help protect us ever-reactionary and faddish evangelicals from dying of dizziness on our own pendulums!