Boredom: How to drive a stake through its heart forever

Scrambled eggs.

I had scrambled eggs for breakfast  yesterday morning and did not enjoy them at all. Having survived cancer of the mouth and then radiation for the head and neck area some years ago, my present reality is simply that some foods are to be eaten for their nutritional value, not for their taste.

But lying in bed this morning early and reflecting on having to determine my own menu for the rest of my days and the necessity of learning to cook a few things since the Lord took my wife to Heaven recently, it occurred to me that I should learn how to make scrambled eggs more interesting.

And I will.

Now, I’m not entirely opposed to a little boredom now and then.  It can actually assist in the creative process. But for the most part I hate it.  Of all the people in the world who should despise boredom in their personal lives, preachers and pastors should lead the parade.

Boring sermons is certainly a matter of widespread concern, true, but I’m not talking about that.

This is about life.  Putting some tabasco sauce into one’s existence. And doing so for the sake of everything: the glory of God, the love of life, pleasure in one’s family, the fullness of one’s days, and, especially, for what it can bring to one’s ministry.

Nothing can enliven a sermon like the pastor enjoying all of life.

My friend Don lives in the greater Washington, D.C. area. So, when Queen Elizabeth came to the city a few years back, Don and wife Audrey went to the trouble of driving downtown, fighting the crowds, standing for long periods, and waiting. They were rewarded with a photograph of the monarch with themselves in the background.

When I was a young pastor, the Museum of Art in New Orleans brought exhibits from King Tut from Egypt for a brief run.  My wife and I drove 300 miles with our young family to see it.  It cost time and money, we stood in a line a mile long, and it was well worth the trouble.

What value did Don’s seeing the Queen or my seeing Tut’s relics bring to our ministry?

I have no idea.

But they did a great deal of good, I promise you that.  But in immeasurable, non-quantifiable ways, ways seen only by God.

Few things deaden the message of God’s word more than a one-dimensional preacher who knows little more than the syntax of the Hebrew, the fate of the Jebusites, and the history of the Reformation.

Last night, while unable to sleep, I watched for the second or third time an old television production on the eminent scientist Richard Feynman, a one-hour program titled “The Challenger.”  (I would watch it again this minute if it were on.)

Now, help me shorten this article by pausing here to go to wikipedia and type in Richard P. Feynman.  Then, let me recommend a book. The introduction to this amazing Nobel-Prize winning scientist is titled “Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman.”  I have never known anyone who read the book who did not rave about it.  I gave it to my son Marty, he with the ever-inquisitive mind, some years ago. He calls it one of the best gifts ever.

No, Marty is not a scientist. He works with computers. And he thinks.  And that–thinking–is what this is all about.

Anyone who can help us think differently and better is a great friend.

Later, if you want a book of articles and “short works” by the man, get a copy of Feynman’s “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.”

Now, I have no clue about Feynman’s religious beliefs, and am perfectly satisfied with not knowing.  This is not about his astute observations on theology.  It’s about something else.

What I find fascinating and so instructive about this illustrious scientist, this world-class mathematician, this authentic genius, is that he played the bongo drums, took classes on art and became an accomplished sketch artist, and loved to tell stories.

He loved to laugh.  He loved life.

My kind of man!  My kind of human being.

When I went off to college in 1958, it was with the thought of becoming a scientist of one kind or other. Nothing changed my mind more than seeing how completely boring were the professors in the science department. We were all required to go to religious services, which often included a facsimile of Sunday School. One day, the teacher was the head of the science department.  He was learned, accomplished, highly academic, and mind-numbingly boring.

The man was one-dimensional. The only thing he seemed to know about was science.

Everything inside me screamed, “I do not want to be like that!”

The following summer, back on the farm and following the plow (which was hooked up to a mule), I began rethinking college.  The prospect of returning to school for more classes under that professor and his colleagues felt like a sentence of death. This was not right!

Then which classes, I asked myself, did you really enjoy?

Answer: History.

Pow. Enlightenment.  Yes.

That did it. During that first year of college, when Professor Mae Parrish walked into a classroom, Napoleon entered with her. Or Alexander the Great. Or Julius Caesar.

She was a delight and her lessons were captivating. History came alive. These people were real and the stories were pure gold.

I could not get enough.

Even as a 19-year-old, I was running from boring as fast as I could go.

Back to Feynman.  Everything inside me insists that the man’s bongo playing and people-sketching fueled his scientific thinking and enabled mathematical discoveries.  Fellow scientists would make crude jokes about him, remarking on the way he wasted time in the seedy music venues of the city or hanging out with this arty group or that strange collection of humans.  He was not like any scientist they ever knew.

All Richard Feynman did was see life and its complexities from a new perspective.  And that’s my point. So, inspired by this wonderful man, here are a few suggestions for those of us who preach God’s Word to congregations Sunday by Sunday by Sunday….

1) Read outside your field.  Browse the stacks at the public library. Take your time.

2) Figure out what music is “your” music–the kind you grew up on, the kind you listen to most often, and buy tickets to the next symphony or opera or pop concert that comes to your city.

3) Be your own Richard Feynman. Do not imitate him (or assume I’m suggesting it).  Be you.  Develop all your interests.

4) But do read Feynman and other fascinating people.  Do not box yourself into a corner by forcing yourself to answer the question, “What good will this do?”  You don’t know.  You may never know.  But give it a try.

5) Take a foreign language and then visit that country.

6) Encourage your wife to go with you to a Fred Astaire studio and take their cheapest, most basic lessons on ballroom dancing.

7) Volunteer to help at a homeless soup kitchen, then stick around and listen to the clients.  Don’t talk, just listen. If they aren’t talking, ask them questions and listen.

8) If you have a blog, get a friend to show you how to make it better. If you do not have one, ask that friend to help you start one.

9) Take a painting class.

10) Volunteer to become a substitute teacher.

11) Send an email to a foreign missionary and ask, “How can I pray for you today?”  Then, go online and read all you can about the country and locality where that servant of God is working.  Pray for them daily.

12) Spend an hour in the periodicals section of your public library looking at magazines you never heard of. Browse them in search of articles you find intriguing.  Get ready to stumble across buried treasure.

13) Pick the brain of the most successful five people in your church. Ask questions like What are the greatest lessons of leadership you have learned? What book influenced you most?  What was your greatest failure?  When you get home, write down all you can recall of their answers.

14) Attend a course on becoming a standup comic. As a preacher of the gospel, you are not interested in that career or even avocation, but they can teach you a great deal about connecting with the audience, thinking on your feet, and timing.

15) Sit in the food court of the mall and pray for the young parents you see, the oldest people in the area, and teenagers. Pray for God to become real to them, for their salvation, for their health and wisdom.  You will not know until you get to Heaven how God answered.

16) Get plenty of sleep at night and exercise in the day.

17) Let yourself laugh often. Encourage yourself to laugh.  At the supermarket checkout line, take a Reader’s Digest off the rack and read a couple of funny stories while you wait.

18) Talk to strangers.  Don’t overdo it, lest they suspect you are up to something. Be friendly.  Smile.

19) If you live in a small town, ask your mayor where you could profitably volunteer to make a difference in the community.  A pastor will get more sermon material in four hours spent at a neighborhood park than in two days of sifting through old sermon files.

20) When you get together with friends, work at asking questions and listening rather than out-talking them.  Everyone you meet can teach you something.  See how eager you are to learn it.

This is enough to get you started. Afterwards, you’ll think of 500 more ways.



3 thoughts on “Boredom: How to drive a stake through its heart forever

  1. Joe,
    I read this yesterday from Job: “In his self-sufficiency he will be in distress;” Job 20:22
    While it may have other applications I surely think it strikes at the intent of your article. Needing no outside help or input will bring you quickly to that place of emptiness or boredom. And from the pew it shows. Thanks for the article.

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