Moving to a Small Island

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Moving to a Small Island
(This column first appeared as an RNS syndicated column in September 2007).

I have moved to a small island, in part to pursue the un-frantic life.

For twenty years we’ve vacationed in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State. Each year for a few weeks we bask in the sunshine, pass the time away in the lazy pace of “island time” and rehumanize ourselves before heading back to our fast-paced cosmopolitan lives.

Yesterday we joined friends for coffee at the ferry landing as they bid Orcas Island farewell. Around us we could overhear mainlanders hatching dreams that would one day allow them to make this paradise home. They feel the draw of a smaller place (Orcas has a year around population of 4500), a slower pace and an unspoiled environment, where bald eagles are plentiful and pods of Orca whales make their home.

This year we are the envied ones. We are staying. Call it an experiment in rediscovering what it means to be fully human in a dehumanizing age.

For some time I’ve believed America’s spiritual impoverishment and human angst is directly related to today’s frantic pace, where completing our daily tasks is a higher priority than human interaction. As a result Americans are the most productive workers on the planet and according to many psychologists, we are also the least connected relationally.

A few years ago I heard an expert on CS Lewis describe the secret of Lewis’s productivity. He said: “Lewis style of spirituality was a rhythm of worship, work, reading, and leisure. This is an un-frantic response to God who is, as Lewis insisted, always a courteous Lord. Life-style is revealed by the use of time: what is given place and space; what is included and what, therefore, is excluded. What we see in Lewis is the steady place of his parish church; the quiet regularity of his Bible-reading and prayers; the natural large place for his main work of study and writing; the large blocks of time for leisurely conversations with special friends; and the importance of letter writing, especially with those who sought his help in the matter of Christian pilgrimage For all of his immense output of literary work, his life is marked by a spacious, un-frantic rhythm of worship, work, conversation, availability and intimacy.”

A lot of people ask me how to manage their way through the craziness of today’s popular culture–how to make discerning choices about film, TV, music and entertainment.

Nothing is more important than knowing what should be given place and space; what should be included and what, therefore, will be excluded.

I ask myself how much time and space CS Lewis would allocate for television or movies?

I ask myself which letter he wouldn’t have answered or which conversation with Tolkien would he have missed at their favorite hangout, the Eagle and Child Pub.

I ask myself which book wouldn’t have been written if Lewis had gotten hooked on 24 or American Idol or Survivor? Ooops there goes Mere Christianity¢â‚¬¦Ooops there goes Screwtape Letters¢â‚¬¦No time to write Lord, I’m watchin’ TV!

In today’s fast-paced world if you want to live an un-frantic life, you have to make some tough decisions about the use of your time. If you want more space for things that matter you have to make less space for media and entertainment.

You don’t have to move to an island to do this, but so far I am learning some interesting lessons.

Newspapers, books and electronic media are not absent on the island–this place has the highest per capita educational level of any county in Washington State, but media does seem to take a back seat to walking on the beach, sitting on the deck with a glass of wine, getting out the binoculars to get a closer look at the local wildlife out on their show.

Island people definitely aren’t in a hurry. They stop by to say hello. When our moving van unloaded we had literally dozens of drop in visitors. Virtually everyday I reach 5 pm having accomplished few of my goals, but also realizing that my people time has been ample and rich.

What if people aren’t interruptions in our day, but are the purpose of our day?

This seemed to be Jesus’ view. Most of what he accomplished involved people who stopped him while he was on his way somewhere else.

I’ve embarked on my year around island life with two primary questions: What will I learn about being fully human? How transferable is it to life on the mainland?

I’m embarking on a journey towards a more fully human life and so far the word “un-frantic” living and time for people seem to be recurring themes.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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