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Last week I deleted Facebook from my phone. It was a long time coming. I was tired – tired of the constant outrage, tired of the version of myself that wanted to be outraged, tired of viewing my life through the lens of virtual affirmation from people I haven’t spoken to in ten years, tired of the time I was wasting.
I was also partly motivated after reading David Zahl’s book Seculosity. Zahl is the director of Mockingbird Ministries, a project of publications, blogs, and conferences built on the “conviction that none of us ever move beyond our need to hear the basic good news of God’s grace. In particular, none of us ever fully escape the gravitational pull of personal control (and anxiety) when it comes to life and how we live it.”
Seculosity clearly arose from that conviction. The book is an articulation of humanity’s never-ending quest for control. Zahl begins with the claim that while capital-R religion appears to be on the decline, we as a society have never been more religious. He defines small-r religion as “that which we lean on to tell us we’re okay, that our lives matter, another name for all the ladders we spend our days climbing toward a dream of wholeness.” We desperately want to be enough – happy enough, successful enough, thin enough, wealthy enough, desired enough, good enough, loved enough – and we work ever so hard to prove to ourselves and each other that we are.
Zahl equates this enoughness with righteousness, the ability to feel good about ourselves, to self-justify. We have a righteous ideal, a benchmark in our minds and if we could just reach that benchmark, we would know we are okay. Everything we do is a step towards such enoughness. And so, Zahl claims, we’re never not in church. Our piety is simply pointed at the secular instead of the sacred. Zahl names this new (or perhaps very old) religious fervor “seculosity”: “religiosity that’s directed horizontally rather than vertically, at earthly rather than heavenly objects.” And, he says, speaking as one who is as pulled in by seculosity as the next person, our new religion is exhausting.
How does this play out? Each of nine chapters is devoted to a different corner of our life as it is informed by seculosity.
There’s the seculosity of busyness. “How are you?” “Oh, I’m so busy.” Code for, “I’m so valuable and important.” Built into the idea of seculosity is the premise of performancism, the belief that there is no difference between what we do and who we are. If you aren’t doing enough, you are not enough.
We try to find enoughness in our relationships, desperate to find that person who will complete us.
We do it with our kids, subscribing to parenting styles that convince us we’re doing it right, living vicariously through our children, pushing them into every extra-curricular activity imaginable so they can’t blame us for not giving them opportunities.
We find worth through technology – every “Like” a constant affirmation, every notification a distraction from the emptiness we feel, every tweet confirmation of the righteousness of our political position.
Then there’s work, where you’d better measure up or face the dreaded cardboard box.
I found the chapter on leisure time particularly interesting. With the constant presence of Pinterest, Instagram, DIY gurus, and self-help books, leisure time is in fact prime time for self-improvement. Instead of reading a book or watching TV or napping, you really ought to have one of those habit tracker journals so that in all your free time, you can learn another language, lose twenty pounds, cook your way through a Julia Child’s cookbook (while still losing twenty pounds), re-do the back garden, and teach your two-year old how to read. Having begun and not finished many a habit-tracker/bullet journal/fitness challenge/meal plan, this was where I most recognized my own desire for enoughness, and my own despair at not reaching each self-imposed benchmark.
Seculosity has crept into the church, too, says Zahl. Our testimonies are often enoughness-proving performances. “I once was lost but now am found” receives a round of applause and the warning, “now you’d better stay found.” And if, to simplify, evangelical churches push an individualistic moralism, mainline churches preach a gospel of social transformation. In both cases, what you do is an indication of who you are.
Zahl spends 183 pages laying out the myriad ways we try to justify ourselves, to prove our worth, prove our enoughness, and keep the nagging fear of failure at bay. He spends just seven pages on the solution. Which, I think, is rather brilliant. Because the solution is just that simple.
“Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
After we’ve exhausted ourselves chasing down our idea of enoughness, working tirelessly to prove to ourselves and the world that we have worth and value, God is waiting with open arms and an invitation to come and rest. Because all the work has been done. Through Christ we are enough. More than enough. We’re beloved.
Sometimes I worry my sermons all sound a bit one-tracked. I joke with my worship coordinator when I send him the sermon notes, “Well this one’s about grace again!” But when so much of life demands a performance, we need to hear the grace note over and over again. I need to hear the grace note over and over again. (Because, look, I want you to appreciate my ability to delete Facebook from my phone and what that clearly says about how emotionally and mentally healthy I am…but I haven’t actually deleted my Facebook profile and still pop in once or twice a day on my laptop and look immediately at the number of notifications.)
I need to hear the grace note.
“My yoke is easy, my burden is light.”
You are enough.