Awakening the Quieter Virtues By Gregory Spencer

Name of the book: Awakening the Quieter Virtues
Author: Gregory Spencer
Place of Publication: Downers Grove
Publisher: IVP Books
Year of publication: 2010

Gregory Spencer’s, “Awakening the Quieter Virtues,” is a prophetic call for contemporary church that is battling the inner enemies of lethargy, negligence, shallowness and worldliness. In the noisy world quieter virtues are the need of the hour. The quieter virtues for Spencer are: discernment, innocence, authenticity, modesty, reverence, contentment and generosity.
On any given day, people sing for our attention, money and we get fed up. Then we go into our caves, unplug all, turn high the volume and then think the world is alright. Physical noise, cultural noise and emotional noise overwhelms us. With modern media, we live in an image-saturated world, a world that shouts at us visually. Media provides unsolicited advice for people to stay beautiful, rich, young and famous. The culture has institutionalized self-serving moral system which longs for fun and extreme fun; taught that fast is better which sees computers and microwaves as slow paced performers. The culture of the day has influenced the church as Spencer states: “If our church services are any measure of our desires, we seem to prefer a God of wind and earthquake and fire to a God of quiet presence. We want a showy, special-effects deity, a God at least as flashy as our culture. Otherwise, we’re bored.”
Overwhelmed by too many choices, our responses become subjective and emotional stating, ‘I feel”. People watch and often do not learn or critique which discourages discernment. Also we harden ourselves to messages that we lose sensitivity important issues. “Discernment involves disciplining ourselves toward more life-nurturing choices.” The whole culture has Restless Fly Disorder – buzz constantly but never land.
Hollywood is slaughtering the virtue of innocence. Like Herod murdering infants in the time of Jesus birth, Hollywood is murdering the innocence of our children and parents have given up without any resistance. “So, as a virtue, innocence is related to maintaining ‘permissible’ behaviours that lead to freedom and staying away from ‘criminal’ – ones that imprison us.” Innocence binds up evil, a task sometimes as simple as saying no. At other times, restricting evil is as complex. Experience is a worst teacher as it gives test first and lessons later. Innocence is the virtue that helps us to learn about evil by observation rather than experience.
Authenticity is another quieter virtue. Lord Jesus was challenged by Satan ‘to abuse his power, deny his spiritual loyalties and reduce God to a carnival trick.’ Answering machines state that our call is important but make us wait for twenty minutes hearing a repeated message. We watch reality show that demonstrates we long for reality, even fake reality. In consumer culture we are expected to imitate others. Lord Jesus showed his emotional state to his disciples in Gethsemane. “In Jesus’ vision of faithful life, the inside and the outside both matter. As disciples, we are called to be consistent, to have our ‘outside’ good actions come from corresponding ‘inside’ motivations.”
Our culture says: Just follow you heart? However, as disciples we have to follow Jesus. We are conformist in practice like all wearing jeans, but nonconformist in principles. On the contrary we should be personally flexible but morally predicable.

The author writes about ‘Gospel of Sight’: In image saturated culture, seeing is the measure of things – so our image is the most important – being young, beautiful, fit and slim. This gospel teaches us that our attractiveness determines our future. Journalist Kiku Adatto says – in a media conscious environment, authenticity means being master of your own artificiality. The author sums it up well in this statement: “A video phone call loses touch. A regular phone call loses sight. Voicemail loses hearing. E-mail and testing lose tone of voice. For all its benefits, e-mail’s implicit bluntness has been the cause of untold confusion and conflict. Real presence understands that we are sensory creature. The likelihood of misunderstanding grows exponentially with each sense lost.”

Modesty is missing in the ‘look at me’ culture. David was immodest to commit adultery, using his power that sprang from his overstated self-importance. Looking sexy is the goal of the secular doctrine. One person signed as ‘nobody’ thereby ‘immodestly drawing attention to his humility’. Indulgence of freedom could justify wastefulness as the Prodigal son did. The problem is not the freedom but our practice of it. Unchecked pride is manifest when we glorify the influence of a Christian athlete or politician. “Modesty is gladly tempering the expression of our fullness with an understanding of our emptiness.” People have a tendency to put themselves in the centre when they are not even center of their nation or city or community or even their own family. The author lists the continuum: Self loathing (I hate myself); Self – pity (Woe is me); Self depreciation ( I’m such a jerk); Self meekness (I’m nothing); Self praise (I’m terrific); Self-worship (Adore me). Christians should come out of the continuum. Motives (Heart), speech (Tongue), appearance and touch is the body of modesty. Our modesty is evaluated by our response to criticisms. Many Christians have Messiah Complex.

Today’s society is overly tolerant of sexual activity and therefore sexually oppressed. It has so eroticized human contact that we tend to see all touch as sexual, a stance that actually results in less physical affection. Unfortunately we have sexualized touch. “Perhaps we have sexualized touch because we touch so little. As communication with phones and computers increases, direct human contact decreases – yet we suffer from this loss of touch. Perhaps this explains the physical metaphors we use for technology. In e-mails, we say, ‘Saty in touch.’ Phone companies say, ‘make connections.’ Movie reviews say, ‘Feel the heat.’ Because we touch each other less, we pretend that not touching is, in fact, touching.”
Contemporary worship is like a show. Moses removing shoes is symbolic of exposing vulnerabilities. Reverence combines both: kneeling before the sacred and standing up to the profane. “Good fear can put bad fear in its place. If we worship the gods of acceptance, popularity and success, we will overly fear rejection, loneliness and failure. If we revere God more, we will fear these lesser gods less. Whom do we most fear to disappoint?” Shamelessness makes a person a moral leper as he becomes insensitive to warning system. Reverent awe is inspired wonder, gratitude for his generosity. This awe is diminished by mindless repetition. “We increase our appreciation for the ordinary when we imagine it being lost.” According to St. Augustine, only God could be loved for God’s sake. When we love someone for their sake, we become possessive.
It’s hard to be content in our times. “Advertising culture seems to be committed to our discontentment.” All our struggles with contentment come down to this one word: if. Frederick Buechner calls lust ‘the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.’ Coveting comes from heart and there is not use in blaming the advertisements. All of must contend with our own totalitarian impulse, as our little dictator want to rule their own community. Discontentment springs from our mindset of micro-management of our circumstances. “The attraction of the idol is that the worshiper gets to be in charge.” Now there are new idols: “We don’t bow to golden calves anymore; we bow to glowing ‘stars,’ graven images of celebrities and physical perfection. We idolize romance, respect and idyllic vacations on tropical islands. We fantasize about these things, making ourselves ‘win’ in each situation. Sometimes this means worshipping at their respective altars.” Whining and worry are the symptoms of discontentment. “Contentment is the strength hope gives us to pursue the unsatisfied life in a satisfying way.” Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: “Many of our disappointments would not exist if we acted as if we believed one phrase, “Life is difficult.” Henri Nouwen: Hope frees us from the need to predict the future. Surrendering to God’s will provides contentment. We have to learn to reframe. Standing in long queue could be an opportunity to relax.

Generosity is symbolized in an open palm as against the clenched fist – that holds things, suited to fight, unable to receive anything. Praising others is generosity of words. Generosity is more like a river that flows than a lake that is stagnant. A generous heart knows ‘that holding too tightly changes us; it turns us into clinging creatures, weaker, more deprived, bound by chains to things, less able to travel lightly, the way good pilgrim-disciples do. “Greed believes that ‘getting stuff’ will accomplish what only God can accomplish, that is, satisfy the deepest longings of a wounded heart.” By God’s grace we must not just become people who act generously but who are generous people. Generosity is not just tithe, though money is a test for all aspects of generosity. “We can be miserly with our praise, stingy with our time and tight-fisted with our forgiveness.” Emotional generosity – rejoice with those rejoice. “If efficiency becomes a dictator instead of a servant, generosity is usually oppressed.” Stinginess should not be confused with frugality. For frugality is a part of the technique of generosity.
This book is a must for all Christians. It could be used in bible study groups, church retreats, youth camps and personal edification.

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