Friday, August 18, 2017

Human Doing or Human Being?

An eastern philosopher when describing western society said that we are human doings rather than human beings. What did he mean?

Our culture is constantly on the go. We define ourselves more by what we do than by who we are. We become fixated on action, activity, doing. We become obsessed on our role in life, whether it’s being a teacher, a preacher, a farmer, or “only a housewife.” We become so focused on outward activity, that we forget who we are in the very core of our beings. We try to be something other than who or what we really are in order to fit into the mold that our culture tells us to be. Our inner selves get out of whack from our outer demands. We become fragmented, fractured, and sometimes to the extreme, schizophrenic.

Sit in silence along the lake and contemplate nature
The only way to bring balance back is to pay attention to the inner self, the Spirit of God in us, our souls, if you please, the image of God in which we have been made. And the only way we can come in touch with this inner self is to spend time in rest and solitude. “In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15).

Our culture has an aversion to silence and rest. It provides us with many distractions.

How we become human doings:
1.     Busyness. Many of us avoid facing our true selves by becoming busy. We think that we can avoid facing what we don’t want to know about ourselves by staying busy. We think that by doing more things we will become more important in the eyes of others. But will we become more important in the eyes of God?
2.     Noise. Noise comes in all forms. Too many of us turn on the radio or TV, or some other noise as soon as we get into a car, enter our office or our homes. We can’t stand the silence. We are afraid of what the silence might show us.

Our excuse for rest is to “Veg out” and to plop in front of the TV or computer and be distracted by the mindless babble that flows out of the programming. It is constant noise, and it is the noise of our culture’s values, not the voice of God.

3.     Boredom. When our children are bored, we rent them a movie, turn on the TV or electronic device, and they turn into immediate automatons, and they are out of our hair. What if we would let them wallow in their boredom? More often than not, out of the boredom comes an idea, and a spark of the imagination, and they are off into their own little world. It is no coincidence that image and imagination are related. By using our imagination we discover the image of God in which we are made.

Even as adults, we should let our “vegging out” time take our minds into the world of our imagination instead of letting the purveyors of sleaze control our imaginations.

4.     Experiences. We tend to live on the surface, going from one new experience to another, much like we surf the channels on TV, never getting into the show completely, but always looking for a more exciting, more engaging show or experience that may just be on the next channel.

This “experience surfing” is a reality for most post moderns. Too often we are more interested in listing the countries or states we’ve visited than learning anything about the culture and people who are in the area. Our exciting experiences are recorded on social media punctuated with our spectacular pictures.

Many tend to experience church and religious life the same way. You hear people who leave a certain church say that they “just weren’t being fed.” This generally is more a commentary on the eater rather than on the feeder. What they mean is that they want a “better,” or a “newer” experience.

The church, too often in trying to meet this consumer demand thinks that it needs to make its worship more contemporary with louder music, dancing down the aisles, high-tech PowerPoint presentations. But there will always be a church down the road that will have a newer charismatic leader, a jazzier praise band and offer a better worship experience. Se we channel surf to the next place of worship.

5.     Drugs. A way that our culture deals with the fragmentation that we feel between our inner selves and the demands of our “human doing” culture, is to turn to mind and body altering drugs.

I find it easy to understand why so many young people turn to drugs. They see no difference between the new experience of altering their mood with drugs and their parents taking drugs to induce sleep, to have sex, to suppress their appetites, and to control every malfunctioning body part. Drug advertising is everywhere—drugs will fix everything, even the huge void in our souls??

Food is also a big drug in our society. Do we live to eat, or do we eat to live? I think it is no coincidence that our “human doing” culture has an epidemic of obesity while the “human being” cultures of the East do not. If not with drugs, we turn to food for the comfort we need to fill that fragmentation we feel between our outer and inner selves.

How to become human beings:
1.     Spiritual Disciplines. Because of the hunger for balance between the inner self and the demands of our superficial “human doing” culture, many people are turning to eastern religions. Many of us forget that Christianity is an Eastern religion as well. Before the Enlightenment and the crowning of science as more important than religion, Christians practiced most of the spiritual disciplines that Eastern religions offer. These disciplines help to keep the balance between the demands of the inner and the outer worlds. They help us to become human beings rather than human doings.

In our book The Spacious Heart, my sister and I outline many of the spiritual disciplines that have been practiced over the centuries by Christians, in this space I will mention a few that will help us bring some balance to our lives.

2.     Solitude. I already quoted the Isaiah passage, “In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” By letting our minds run in solitude and rest we can get in touch with our inner self.

3.     Prayer and Meditation. You might take a favorite Bible verse along with you on a walk, or a favorite song. Or using your imagination, you might walk along the banks of the sea with Jesus and have a conversation with him.

4.     Fasting. Takes the focus away from food and on to more important matters.

5.     Retreats. What we call retreats are often filled with activity— “doing.” How many of us plan a retreat to just be!? Alone in the woods with our thoughts, our imaginations, our journals?

The spiritual disciplines have traditionally been the way Christians have come closer to God and closer to themselves--until the twentieth Century. They are a means to turn our tendency to be “human doings,” stressed and burned out, into “human beings.”

If we are really interested in meeting the needs of our church, and others around us, we need to address this spiritual gap between the inner and outer worlds to make a difference. This is what people are hungry for. The rest is just part of the larger noise of our culture.


  1. Well said, Don. But I find a kind of odd paradox in that learning how to "be" also involves learning how to "be in the moment" which often has something to do with "doing". Granted, it's a kind of catch phrase these days, but I suppose the point is that becoming more aware of our inner self also enables connections between that self and the external world of experience.

    1. Thanks for your comments, John. Being always has a sense of doing, in the our bodily functions need to continue on, no matter how still we are. Yet, even those functions slow down in meditation, and improve our stress, blood pressure, and all the other things that cause burnout. Yes, becoming aware is a catch phrase, but also very important in knowing God rather than just believing in God.