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The Lights Are Still On

What We Can Learn from Tribes, Nature Walks, and a Second Look at the Church. (And a brief theology o
The Lights Are Still On
By Jeremy Linneman • Issue #10 • View online
What We Can Learn from Tribes, Nature Walks, and a Second Look at the Church. (And a brief theology of waiting.)

We can learn a lot about happiness, work, and community from the nomadic Kung tribe of the Kalahari Desert (South Africa).
According to a 1960’s study, described in Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe: On Belonging and Homecoming, the Kung’s way of life has remained unchanged for thousands of years. They work an average of 12 hours each week, mostly hunting and gathering and distributing foods, and everyone receives an equitable share. Because they work together in groups and share the resources, there’s no need to work longer days. Surplus accumulation—owning more possessions than can be carried at a time—is kept to a minimum, so there’s no significant gap between rich and poor and virtually no hunger.
A typical Kung tribe includes about 50 adults, all united by a shared history, lifestyle, and purpose. (When a tribe becomes too large for the members to adequately care and provide for each other, they will multiply into two or more tribes, and spread out across different desert regions.) There is little formal authority in each tribe, and because life is so communal, any member that tries to gain increased power or form alliances will be swiftly disciplined within the camp—or, rarely, removed from the tribe altogether.
They know who they are, what is expected of them, and why it’s important to preserve their history and way-of-life.
Our modern society struggles to understand the primitive ways of the Kung, but most of us see something appealing there. Indeed, many of our assumptions of happiness, well-being, and success are tested and found deficient in comparison to this tribal lifestyle.
We assume: Modern society, with its technological advances and conveniences, will offer increased leisure time. However: Our culture works long hours, and our leisure time is largely limited by time spent commuting to work, picking up kids, and grocery shopping.*
We assume: Modern society will offer us far more control over our lives. However: Our work often produces a desperate cycle of earning, obligation, debt, and more earning. Everyone has a boss, or two, or twelve. The Kung have far fewer belongings but far more control of their time, relationships, and work.
We assume: Modern society will remove barriers to our happiness and well-being. However: As Junger explains in Tribe, self-determination theory suggests that we need three basic things to be content: We need to (1) feel authentic in our lives, (2) feel connected to others, and (3) feel competent in our life’s work. These “intrinsic” values consistently correlate to increased happiness, whereas “extrinsic” values like beauty, money, and status rarely correlate to sustained happiness. Statistics on happiness and income level have shown that well-being increases as our basic needs (food, shelter, work) are met, but beyond that (about $40,000 for an individual or $70,000 for a family in the U.S.), happiness decreases.
Living in community makes us healthier, happier people.**
In the pursuit of the autonomous, individual self, modern society has often traded relationship, family, stability, and work-as-serving-the-common-good for accomplishment, accumulation, debt, mobility, and work-as-a-status-symbol.
We don’t all have to move to Namibia at once.
But, as believers, we are first and foremost citizens of the eternal Kingdom of Christ, and we can look critically on all human institutions, expecting to find some common grace and some utter brokenness.
The Lights Are Still On
Meanwhile, the American church can often look like a wasteland. I am wearied by FoxNewsChristianity, the latest megachurch scandal, and the evangelical twitter wars.
But I found a great reminder this week in an unlikely place.
I’ve been reading philosopher James KA Smith’s book on how Saint Augustine still speaks to us today, and he suggests we take another look at Christianity.
“I encourage a second look [at the church]. Let your eyes skate past the megachurch industrial complex and take note of the almost invisible church in your neighborhood that you’ve driven past a thousand times without noticing. Check on it some Tuesday night, and see if there aren’t lights on in the basement. Maybe the food pantry is open. Or the congregation is offering a financial or marriage class. It might just be the choir practicing.”
Like the Kung people, our little communities remind us who we are, why we do what we what we do, and why it still matters.
This is what GOOD SOIL is all about. Call us basic, old-fashioned, even outdated.
Whether your church is 5,000 or fifty, whether you’re a pastor or a teacher/nurse/lumberjack, whether you feel the wind is at your back and you’re gliding across the waters of life… or you’re pedaling uphill into a headwind:
Keep doing what Christians have been doing for 2,000 years. Keep planting the seeds, watering the soil, and pulling the weeds. Keep teaching, keep serving, keep singing.
Let the world speak of the decline of the church and the death of God many years ago. Let your eyes skate by loud, glamorous religiosity.
The lights are still on in the basement, and we’re doing just fine.
"Forest Bathing" and the Importance of Getting Outside
It’s cold outside, but you still need to get out there.
Forest bathing is the intentional act of spending several days in nature, with only basic supplies and without technology and demands. It has become a popular retreat from modern society and it’s being increased studied by psychologists and sociologists.
According to numerous studies at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, professional women and men given a three-day, two-night trip into the woods show immediate and significant health benefits.
The author of these studies summarized more than ten years of data this year, suggesting that forest bathing (1) increases immune system activity, including anti-cancer proteins, suggesting a preventive effect on cancers, (2) reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones, and improves the nervous system, and (3) reduces scores for anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion.
Get outside, folks!
Fidelity Sports: Ten Game Check-In
How am I feeling about the Chiefs?
After a 4-0 start, we sit at 6-4, and only a half-game in front of the lowly Raiders. Time to panic?
(A) Let’s not get carried away, and (B) let’s keep this in context.
Let’s not get carried away, because we have had a brutal stretch of games in the midst of the most injuries I can remember in decades. At one point on Sunday, we had only one starting offensive lineman in, along with our four backup lineman. If we lost any one of them, we’d be playing a tight end or defensive player on the line. We’ve missed starts from our QB, both RB’s, three WR’s, four OL’s, and numerous defensive players. According to ESPN’s FPI, we still have the best offense in the league by a significant margin and the second-best team overall. (Our defense is below-average, but only 11th worst.) So, I still think we win 5 of 6 final games, and at 11-5, we’ll either have the 3 or 4 seed in the playoffs. If we enter the playoffs healthy, we’ll likely have to win in Baltimore/Houston as well as in New England. So, not impossible, and that leads us to (B):
Let’s keep this in context. Because roughly 31 of 32 other teams would trade their entire franchises for ours in a heartbeat. Because we have Patrick Mahomes, the most gifted athlete in human history and possible descendent of David son of Jesse. Because it doesn’t even really matter that we win: What matters is that, at any given moment, even on 4th and 28, with twenty seconds left, and we’re down by 16 points, we still have a chance, and the other teams’ fans are on the edge of their couches praying to just hold on.
We might win 11 games and return to the AFC championship game. We might win nine and lose at home to Buffalo or something. Fine. But at least we’ll go out with 500 yards of passing, 35 points, six of Sportscenter’s Top Ten highlights, and the fear of God in opposing defenses. And that’s what matters, people.
Al least, that’s what I’m telling myself.
Benediction: The Righteous Are Made to Wait
The Psalms make at least a dozen references to waiting for the Lord:
Wait expectantly (5:3). Be strong and wait (27:14). Wait in hope (33:20). Be still and wait patiently (37:7). I waited and he turned to me (40:1). My whole being waits (130:5).
In the Scriptures, God’s ultimate punishment is giving people exactly what they want, when they want it (Romans 1). But the righteous are made to wait.
No doubt, somewhere in your life, you are waiting. Waiting for God to break through. Waiting for circumstances to improve. Waiting for a prayer to be answered.
Has God forgotten you? Quite the opposite. The righteous are made to wait.
Thanks for reading GOOD SOIL. See you again in two weeks.
JSL
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*Is Instacart the answer to the truly good life? It just may be.
**When you do something good for someone else—it’s called a prosocial act—our bodies release dopamine. Similarly, group cooperation triggers higher levels of oxytocin, which levels our hormones and increases our capacity for trust. Oxytocin creates a feedback loop of feeling good and group loyalty that leads to a healthy self-sacrifice for the sake of the others.  
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Jeremy Linneman

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