The Borderland of Dabbling

As a self proclaimed dabbler I must admit, or perhaps confess, that my personal interests — hobbies, creative outlets, and general recreation and entertainment– sometimes consume me. When this happens, and I realize that it has happened (again), I feel a sense of guilt, especially as I look up from whatever I’m currently dabbling in to see my family all around me, in the same room even, though previously miles from my consciousness.

I have my theories as to why this is a particular struggle for me, but what’s more is that I’ve noticed that it’s not just me who’s fighting to keep interests and entertainment from devouring moments and memories, but that people all across the country (western world? world?) seem to be wrestling with the same dilemma. It doesn’t matter if it’s photography or some video game on your phone, it seems that something’s wrong with our ability to prioritize what’s important in life. We know what’s important, yet it escapes us, leaving Paul’s (Romans 7:15) sentiment ringing true in our hearts: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want (spend time with my wife and kids), but I do the very thing I hate (staring into my iPhone reading my Facebook feed that hasn’t changed and isn’t all that interesting).”

The folks ahead of me in line for a gray haired crown of glory (Proverb 16:31) like to suggest that the problem is part and parcel to those they call “kids these days,” regardless of whether or not the particular kids in question are fifty, thirty, or tweens. The suggestion is that the problem is generational. I don’t think so. Grandmas are just as consumed by social media games as are their teenage grand kids. Some twenty-somethings stay up till 2 a.m. (until the bars close) amusing themselves with spirits all the while thirty-somethings stay up till the same wee hours of the morning programing apps, writing blog posts, or increasing their Photoshop skills. A baby boomer can be just as consumed by restoring his hot-rod as his daughter can be trying to launch a successful Etsy shop to sell her hand-knitted hipster hats.

From where I sit, the epidemic seems to stretch beyond “kids these days,” unless  of course we recognize that everyone is somebody’s kid.  It affects us all. It’s a cultural thing. And the thing has a name: sin. The reason I feel a sense of guilt when I look up from dabbling and notice that I’ve been ignoring my family is because it’s wrong. It’s a sin. To be quite frank, I believe this particular type of trespass is the result of devaluing Christ and His Church, not only in our culture, but also in our own personal lives — the two, obviously going hand-in-hand.

Photo May 20, 4 52 36 PMThis topic was brought to my attention recently while I was reading a little book by a dead theologian. The dead ones are always the best! In 1941, Theodore Graebner wrote The Borderland of Right and Wrong, a book discussing adiaphora (that which God neither commands nor forbids). In this book he addresses this issue of misusing our past-times and being consumed by our hobbies and forms of recreation. He observes that,

“any occupation entertainment, amusement, or diversion that causes us to give a disproportionate amount of time to its enjoyment or that absorbs our interest to such an extent that the weightier matters of life are neglected, no longer should be considered morally indifferent. Even playing golf may become sinful [or supporting your favorite sports team]… anything immoderate, extreme, excessive, is contrary to the spiritual principle that should govern the Christian life. Excessive indulgences in food, utter absorption in the care of the body, even devotion to scientific study or art, has so controlled the lives of those once dedicated to Christ and His kingdom that their Christianity has remained but an empty shell.”

No, it’s not a sin to be interested in restoring old cars, but when that hobby takes over a guy’s life, that’s exactly what it becomes. Hobbies are great and indeed beneficial, helping us relax while finding joy and pleasure in a fallen world. The problem is when what is meant to be a past time takes up all our time.

Graebner continues,

“things that are harmless, even good, yes, according to Romans 14 may be done to the glory of God, will no longer be indifferent but become definitely sinful when they take the place of spiritual things and crowd religion out of the heart of professed Christians.”

In other words, if we’re fixated on our hobbies and recreational interests to the point that we’re missing moments and memories with family and friends who are all around us, when will we have time for Christ? (1 John 4:20 comes to mind)

We live in a culture that has crowded religion out of its heart. More and more people have less and less time for Christ. And part of that time-crisis is our not being able to prioritize what’s important. Our dead theologian has an interesting question that the Christian will find helpful to ensure Christ (and all our loved ones) isn’t pushed aside. He asks, “What is sound recreation?” And he answers,

“This question we may answer by finding the answer to another: What does it contribute to my life? Does it build up body and mind? Does it injure others that we may have pleasure? Does it brutalize passion or sublimate it? What is its effect with reference to the use of time? the use of money? the building of home-life? the aid towards self-control? the sublimation of sex ideals? the regard for the world’s opinion of church people?”

These are great questions that I think Christians living in our current cultural climate, people of faith caught up in the world’s practice of amusing ourselves to death, would do well to ask ourselves because we tend to have what Graebner describes as a “blind spot when confronted with such practical questions as personal freedom in the use of the gifts of nature, the satisfaction of… appetites,… indulgences in hobbies, [and]… subserviency to acquired habits.”

Asking these questions, and answering them honestly, will enable us to recognize our blind spots, which will give us a better perspective of our place in life in relation to others, allowing us to use our time for the benefit of those around us not despite them. In short, answering these questions enables a dabbler to dabble properly, unconsumed by guillt while enjoying and serving those who are in his life. It places leisure activity and recreation in its rightful place and in its right measure. It allows entertainment to be part of our lives’ moments and memories, a way to enrich our existence rather than miss it.



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