Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Schedules and commitments

When I was in Azerbaijan, we were told from the start that if we got one thing done in a day, that was a lot. It was hard to get stuff done. Grocery shopping required a long walk to the store, and an even longer walk home, bogged down with everything you bought. Laundry, (whether you washed it by hand and hung it on the line, or took it, via cab to a distant laundro-mat) could also eat up the greater part of a day. But you know what took the most time? The people.

On any given day that we had planned to meet with friends, the "date" always lasted the better part of the day. The Azeris didn't just meet for a quick lunch and then run on to another errand. They met for lunch and hung out until dinner. Sometimes they would take us to see some of the sites, or walk with us by the sea. But most of the time, we would just sit and talk. And talk. And talk. If they had somewhere to be, they just didn't go. Hanging out with folks seemed to be the priority.

In fact, we came up on quite a culture clash one day just before we were about to leave. Some girls wanted to get together with us again and phoned to ask if we could meet them. We had already arranged to meet someone else, so we had to decline. The hurt feelings that resulted were intense. They just could not understand why we didn't change our schedule to accomodate them. That's what they do... and Azeris are used to it. They don't show up somewhere and it's no big deal because they were with some friends.

Bill's (the same Bill who has never closed his door on our usually uninvited yet oft-appearing family) comment on my last post got me wondering about us Christian folk. It's stuff I have wondered before and it always makes me think of the Azeris. As Christians, how much priority should we give to schedules and commitments? Jesus was a relater. People were always more important than the what, where, and when of his "schedule." How many times have Christians (myself included) been guilty of letting "I gotta go (run some errand)" keep us from the simple but profoundly effective ministry of just being with someone (or even talking with them... or listening for that matter.)

The broader question is one of simplicity. How much do we really HAVE to do. Very little, as I learned in Azerbaijan. We got along just fine without accomplishing an entire to-do list every day. Granted, that was the culture. The fact that everyone lived that way made it a whole lot easier. And, maybe people went to greater lengths to be with us b/c we were Americans. I don't know. But I wonder if Christians need to borrow a page or two from the Azeri relationship handbook: the page about people being more important than accomplishment. If something doesn't have to get done, why do we let it get in the way of spending time with someone?

To what extent can these changes be made in our culture? And what, specifically, can a person do to pare down the time constraints that seem to bind us? I would like to hear from you.


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