Faithful Presence Amid "Continuous Partial Attention," Part 2

In last week's post, we briefly discussed James Davison Hunter's observation (from his book To Change the World) that our increasingly omnipresent "fragmentation of consciousness" poses significant challenges to foster a distinctly Christian faithful presence in our modern world, as it "cultivates a kind of absence in the experience of 'being elsewhere'".

If Hunter's assessment is correct, what (if anything) should we do? How will we resist the seemingly relentless dilemma of "being elsewhere" with all our distractions, electronic gadgetry, entertainment, social media, etc. while living in and attending to the "here and now"? Hunter is clear: "Faithful presence resists such conditions and the frame of mind it cultivates."

So where to begin? Hunter states the obvious (which often elude us) in three P's: the priority of place and people:

…faithful presence calls believers to yield their will to God and to nurture and cultivate the world where God has placed them;

…a theology of faithful presence first calls Christians to attend to the people and places that they experience directly.

How will a faithful presence with priority on place and people look for the Christian? Negatively stated, "It is not that believers should be disconnected from, or avoid responsibility for, people and places across the globe. Far from it." Hunter's solution is refreshingly simple yet challenging:

[A faithful presence gives] priority to what is right in front of us—the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people of which these are constituted. For most, this will mean a preference for stability, locality, and particularity of place and its needs. It is here, through the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, concerns, desires, and worries that people with whom we are in long-term and close relation—family, neighbors, coworkers, and community—where we find our authenticity as a body and as believers. It is here where we learn forgiveness and humility, practice kindness, hospitality, and charity, grow in patience and wisdom, and become clothed in compassion, gentleness, and joy. This is the crucible within which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context within which shalom is enacted.

Three questions worth serious consideration:

  1. Do you agree with Hunter's emphasis on cultivating a faithful presence placing priority on place and people? Why or why not?
  2. If so, with which people and place will you cultivate a faithful presence?
  3. How will you, in your given context, begin faithfully attending to this people and place, avoiding "fragmentation of consciousness" or "continuous partial attention"?

(All quotes from To Change the World, pp. 252-253, emphasis mine)

Michael Johnson is a Resource Consultant at Desiring God.