I have been told that the Greek word “proskartero” translated as devoted in Acts 2:42 and repeated in 2:46 refers to a fairly strong and ongoing commitment. Various Greek lexicons (Thayer, Friberg, Liddell-Scott) indicate meanings such as: be steadfastly attentive, give unremitting care to a thing; occupy oneself diligently with, pay persistent attention to, be devoted to; hold fast to, cling to, persevere in; to persist obstinately in. From such definitions we get the idea of a staunch dogged resolute commitment and an almost stubborn persistence. Do we observe this kind of devotion in our parishes or are there other things in our corporate experience that commonly gain this kind of devotion?
I heard one preacher unpack the implications of such commitment by comparing it to the behaviour of addicts. After Pentecost those early followers of the way of the resurrected Jesus behaved as if they were addicted to “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. What it is that we behave as if we were addicted to? What is it that motivates such unwavering devotion?
Of course addictions are defined as undesirable dependencies whereas Luke seems to be reporting totally praiseworthy and practical commitments that included “having the goodwill of all the people.” Is such religious devotion today more apt to gain goodwill or distain? Is this kind of devotion still appropriate in parish life today, or are we afraid that it verges on undesirable fundamentalism?
Luke’s account, as fresh as it seems, may have been already looking back 30 or more years to those heady first months and years of the growing church. Commentators often suggest that it is not necessarily appropriate or realistic in our day and age and culture to attempt to replicate this idealized portrait of the early church. But I wonder, if not, then what? I am not arguing that these particular experiences of the early church are necessarily a full and exact prescription for church life today. But I do wonder if pessimism about having the same kind of experiences in our churches is based not as much on any intrinsic impracticality in our present contexts, as it is on simply our lack of the same kind of steadfast devotion to the same things that they valued?
If we look today for the kind of devotion the early Christians had to the apostles’ teaching etc. are we more apt to find such persistent attention focused on consumer goods, the latest “apps”, and the latest entertainment, sports or “news”? It doesn’t bother me that there is enthusiasm in my community for various sports and entertainments, for recreation and business endeavours. But it does seem at bit odd that, in comparison, our enthusiasm for the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers, often seems more like a pale, occasional and vague preference rather than a robust ideal to be pursued with at least as much daily attention as we pay to assorted trivia on social media.
Just as I was mulling over the parallels between devotion and addiction I came across a book review in Planet S (Saskatoon’s City Magazine) for Trevor Herriot’s new book: The Road is How: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire and Soul (HarperCollins). Reviewer Stephen LaRose quotes Herriot: “Because we’ve become attached to things that the oil industry supplies and the economy it produces, in our addictiveness, [we should all be] worried. Where is this going to go?” (One of Harriot’s earlier books: Jacob’s Wound struggles with the relationship of biblical and environmental spirituality.)
In my college days I had a classmate who escaped the drug scene in Toronto. He credited moving to a small campus on the prairies, away from the big city, with saving his life. In those days “speed” (meth-amphetamine) was a drug of popular choice and life expectancy after beginning regular use was about 2 years; thus the saying “Speed Kills”. The symptoms of my friend’s addiction were not limited to only weighing 135 pounds (62 kg) although he was over 6 feet tall. He managed to quit the physical drug “cold turkey” but the profound social and psychological effect of spending time in the “drug scene” was his habit of turning every conversation and occasion into something related to drug-use jargon or to the experiences of shooting-up or being “high”. It took many months for the daily habit of looking for and talking about his next “fix” to subside. When I met him years later I rejoiced to find that he was happily involved in international relief work.
It seems our devotion/addiction to consumerism is one we are unlikely to beat “cold turkey”. Our daily lives are just too enmeshed in the system. Whether or not we are personally devoted/addicted to the avails of industrialized consumerism, by virtue of our place in the society we are bound to act as if we were. But are we at least willing to reflect on which “fix” really fixes us?
If devotion means we act as if we are addicted, doesn’t it make sense to at least also be devoted to things that are life giving to ourselves and our planet? What are the ways we might transfer our habitual daily devotion (our daily fix) to the values of the kingdom expressed in teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers? Where will you get your next fix?