Romans 12: Patterns

Last week, we talked about renewal of the mind, the importance of “looking into the interests of others,” and being of the same mind as Christ Jesus.

Previously, we saw how Paul warned his readers that they were already in the process of being squeezed into the patterns of this world and admonished them to “stop it!”  Rather they should be squeezed into the pattern of the Kingdom of God.  That pattern is in conflict with the patterns of the world, and Paul warns them that it will take a lot of persistent and difficult work.  Paul is talking specifically about the way they treated and valued (or devalued) each other.  That’s vitally important for those wanting to live faithfully to the kingdom.  We are shaped in ways we are often unaware of.

Today, we are going to dig a bit deeper into patterns, how our lives are formed by them, and some of the disruption that can happen when they change. Too often we think that being squeezed into patterns is an unusual thing or something unique or even special.  Actually, it’s a lot more common than you might think. The ability to develop patterns is really important to all of us.

Think about what it is like to learn something new.  At first you have to practice it over and over.  While you are learning, it is hard, confusing, and complicated.  It often takes intense concentration and a lot of work.  But, once you have learned the task it takes much less effort, it seems much simpler, less complicated, and others watching you do it say that you make it look easy.  The very act of learning is a process of becoming patterned, of being squeezed into a new shape.

Let me illustrate, think about when you learned to drive a car.  When you first got in the car you had to check the rear-view mirror, the side mirrors, and the seats.  You very deliberately looked in front of you and behind you.  You learned to turn the key just enough to engage the starter but not so much as to grind it.  You put just the right amount of pressure on the accelerator to start the car but not to rev the engine too high. Learning to use the brakes, the turn signals, looking before you change lanes, all of this has to be mastered.  There are a thousand things involved, and it can all be a bit overwhelming at first.  If you have taught someone to drive recently you are aware just how complicated driving is, and how hard it is to be patient with someone when it is so easy for us.

You don’t have to think much about driving once you’ve done it for a while.  You do all these things automatically, habits developed over your years of driving.  Driving becomes easy, almost second nature, and the car becomes a space where you can do lots of other things too, which of course is why there are “distracted driver” laws which detail what you can’t do while driving.  The ability to learn behaviors like this is a gift that allows us to do more things than we could do otherwise.  Imagine if you had to concentrate on driving as much now as when you were learning.

Next week, we will explore cultural conditions and talk about why patterns of behavior might be good in one context and not in another.

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