Home Page

Archive for October, 2015|Monthly archive page

Man was not made for Time, but time for man?

In Christ and Culture, Time, Worldview on October 23, 2015 at 9:04 pm

Understanding Worldview (2)

Time is moneyWhat can you spend, save and waste?

I asked my students this question and the answer is about 50/50–money and time. You’d expect people to say money, because that’s the right answer.  In what way is time anything like money?   They are not alike at all, but we use exactly the same verbs to describe what we do with them.  You don’t spin a banana, or peal a yarn. You don’t run with petunias and plant scissors.  Yet some how we’ve managed to manage time as if it were something like money.

Richard Lewis explains in “How Different Cultures Understand Time“:

For an American, time is truly money. In a profit-oriented society, time is a precious, even scarce, commodity. It flows fast, like a mountain river in the spring, and if you want to benefit from its passing, you have to move fast with it. Americans are people of action; they cannot bear to be idle.

This view of time is by no means universal.  At a social gathering a few years ago, a Cameroonian man said to my wife , “You people . . . ” (By this he, of course, meant you Americans.) “You people have such a strange way of thinking about time. You think of it as something you can grasp, something you can hold in your hand.”

For North Americans and most northern Europeans, time is linear.  It’s a line, a time line, with evenly spaced hash marks designating the minutes and hours, days and years. This line extends into both the past and the future and in the middle is a point called the present. The line of time continuously slides at a constant speed through the present from right to left. On the future side of the present we affix plans and promises–commitments to others and to ourselves as to what we will do by particular points on the time line.   In our culture, we focus a lot on the future–in both hope and fear.

I can’t pretend to know anything firsthand about what is called “Africa time,” but one of the pastors at my church was born and raised in Kenya.  He tells me that in Africa people aren’t governed by the clock, rather they take the view that “things will happen when they happen.”  I told him via email that I would give him a call at about 3:00–I called him at exactly 3:00.  In Africa, he says, “In Africa, I would be crazy to expect the call at 3:00, because 3:00 really means ‘sometime in the afternoon,'” and it is not a surprise if the call didn’t come in at all.  That’s OK, because “tomorrow is another day.”

Why this seemingly irresponsible for keeping appointments and living up to agreements?

It’s all about relationships.  In African culture almost everything is about relationships.  My pastor explained, “If I were on my way somewhere and I encountered my friend Trent, I would stop and have a conversation.”   A present conversation is too important to cut off before it’s naturally concluded–until then, there is not other place to be.  African time bends and stretches according to the present relational needs. It matters not what a clock might say.  Africa is a big continent and it’s got many different cultural groups, so generalizations are dangerous, but there is apparently some commonality in how time is conceived–and not only in Africa,  but in Latin America as well.

Looking at it another way, in our culture we consider an event to be a component of time whereas other cultures often consider time to be a component of the event.

Interestingly, in our culture we suffer from boredom, if we have too much time, and stress, if we have too little.  I asked my friend if, in the absence of mechanical time, if Africans experience boredom and stress.  He said that an African person will be bored if they are alone, and experience stress when there is a brokenness in their community.  Again, it comes down to the primacy of relationships.

I’m not sure if the African conception of time is morally superior to mechanical time, but I think, with its focus on relationships, that it might be.  But we have to admit that there are also many advantages to our Western notion of time; I love the timeliness by which German trains operate.

My point is that when it comes to conceptions of time, whether Christian or not, residents of Northern Europe and North America have a “secular” view of time. We should, therefore, be hesitant to claim that we have a “Christian” or a “Biblical” worldview–because in our understanding of time, we do not.  We have a pretty “secular” worldview.

Understanding Worldview

In Time, Worldview on October 12, 2015 at 6:59 pm

IceburgTwo books changed everything for me. In the late 80s I read A Transforming Vision by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton and Leslie Newbigin’s Foolishness to the Greeks. These books opened up to me the idea that my thinking wasn’t free; I looked at the world through glasses tinted by cultural context–a lot more than tinted, it turns out. Ever since I have tried to understand my culture and the lenses through which I viewed the world.

In Christian Education circles we talked a lot about worldview and how to integrate worldview conversations into the curriculum and these conversations continue (some even wondering if worldview education is misguided).

Use of the term worldview has since gone way beyond Christian educators. Now I regularly hear Christians talking about “Christian,” “Biblical” and “Secular” worldviews, but, clearly, the speakers haven’t read any of the books on the subject. Seriously limited understanding of worldview concepts are proclaimed in podcasts and from pulpits, and found in blogs and in books.

These well-meaning Christians often reduce the idea of a “Christian worldview” to some moral ethic. For many, to have a Christian worldview means to practice abstinence until in a heterosexual marriage and, then, to not get an abortion. For others the ethic is more social–to help the homeless, the refugee or the at-risk teen; to bring water, food and medicine to the world’s poor. Some reduce Christian worldview to purchasing decisions–they have a hybrid car and eat free-range chickens. These may be the external manifestations of having a Christian worldview, but they do not the worldview make.

There are two problems with reducing worldview to ethic. First, we think we are done when we haven’t really started. If all I need to do to have a truly Christian worldview is abstain from sex outside of heterosexual marriage–I’m done, nothing else to do except perhaps look askance at those who have a “secular worldview.”

The second problem with reducing worldview to ethic is that it creates an artificial line between us and our neighbours. Simplified understanding of the terms “Christian” and “Secular worldview” create “Us” and “Them” categories. This is inappropriate because “they” aren’t all that different from “us.”

OK, I hear you. We are different. Most importantly, we believe that Jesus was the son of God and that he died to conquer death on our behalf. There’s more, and it depends a little on what brand of Christian you are, but our views may differ from the dominant culture on issues like abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage. Some of what we do is different: we pray and attend Bible studies. Perhaps we watch different movies, or avoid certain TV shows. We’d like to think we are more faithful to our marriages, that we give more to charitable causes, and that we swear less.

I don’t mean to de-mean these important differences (especially the ones I agree with) but these are only the beginning of what has been called a “Christian (or a Biblical) Worldview.” Deep down we are not so different–the so-called “secular” worldview is comes right out of the Christian past, and Christianity, in the West, has been profoundly influenced by secular thinking. Consequently, a North American Christian has a lot more in common with her secular neighbour than she does with a Christian living in, say, Cameroon. It’s important that we stop using the term “worldview” in order to separate ourselves from others in ways that we are not separate. Worldview goes way beyond what we do on Sunday morning and what we don’t do on Saturday night.

You Gotta Read War and Peace!

In Books, Movies and Television on October 4, 2015 at 5:37 pm

I just finished reading War and Peace. I knew it was long, but I didn’t know it was awesome!

  • If you like stories about the two lovers finally overcoming their own pride and prejudice, like you find in Jane Austen novels,
  • If you like stories where individuals get are overcome by forces far bigger than themselves, like you find Thomas Hardy novels,
  • If you like the witty critique of human foibles and foolishness, like you find in Flannery O’Connor’s stories,
  • If you like epic events carried out in fascinating, expansive and strange worlds like that found in Tolkien,
  • If you like the brilliant use of analogy in the critique of rationalism and historicism like you find in C. S. Lewis,

then you will love War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.