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YOLO: The Wisdom and the Folly

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“YOLO” — You may have heard a young person say this just before they do something stupid, or as an explanation as to why they did something stupid. It means “You Only Live Once.”

It suggests we ought to live for the present, as opposed to think too much about the future.

The Wisdom of YOLO

On the surface, there is some wisdom in this. Focusing too much on the future is foolish.

I know I think too much about the future. I think about the airplane crashing. I think about my future health. I think about next year’s writing projects and potential speaking engagements. I think about retirement. I don’t think I am alone in my obsession with the future.

Our obsession with the future plays right into the hands of the demonic powers–this is C. S. Lewis’ view articulated in The Screwtape Letters. Senior tempter, Screwtape, says that God wants us “to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which [we] call the Present.” The devils purpose, then, is to get us “away from the eternal, and from the Present.” They do this by making us ” live in the Future, because thinking about the Future “inflames hope and fear.”

By thinking about the future we are focused on “unrealities.” I can simultaneously worry about never marrying (being alone for the rest of my life) and about marrying the wrong person (being miserable for the rest of my life).  That both of these would occur is impossible, still I manage to fear both.

And one lifetime is not enough to encompass all that I have ever hoped for. I will not get one of those $20,000 grand pianos that play all by themselves. I won’t live in New York City and write books. Won’t get PhDs in history, philosophy and literature. I won’t work as an author/artist in Brittany. With all its hopes and fears, the future is filled with unrealities, and to live in the future is to live outside of reality.

We [says Screwtape] want a man hag-ridden by the Future . . . We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.

[tweetshareinline tweet=”The YOLO mantra correctly breaks us away from obsessing on the future, and turning toward the present.” username=”Dryb0nz”]Coffee can only be enjoyed in the present.

A good book can only be enjoyed in the present.

A friend can only be enjoyed in the present.

A lover can only be enjoyed in the present.

We can only be kind in the present.

We can only be happy in the present.

We can only be honest in the present.

The Foolishness of YOLO

But if you dig a little deeper into the YOLO philosophy, you will find it empty.

Lewis says that the Present is the most real component of time, and it is “the point at which time touches eternity”; it is “all lit up with eternal rays.”

The YOLO philosophy says that the present is important, but not because “it is all lit up with eternal rays,” but because it is all there is.  This life is all there is. When it is over, there is nothing. So if you don’t do it now, you will never do it. There is no eternity, so have fun while you can. Live for pleasure; live for the present.

Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever. –Mere Christianity

Hear Oh People, The Lord is Chronos

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I’ve written a few posts about Time.  In the post that kicked it off, I suggested that having a “Biblical” or “Christian” worldview meant much more than opposing abortion and gay marriage, or being generous with ones time and money.

I argued that these things make up a very small part of what we call our worldview and that American Christians have the same worldview as their non-Christian neighbours.  I attempted to make the point Americans, whether Christian or not, have a very secular idea of time.

Secular Time:

  1. It is homogeneous — a minute is a minute; one hour is the same as every other hour–not really.
  2. It is sequential — minutes, hours, days and years occur one after the other.  There is another way to look at time as non-sequential–read more here.
  3. structured by progress — we are, things are, improving, evolving, getting better as time passes.  Not really–read more here and here.
  4. It has been emptied of the transcendent — there is nothing supernatural in our conception of time.  Really?

The Shema

The Shema is considered by Jews to be the most important part of the prayer service and it is recited twice a daily.  It is found in Deuteronomy 6: 4-9. It is so important because it asserts the central tenant Judaism–there is only One God.  It says that the only way we can remember that God is God, is by making this idea central in our lives.

Worldviews can be built and shaped through ritual and repetition.   All residents of American culture are steeped in religious repetition and ritual in their worship of secular–or Chronos–time.

Here is a new Shema to a new, very material, god:

4 Hear, O resident of the secular age: The Lord is Chronos, the Lord is Linear. 5 Fear the Lord Chronos with regret for the past and fear for what the future might hold. 6 Time consciousness should always be on your hearts. 7 Impress on your children the importance of not wasting time and be sure they are in time for things, when necessary use bells. Talk about punctuality when you sit at home and as you walk along the road, insure that you set an alarm when they lie down so that they may get up in time. 8 Tie time symbols on your wrists or bind it on home screens of smart phones. 9 Hang them on the walls of every room in your houses, in your cars and at your places of work.

Time and Despair

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We modern folks have a very modern view of time.

Having emptied time of transcendence, we think of it as mere chronology or sequence. Still, this sequence can be viewed optimistically; in our culture we tend to find meaning in time in terms of human progress. But there is a darker view of time in the absence of higher things. If God doesn’t exist, are Goodness, Truth, Beauty possible? Some say no, and despair.

Despair in A Fine Balance

This is the case of Maneck in A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Time and its relationship to meaning is woven through the novel, most often through the words and musings of this young man.

For instance, there is the idea that life is essentially tragic because it is embedded in sequential time:

Our lives are but a sequence of accidents–a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity we call LIFE.

Why does Maneck see life as tragic and time as meaningless?

It’s because for him there is no God who is active in his creation.  He has this conversation with landlady, Dina:

‘God is dead,’ said Maneck. ‘That’s what a German philosopher wrote.’

She was shocked. ‘Trust the Germans to say such things,’ she frowned. ‘And do you believe it?’

‘I used to. But now I prefer to think that God is a giant quilt maker. With an infinite variety of designs. And the quilt is grown so big and confusing, the pattern is impossible to see, the squares and diamonds and triangles don’t fit well together anymore, it’s all become meaningless. So He has abandoned it.’

In the novel, we find reflections on the nature of time as we experience it–no minute is like another minute. Where I find this an an argument for meaning, Maneck ends up using the same phenomenon as evidence against meaning:

What an unreliable thing is time–when I want it to fly, the hours stick to me like glue. And what a changeable thing, too. Time is the twine to tie our lives into parcels of years and months. Or a rubber band stretched to suit our fancy. Time can be the pretty ribbon in a little girl’s hair. Or the lines in your face, stealing your youthful colour and your hair. …. But in the end, time is a noose around the neck, strangling slowly.

On his return home after the spreading of his father’s ashes, Maneck sits on the porch and begins

escorting a hose of memories through his troubled mind.” His mother’s interruption of his thoughts irritated him “as though he could have recaptured, reconstructed, redeemed those happy times if only he had been given long enough.” While he sits in the deepening dusk he spies a lizard. “He hated its shape, its colour, its ugly snout. The manner in which it flicked its evil tongue. Its ruthless way of swallowing flies. The way time swallowed human efforts and joy. Time, the ultimate grandmaster that could never be checkmated. There was no way out of its distended belly. He wanted to destroy the loathsome creature.

In a world where God does not exist, or has gone far away, if we are to find meaning in time we must first find it someplace else.  Some will find all attempts to find meaning under these conditions impossible. They, like Maneck, may despair.

“Just a Symbol”?

Engin_Akyurt / Pixabay

Is today (January 28, 2016) closer to

A) January 27, 2016

or

B) January 28, 1986?

The obvious answer is A), because we almost always think of time as sequential, but for the friends and family of the five astronauts and two payload specialists that died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on this date in 1986, the answer would likely be B).   Lamb

In 1986, I watched the launch of the Challenger with my grade eight and nine students.  We watched for a few hours after as we tried to understand how this could have happened.  This was a meaningful event.  Chronologically, yesterday is closer to today, but if meaning is our standard, at least for some people, today is closer to this date 30 years ago than was yesterday.

The Non-sequential Nature of Time

The non-sequential nature of time is something we usually ignore, but it can add significant depth and experience to our lives if we are more aware of it.  I’ll attempt to illustrate this using the elements of Tim Keller’s sermon called “The Story of the Lamb.”

The story of the Lamb is actually the story of three lambs.

The Story of the Second Lamb

The story of the second lamb cam be found in the book of Exodus.  The Israelites are slaves in Egypt and as prologue to releasing his people, God has sent nine plagues upon the land of Egypt.  The tenth plague will be the death of the first born.  In  Exodus 12:23 we an amazing twist in time:

When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the door frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

The Destroyer.  This destroyer does not bring regular destruction, but End-Times destruction–Revelation 9:11:

And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.

Lamb1This Destroyer, then, who visits death upon all the first born of Egypt is the bringer of End-of Time Judgement, long before the end of time.  Time is bent when the Destroyer of the future kills all the first born in ancient Egypt who were unprotected by the blood of the second lamb.

Importantly, the tenth plague is not just the death of the first born Egyptians, but the first born of any who live in Egypt–this includes the Hebrews.  The Hebrews are not exempt from Eternal Destruction–they are not saved by their own merit, nor by God’s ignoring of their sin.  They are saved by the blood of the lamb.  The Passover is the central act of Jewish worship – and it commemorates salvation by “the bloody death of a helpless victim”–the second lamb.

The Story of the First Lamb

The first lamb is found in Genesis 22.  God says to Abraham,

Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you. (22:2)

In this culture, the first born already belonged to God; he has a claim on the first born as representative of the family(Exodus 22, Numbers 3 and 8)–the firstborn’s life is forfeit.

You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day. (Exodus 22:29-30)

The first born, as the representative of the family, bore the guilt of the entire family.  Abraham, Keller says, believed that God was just calling in the debt.  Although the father would have been distressed by the loss of his son, sacrificing Isaac was also an act of giving God his due.  Just before Abraham can carry out the sacrifice, angel of the Lord calls out “Stop.”  Then this:

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  (Genesis 22:13)

God himself provided the alternate sacrifice.  The ram functions as a substitute for the first born who is himself a representative of Abraham’s family.

Back to the Second Lamb

Lamb2Back to the second lamb. In the Exodus story, the Hebrews understood that God  was, again, making a claims the on the debt of the first born, and that he, again, provided an alternate.  When they heard God’s instructions for the first Passover, they would likely make the connection to the first lamb–the ram caught in the thicket which took the place of Isaac on the alter.  The story of the second lamb doesn’t mean what it means without the story of the first lamb.  Again, time is bent back upon itself.

The deliverance from Egypt wasn’t the solution to all their problems–they still lived in a spiritual bondage, and consequently were subject to Final Judgement. To solve this problem, they need another lamb–Lamb 3, Jesus.  John the Baptist called him “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The Story of the Third Lamb

Lamb4The night Jesus was arrested, he ate the Passover meal with his disciples.  This night, the lamb wasn’t on the table, but at the table.  The first two lambs were just animals.  The ram that took Isaac’s place on the alter did not actually save the boy.  Nor did the Passover lambs save the Hebrews by their death.  The first two lambs only pointed to the third.  The third lamb was the God’s Son, but this time no one yelled, “Stop.” Like the first two lambs, his death was in the stead of those who deserved it.  Unlike the first two lambs, Jesus is the ultimate lamb that provides the ultimate salvation.

Communion

The central act of Christian worship, Communion, commemorates “the bloody death of an innocent victim.”  The bread and the wine in which Christians partake an obedient response to Jesus command to “do this in remembrance of me.”  In it we remember Jesus, the Lamb of God, giving his life for us, once and for all, on the cross.

Christians have different views as to what happens at communion, from the supernatural event of transubstantiation to it being a completely human act or “just a symbol.”  If we think of time only as sequence, the Passover and the Last Supper happened many, many centuries ago. If they are relevant at all, they are relevant only as a symbol. If you understand that time has loops, it becomes far more than a mere symbol.

Lamb5When we partake of the bread and wine, we are not simply remembering an event that took place 2000 years ago.  We are standing at the convergence of several events, profound events each involving a substitutionary death.

Jesus died once for all, but as time bends, we stand before him as he says the words “this is my body, for you.”  Communion is not merely a memorial because Jesus is active as he offers us the bread and wine–his body, not many times, but once.  But with the bending of time, he’s offering it now.  One death and resurrection, but a continual offering of Grace.

As you partake of the Communion meal this weekend,  think about the nearness in time, higher time, of the ram that took Isaac’s place on the alter, the Passover lambs that died in order to protect the Hebrews from an early encounter with The Destroyer of The End-Times.  Think especially about the Lamb of God–the ultimate lamb–who died to save us from the ultimate consequences of our sin and who is right now seated on the throne of heaven.  Think about standing at the convergence of all the Communion meals being celebrated across space and time as Jesus offers us the salvation he paid for with his life.

If you manage to catch just a glimpse of any of this, you will not be able to think of The Lord’s Supper as “just a symbol.”

An Inventory of Moments

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People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.

Brothers Karamazov

Moment 1: “A New Boy”

I was about 6 years old when we moved from Montana to Michigan.  I was brought to my new school and left in the charge of Mrs. Smith, my new grade 1 teacher.  I sat alone in the classroom waiting for something to happen.  I imagine I was scared, but I don’t remember.  What I do remember is a blonde head popping up in the outside window, shrieking with excitement–“It’s a new boy!”

This was one of the moments from my life.  Objectively, time is composed of a series of identical units, but our subjective experience is that time is not homogeneous–time is less like a clock than a lava lamp.

In an attempt to understand time in this more subjective way, I have here described a few of the events that constitute a very large inventory of moments.

Moment 2:  “Big Buck”

I was high up in the Canadian Rockies, far off any road–we had traveled up a frozen river bed till we could go no further.  It was too late to build a lean-to and too cold, so we decided to sleep in the truck. It was too cold to sleep in the truck.  So at 3 am we started climbing higher into the mountains and watched the sunrise from the top of the world.  At about noon I saw a huge mountain muley careening down the opposite slope.  Then he disappeared in the brush.  I waited.  He appeared in a small stand of trees to my left.  That’s when time almost stopped.  I didn’t even feel the recoil of my 30-06.  I didn’t hear the gun’s report.  All I saw was the deer turn and run back the way he had come.  He didn’t make it thirty feet.  A perfect shot.

Moment 3: “Cotton Balls”

Dread poured from my chest into my belly.  I turned and ran home crying.  I had forgotten my cotton balls AGAIN!    I think we were going to make cotton ball igloos on construction paper and snow was impossible to represent without cotton balls.  I had forgotten to bring them several days in a row.  I still think this is way too much responsibility for a 5-year-old and why the heck didn’t the school provide the necessary materials for our kindergarten projects.  I remember returning to school with a green Dippity Doo jar full of cotton balls.

Moment 4: “Mount St. Helens”

I will never forget May 20, 1980.  It was raining mud.  I was out in a field south of Olympia, WA at about 8:30 in the morning.  I was turning off water pumps because we didn’t move irrigation lines on Sundays.  When I was finished, I got into my truck and I couldn’t see through the windshield.  The wipers smeared grey mud.  Church was canceled that morning because of a volcanic eruption.  That was Mt. Helen’s first, one of the later ones happened on a beautiful clear day and I watched the ash bloom from the same field (another moment).

Moment 5: “Life from now on”

I was on the Oregon coast with my daughters in August 2008.  My sons weren’t there because of summer jobs.  My wife was leaving me so she didn’t come; it wasn’t a very happy holiday.  This had been my point of view for the previous 18 months–I had no happiness, nor any hope for future happiness.  I was watching my girls and the waves crash onto the beach; I sighed and said to my self, “So this is how life is going to be from now on.”  Then it hit me–I was in this incredible place with people I adored and we were going out for clam chowder later.  I said it again with an entirely different view of the world, “So this is how life is going to be from now on.”

Moment 6: Joe Carter’s home run in 1993.

Moment 7: “First Day of Farming”

In 1996 we bought a farm, a pigeon farm (we raised squab for the fancy Chinese restaurants in Vancouver and the other markets across North America).  One day we took possession I went for a walk by the barns.  I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  I knew little about raising squab and the flock was in bad shape; there was a lot of disease and very poor production.  It was a scary moment and I’ll never forget it.  10 years later I could diagnose diseases by smell and production was increased 20 times.

Moment 8: Dachau

The Nazi concentration camp outside of Munich.  I’ve always been interested in World War Two.  I took classes on it in both high school and university, read many books, and watched every documentary I could.  The Holocaust was particularly intriguing and baffling for me–how could people do this to each other, and on such a scale?  In spite of all I read, perhaps because of it, the Holocaust and Nazism were abstract concepts to me.  The incredible thing about Dachau was the realization that the Holocaust was made out of concrete, wood and barbed wire.  There was a road outside the barbed wire–if you were standing on that road in 1944 you were not in the camp, 20ft. over and you were in the camp.  That 20 feet made all the difference.  It was in that moment that I became aware of the spatial and material reality of the Final Solution.  Evil is not just a vague idea, it is a concrete reality.

Moment 9: Every time I’ve watched The Sound of Music.

Moment 10: The day each of my children was born

Time is made up of such moments; they surge around us and engulf us and lift us and then dissipate–like a lava lamp.

Time is not made of minutes, but of moments; they surge around us and engulf us and lift us and then dissipate--like a lava lamp.Click To Tweet

 

Time is Like a Lava Lamp

Bru-nO / Pixabay

I don’t know why we think that every minute is like every other minute; we certainly don’t experience time in this way.

The Elasticity of Time

Shakespeare comments on the elasticity of time in Romeo and Juliet.

Sad hours seem long. — Romeo

In a minute there are many days. — Juliet

Cervantes records the same experience.  I just finished reading Don Quixote where I found the famous knight finds time moving slowly.

Night, longed for by Don Quixote with the greatest anxiety in the world, came at last, though it seemed to him that the wheels of Apollo’s car had broken down, and that the day was drawing itself out longer than usual, just as is the case with lovers, who never make the reckoning of their desires agree with time.

These great works of literature present time as we experience it ourselves.

When drawing I lose all sense of time, but when cooking it moves quickly, often too quickly for me to get the potatoes mashed.  When sitting in a Christmas concert presented by young children with bells in their hands, time rasps slowly along, but it moves with even more heaviness in a hospital waiting room.

The trend in Western society is towards homogenizing experience–we’ve attempted to do the same with time.

Time and Technology

Our understanding of time is greatly influenced by the devices we use to mark it–they have become the metaphor by which we understand time.  Our modern clocks–both analogue and digital varieties–divide the day into homogenous hours, minutes and seconds.  Even old-fashioned hourglass divided time up into identical grains of sand.

We need another metaphor for time as we actually experience it so that we can begin to think about it differently.

The Lava Lamp

Sometimes time moves slowly, other times quickly; the goo in lava lamps moves up and down in various speeds.  We experience time, not only as minutes, but moments; lava lamps have these moments.  That’s why we like to watch them; we are anticipating the next moment.  The moments we experience surge around us and engulf us and lift us and then they dissipate.  Moments of Joy and Sorrow and Grace move through our experience as rising and falling blobs of iridescent lava.

Not only is this a much richer way to think of time, it is much more descriptive of our experience tha, the mechanical tick-tock-tick-tock of the ubiquitous wall clock.

The lava lamp is a much richer metaphor for time, more descriptive of our experience than the mechanical tick-tock-tick-tock of the ubiquitous wall clock.Click To Tweet

 

Ordinary Time

Bru-nO / Pixabay

Our culture has one way of thinking about time, so we could call it ordinary time.

We could also call it secular time, mechanical time, material time or dead time.  Elsewhere, I’ve called it “zombie time” and for good reason.

Whatever you call it, it has the following characteristics:

  1. It is homogeneous — a minute is a minute; one hour is the same as every other hour.
  2. It is sequential — minutes, hours, days and years occur one after the other.
  3. structured by progress — we are, things are, improving, evolving, getting better as time passes.
  4. It has been emptied of the transcendent — there is nothing supernatural in our conception of time.

Killing Time

Bru-nO / Pixabay

In English we have only one word for time.  The ancient Greeks had two because they understood time in two ways.  First, there is chronos, or ordinary time, in which one thing happens after another.  The other is kairos.  We’ve mostly lost a sense of this kind of time, to our detriment.

chronos kairos

chronos versus kairos

Chronological versus Kairotic Time

Chronological time refers to clock time–time that can be measured in fixed units–seconds, minutes, hours and years.  Kairos measures moments of flexible duration.  Chronological time is divided up into past, present, and future, but kairos is the present and has an eternal element.  Chronological time is personified as Old Father Time carrying a scythe and an hourglass–it is a time that consumes all.  Kairos time is personified as a young man, lithe and handsome–it is a time that suggests “ripeness is all” (Lear 5.2.11).

Chronological time, named after the titan who ate his children, destroys and consumes.  All material things experience the ravages of time.  In the Hobbit, Gollum’s riddle in the dark is about chronos time:

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

There is a monstrous quality to chronological time.  Chronos time is made up of past that doesn’t exist anymore and future that doesn’t yet exist.  Because its made of these intangibilities, chronos time takes on a spectral quality.  To make matters worse, as Gollum says, it kills and consumes.  It is a terrifying creature.  Dead, but devouring and it never stops coming.  There’s something hellish about the eternal monotony of mechanical time.

Where chronos suggests death, kairos suggests life.  The present is the only part of time that actually exists; it’s alive, and if you are experiencing it, you are alive too.  The term Kairos contains the idea that not all time is the same.  Sure there is the regular and mechanical passing of minutes, but there are also immeasurable moments that catch us by surprise, that bubble up from within time or flow into it from somewhere, or somewhen, else.  These interruptions of ordinary time by higher time suggest a link with the eternal–the “everlasting now” which is the time of heaven.

Hourglass or Lava Lamp

I want to suggest that when you think of time, don’t only imagine the hourglass of chronos, but a lava lamp of kairos time–irregular and surprising.

Our worldview both shapes and is shaped by our language.  Because we have only one word for time, we are in danger of thinking and living under the idea that time is simply chronological.

I’ve had students tell me that eternity sounds boring?  It certainly does if you think of it in terms of chronological–dead–time.  If we broaden our understanding of time, we will not only have a more positive view of an eternal future, but we also will understand the importance of the living present, which as C. S. Lewis says, “is all lit up with eternal rays” (The Screwtape Letters).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Understanding Worldview (2)

geralt / Pixabay

What 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 somehow we’ve managed to manage time as if it were something like money.

Time as Commodity

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.”

Linear Time

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.

“Africa Time”

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.”

Here, if I arrange to call a friend at 3:00–I call him at 3:00.  In Africa, my friend says, “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 seeming irresponsibility in 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 no 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.

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.Click To Tweet

Boredom

Interestingly, in our culture, we suffer from boredom if we have too much time.  We suffer stress if we have too little.

I asked my friend if, in the absence of mechanical time, 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.

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.

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