CategoryWorldview

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

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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)

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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.

Understanding Worldview

Two 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.

Christian values, beliefs and attitudes are just the tip of the iceberg when talking about worldview.  These are things we talk about and think about; worldview, like most of the iceberg, is underwater–we aren’t even aware of it.

Worldview or Just Values?

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.

How Secular Is our Christian Worldview?

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.

 

The Godless French?

skeeze / Pixabay

I recently heard a pastor refer to France as a spiritual wasteland, and this wasn’t the first time I had heard this.

Twenty-one of our students went to France this past spring break and I asked them if they found this to be true. They agreed that French culture is very secular. Very few people in France go to church, and they don’t really talk, or even think, about God. They have beautiful churches, but the students observed large gift shops in two of the most beautiful churches they visited, Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur.

But, they also saw evidence that perhaps the French aren’t as spiritually dry as we might think, and that they are, in some ways, expressing some aspects of honouring the Creator better than we do.

French Food: Celebration of God’s Good Gifts

The most obvious example for the students was the French approach to food. The French value food, so when they eat, they take their time.  A meal is not a mere biological necessity between work and an evening Bible study. The meal is one of the most important events of the day. The students said, “Even their fast food is slow.”

And meals aren’t just about the food. They are very much about the conversation that takes place over the meal. The French enjoy nothing more than great food with good friends.  Here, restaurants try to maximize the number of seatings in an evening by carefully moving diners from the appetizer to the bill as quickly as possible without them feeling rushed. In France, you and your friends are expected to enjoy each other’s company for hours. If you want a bill, you have to ask for it.  If you have a table, you have it for the night.

Rather than serving groceries in the same store that also sells underwear and motor oil, the French have rows of small, independently owned specialty stores. Each only sells one thing–cheese, meat, pastry, bread, fish, vegetables. The idea is that if you specialize, you can better ensure the quality of your wares, and the resultant meals will be a lot more enjoyable.

The French don’t believe in God, hence the appellation “godless,” but they treat many of his gifts with the utmost respect.  They take the good gifts of God and treat them as the treasures they are.

Our culture conceived of Kraft Dinner which sells for $1.27 a box and takes less than 10 minutes to make and even less to consume even if we include the time it takes to offer a prayer acknowledging God’s gustatory providence.

I will not choose which approach is better, to love the gift but ignore the giver, or to love the giver, but disparage the gift.  It seems to me that loving both would be the ideal.

This post was previously published at http://insideout.abbotsfordchristian.com/

The Elimination of Sins Arising from Hatred

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Hatred, a disease?

We haven’t been able to eliminate the scourge of hatred, so perhaps we’ve been looking at it all wrong.

In “Finding A Cure for Hate” Jennifer Yang reports on a University of Toronto initiative that looks at understanding and preventing hatred by “treating it as a public health issue.”

Experts from a variety of fields discussed the problem of hate, “touching on everything from Hitler to 9/11 to the Rwandan genocide.”

The meeting was initiated by U of T associate professor Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who “likes to think of hatred as a disease or mental disorder.”  His idea is that people “are not born with hatred, [rather] they acquire it from the environment, just as people are exposed to bacteria or second-hand smoke.”

Hatred, biological?

Not everyone is on board.  Although not at the conference, had he attended, British neuroscientist Semir Zeki, a professor at University College London would have disagreed with Abuelaish.  He believes hatred is a part of our biology–put there by evolution:  “We would not have had this capacity to hate to the degree that we have — and all humans have it — if it had been a negative evolutionary force. It would have petered out.”

No Human Responsibility

I find it interesting that both of these approaches to hatred completely remove the responsibility for hatred from humanity.

If it’s a product of Nature, then we can blame it on evolution.  If it is a result of Nurture, then we can blame it on the environment.

The scariest part of all this is the next bit–where the logical solution to hate is the controlling of the environment; my question is, “Who will have the control?”

Both these perspectives take the responsibility for hate away from the one who hates.

William Blake does not:

A Poison Tree.

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears

Night and morning with my tears,

And I sunned it with smiles

And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright,

And my foe beheld it shine,

And he knew that it was mine –

And into my garden stole

When the night had veiled the pole;

In the morning, glad, I see

My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

I’m sure folks over at the U of T have honorable intentions, but by removing responsibility for hating from the human agent, I fear that they will do a lot more harm than good.

Is Atheism a Religion?

Bill Maher sure doesn’t like it when religious people say that atheism is a religion.

In one sense, Maher is right; atheism is not a religion.  Atheism doesn’t have any explicit rituals or holy texts, nor does it believe in a deity.  When Maher restricts his  definition of religion to “this looney stuff” he can safely declare that “atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.”

Atheism is a Religion

But if we were to broaden the definition of religion to something like–people who have faith in something that can’t be proven rationally.  Well, then it would be a little more legitimate to declare Maher a religious person because atheism is based on a belief that cannot be proven.  It requires a leap of faith to accept the claim that the whole of reality is strictly material.

There is no belief that does not begin with a claim that cannot be proven rationally--even the belief that matter is all their is.Click To Tweet

Maher claims it is only “idiots” who stand in the “grand intellectual tradition of ‘I know you are but what am I?'”–those who assert that atheism and theism are “two sides of the same coin.”  But this isn’t exactly true.  Fredrich Nietzsche, who on the continuum between idiocy and genius makes geniuses look like idiots, said exactly this.

If you watch Maher, you know that his ideal is an aggregate of equality, freedom of speech, science, democracy, etc.

Nietzsche would lump Maher and the Christians who drive him crazy into the same category.  He said that, just like religion, the rationalism and scientific optimism celebrated by Maher, is another attempt to set up an ideal to which we might aspire.

There is nothing wrong with belief in meaning.  Nietzsche said that human beings have a hard time flourishing without something to believe in.  So it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

There are some pretty distinct lines between his “evidence-based belief” and my “faith-based malarkey” but it is not helpful to draw lines that don’t really exist.

Progressive Liberal Optimism

Eddie Izzard’s show is hysterical and historical.  “Force Majeure,” gets a lot of laughs at the expense of the Religious and the Nazis.

When it comes to religion, Eddie Izzard is not as bad as many in the popular media.  He’s not nearly as bitter so there’s more comedy than mockery. He also distinguishes between different types of religious people: the ones that do charity and the ones that are ignorant bigots.

Izzard’s understanding of history is quite clear: in spite of some setbacks here and there, we are moving upward and that is the important thing.  One of the major setbacks was the Nazis, but they were merely an interruption in the upward trend.

In the Q&A after the show, a fan asked Eddie if he’d be changing any of his Nazi material when he toured Germany in the coming year.  He said that this wouldn’t be necessary.  He believes that the German people are like us and that Hitler kidnapped Germany for 12 years.  Once the Nazis were removed the German people could get back onto that upward trajectory.

The Modern View of History

This interpretation of history is very popular–it is the modern story.  Mankind is basically good and freedom is the goal of history.  Over the last 500 years we have been gaining freedom–first from the Church, then from the monarch, then slavery, then God.  In the 20th century, freedom spread through the civil rights movement and women’s liberation and it continues through all sorts of sexual freedoms.

For many, this optimistic view of history has filled the gap created by the loss of religion.  There is an almost supernatural faith in humanity to achieve its utopian ideals.  Like all supernatural faiths, this one too offers a type of salvation.

One of the problems with Izzard’s view is that it divides people into them and us.  The “them” is the religious bigots or the conservative.  The “us” is progressive and open-minded.  It is the latter group that is responsible for the upward trend in history, and the former group that is largely impeding our progress.

I don’t fault Eddie.  We are all guilty of “them=bad/us=good” thinking now and again (all the time?).

But it is wrong.

The line that divides good and evil is not between people but within people.

There aren’t good religious people (Izzard’s charitable Christians) and bad religious people (opponents to freedoms sought by the LGTB)–they are all bad.  Christians aren’t less evil than Muslims–news out of Central African Republic is evidence of this.  Atheists have to accept Stalin and Hitler as theirs, and Christians have to accept the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades as things that Christians did.

Because the human soul is divided, human flourishing will not inevitably increase over time.

The 20th century alone provides ample evidence of exactly this–incredible medical and technological advances, on the one hand, two devastating world wars on the other.  The United Nations was born and so was the Atomic Bomb.  The Olympics and the Holocaust.  Civil rights and Abortion.  The music of the 60’s and the music of the ’80s.

Humans are capable of tremendous good, so we may again have another Mandela, but unless we recognize that the true impediment to human flourishing is the evil that lurks in every human soul, we will again face evils as great as any we’ve encountered in human history.

The solution to our plight is not for everyone to become a progressive liberal.  It’s to deal with the evil that exists within all humanity.

 

Doing the Dishes and the Gnashing of Teeth

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When my kids were younger they had chores—one of which was doing the dishes.

It should have been as simple as everyone taking a turn on a rotating basis, but was never that simple.

Lacrosse games or ballet practices meant that somebody would miss their turn. To ask another child to take care of it resulted in anguished lamentations. These were even louder if the prospective dishwasher could conjure up a scenario where this debt might not be repaid. Then there was the was wailing and gnashing of teeth over the unfairness of having to do dishes on a night when we had a roast, as opposed the other night when a sibling had only to contend with the remains of a meal of bread and soup. Sometimes I got so sick of it that I just did them myself.

Grudging Obedience

I wouldn’t have been any happier if I had their silent obedience either.  It certainly would have been quieter, and possibly less frustrating, but it wouldn’t have lead to their happiness, and in my better moments what I wish most for my children is fulfillment regardless of the circumstances.

The problem in both of these responses, wailing lamentations or grudging obedience, is that doing the dishes is seen as a duty.  The idea of duty or obligation or requirement is set in opposition to happiness and joy.  For my young children, happiness and joy could only be achieved by doing what they wanted as opposed to what they had to do.  My kids put freedom first.

All this was a long time ago.  My children have all grown up. The great thing now is that when they come over for a meal, they joyfully do the dishes. It’s the same activity, but their attitude is completely different.

What accounts for this difference?  Surely, it’s maturity.  They’ve lived away from home and know how much money and work it takes to put a delicious meal onto the table.

But it’s more than maturity; the most important thing for them is no longer freedom from duties and obligations, but a relationship with me, their parent.  I cook for them a delicious meal because I love them and they wash the dishes because they love me.

If we think that Freedom is more important than anything else in order to live the good life (read more here), our focus will usually be hostilely directed toward those things which limit one’s freedom, and those who seemingly impose duties, obligations, responsibilities.

This creates resentful people.

If relationship is more important than freedom, our focus will be lovingly directed toward other persons who we love.

It’s obvious which leads to greater joy and happiness–fulfillment.

Biblical Basis of Fulfillment

It’s all there in Deteronomy 10.  The writer implores God’s people to

 12 . . .walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.

Obedience certainly restricts our freedom, but washing the dishes after a good meal is a loving and joyful response to a great meal prepared for you in joy and love, and it’s all for our own good anyway.

My kids were miserable when they were focused on the duty and they are happy now that they are focused on the relationship.  God wants what’s best for his people, and it turns out that is obedience.

Not Simply Obedience

But it’s not simply obedience.

Simple obedience is for the simply religious, and they are miserable.  It’s joyful obedience that God is after and that will be a blessing to us.  In verse 16 of the Deuteronomy 10, it says 

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

Circumcision was a duty for the people of God and if they understood it only as an obligation, they’d be stiff-necked.  God certainly didn’t want disobedience, but silent and grudging obedience wasn’t any better; he wanted their hearts so that we can flourish.

Human flourishing is not about freedom, nor is it about fulfilling religious obligations, it’s about relationship.

 

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