The Wisdom in Waiting During Quarantine

A man had just had his annual physical and was waiting for the doctor’s initial report. After a few minutes the doctor came in and said these fateful words: “There’s no reason why you can’t live a completely normal life as long as you don’t try to enjoy it.” Man, that is exactly how I feel today in quarantine. God bless those individuals who have already been experiencing social distancing because of treatment regimens or due to physical and other limitations. I have not had enough sympathy, and I’m sorry. This quarantine thing is harder work than I thought.

The first few weeks were filled with catch-up items from lists of things that have been lingering around for quite some time. Now they’re caught up, and as a “Do-it-right-now” kind of person, I’m about to go bonkers or slip into a Dr. Seuss-like Oh, The Places You Will Go “Waiting Place.” To be sure, there’s still work and ministry taking place, more than ever, but done so differently that it’s almost like running in place. I’m talking with parishioners every day; just got off two back-to-back Zoom meetings; have done research, written sermons, planned programs, talked budgets, and prayed and prayed ad infinitum, but it’s weird, isn’t it? Time seems out of joint.

Many of us have spent time in the hospital and know that there are some common experiences that everybody shares. One that comes to mind in these days of quarantine is losing track of time. If you’re in the hospital even for a short stay, pretty soon your days and nights are all mixed up. You wonder what day it is. Normal routines are out the window.

That’s what’s on my mind today. Is it Monday or Tuesday, whatever, and forget about what date it is. Is this what retirement will be like? That sounds pretty good at first glance, but here I am whatever the number of weeks we’re into this isolation, and sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself. One thing I know is that I need to wear a mask, not to help me avoid the virus, but to keep me from eating more than I should. I do read and pray, and have already Netflixed through every episode of some shows I had never heard of before.

In reading the Bible, the pastoral epistles of I and II Timothy, and Titus were great, but I felt quite un-pastoral without a tangible, huggable, handshaking flock to enjoy. Then came I & II Thessalonians, the Gospel of Mark, but things took a sharp turn down a dark alley this morning when I felt led to read Ecclesiastes. I should have never done that! Talk about depressing? It’s called “wisdom literature,” and it very much is, but Ecclesiastes calls into question much of what I/we valued before COVID-19, and it seems the most often repeated word in it is “meaningless.” It’s a downer, except that it’s true. Just like these quarantined days, it makes me question my values, purpose, and destiny.

Before you promise NOT to read it, let me implore you to do it. It strips away pretense and gets to the heart of what’s important in our lives. I won’t tell you how it ends except to say that it ends well. It is the most accurate assessment that I have encountered about my life in a long time. It may speak to you in a different way, but that is the wonder and power of the Bible. Even if we reread a passage, The Holy Spirit can bring forth new wisdom at just the right time.

The Byrds’ song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” that is straight from Ecclesiastes 3, says that there are seasons, juxtaposed and seemingly opposite, but to be embraced because when these vastly different things are combined we encounter real life – not some sham, not seen through rose-colored glasses, but REAL life. Maybe that’s what I’m feeling today – the depth and richness, not of busyness, but of the interplay of my inner thoughts, even God’s Spirit dwelling within, closer than my closest breath.

Nathaniel Hawthorne has been called “a dark romantic.” This is what he said about these kind of days when we ponder the meaning of life: “Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” May this week take you to a new place of self-reflection and discovery, even happiness? God bless and protect you and us all. Amen.

The Time Change and Using God’s Time

Daylight Saving Time (DST) has kicked me to the curb this year! I love the hour we gain in the fall, but this “Spring Forward” thing is ridiculous. The person who said that for every hour you gain or lose, it only takes one day to adjust didn’t have my circadian rhythm! It has been 5 days and I’m still whacked! Ben Franklin, an early advocate of the time shift, may have said, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” but I don’t think that DST proves the point. It proves the opposite for me. What do you say?

Studies have made conflicting claims over the years about the benefits and drawbacks of DST. Those in favor say that it saves energy, promotes outdoor leisure activities in the evening, and provides more time for shopping. Yay for more daylight to cook out, play a round of golf after work, and go fishing. Others have said that since most mischief happens in the dark, the extra daylight cuts down on crime.

However, the cost benefit for electric usage is negligible if you compute the cost of turning on lights for longer periods of time in the mornings while it’s still dark, and using them less in the evenings because it’s light. After all, most of our big-ticket home electrical systems run constantly, and don’t give a rip what time it is.

On the other side of the issue are those who claim that DST costs as much as $40 billion in what it takes to adjust clocks, computers, and even the stock exchanges. Health officials have concluded that DST increases the risk of heart attacks by 10%, and changes in sleep have a direct correlation to poor work performance. Contrary to the popular opinion that DST was created for the benefit of farmers, they are some of the biggest opponents of it. The rationale is that grain is best harvested after dew evaporates, so when farmers or their help arrive at earlier hours and leave later it causes quality problems with the products, especially if you depend on someone with paid-by-the-hour drivers, harvesters, and trucks whose schedules have been rearranged by the time change. Dairy farmers also complain because their cows are finicky about the timing of milking which is dictated less by the sun as much as it is by when the dairy company sends their trucks.

So I am confused, since there are both benefits and disadvantages. I just know how whipped it has made me feel this week, and I have a spouse who works in the education system who says that everybody is dragging a lot more this year. In the discussion of pros or cons there is one thing that’s clear: Nobody is talking about the time change from a religious perspective.

Is there a valid theological reason to have DST? To be sure, I know that I should use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason to figure it out, but I’m not – I’m too tired! It’s not that big a deal, right? But there are more than a few Scriptures about time and its use. II Peter 3:8 says, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Psalm 39:4-5 and James 4:14 declare, in similar ways, that life is very fragile and transitory. “Our time on earth,” as one writer puts it, “barely registers on the eternal radar screen,” so we better use our time wisely.

That’s the essence of Ephesians 5:15-16 where Paul cautions, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as the unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25:14-30 basically says the same thing – use your talents and time wisely! One of my favorite passages about the use of time is Proverbs 6:10-11, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” I like the poetic imagery, but I must admit that the workaholism that is promoted is a little too American, not that I’m pro sloth, but “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

The bottom line is that we need to make the most of time and I simply wonder if Daylight Saving Time actually helps! What do you think? Has DST helped your Lenten spiritual disciplines or set you back more than forward, pun intended? Give a listen to the Byrds and their rendition of that famous time passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. This has helped me wake up and enjoy the day better than most things this week. How are you doing?

Time Will Tell

Six days until the Gamecocks play East Carolina and we find out if the pre-season hype is reality. Time will tell, right? I have had time on the brain after getting an email yesterday from the Ball Watch Company. They’re the makers  of the watches that have been the standard for accurate time ever since the heyday of railroads when being on time could literally be the difference between life and death. Think the recent movie “Unstoppable.” Ball watches are the source of the saying about “being on the ball.” Somebody who is “on the ball” is with it, on time, and a hard worker.

I’m a fan of satellite music and get caught between listening to the 60’s and 70’s so I usually split the difference and listen to “The Blend” or “The Bridge” stations because they include my favorite songs from both decades. Here’s my theory. I’m fairly convinced that the type of music that we like is connected to when we were in high school all the way through our sophomore year in college. Little wonder that I’m a fan of the Mama’s & Papa’s, the Beach Boys, The Beatles, Three Dog Night, the Rolling Stones, James Taylor, Carole King, The Who, and, especially, the Moody Blues, who I repeatedly listened to as I read and reread The Hobbit  and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Whenever I think of Middle Earth I can’t help but think of the mystical sounds of the Moody Blues.

Here I am more than a bit past middle age, and life’s bookends are staring me square in the face. I have great hope that I’m aligned with God’s future for me but I can see plenty of potential pitfalls. I can look back at my youth and see a bumpy mixture of triumphs and wounds, too, from first loves gone wrong to broken bones, winning seasons to a Charlie Brownish missing of the ball. It’s hard at whatever age to keep one’s mind off the before’s and after’s  of life.

This is when I’m helped by thinking about time from God’s eternal perspective. With God, age is always ageless. There is always immediacy! For God, time is always kairos not chronos. “Kairos” is one ancient Greek word for time that defines time by the content of the moment. “Chronos” defines time in the manner that I mostly use. By definition “chronos” time is spatial, chronological, and linear. Chronological time views things as “fifteen minutes UNTIL something,” or “thirty minutes AFTER something.” Conversely, “kairos” time is more digital than spatial. It is defined by the God-moment, the experience rather than by what comes before or after.

It’s not so great that I like clock faces that are more “chronos” than “kairos,” even though my phone and TV time displays flash the time of the moment in a great “kairos” way. “Chronos” time is antithetical to living in the moment. If our favorite music can be defined by the content of certain life stages, may we dare give another listen to the sounds around us right now and hear God? My prayer is that I will grasp God’s “kairos,” this critical moment that God offers as a gift sublimely called “the present.” There just might be enough God-presence in the sounds of a loved one’s sigh, the arthritic creaking of our own joints threatening us with our own mortality and hopeful maturity, or the sweet-baby noise unintelligible yet profoundly clear in their message of love.

Here’s the message for me: Time is of the essence, literally! As much as I find Ball watches and their spatial “chronos” faces both familiar and comfortable, and I spatially can’t wait until next Saturday’s football game, I pledge this week to think and live digital in God’s “kairos” time. Time will tell!

Summer Time

Remember the song “Time in a Bottle”? That’s on my mind as I write today. I’m fairly convinced that the type of popular music that we like is linked to when we were juniors and seniors in high school. My personal favorites include Peter, Paul, and Mary, The Birds, Three Dog Night, The Rolling Stones, James Taylor, The Who, The Beatles, and, especially, The Moody Blues, who I repeatedly listened to as I read and reread The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Whenever I think of Middle Earth I can’t help but think of the mystical sounds of the Moody Blues.

Here I am squarely at middle-age, and life’s bookends are staring me in the face. I have enough time under my belt to retire, but that’s too far away to even ponder, much less desire. Being Columbia DS is an exhilarating challenge and last night’s Set-Up meeting has gotten me jacked up for another ministry-filled year! On the other hand, I’m missing summer and wondering how to get back to the beach, mountains, and any place of solitude. That’s my life, maybe yours, wondering about where I’ve come from, and rethinking, remembering. For instance, rethinking childhood and adolescence is an idyllic mixture of triumphs and wounds, from first love to broken bones, winning seasons to a Charlie Brownish dropping of the ball. It’s hard at whatever the age to keep one’s mind off the “befores and afters” of life.
 
But God is eternal and knows no time though time-bound for a short period through Jesus’ incarnation. For God, age is ageless. For God, time is always kairos not chronos. “Kairos” is one ancient Greek word for time. It defines time by the content of the moment. “Chronos” defines time in the manner that I am most accustomed. By its definition time is spatial, chronological, and linear. Chronological time views things as “fifteen minutes UNTIL something,” or “thirty minutes AFTER something.” Conversely, kairos time is more digital than spatial. It is defined by the God-moment, the experience rather than by what comes before or after.
 
In this regard our watches and clocks which display time in a spatial way, with spaces between seconds, minutes, and hours, are antithetical to a celebration of the “now.” Digital clocks and watches flash the exact hour and minute begging us to think in the present and live in the now without pressing us to think about before and after. God help us to live in the now! The past may have been great, and I am looking forward to better days ahead, but to live faithfully in this world is to do it as God does – giving my complete attention to whomever and whatever is before me right now. If our favorite music is defined by the content of certain life stages, may we dare give another listen to the sounds about us now? It might not be classical, swing band, country, rock and roll, the blues, or ballads that we need to listen to. There just might be enough God-presence in the sounds of a loved one’s sigh, the arthritic creaking of our own joints belying the hopeful maturity of the years, or the sweet-baby noises unintelligible yet profoundly clear in their message of love upon which we need to focus today. Focus we will, for time is of the essence! Think digital and live digital in God’s Time.