Thinking about time

It has been a fairly slow time in the life of my church. The summer slump is in full swing, and in spite of what Lyle Schaller and George Barna would say about the Seven Day A Week Church, I’m not really sure I mind. It’s been good to slow down, to not think much, to spend some time thinking about where God is leading me and the church. Yet, I carry around guilt that I’m not doing enough, that the summer slump is due to my own lethargy, and that I’m simply procrastinating rather than being proactive for the busy times ahead. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, I suppose, but I find myself longing for school to start and the pace to pick up.

It is interesting how the school schedule continues to order the life of the church. One of the great challenges for church life in the days to come is the move to year round schooling that is happening in many areas of the country. Suddenly, things like summer camps or summer mission trips find themselves at odds with society, representing a mode of being that harkens back to an earlier time arranged around the agricultural calendar.

We already experience this a bit in our congregation. Our relatively small youth group (20 – 30 kids) has kids in three different county systems with three different school schedules, and that doesn’t consider the private school kids. Doing ministry with youth in this setting is a mess as its hard to determine a set schedule. It seems like we spend as much time calendaring as doing ministry.

All of this leads me to think about the nature of time. Tom Frank (my professor at Emory) talks in The Soul of the Congregation about different time schemes in the life of the church. He identifies the challenges in a polychronic world, with many different calendars — the “church year,” the school calendar, the fiscal year. We have so many different senses of time that often don’t mesh.

Take my congregation. There is a class (whom I love deeply) which maintains a rural sense of time. Thus, I normally have to show up at church by 8:30 a.m. even though Sunday school doesn’t start until 9:30 as these folks will start showing up at 8:45 or 9. If we have a church dinner that starts at 5:30, they are there by 5. They were raised in a culture in which being on time is important, and being late is rude. It’s an endearing trait, and can be helpful at times.

What happens though when you try to take this rural, white, middle class notion of time and mesh it with the time schemes of other ethnic groups? There is a growing African community in our neighborhood. What I have learned (through the passage of time…) is that they African sense of time is radically different. We invited an African classmate of my daughter’s to her birthday party which began at 7 p.m. About 8:30 p.m. we got a call from her dad saying that they were coming. For folks operating on this sense of time, a 7 p.m. start time means that at 7 p.m., we begin to think about heading to the party.

This time conflict plays out in so many ways. Take the early service / late service conflict. There is a different sense of how time is to be used between those who do the early service and those who do the late service. It is why attempts to “merge” two services (after the construction of a new building) rarely work. The early people want to get started quickly. The late folks struggle to get up. The senses of time simply don’t mesh.

As an ex-television director, I am very much aware of time. I work hard to make our services conform to a specific time limit. I hate it when we aren’t “on-time.” And yet, how often does my obsession with time ignore the power of the Spirit? How often is my worry about time reflective of my need to control? Is my concern about time important, or simply reflective of an anal retentive nature?

We are about to go on vacation, to take family sabbath. We’re going to do this at the temple of plastic, the Taj Mahal of consermism, Walt Disney World in Orlando. “It’s for the kids,” I keep reminding myself, but honestly I’m looking forward to not being so serious and indulging in a little American decadence.

What I’m looking forward to the most is losing track of time. I have made the decision to go watchless for the week, to give up my time obsession and take a time sabbath. While I may not sleep in (Kay’s plans for the trip won’t allow for that) I’m not going to worry about time. I’m not going to worry about waiting in line — afterall, what’s the hurry? If we don’t get to see everything, what’s the big deal. I want to immerse myself in the moment, to enjoy the kids, to lose control for a week.

Dear God, why can I only do this for a week? How would my life be different if I could make that into a lifestyle? Could this trip model for me a new way of being, a way focused less on chronos and more on kairos?

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