Time is a redeemable gift. The Ephesians were counseled to live by “making most of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16) The King James Version reads “redeeming the time.” American Protestants look at these words and immediately think it is about doing something with the time. Indeed the United Methodist Book of Discipline warns the ordained person to “Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at one place than is strictly necessary.” But these statements make time into a burden. Time is a gift and is redeemable. Governor Jeb Bush of Florida sunk his presidential hopes by saying, “Americans need to work more hours.” He intended to say, “Americans need more full-time employment.” People who were struggling heard “work more and harder.” And the words worked about as well as they do in a sermon.
Clergy fail our churches when we complain about time. I have often heard clergy complain about how their lay people spend time. “If I have a Bible study, no one wants to attend.” But, taking a group from church to the ballgame is often a popular time for church people. The complaint is not without merit. How we use time demonstrates what we value in our lives. Time is more precious than money. There are only two days a person does not have the same amount of time as everyone else. These are the days they are born and die. If people value Bible study, one assumes they would devote significant portions of their days to it. One can reasonably assume people wanting eternal companionship with God would devote similar quantities of a day to prayer. But it does not happen that way. Why?
The issue goes back to the amount of the day spent in doing stuff people would rather not be doing. I don’t mean simply working on the job. There is still more. Traveling to and from the job or attending to the needs of the family are necessities. “Having to” go to the doctor, prepare meals, grocery shop, and do unpaid labor are all examples of anxiety-producing activities. that take up our time. People sometimes claim they need more hours in the day. But some take the moment to think about how those extra hours might be spent and wasted.
Entertainment and Diversion
Clergy know that for many of their lay members church is not a priority. Evidence is provided in attendance and giving numbers. Few of my colleagues are brave enough to tell the truth here. Our basic theology is self-centered. Most of us wonder about how we chose to be low-paid professionals among people taught to value the trappings of success. Why did we think being clergy would be more helpful than any other profession? Why do we struggle to raise families in an underappreciated situation?
We fall into the trap of believing our foe is the variety of entertainments and diversions available. Movies, ballgames, miniseries, and novels are not the problem. The only thing that makes them our foe is the negative effects they have on the character of lay people. Negative emotions are easily conjured by entertainment. Movies that “make a statement,” ballgame announcers who whine over bad calls by referees, 24 hour “news” complaining stoke the fires of negativity. The negativity allows a person to become more self-centered. And, since the self feels enhanced this way larger portions of the day are devoted to it. It is no small wonder that resentments result when the opportunities for negativity are limited.
Recently, I was directed to an old article from Harpers in 1941. The title seems appropriate for today, Who Goes Nazi? I admit the conclusions by the writer made me a little uncomfortable. According to her, I am in danger of being a Nazi to be purged by the Party.
The reason is clear. Whatever can be said about my own sense of righteousness, I fail in it. Such failures make me want to double-down on my attitude and resentment toward others. Christians who have been burned by fundamentalism are just as prone to make the mistakes fundamentalists make regarding others. We potentially spend our time opposing the failure of others rather than promoting the good that can be done. The worse situation would be thinking our opposition is more important than good that could be done. I recall wanting to oppose “error” more than wanting to promote good. I even would oppose good being done by people in error. It was all about making myself important.
The problem for all people withing movements is self-analysis. We are familiar with anti-homosexuals who are or were in the closet themselves. The rest of the world wonders why “they don’t see it.” In fact, most of us fail to see the “it” in ourselves we are opposing. Recovery groups like to say, “If you spot it, you got it.” Like all truisms, it can be overplayed. But they still may be true for us. One way to redeem the time is to find out if it is.