Time and the New Year

If you’re like me, you live most of your life with an acute awareness of time.  Minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months organize appointments, deadlines, and opportunities for routines like sharing meals or engaging in spiritual practice.  Everything is governed by time.

Or is it?

We know that time is a relative concept.  Organizing the rotation of the Earth into 24 equal periods, while brilliant, was also an arbitrary decision.  The duration of a day on Earth is not the same as on Venus, Mars or any other planet.  The same is true for the duration of a year.  It’s just how we organize the movements of our planet.  Indeed, time, as an applied concept, is relative to our planet.

Physics considers time differently from ordinary experience.  Time is generally understood as a relationship between events, i.e., this event happened before that event.  That said, Einstein’s work helped us to understand that both speed and gravity impact the pace at which time passes, leading to a slowing or quickening of time.  Early in the 20th Century, McTaggart suggested that time is essentially an illusion:  that things exist only in the present. It’s our perception that creates a past.

Okay…..before you think I’ve lost all grasp of reality, what’s the point I am trying to make?

Across the globe, people celebrate the beginning of a new year.  We make resolutions and plans for the future.  We set out goals and envision how this year will be different from the past.  We start the new year looking forward with a sense that, “this time, things will be different!”

But the marking of time is a social convention.  The years, the months, the days, the hours, and the minutes are just ideas we share to make some sense out of life.  And there we have it!  Yes, this thing called “time” is all about making sense out of our lives.

Perhaps the changing of the calendar is an opportunity to consider this:  how is it that you make sense of your life?  The events that have occurred in your past have brought you to this point.  What do they mean for you?  What do they mean for what comes next?

Since time isn’t objectively real but is just a social construct we accept, that means we have the freedom to decide how to approach what comes next for us.  What would be meaningful for you?  What would be fulfilling?  What would stir your passion for living into the future?

Time: it’s a relative concept.  That means you can choose to make of it what you will.  From that perspective, choosing to make time mean something of value may be the best gift you can give yourself.



Photo by Andrey Grushnikov from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-photo-of-clocks-707676/

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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So, This Is Christmas …

It was quite unexpected.  Her mother fell on a patch of ice the week before Thanksgiving.  The broken hip was a concern, but following surgery, she was admitted to rehab. It seemed as though all was well.  But then there were complications.  She died about a week ago. The family gathered for the funeral on the Saturday before Christmas.

Three adult sons are living with their mother.  One had spent time in jail for a drug-related offense. Another, well….the neighbors said that he was “a bit slow.”  The third left a failed marriage.  They were trying to get by on mother’s social security and working various jobs in big box stores and fast food restaurants.  They were good neighbors and helped others, including doing yard work for those who due to age couldn’t keep up with the work.  Just last week, the notice went up on the front door:  the bank was going to foreclose on the mortgage.  What would be next for them?

I met for coffee with a man I know.  In his 40’s, he’s a successful businessman … and white.  His wife, working in government, is African-American.  They have two teenage boys nearing adulthood.  While the boys are mixed race, most people identify them as African-American.  The man tells me that he’s afraid for his sons.  “What will happen if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time?  What if they have a run-in with the police?  I don’t know how to help them.”  Yes, it’s a problem Black parents face, but this white man finds himself confused and troubled on how to sort out his own experience of “white privilege” while being a good parent to young African-American teenage boys.

As John Lennon sang in a song from my youth, “So, this is Christmas!”

Our images of Christmas are of warmth, good cheer, and peace among people.  While there is a good deal of merry-making and celebrations small and large, the world doesn’t stop for Christmas.  If anything, our hopes of what Christmas should make the realities of life seem more harsh and frustrating.

Our fantasies about Christmas gloss over the sacred stories of the birth of Jesus that are the foundation for this holiday day.  Perhaps we forget that it was a poor young couple who made a difficult journey and had no safe place to stay.  Or we romanticize the shepherds and miss that they were viewed as second-class citizens who lived with their animals, didn’t maintain the religious laws of cleanliness, and were not welcome in most social circles.  We mistakenly refer to the magi as “kings” but they were foreigners of a different religion and culture.  Then, much like today, foreigners of a different culture and religion were viewed with suspicion, not a warm welcome.  The bottom line is this: the sacred stories of Christmas are about those who were outsiders, down on their luck, without any redeeming social value.  Yet, they were the ones who are the central characters for the beginning of our stories about the birth of Jesus.

The sacred stories of Christmas are meant to remind us that hope is born in the lives of people who are struggling, facing hardship, and live in fear.  These stories are the most significant when we allow the darkness of our lives to be filled with light – even if that light is just the glimmer of a single star.  The depth of meaning in the stories of Christmas is most relevant for those living on the edge who aren’t sure what may come next.

I think the meaning of Christmas is captured in a sermon from the fifth century by Peter Chrysologus, a bishop in Central Italy, who wrote: “God saw the world falling to ruin because of fear and immediately acted to call it back with love. God invited it by grace, preserved it by love, and embraced it with compassion.”

The essence of the sacred stories of Christmas is that because the world is falling apart, because people experience pain and tragedy, because wrapped in fear we fail to do better, grace calls again and again to be people of love and compassion.  The hope of Christmas is that struggle and strife aren’t the end of the story.  Instead, something new can be born into our world that calls us to do better and to be better.

Yes, so this is Christmas!  It’s not plastic sentimentality sold to us by commercial opportunists but it is the opportunity to allow hope be born anew.  It is the hope of Christmas that bring us out of fear to a new faith that sets things right.

As I think about the pain and tragedy in the world and in the lives of people I know, it seems to me that we need Christmas more than ever.  Indeed, we need to allow our lives to be transformed by love and compassion for the healing of the world.

On these last days before Christmas, I look for this hope as I pray the words of the ancient hymn: O Come, Emmanuel!


Photo by Alexey Kljatov (ChaoticMind75) on Foter.com / CC BY-NC

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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The Truth about the Christmas Stories

Sir John Polkinghorne, the renowned particle physicist who, as a second career, became an Anglican priest, tells a story that’s very insightful.  The members of his first parish weren’t sure if they would be able to understand sermons delivered by this very accomplished scientist.  Dr. John Polkinghorne quickly changed that perception during his first sermon at the parish.  Addressing the topic of truth, Polkingham asked the question, “Why is the kettle of water boiling?”  He noted that one explanation would address the rise in temperature as exciting the particles in water that causes the water to boil.  Clearly, that answer is true.  However, another answer may be that I am making a cup of tea to share with a friend.  The second answer is also true. While both answers are equally true, they speak to different realities.

When thinking about the truth of Christmas conveyed in biblical stories about the birth of Jesus, I find Polkinghorn’s sermon illustration on truth to be very helpful.  The stories concerning the birth of Jesus are found in the gospel accounts attributed to Matthew and Luke.  While we commonly mix the details of the two accounts into one, Matthew and Luke recount events that conflict with each other.

In Matthew’s story, we are told that Caesar Augustus ordered a census of the Roman Empire; that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, the home of one of Joseph’s ancestors more than twenty generations prior; that a star appeared in the sky; and that astrologers brought a symbolic assortment of gifts.  Luke’s story is about Mary, who learned of her pregnancy from an angel, and then visited her cousin. According to Luke, at the time of the child’s birth, angels sang in the sky and shepherds came from the fields to watch.  In reviewing the details, the only agreement in the two stories seems to be that Mary had a baby and named him Jesus, a very common name in that era that means “God saves.”

Where is truth in the biblical stories of the birth of Jesus?  Today we know that there is no historic evidence that Cesar Augustus ordered a census.  While some astronomers suggest that there may have been a comet near the time of the birth of Jesus, there is no evidence that a star stood still in one place.  We’ll never know about visits from astrologers or shepherds other than to say that there is no other record beyond the biblical accounts.  For that matter, while there is some record from other historical documents that Jesus, an itinerant rabbi, existed in the first century, there is not much evidence to support any of the details many Christians hold today as factually true.

As for the facts of these two stories, we’ll never know whether they are true or not.  The only evidence to support them is from the gospel accounts attributed to Matthew and Luke, and the two stories don’t even agree with each other! While the facts are not verifiable, can anyone say that the stories are true?

Both stories describe people living in difficult times.  In Matthew, Joseph and Mary are forced by edict to take a long, arduous journey and then give birth to their first child in a cave.  Foreign star-gazers travel from unknown lands to visit them.  There are many personal difficulties, yes, even tragedies in Matthew’s story.  These themes continue in Luke’s account. Luke tells of an unwed teenage girl who is lucky enough to have an older suitor marry her.  The only ones who recognize the birth of the child as a wonderful event are people marginalized by society: uneducated shepherds, who live with animals; homeless old people who are down on their luck and live in the temple; and a relative who was believed to be cursed because she was barren for years.  The Christmas story is surrounded by people struggling to manage with serious difficulties in life.  In the midst of the human suffering and tragedy, hope is born.  The very clear message in both stories is that in the midst of human struggle, a promise of a bright tomorrow dawns when and where it is least expected.

Today, in much of the world, we live in a dark time.  It seems as though governments have failed us.  People are divided against one another for ideological reasons.  We feel powerless to deal with the ways our communities and society are falling apart.  While the details of today are very different from the lives of the people in the biblical narrative, we are like them:  living in the midst of struggle and human tragedy.  It is in this context that the truth of the Christmas story takes shape:  there is hope for tomorrow!  Just as the story of a child born long ago gave light to the world, the truth of Christmas is that we can find a brighter tomorrow for our world.

It makes no difference to me if there was a star, a choir of angels, or even a virgin-birth.  What’s most important is the truth that hope can be born anew in any age, even in desperate times like our own. After all, isn’t the birth of hope in desperate times something that angels should sing about?  When faced with difficult times, isn’t the promise of a better tomorrow worth more than gold?  Yes, there is truth in the Christmas story that rings out through the night of our darkest times. This truth is vital to every generation, especially for those facing difficult times.


Photo by Waiting For The Word on Foter.com / CC BY


© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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