Sunday, July 12, 2009

How should we live? (Part one of three reflections on Luke 15)

Have you seen the film Chocolat? It tells the tale of a woman who moves to a village in the french countryside to open a chocolate shop at the beginning of Lent. The townspeople, particularly the mayor, are concerned about her arrival. They live a life of strict moral diligence and don't know what to do with this woman who fails to fit into their preconceived notions of a life well-lived.

The film deals with the questions of how one should live their life. Like so many other films, books, and plays, it deals with two approaches to life that the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard calls the "aesthetic" and the "ethical."

The aesthetic approach to life is a life of sensual indulgence, a life of freedom from the confines of traditional morality. A life of radical independence, self-expression, and self-discovery.

The ethical approach to life is a life of moral diligence, a life of dutiful obedience to standards of right and wrong. A life of discipline, rigor and conformity to tradition and religion.

So much of what I seen playing out in our culture seems to divide along these lines. Our country seems to be growing more and more secular and more and more religious at the same time. On one side are those who are weary of religious people imposing their views on everyone else. On the other side are those who want to rescue our nation from the encroaching secularism by "taking back the culture" and returning to traditional morality.

This division between the aesthetic and the ethical is nothing new. It's even addressed in the Bible. This morning, with my senior pastor out of town, I was invited to take the pulpit and give the sermon. My text was Luke 15. In this chapter, Jesus is surrounded by a group of irreligious people, people from the "wrong side of the tracks", so to speak. A group of religious leaders are also present and they're mumbling to themselves, wondering why Jesus would have anything to do with these people. In response to their grumbling, Jesus tells them three parables. Though all three parables are similar, the third one is unique in that the two main characters, a wild younger brother and a dutiful older brother, represent the people in the crowd. The younger brother represents the "aesthetic" approach to life and the older brother represents the "ethical" approach.

Surprisingly, Jesus singles out both approaches to life as inadequate. He suggests something entirely different. He offers a way of life that is neither religious nor rebellious. A way of life that is neither strict and rigorous, nor lax and self-indulgent. A way of life that is not a balance between two extremes but an entirely different approach altogether. An approach so unique that the ancient Romans called the first Christians "athiests" because they didn't fit into any of their pre-conceived understanding of religion.

More on this later in the week.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Living beyond the ribbon of time

The redhead's recent post has me thinking about time.  Life has been good around our home but death has crept into the corners through the television updates on the passing of numerous celebrities, through the one-year anniversary of my father-in-law's passing, and through the recent death of an old acquaintance, a young thirty-something father of two who's body gave way to a long battle with stomach cancer.

Time passes so quickly.  News of death and loss makes me want to do everything I can to live in the present as fully as possible, not hindered by past mistakes, missed opportunities, or wounds, not distracted by anxious concern over what may or may not happen in the future.  The past is gone and the future doesn't exist yet.  All we have is "the now."

The ancient Greeks had two words for time:  chronos and kairos.  Chronos corresponds to the English word for time.  It has do to with measured time:  hours, minutes, and seconds.  It is represented by clocks and calenders, daytimers and blackberries.  It's all about productivity, efficiency, and punctuality.  Kairos is different.  It has to do with important events, timeless moments, glimpses of transcendence, and heart stopping encounters.  

One writer describes it this way:  "We exist in chronos, we long for kairos.  Chronos requires speed so life is not wasted; kairos requires patience so that life can be enjoyed.  Chronos drives us forward to get things done; kairos allows us to relish the opportunity to do them.  We perform in chronos, but we truly live in kairos." (Gerald Sitser, The Will of God as a Way of Life).

There are moments where we do have to focus on productivity and efficiency.  And there are times when we have to hurry.  But life is lived best from kairos, not chronos.  If we're not careful chronos can enslave us to a barren busyness that drains us of the passion and wonder of life.  Moreover, it deafens our ears to the voice of God who calls to us in kairos moments where heaven and earth intersect.

Life is lived best when we slow down enough to pay attention and enjoy the ordinary kairos moments:  things like laughter with friends, a good meal, throwing the best of ourselves into our jobs with passion, catching a great wave on a surfboard, receiving the bread and wine at the communion table, and unhurried time with our spouse.  

Life is lived best when we make it an art.  Life is lived best when we ignore the busyness, the push and pull of life, and we stop to enjoy the present.  Life is at its best when we live beyond the ribbon of time and the tick tick tick of the clock.