Friday, December 30, 2011

Times of Our Lives

I watched two movies this week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Both had to do with time, appropriately. The first was a Woody Allen film called Midnight in Paris. It's about a Hollywood screen writer who wants to write a novel. He does not feel satisfied with his current writing jobs and his fiance and her parents do not appreciate the work he does. He loves Paris and he and fiance tag along with her rich parents when her father has business to transact there. The Paris he is love with is the Paris of the 1920's full of famous writers and painters. If only he had lived then, he would have been a serious writer. Still, he believes just being in Paris will stimulate his writing juices. His future wife wants to shop and sight see and they run into one of her former professors and his wife. He is an arrogant know it all who impresses Gil's (the screenwriter played by Owen Wilson) fiance with his erudition. Gil is bored and turns to walking the streets of Paris. Paris is beautifully filmed and Gil is in love with it. Around midnight the first night of his walks and after a few drinks he gets lost on his way back to the hotel and sits on the front steps of a building. An old looking car with driver approaches and a man in the back waves for him to join a party going on in the car. Once there he realizes it is F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zoe and a series of magical midnight excursions into the 1920's begins where he meets many famous authors and artists. He has the time of his life. He meets someone there in the 20's who is a kindred spirit and he falls for her. But, she feels she belongs truly to an earlier era and leaves him for that time. He realizes that he can't live in the past, only learn from it, and when he accepts that he can be his best writing self where he is right now.

The second movie was based in modern Kenya. The Kenyan government has declared everyone has a right to free public education. Schools begin to form all over the country. Out in the bush children crowd into a small building to attend first grade. There are two earnest teachers and many enthusiastic children ready to learn. Then, an old man comes to the gate of the school compound. He is 84 years old and he wants to come to school. After all, the government said education was free for all. He is told he is too old and it will be too disruptive for him to join the school. They don't even have enough resources for the children. He says he wants to learn to read. When he was young the British would not let Africans go to school. Then, he became one of the Mau Mau who fought the British for independence. He was in a prison camp for ten years. He was tortured and he saw his family killed by the British. He will not be denied a chance to learn to read now. Many people did not want to hear his story and relive the pain of the war years. They wanted to move on, to leave the past in the past. But he knew we have to learn from the past not ignore it or deny it. The present can only be made better through the past.

Then, I read a book. It was written by Tony Judt. Judt is a world class historian and a book in European history since 1945 was a New York Times book of the year in 2005. Then Tony found out he had ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease which eventually left him paralyzed. That's when he wrote his last book, The Memory Chalet. For Tony, with ALS, time is a burden, a heavy weight. In one of the essays in the book called, Night, he writes about the long seven hours in bed unable to move and waiting for the morning to come. He has the time just like you and I do but he can do nothing with it. All he has are his memories of the past. He is like someone in solitary confinement trying to stay alive within himself. He says, " there is no saving grace in being confined to an iron suit, cold and unforgiving. The pleasures of mental agility are much overstated, by those not exclusively dependent on them... Loss is loss, and nothing is gained by calling it by a nicer name. My nights are intriguing; but I could do without them."

I am preaching on New Years Day and so I have been thinking about time. I have written several sermon drafts. I thought it would be an easy week to write a sermon. It has not been. Someone suggested spending the hour of worship on Sunday in prayer and singing. I have considered it. But, I have come up with a word to say. Probably, too many words. Time is an important commodity. We all share it. Or we waste it, or kill it,  and then we wish we had more of it, for it flies.

 Eugene Peterson says that the Teacher in Ecclesiastes (he calls him the Quester) is necessary reading for Christians today because we have the propensity to go off on our own - trying to be human by our own devices, and desires. Ecclesiastes, he says, sweeps our souls clean of all "lifestyle" spiritualities so that we can be ready for God's visitation revealed in Jesus Christ. Ecclesiastes is a cleansing read, it is repentance, a purging; we read it to get scrubbed clean from illusion and sentiment, from ideas that are idolatrous and feelings that cloy. It is an expose and rejection of every arrogant and ignorant expectation that we can live our lives by ourselves on our own terms. Peterson says.

People will be thinking of all sorts of things New Year's Day. Some will be making plans to change old habits in the new year. Some will be making new resolutions. Some will be reliving the past, some will be focussed on the future. Some will be barely thinking at all after a night of revelry. But, for those of us in Church this Sunday a meditation on time may be a good use of it.