Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Time as my Lens

John related that, as he aged, his thoughts turned more and more to the hereafter.
He would often enter a room, stop, and wonder, "What was I here after?"

In 1984 Sally and I moved our two little girls across the country to Oakland, California, where I was enrolled in a graduate program with Matthew Fox. In preparation for our journey we had sold almost everything we owned, borrowed every penny we could, and relied on many people for favors, support, and goodwill. We arrived in Oakland without having ever seen the city or the school, without having met anyone associated with the program, and without anywhere to live. The mere fact that Sally was willing to accompany me on this boondoggle tells you a lot about her. That's right, she had no other prospects.

We had been given the name of another family whose husband/father was similarly tetched, and had made arrangements to stay with them "a night or two" until we could make our own housing arrangements. We were so happy to have the chance, finally, to meet some real people with whom we would share our sojourn. Larry and Connie (whose daughters were named Erin and Megan, in contrast to our Megan and Erin) greeted us warmly before informing us that they had had enough of California, and were returning to Ontario. Their reason for leaving? They couldn't tolerate the overt discrimination against Canadians they had experienced.

In shock and disbelief, we asked how they had been discriminated against. They described the inability to access funds from a cashier's cheque from their bank in Toronto for eight business days, and the difficulty they had in obtaining a California ID without which even local checks weren't accepted. They talked about how Connie and the girls had drawn stares when they walked to the nearby park one afternoon. Enough was enough. They were going back to Toronto.

As Sally and I learned, funds in cashier's checks from Wisconsin weren't available for eight business days. People from Wisconsin couldn't get a California ID without calling a number that was always busy in order to make an appointment for six weeks later for the privilege of standing in line for hours to apply for a photo ID or driver's license that would come in the mail some weeks hence. As for Connie and the girl's park outing? It's sad that race relations in Richmond Annex, CA weren't more like those in Toronto. My guess is that Connie and her girls were the first three whites to visit that particular park in decades. Having evolved beyond judging people by the color of their skin, they reasoned that the stares they drew were the result of it being obvious that they were Canadians. In truth, it was probably assumed they were from another planet.

We bid a sad farewell to our new, nearly friends. Having interpreted their experiences through the lens of being Canadian, they would not, they could not, entertain any alternate explanation for their tribulations.

We all wear lenses. Our lenses, ground, shaped and polished by family histories and individual experience, race, geography, education, vocation, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, help us make sense of the world. Or at least what seems like sense to us.

Over the past few years, I have increasingly viewed and interpreted the world through the lens of time. My time orientation is not about time moving so quickly, or my mortality, or the wisdom that comes with age, or turning my thoughts to the hereafter. My lens is that of seeing many of the world's ills as they are related to human inability to understand time.

Let me cut to the chase: There are too many of us. Our activities are degrading the nature of life on this planet, and the impacts are irreversible. We are using too much wood, water, and energy. We create too much waste. The Earth is finite, and we believe in an economy based on infinite expansion. The only way we can avoid becoming totally overwhelmed by these facts is to remain in denial of their reality.

The future is not out there, flowing toward us. Rather we are creating the future through our decisions and actions in the here and now. This is my lens, and it colors the way I see every issue, every newscast, and every decision. From this time-centric viewpoint, issues that once seemed vital are of no consequence at all, and others to which I devoted little thought have taken on immense importance.

I confess that the view isn't rosy through my lenses. I'm not Canadian, so Toronto offers scant refuge.

1 comment:

  1. And still we pray, "Thy kin-dom come, thy will be done..." as though we have to wait for sometime out there. The work of creating a sort-of realm of God in the here and now is at hand. Still sorting out the idea of "repent, the kingdom of God is at hand" in light of the here and now.... :o)