living in time


    I am more and more convinced that time doesn’t move in a line.

    Even as I make that statement, I can recall one of my seminary professors waxing eloquent about the linear view of time being something that made the Judeo-Christian worldview stand apart from the others: history was going somewhere rather than going in circles.

    But here’s the deal: in the middle of our youth mission trip this past week, I got an email message from, Deana, who was in my youth group twenty years ago catching me up on her life and saying thanks for helping her through some hard times. Two decades later, how I feel about teenagers and how I interact with them is not so different. Time has moved, yes, but not in a line. I need a different metaphor. The idea that history, whether public or personal, simply moves from Point A to Point B makes something with more layers than lasagna sound two dimensional. Time is a dimension of its own, with room to move, as the old Sesame Street song used to say,

    around and around
    around and around

    over under and through

    In the summer of 1984, my friend Gene (who can be found here) invited me to go to youth camp with his church as camp pastor. One of the things we did was to set up a sound system so we could make announcements and provide a soundtrack for the week. Each morning, he and I got up early and found our way to the microphone to sing an intentionally irritating version of “Morning Has Broken,” which is probably the reason Cat Stevens quit singing and converted to Islam. In the twenty-odd summers since, I’ve kept waking kids with that songs and others, such as this (with apologies to Minnie Ripperton)

    waking you is easy ‘cause I’m beautiful
    and every time that I do

    I just love waking you

    And yes, I hit the high notes – which leads me to one of my favorite moments on our trip. The last morning everyone was moving particularly slowly, so I kept singing as I went about my tasks. One of the kids, who woke up not feeling well, came up to me and said, “Your voice is magnified like ten times in my head.”

    “Wow!” I answered. “That must be awesome.”

    Sometimes I crack myself up. One of the other things I learned from Gene that summer that has stayed with me was the practice of writing affirmation cards. He showed up at camp with enough cards for everyone to write everyone else at least once (and there were three hundred of us), and we did. I’ve parted with a lot of things over the years, but I still have almost every card I’ve ever received. They are treasures.

    One of the kids on our trip built an outdoor labyrinth at his church for his Eagle Scout project. The spiritual practice of walking the labyrinth is something that speaks to me and something I’m still learning about.
    The use of the labyrinth is older than Christianity and carries in it a sense of time that can carry all the layers. The first time I walked one, I was struck by how I moved all over the circle as I worked my way to the center. I would be walking next to someone and then we would both make turns and be on opposite sides of the circle, moving both together and separately, both ultimately aimed at the center. As long ago and far away as those days at Camp Ozark seem to me, all it takes is one turn singing in the morning and Gene and I are walking side by side once again. Writing affirmation cards draws me close to Deana and others with whom I have shared love and encouragement. To walk a straight line on our planet would bring me back to where I started; I’m not sure time is any different. Whether we’re spending time, saving time, making time, marking time, losing time, or finding time, we go out where we came in: ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

    One of my favorite singer-songwriters from my college days was B. W. Stevenson. His self-titled album is still one of the best things I own, even if it’s still only on vinyl. When I lived in Fort Worth in the mid-eighties, I saw he was playing in a little club called The Hop. His few radio songs were long gone and he made a living doing small gigs, mostly in Texas. It was a weeknight and I was one of only a handful of people in the room, but he sang like it was a sellout. During a break between sets, he sat down at a booth by himself with a beer and I walked over to say a few words of affirmation. “I’ve been following you since college,” I said.

    “Oh!” he replied. “You’re the guy.”

    We talked for a bit and I got to say thanks for the songs that meant so much to me. I stayed until he wouldn’t sing anymore and went home. I never saw him again. He died a couple of years later, at 38, of complications after heart surgery. Here’s what he said about time:

    well, sorrow brings you loneliness
    and pain can bring disgrace
    at twenty-one the world
    is written on your face

    got no one to turn to –

    the road is long and low
    just look on up to Jesus,
    and He can let you know.

    you’ve got to save a little time,
    save a little time,

    save a little time for love.

    save a little time, save a little time,

    save a little time for love.

    life can bring misfortune
    and it can bring you strife,

    your mind may want to lash out
    at the friends you find in life.

    take hold of your senses,
    the devil takes his toll

    just look on up to Jesus,
    and He can let you know.

    you’ve got to save a little time,

    save a little time,

    save a little time for love.

    save a little time, save a little time,

    save a little time for love.

    well, if you see your brother,
    and he’s without a friend

    take hold of his heart and soul
    and walk him to the end.

    take his mind and try
    to make him understand

    that man is only man,
    but he does the best he can.

    you’ve got to save a little time,

    save a little time,

    save a little time for love.

    save a little time, save a little time,

    save a little time for love.

    Time is, most of all, the dimension in which love thrives.



    1. Time is lasagna. A labirynth of lasagna.

      Great memories. My kids just got back from mission camp this week and have been transformed. My eldest shared with me her affirmation cards. They mean the world to her.

      Well-written, brother.

    2. You make me laugh and cry at the same… (wait for it) … ‘time’. Then, then you twist my arm and give me a hug…at the same time. Sure wish you would make up my mind. 🙂

      As always, thanks for sharing and bringing such joy to our lives.

      – Papa

    3. I have a Thyme Garden in my back yard that I look at often throughout the day; there are several types of thyme – Golden, English, Lemon, Wooley, and my favorite Creeping. They all remind me that we live in God’s thyme ~ kairos rather than chronos. And plants grow in anything but a straight line.
      Thanks for your words.

    4. Well said!

      When I first started calling home to wake up the kids (from work at Target – the middle and high school members of the family need waking before I get home) I used to quote them that song of yours and Billy’s – the one where you say “I will make you papaya pancakes!”. Fortunately they never have held me to it!

    5. Lovely. The last line made me shiver. And the whole post made me think of trees: distinct rings of growth created by time, but all circular, and all alive at the same moment.

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