In My Day…

I’m working on my geezerdom. Lately the line I’ve been rehearsing is a useful lead-in for many things: “In my day . . .” You know, “In my day, we had to milk the cow to get ice cream” or “In my day, there wasn’t any of this namby-pamby air conditioning stuff.”

When exactly was my day? Isn’t my day today? And won’t it still be my day tomorrow? It’s a mystery.

As we continue to march through Psalm 118:24, I’d like to take up the word “day.” The Psalm says “This is the day,” and so far I’ve been trying to make these words more focused on the now. This time, though, I want to push back and make it less focused.

The Hebrew word here is yom. That’s like Yom Kippur. Yes, it means “day,” as in midnight to midnight, but, like its English counterpart, it can mean more than just twenty-four hours or even daytime (as opposed to night-time).

I remember a friend of mine, many years back, making a wonderful argument against taking the Bible too literally. “You know, when Genesis says ‘One day,’ it can really mean a big period of time. It could be millions of years. So if you just remember that, then all the story of creation makes perfect sense.” Basically this guy was just presenting the famous “day-age” reading of Genesis 1.

Had I wanted to start an argument, I would have asked him a simple question. “So the plants that showed up on the third day existed for millions of years before the sun came along on the fourth day?” Yeah, the day-age thing doesn’t really work too well.

But of course, a day (yom) can be an age, an era, an epoch. It isn’t in Genesis 1, but it is elsewhere in the Old Testament. For example, in 1 Kings 1:1, we read this:

Now King David was old and advanced in age. Although they covered him with bedclothes, he could not get warm.

That word translated “age” (or “years” in the King James) is yom.

So what’s my point? This is the day that the Lord has made. It’s the day of the week, the day of the month, and the era that the Lord has made. It’s the year, the decade, and the century. You get the idea, right?

Whatever moment we find ourselves inhabiting, this is the one that God made. It doesn’t come and then pass away. It is an eternal thing, as if God were saying, “In my day . . . it’s all my day!”

The Invisible Word

I have taken a solemn pledge to drop a word out of my vocabulary. Regardless of the need, I will no longer, after this last usage, speak or write this now-forbidden word: “cruet.” I know that you’re wondering how I will be able to function without this important word, but I assure you that I can and I will.

Of course I could get by without ever saying–oh, I almost said it–this word. Other words are not nearly so easily abandoned. Try going a day without the word “the.” And then there’s today’s next word in Psalm 118:24: “is.” The single most common verb in the English language “is” is not something we can easily work around. In the King James Version, you’ll find the verb “is” italicized here.

This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

If you didn’t know it, italicized words in the KJV represent words that are not actually in the original Hebrew or Greek. Translated literally, the verse might read like this:

This the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

While it sounds like old-school Tarzan, such a sentence structure worked in Hebrew. The “is” would be understood, sort of like the “You” is understood when we give commands or directions in English: (You) go down the street.

This invisible word uses the simplest of verb tenses, the present indicative. We have all sorts of verbs tenses in English. Linguists don’t even all agree about how many there are, but you probably use all of them without even thinking about it. The present indicative, however, is the starting point and used most often.

The Psalmist is not saying that this “will be” the day. It’s not “might be” or “had been” or “will have been.” This is the day that is the one God made.

Now stick with me here for a bit. This day that is God-made has twenty-four hours in it. That’s 1,440 minutes. Since every day (as we established last time) is the day that the Lord has made, then presumably every hour and every minute is the hour or minute that He made as well. Otherwise, if, for example, only the hours of 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. are the day that the Lord made, then we find ourselves having to use a different verb tense before 6:00 or after 9:00.

The faithfulness of God is a 24/seven/365 sort of thing. It’s there first thing in the morning and endures until the close of day. That’s a lot of mileage out of an invisible word that most of us wouldn’t give a second look.

Enduring Vanity

Vanitas PaintingRecently, I shared a few thoughts about the fleeting nature of human beauty, looking at 17th century Vanitas paintings and everyone’s favorite retired body builder, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rather than thinking further about Arnold, I’d like to revisit that painting for a moment, looking a bit more closely.

Take a look at the painting. Go ahead and click on it to get a bigger version. I’ll wait.

Remember that the idea of the vanitas painting was to play out the ideas of Ecclesiastes on the vanity of human endeavors. We all die, after all–which is the big, unsubtle message of the skull–and most anything we do is just vanity, just meaningless.

But is that the whole story? I suggested in the previous post that the purpose of the violin in this painting was to evoke the strains of music that are played and then fade away. Look, though, at what lies under the violin and the skull. That appears to be printed music. A song played today will fade away quickly, but a piece of music preserved in musical notation can be preserved for generations. Some of the hymns of the church have been sung for generations. Isn’t that a slight taste of cheating mortality?

Then look over to the left of the painting and the shiny ball. What is that? It looks like a giant pinball, but is, I believe, a convex mirror. A mirror can certainly be a symbol of vanity and the fleeting nature of things, but look at this particular mirror. What do you see? That’s apparently the image of the artist captured in the midst of creating the canvas. Although dead for more than 300 years, Pieter Claesz achieved a tiny bit of immortality by painting himself into that mirror and a bigger one through the enduring value of his paintings.

Besides reminding us of the folly of things that perish, the Vanitas paintings also underscore the value of those things that last. As I write this, I just finished watching the Kansas City Royals play a baseball game. Time well spent? I’d have to chalk that one up in the “meaningless” column, along with the overripe fruit and soon-to-wilt flowers. It is my hope that most of my time is passed on things that will have more enduring value than that.

We have each been allotted a certain number of days on this earth. We can pass them in pursuits that are meaningless or those that are meaningful. More than likely, we’ll have some in each category. But how is your day to be spent today? Which of the Vanitas painting’s messages will your day tell? That’s a question we should ask ourselves each time we roll out of or into bed.

The Incredible Hack

easyNerd Fitness takes a turn at life hacks in a recent article. I recently expressed my contempt for the shortcut mentality of life hacks, but I have no problem with things that actually make sense. In the article linked here, the ultimate nerd, Steve Kamb, offers some really common-sense, cut-the-garbage advice on happiness and related matters. For example, consider what he says about money and time:

What’s more important than money? Time. Time to spend time with people you love or doing things you love. You can never get it back.

At times we all need a smack up side the head with the obvious advice. Jesus did this sort of thing. Do you think Jesus was completely kind and gentle when He predicted that Peter would disown Him three times on the night of His arrest? I’m pretty sure that Jesus had a full range of tones in His voice, including one that was straight-forward and challenging.

I’m not comparing Steve Kamb with Jesus here, but they both seem capable of using that tool of directness.

The 6:59 Mile

Time-Running-OutRoger Bannister, at 85 years of age, is quaking in his British shoes. Yesterday, I ran my first ever sub-seven-minute mile. That is…well, it’s pretty slow by anybody’s standards. Let’s consider. To be in the top 5% of runners at age 25, I’d have to be running my mile in something like 3:54. Of course, I’m not 25. To be in that top 5% of runners at my age, I’d need a 4:32.

Honestly, I don’t know how the web calculator that provided that information comes to these numbers, but I do know that at 6:59 I’m not impressing anybody who is really a runner.  On the other hand, I know that it was hard. I know that a year ago my best mile was around 7:35. A year and a half ago, I recorded a 9:41 mile as if it made me proud. And it did make me proud, indicating progress and hard work.

God did not call me to run fast. Honestly, He didn’t even call me to run. But He did call me to make the best of the gifts that He gave me. In Colossians 3:23, Paul admonishes his readers, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” I’m fairly certain that God was not impressed with my 6:59 mile, but I am confident that He is pleased when I pursue a worthy goal with energy.

 

Listen Up (Hebrews 3:7-9)

So, as the Holy Spirit says:    “Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
though for forty years they saw what I did.
(Hebrews 3:7-9)

I’ve been thinking recently about those movies where a character somehow goes back in time and gets a second chance to make a decision. Did you miss out on love? Did you waste your opportunities for success? Did you trade what was truly important for the trivial? Hollywood loves to take those regrets and create wish-fulfillment films.

As I look back at my life, I see a number of errors I would love to correct. With those in mind, I have been considering how I might script my own turn-back-the-clock movie. The problem with this sort of thinking is that when you slip back in time to, let’s say, high school graduation in order to avoid errors, you never know what new mistakes you’ll make and what correct moves you might miss.

Then there’s the simpler notion. What if you could go back in time and tell your former self what to do or not do? Sounds great, right? But then there’s the question of whether your former self would listen. My guess is that my former self would not. Why? My current self often fails to listen to me when I tell it not to waste money or to eat properly or to exercise. What makes me think that if my current self won’t listen, my former self would?

That’s what Hebrews gets at in today’s passage. Today, with the benefit of hindsight and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we have no excuse for failing where those who went before failed. How did the tribes of Israel grumble and rebel after seeing the plagues, the Red Sea, the wonders at Sinai, the Manna, and so for forth? I suppose they did it the same way that I fall into the same sins time after time despite every good reason not to do so.

The answer? According to our passage, it is to listen to the voice of the Lord. It’s hard to fall into sin while listening to God’s voice. So where does the problem lie? At the risk of being obvious, it lies in failing to listen.

Managing Time Management

The professional class in our society, a group in which I find myself at work, makes a lot of noise about time management. You have to synchronize your Blackberry with your Outlook folders and keep a complicated to-do list. Multi-tasking and advance planning are absolutely necessary. The most successful person in this world is the person who gets the most things done (well) in the briefest time.

This mindset sat in the back of my mind yesterday when I found myself at home around 1 pm and resolved to get a great deal done with my remaining hours of daylight. Listening the Wuthering Heights on my iPod, I headed out to the barn. I would jump in the truck and make several water runs before turning my attention to other necessities. That’s when the first fly jumped into the ointment.

Hearing a vehicle coming up the driveway, I turned to see Josh approaching. Josh had arranged to stash some of his family’s belongings in my barn while they’re between houses. I’ve been in that situation, hunkering down with parents when buy and sell dates didn’t line up well, so I have sympathy for the guy.  A couple of minutes later, Brad arrived with a truck and trailer full of Josh’s stuff.

Had I gotten into the truck ten minutes earlier, I could have been gone when Josh and Brad arrived, but being present, I had to pretend I owned the place, opening the door, turning on the lights, and helping to unload the trailer. In the time we did that chore–and in the few minutes we all stood around jawing after the trailer had been emptied–I could have gone to town and brought 425 gallons of water up the hill. That’s three or four days worth of water in my house. But the opportunity had flown.

As soon as the sounds of their tires had disappeared down the hill, I jumped into the truck and started off toward town. At the bottom of the hill, I found Jim, my excellent neighbor, abusing trees with his tractor. When he saw me, he pulled the tractor alongside the road and turned the engine off. Obviously I was meant to stop.

Jim and I sat there on the driveway for at least a half hour–long enough that Kate, my dog, was whimpering and whining about the delay–talking about buying gravel, the winter, deer hunting, and a host of other things. Three different times, I indicated that I needed to get moving, but then we’d both tumble back into conversation. Only when I turned the key in the truck did we manage to break it off.

All in all, I’d guess that I lost the opportunity to haul two and possibly three additional loads of water yesterday. I wound up getting two delivered, enough to keep us supplied for a week. The time-management gurus would not smile on my failure, but I’m not so sure that I didn’t come out ahead in this exchange.

Time is money, our society says, but time is more than that. Time is value. Time is relationship. In the end, my money will flicker and fade, but relationships have the potential to endure. The time I spent helping Josh or talking with Jim will not show up in Quicken or appear on my tax return, but they have value.

You can’t always schedule these sorts of time usages on your to-do list. Careful planning doesn’t usually foresee pulling a friend’s van out of the ditch, unloading a trailer, or just chatting with a friend you haven’t spoken to for months. That’s as it should be. After all, if your life can be completely laid out in the confines of a Blackberry’s database, it’s a pretty poor life, regardless of your income.