Living as a Plain Brown Wrapper A Personal Theology of Ministry

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It is the centerpiece of Christian symbolism and the prime directive for Christian theology. It is the highest form of Christian jewelry, usually made of gold or silver. It has been called by a variety of names — the cross, the crucifix, the tree, the place of the skull.

In ancient times it was a place of execution and shame. But twenty centuries of familiarity has taken its toll. Tracking alongside the growing honor has been a growing difficultly to keep the original meaning of the cross clear in our minds. Our view has become formal. Our picture has become ideal. Our emotion has turned sentimental.  And the way of the cross, living by the cross, have followed in distortion.

The cross is now approached as a distant devotional topic. For many, it is no longer a revolutionary principle defining Christian existence. The principle, dying to live, is difficult for many Christians to even understand, much less live by. But, twenty centuries ago, Jesus made it his own personal code (Jn. 12:24) and the foundation for his disciples (Mk. 8:34-35). And so, it should come as no surprise to hear Paul make the cross a dominant theme in the Corinthian correspondence because that church was already beginning to reshape discipleship into the image of its culture.  It was losing its cross identity.

It seems inevitable, living in a society that is built upon gross national product and a statistical view of success, that contemporary churches and ministers struggle with the same kind of Corinthian thinking. When a congregation seeks the “famous” preacher, or when a minister climbs the career ladder searching for a larger congregation that will provide him with more visibility and prestige, or when churches congratulate themselves on their growth by reference to attendance, budgets and the size of their physical plant, we are more in tune with our American success-conscious culture than with Paul’s message of the cross.  The late Dallas Willard argued that we should redefine our view of success (Leadership 26, 3 Summer 2005):

The popular model of success involves the ABCs—attendance, buildings, and cash. Instead of counting Christians, we need to weigh them. We weigh them by focusing on the most important kind of growth—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, kindness, and so on—fruit in keeping with the gospel and the kingdom.

More than two decades earlier Landon Saunders described the same difficulty (The Power of Receiving):

… the church seems so alive to itself.  So preoccupied.  At times neurotic.  Attendance.  Contribution.  Budgets.  How desperately she often clings to these.  How fearful when down.  How joyful when up.  Her eyes are so set on herself.  Her plans.  Programs.  Preacher … The church worries about itself.  It is fretful.  Protective.  Fearful for tomorrow.  It clings to itself.  This betrays the death to self principle taught by Jesus … And, what about the ego?  Whether in the individual or church?  Who is at the center?  To whom do we appeal?  Who can be offended? …  Do churches have egos? 

The fact that these questions apply, not only to first century Corinth, but also to the church today, demonstrates a common problem — a cross problem.

“We have this treasure
in jars of clay”

— 2 Corinthians 4:7 —

Today, “clay jar” could be translated a “plain brown wrapper,” and Paul says that the reason we should work hard to be plain brown wrappers is to make it absolutely clear that the “power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor. 4:7). So, when a minister exchanges his clay jar image for more impressive packaging, is he not re-assigning the power to himself? This kind of ministry is self-proclamation rather than cross-proclamation.  It is a message of personal power rather than a message of God’s power.  It obscures the message of the cross behind a growing ego.  And, in a practical sense, it is only workable for a few; those who are physically, intellectually, and verbally impressive.

When Paul says “we do not preach ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:5) he is not in any way contradicting his earlier comment “imitate me.” (1 Cor. 4:16). The Paul that today’s minister is to imitate does not describe himself with the success language of today’s power seminars.  He is not interested in being known as a “captivating speaker” or a “powerful communicator.”  Instead, he uses cross terminology to describe himself:  “on display … condemned to die … a spectacle … fools … weak … dishonored.” (1 Cor. 4:9-10). It is not important to him to have his appearance or mannerisms imitated.  He is not that enamored with himself.  He only wants to pass on the servant character of the cross.

Paul’s opponents at Corinth wanted a powerful image, so they followed a ministry method of attacking their predecessor (Paul) so they could establish a position of personal power. But this is not surprising.  Power seekers have always operated in this way.  What is surprising and instructive is Paul’s response to their personal attack. He placed the welfare of the Corinthian congregation above his own welfare. The disturbing report he had received showed quarreling (1 Cor. 1:11), jealousy (1 Cor. 3:3), boasting (1 Cor. 3:21), judging (1 Cor. 4:3; 9:3) and arrogance (1 Cor. 4:6, 18, 19) spreading through the congregation.  It was pervasive and damaging.  And it must be stopped.  How did Paul address it? What approach did he take?

Using the cross as his standard Paul was very careful to not counter the arrogance of the opponents with still more pride.  He did not want to add yet another example of egotistical leadership. Instead, he closely followed his cross-shaped identity.

It was in perfect harmony with Paul’s view of the cross that, upon hearing criticism of his life and ministry, he began his first letter, not by asserting his authority, but seemingly by denying it:  “Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:13)  He would not let himself be hailed as a party chief. Jesus alone was crucified for the community.  Paul would defend the treasure, not the jar.

Later, when the criticism was sharpened by the ambition of the opponents, Paul again pointed to the cross as his model:  “For to be sure, he [Jesus] was crucified in weakness …  Likewise, we are weak in him ….” (2 Cor. 13:4) In both letters he was charged with being weak (1 Cor. 4:10; 2 Cor. 11:21). And he did lack the outward signs of one who is himself a personal power.  But this was Paul’s premeditated style.  He really did not mind coming to the Corinthians “in weakness and fear and with much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3) because he did not want them to be distracted from what he said to how he said it, from the treasure to the jar.

Paul knew that the message of a crucified Lord was already difficult to accept.  And while today’s strategist would advise Paul to divert attention from such a difficult message by using an impressive presentation, Paul was particularly careful to not upstage his message by being an impressive package, even at the risk of appearing weak (2 Cor. 10:10). And it was in Paul’s unimpressiveness that God was free to impress:  “For my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9). So, when Paul appealed to the Corinthians by the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1) he was strictly interpreting the cross-bearing life of Jesus as his own role-model.

In Paul’s mind, it would be out of place for him to be the “hub” of the ministry in Corinth — the “dynamic” center, around which the ministry revolved.  In fact he argued against the kind of leadership that spotlights personalities and makes them celebrities. In that kind of ministry, faith is too easily based on personalities rather than truth.  And we all know how it works.  One minister can do no wrong and another can do no right.  In this scenario, the force of a minister’s personality drives and shapes the faith of those he leads.  And this is precisely the method the Corinthian opponents chose to use.  Following their own distorted self-confidence, (2 Cor. 5:12; 10:12; 11:17) they enslaved, exploited, took advantage, lorded it over, and slapped their way into leadership (2 Cor. 11:20).

But Paul, imitating the crucified Christ, (1 Cor. 11:1) exploited no one (2 Cor. 7:2).  Instead he gave up his own personal rights for the good of others, (1 Cor. 10:33) and made himself a slave to all (1 Cor. 9:19).  He became a servant (1 Cor. 3:5; 4:1) who felt the pain of others (2 Cor. 11:29) and he comforted them with the comfort he had personally received from Christ (2 Cor. 1:3-7).  He knew that genuine power, the power of God, operated very well in weakness.  And so, he conducted his ministry at the risk of appearing weak (1 Cor. 4:10; 2 Cor. 10:10; 11:21, 30; 12:5, 9, 10; 13:4, 9) and foolish (1 Cor. 1:21, 23; 4:10; 2 Cor. 11:1, 17) because, like his Lord, his personal ambition while on the earth was no higher than a cross.  Hence, his amazing words to his Corinthian flock (2 Cor. 13:7):

Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong.  Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.

The same choices exist today.  The church has its favorite ministers.  But even worse, some ministers seek to be the favorite, and their method smacks of “Corinthian” thinking.  They replace the crucified life-style with the glorified life-style as they step into the spotlight showcasing their achievements and accomplishments, or worse, demanding uniformity to their views, opinions and preferences.

Paul teaches today’s minister to be a cautious example, encouraging imitation only “as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).  The goal is never to permanently stand between Jesus and a follower, but only to temporarily stand there until their own relationship is solid.  Today’s minister should be careful that faith is not built on himself, but on Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-11).  As a “servant” (1 Cor. 3:5) he should not seek the spotlight.  Instead he should spotlight God as the “hub” of the ministry, since “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything but only God who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:7).

Paul’s statement “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10) could be translated for today’s minister as, “when I am not lifting myself up, I do my best work.”

“I resolved to know nothing
while I was with you
except Jesus Christ
and him crucified” 

— 1 Corinthians 2:2 —

At first, the Corinthian dissidents became enamored with Jesus the Lord of glory.  Later, the Corinthian opponents placed their emphasis on Jesus the wonder-worker.  But neither group emphasized Jesus crucified in weakness.  They pursued a “theology of glory” at the expense of the “theology of the cross.”

When the Corinthians tried to avoid the suffering of cross-bearing and go straight for honor and glory, Paul knew they did not yet understand.  When they lifted up the wisdom of men, Paul countered with his word of the cross.  When they looked to the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8) as their model, he quickly pointed to the Lord of the cross.  When they were impatient with those who were not quickly mature, he reminded them of a man whose patience with humanity led to his death on a cross (1 Cor. 8:1-13).

The message of the cross for ministers today is that Jesus laid his life down for us, and we, empowered by this gift, lay our lives down in service to people. (2 Cor. 1:4-7).  We receive the benefit of his cross, and we then live for the benefit of people (2 Cor. 5:15, 18).

And he died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died …. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

It is interesting to note that when Jesus was asked to give the greatest of all commandments he said, in essense, “You have asked me one question, but I cannot give you one answer.  I must give you two.  Love God and love people” (Mark 12:28-31; Deut. 6:4-5; Lev. 19:18).  For Jesus, the two dimensions could not be separated.  Receiving always leads to giving.  Passion for God always leads to compassion for people. Loving God always leads to loving your neighbor.  Scot McKnight describes it well (The Jesus Creed):

Instead of a Love-God Shema, it is a Love-God-and-Others Shema.  What Jesus adds is not unknown to Judaism, and he is not criticizing Judaism. Jesus is setting up his very own shop within Judaism.  Loving others is central to Judaism, but it is not central to the creed of Judaism, to the Shema.  So, what Jesus says is Jewish.  But the emphasis on loving others is not found in Judaism’s creed the way it is found in the Jesus Creed. Making the love of others part of his own version of the Shema shows that he sees love of others as central to spiritual formation.

“For the message of the cross
is foolishness
to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved
it is the power of God.”

— 1 Corinthians 1:18 —

In the first century the message of the cross was so offensive that commitment to Jesus could only take place on the basis of His character.  Today, the message of the cross is so sentimental that commitment to Jesus should only take place on the basis of His character.  Thus today’s minister, as did Paul, must present the message of the cross from within the framework of Jesus’ life. In the context of his life Jesus’ character will be seen as he lives and interacts with people.  We will see his integrity as he lives out the two commands he stated as primary.  His cross will be understood because what he did on the cross he had always been doing off the cross – loving people.  Jim Woodroof described it well,

Jesus on the cross is nothing more or less than what Jesus was off of the cross.  He was forever giving his life up for people. He didn’t wait till he got to Golgotha to give his life up.  He didn’t wait till he got to Golgotha to lay his life down … What you have documented in the cross was thoroughly demonstrated in his life.

From National Campus Ministers Seminar, 1977

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  (1 Cor. 15:3-4)

This pivotal statement is Paul’s summary of the gospel and, by implication, it is also his definition of ministry.  But for many today, the measure of a successful ministry has little to do with the faithful presentation of this story.  Instead it relates wholly to quantitative growth statistics.  Once again, the ABCs of ministry, attendance, buildings and cash, become the primary measurement.  But think about it.  Who is really spotlighted by statistical comparisons?  Whose ego is stroked?  Who is praised?  What standard of success is used?  Even more alarming is the thought that ministers could become so accustomed to equating evangelism with results and statistics that the preaching of Paul’s three-point outline would appear to them as unevangelistic!

Culture always tries to overtake Christianity.  And ministry is often contaminated by the self-seeking mind-set around us.  For a minister to mirror these values is a double tragedy.  He not only pursues the way of glory, but he gives up the way of the cross.

For several months, I’d been attempting to absorb the truth of this scripture:  Seek God first.  Why do we tend to seek other things first and want God to be added later? We seek success and want God to endorse our goals. We seek acceptance and want God to provide the cheering section. We seek increased income and want God to be the bonus. We seek vindication and want God to take our side. We seek happiness…and want God’s smile of approval. We seek health and want God to dispense an instant cure. As we mature in our relationship with the Lord, our goals change.  But we don’t realize that our pattern often remains the same! We seek to be useful and want God to bless our busy activities. We seek to be helpful to others and want God to tag along. We seek to be spiritual and want God to applaud. We tend to use God instead of seek Him.”

From When the Pieces Don’t Fit, by Glaphre Gillilland

But the world does not need a religious version of its own “success” plan. Instead, it needs to know that the whole matter of greatness has been redefined by the cross.

As a minister, I must understand, with Paul, that the greatest hindrance to God’s power being seen in the cross, is myself.  I must be careful not to dilute the cross with my own style or to eclipse the cross behind my own personality, or to upstage the cross with my own accomplishments.  Instead, my identity should come from the cross as I seek to be its plain brown wrapper.  My method, guided by the cross, should build a people dependent upon God and not upon myself.  My message should clearly paint the picture of the cross, illustrated in the life of Jesus.

May God help us to carry His message in jars of clay — in plain … brown … wrappers.

What Do Your Relationships Weigh?

For ten years I was a campus minister, first at Memphis State University and later at Southwest Missouri State. I did a lot of premarital counseling and performed a lot of weddings. I helped these students prepare to begin, but I rarely was called upon when things were ending.  This is because college students hardly ever divorced or died. But all this changed when I shifted from the role of campus minister to the role of preaching minister.

At the very beginning of my preaching career, my first funeral message was for a ten year old girl who died due to a medical mistake. I was ignorant. I was inexperienced. I did not know what to say or do. So, I called an older, wiser minister and asked, “What do I say?” He said, “Get a pencil” and in that moment, and in many future moments, he was my mentor.

In 1992 Gary Collins wrote a book entitled, You Can Make A Difference. He tells of a team of analysts from Yale University who spent several years collecting research about moving from youth, through middle age, into old age. One major idea emerged — mentoring.  A mentor is someone who guides, corrects and serves as a model for someone younger. Stories of mentoring go back to Homer’s ancient story of Odysseus who simply asked his good friend, whose name was “Mentor” to counsel his young son while he was away. And the mentoring style hasn’t changed much since that time. Mentors encourage and challenge their protégés to go beyond their comfort zone and explore their potential. Mentors listen. They observe. They advise. And there is nothing about mentoring that is done quickly. It all takes time.

I read a fascinating story about twelve executives grouped at the very top of AT&T’s international communication empire.  Though they were very different from each other, still they had one common link in their background. Robert Greenleaf, a researcher for AT&T, found that each man had some early mentoring that greatly accelerated his progress. But most surprising was the fact that the same man mentored four of the twelve.  As Greenleaf put it, this man had mentored one-third of AT&T’s top management. He went on to say that this man was probably the most influential manager of his generation.

Throughout history the leaders who have made the most out of life all had one thing in common — they all had mentors.

Forty miles south of Turkey, in the Mediterranean, is the small island of Cyprus. There a man named Joseph started a spiritual tidal wave that flooded the Roman world and changed history. And all Joseph did was mentor two men. One was an older teen that wrote down the story of Jesus. The other man Joseph mentored was a traveling tent-maker, a man who wrote 32% of the New Testament, planted dozens of churches and pioneered cross-cultural evangelism. The two men are Mark and Paul. And their mentor? Joseph’s Greek name is Barnabas, which means encourager.

Of course the greatest mentor of all is Jesus. And I think it’s interesting and important that Jesus did not begin his movement the way we begin movements today. He did not plan an advertising campaign. He did not write a book and launch a multi-city speaking tour. Instead, when Jesus began, he immediately chose a small group to mentor. In fact, his most well known sermon, one usually thought of as addressed to a crowd, is called the Sermon on the Mount.  But have you ever taken a close look at who the teaching is actually given to? Matthew 5:1-2 begins this way, “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying, …”

Now I know that large crowds followed Jesus.  I know that Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. I know that everywhere he went large masses of people formed. But I also know, as Mark 9 puts it, “Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples.” 

I like the way one writer described the style of Jesus — “He choose twelve, focused on three and graduated eleven.” I especially like the admonition by the late Dallas Willard said in an interview, “Don’t count your people, weigh them.”  That was the style of Jesus.  What’s your style?

My Closest Neighbor

I can usually remember where I am when something is said that greatly influences me because I will stop and write it down. 

I was in St. Louis, in a class on a Sunday morning.  There was nothing new or outstanding about the class.  The teacher had just read Mark 12:28-31.

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

I had read these verses many times and had thought about the meaning of loving God and loving people.  And, in my pride (isn’t this often the case), I wasn’t expecting to learn anything new that day. 

But then, the teacher asked a question that was so simple and clear that I wrote it down. “Who is your closest neighbor?”  He waited a few calculated seconds, just long enough for me to wonder where he was going with the question, and then he provided his own answer.  “My closest neighbor sleeps right beside me.  And my next closest neighbors sleep just down the hall from me.”  I continued to write as my mind was filled with new thoughts and implications.

Suddenly, loving and serving my “neighbor” was no longer an interesting theological discussion or even a complicated global missionary strategy.  No, it suddenly became highly personal, intensely practical and crystal clear. I knew exactly were to begin. 

Our closest neighbors are those living under our roof, or those who brought us into the world and gave us a home.  And guess what?  These “closest neighbors” can be the most difficult ones to love and serve.  We know their faults all too well, and they know our faults.  How sad, that the ones we know the best are the ones we are most likely to take for granted.

And so I would like to suggest an idea. Determine to put your closest neighbors at the top of your list of people to love and serve.  In one sense, they can be the easiest to serve because you know them so well.  You know their hurts, their needs, their fears, their temptations and their weaknesses.  In fact, no other person is better suited to offer them the kind of help and service that you can offer. And, they are right there, all the time, close enough to touch.  Here are a few places to start your thinking:

  • Each day, as you arrive back home, determine that you are not “off” but “on” duty for your family.
  • Give them daily affirmation, hugs and praise.
  • Ask questions about the day and listen without offering advice.
  • Call your parents and ask them what they did today.
  • Take your turn with the household duties.
  • Take a walk through the neighborhood with your spouse to talk and reconnect.
  • Sit in silence with that “closest neighbor” who may be hurting.  Let your presence communicate your love.
  • Pray with your family on a daily basis.

One day, when our children were small, as I was reading the story of Jesus’ baptism and temptation, I noticed once again that between the two events there is this message from God.  Mark makes it a highly personal family message, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (1:11).  It occurred to me that Jesus had just made a decision to go to the cross (baptism) and Satan had just made a decision to stop him (temptation), and so God plants this wonderful message of love, confidence and affirmation right in the middle of it all.

I determined right then that if Jesus needed this message, then my closest neighbors, my wife and children, needed it as well.  From that point on, each time I tucked David into bed I gave him some form of: “David, you are my son, I love you very much and I’m so very proud of you.”  And then, I entered Jessica’s room, knelt beside her bed and gave her the same message.  I did this every day until “tucking in” matured into a phone call of encouragement or a text or email of confidence. My son is now married and my daughter is thinking about it, but they will always be my closest neighbors.  Along with Pam I will always feel a deep sense of “you are my wife/son/daughter, I love you very much and I’m so very proud of what you are becoming.” 

Jesus was only asked one question, “What is the greatest commandment,” but he in essence said, “I can’t give you only one answer.  I have to give you two answers because loving God always involves loving your neighbors.”

So, how do we love and serve our neighbors?  Let’s begin with our closest neighbors and what God teaches us there will help us move out through the circles of relatives, friends, work associates and strangers. 

No Regrets

My mother died at the beginning of this year at the age of 81. She was a happy wife of a very loyal husband. She was a serving mother of four children who shared with her our deepest hurts and our greatest dreams. She joyfully hosted guests in our home, taught the ladies Bible class, and stood at the very heart of our family.

My mother lived a life with no regrets. And so, I read with great interest, an article that was published the day following my mother’s death. It was written by Susie Steiner and appeared in the Guardian Weekly, a British newspaper. It is the story of an Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, who spent several years caring for patients during the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying thoughts in her blog and eventually published a book entitled The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying.

Ware noticed the remarkable clarity that people seem to gain at the end of their lives, and she identified several lessons that we can learn from their insight.

She writes, “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.” Here are the top five regrets of the dying that Ware observed:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret, realizing how many dreams had gone unfulfilled. In essence they were all saying that health offers the opportunity to pursue our dreams, until that health is gone. Most wished they had acted when they were younger and healthier.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from every male patient that Ware cared for. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship as they spent their lives on “the treadmill of a work existence. ”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. In order to keep peace with others many had suppressed their feelings. Some had even developed illnesses due to the bitterness and resentment they carried deep inside. Looking back, they wished they had been more open.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Many would think about old friends in their final weeks and would even try to track them down. There were many regrets about not giving these relationships more time and effort over the years.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. Surprisingly many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. Old habits, the comfort of familiarity, and the fear of change kept them stuck in unhappy routines, while deep inside, they longed for a deeper joy. They discovered that it had always been available, but they had not chosen it.

When I read this list of regrets it brought two thoughts to mind.

First, these stories of regret remind me that my journey of faith, modeled by my mother, can be filled with great joy and end with no regret.

Second, I am grateful that God helped my mother to discover her dreams and live a happy life. She was surrounded by great friends and by a loving family. Both she and my dad worked hard, but they also played hard. She lived a long and full life that took her to several very different parts of our great country, ranging from the sand storms of west Texas, to the swamps of southern Louisiana, to the lake-effect snows of upper Michigan, just to name a few. In each place she built a warm home, made good friends, and experienced joy and fulfillment.

I miss her greatly, but I know that her journey here prepared her to live in a place where regret does not exist.

It’s one thing to look back and regret the direction your life is going. It’s easy to make a list of regrets. But it’s another thing to look at the present and the future with hope. God offers hope. Can you name your greatest regret so far? If you can, then you can begin now taking steps to change it.

Artificial Time

I’m not exactly sure how I feel about my thinking on this topic. I’m not sure where I will land. I’m not even sure what to call these wandering thoughts. But I have given a lot of thinking to the subject, so consider this a draft.

It’s not really about artificial light or manufactured energy or propped up activity, although these are certainly on the same team. I guess I might call it “Artificial Time.” This thought comes to me whenever I leave my own culture of extended hours. When I visit my friends in West Africa I quickly notice that our day is more likely to slow down and come to an end when the sun goes down. The time of activity is not artificially extended. We shift into a lower, slower gear. Physical activity gives way to quiet conversations, and eventually to silence and sleep. Yes, there is electricity in the remote area where I visit. And, of course, there is a lot of artificial light in the large city two hours away. But even there, in the capital of that country, I notice that the city lights are dim, as our jumbo jet lands in the evening hours. Not so, in Dallas. When my West African friend, Isaac visited me two years ago, his plane landed at night. His first question had to do with the bright lights he saw from his window as he descended. We discovered that he was referring to the many car dealerships that brightly light up the night sky, not to mention the businesses that proudly advertise “we never close.”

If time were not artificially manipulated, when would we begin our sleep, and how long would it last? When would noise subside and silence carve out an end of the day time of reflection and evaluation? As it is, there is no time to think or reflect. Not only is the time awake artificially extended (which means that the time  of sleep is artificially shortened), but it’s not given to thought or creativity. We are not actually thinking our own thoughts. No, we have asked the networks to decide what we should think about, and they, in turn, have been told by the advertisers what messages, themes, values and questions we should ponder.

Last week the power went out at my house. I walked outside and confirmed that the whole neighborhood was dark. There was nothing else to do, so we began to prepare for bed. Then, just few minutes before turning in, the power suddenly came back on. I honestly wish that we had correctly guessed and successfully turned off all the lights in our house, because when they came back on, I gave in to artificial time.  I got back up. And I stayed up longer than natural time would have allowed.

I don’t know if artificial time has helped us. Not if we sleep less, reflect and meditate less, and operate on less real energy. Not if we walk and talk less. Not if we sit the same room with those we love having no heartfelt conversations. Maybe its time to have less artificial time.