I was talking to a friend today about how untidy life is; about how its untidiness is at once the delight of life and its bane also; that so many things do not go according to plan; are unexpected; are unpredictable; and are – when one tries to make sense of them – to our limited apprehensions – a complete chaos.
The example I gave my friend was a bit extreme; but it does illustrate the point very well. Were you or I to die suddenly, unexpectedly, all our affairs would be ‘up in the air’ and our lives would have been an absurd catalogue of disconnected and senseless acts thoughts and feelings. This would be the case when looked at from a solely temporal and sublunary point of view.
As a Christian I trust that God is less of a mess than am I; that his care and understanding is greater than mine and that since he is capable of raising the dead to life he is also capable of having made sense of my life.
But, as Macbeth says ‘ in this world we still have judgement here’; and our lives, our economic, social, political activities are all carried on in a continued and continuous attempt to make sense of things as we go; to create some small order out of all the chaos as we go along with in the course of our lives.
Fiction is of interest here. Stories and tales are liked by we humans usually because they ‘round-off’ a series of events; they have a ‘form and a structure’ which life seems so lacking in sometimes. When as story does not have these tidy features most of us feel cheated and unsatisfied; and most of us project into our real lives this desire for nice and neat sewings-up of events which fiction provides. We will sometimes match-make a girl friend with a man friend; in a hope for a happy ending. We sometimes say we wish for this or that to happen; or else we imagine happiness when the fact is there is no happiness in our situation. Our ‘happy place’
Humans are storytellers and humans tell stories to themselves; sometime we are aware we are telling a story to ourselves; other times we do it unawares and it makes us feel a bit better.
The Bible has some words to say on this. ‘The race is not to the swift – but time and chance happeneth to all’
‘I will catch them in the imaginations of their hearts’
And Jesus himself says quite candidly: ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish
Jesus knows we like to deceive ourselves; to make up stories which fit our wishes and our hopes.
So when even the Saviour of mankind points up the fact that life is not all tied up in bows with ribbon; that it is a messy and untidy affair; surely in our day to day lives we should give consideration to the importance or otherwise of such things as deadlines and blind dates.
Deadlines in fact in the sense I am meaning them are just this: ‘blind dates’; they are projections; and not just on durational estimates, but projections of the mind; and as such they partake of that thing which Sigmund Freud pointed up as a great motivating force in people: ‘wish fulfilment’.
When we give another person a deadline by which, say, to complete a piece of work for you; accordingly as you are passionate, or led by your desires, or as you are impetuous or impulsive; you will add-into the deadline you make that wishful content in your mind which is telling you ‘I want it now!’ or ‘I must get it before Christmas’; or ‘before him down the road gets his’; or ‘I can’t wait any longer!’; and so on.
In so far as deadlines are an expression of desire or impulse they are ‘blind dates’ and are generallly ‘plucked out of the air’ like primroses from a wild lane. Many times when a deadline is given to another it is a deadline having no substance, no natural authority, and no reason behind it why it ought to be adhered to. It is just another event happening in a messy and chaotic world; and event which is ostensibly framed to impose a semblance of order on a project or a scheme, or a business venture; but which in fact is just another tributary running into the great flood of mayhem going on around us.
The band Chicago (known originally as Chicago Transit Authority) cut a song in the late 60s early 70s and it was titled: ‘Does anybody really know what time it is?’ A philosophical conundrum. Yet the Bible says to us: ‘It is later than you think’.
I don’t want to destabilise your perceptions by giving you these existential instabilities to ponder; but I do want to perhaps go with Gandalf when he says to Frodo; ‘A wizard is never late. A wizard always arrives at just the right time he needs to arrive.’
Laying down deadlines is able to concentrate the mind of the person (wonderfully) whom it is imposed upon; as Dr Johnson said of the condemned prisoner in a death cell. And then again there are concentrated mind and constrained mind; there are also non-concentrated mind and a lackadaisical attitude. But the pressures of living; of having to make a living and of having to get work and of having to maintain oneself in business and do all this by obtaining new clients by way of recommendations from older clients; all this points – like The Arrow of Time – just one way only. The pressure is ever on the company, the proprietor, the business, to do well, to do quickly, and to provide completely.
Only very occasionally, when a company is too big for it to be adequately administered; or else when there is a government bureaucracy with jobs for life employees; then a stick is perhaps needed to beat the completion of a piece of work out of a workforce?
Natural causes, man having to live outside of Eden by the sweat of his brow; and so to face the uncertainties of a Fallen world, all contribute to and provide for a natural deadline always in force upon by far the most of us anywhere, and in any nation, who are earning our bread by salary or from job to job. This natural deadline is generally formulated as being – as soon as is reasonably practicable.
Woody, from Toy Story, is being refurbished by a wizened old craftsman; and Al wants to desperately ship Woody to Japan for Big Bucks NOW, NOW, NOW; and the wizened guy rebuffs Al’s threats with menaces with a calm adage: ‘You can’t rush art.’
Just so deadlines can be delays; I have known persons so eager to please and so constrained by the unnecessary pressures of a deadline come from an overeager client and loaded upon him; that he has botched the work in hand and taken the job months overdue to boot; simply because his concentration, far from becoming focussed, has become completely shot with anxiety.
Some guys are lazy and need a prod; but lazy guys don’t do well and don’t get returning customers or recommendations; possibly they drift from occupation to occupation or from town to town once their initial benefit-of-doubt goodwill from their client base has been extinguished by them. People who are serious about their work can do without deadlines. Only fears working within clients promote their continued usage for the most part.
Fear that one is being ‘milked’ or that one is not showing oneself dynamic or dominant enough; or that one is going to fail in business if it doesn’t arrive by x date; and so on. I refer often to George Orwell’s essay ‘Shooting an Elephant’; an essay which typifies the empirical and absolute necessity for the powerful to have to use that power which has been imposed on them – so as not to look weak, or else so as to keep up due respect; or simply so as to show that power as power in action – just like justice needs to be seen to be done for it to be effective.
This of course is the dilemma of the client who imposes deadlines – if he does not he feels he is not showing adequately who it is who calling the shots in this particular deal. We are thus again forced into things by our images of ourselves; by those spectres which haunt us telling us whom we ought to be rather than whom we actually are.
Jesus of course cuts through all this fiction and illusion. He was ‘no respecter of persons’ which in modern English means he did not stand on a person’s office or rank or title; but saw all persons and treated them all as simple men and women alike equal before God and holding no privileges not allowed to any other person. That is an important part of the reason why and how Jesus makes sense of all this mad and chaotic and unpredictable world; he strips bare the pretensions and the self–images of delusion we carry with us as our comfort blankets; he sees us as we really are and so thus sees what we really need – the one thing needful – his saving Grace.
As for the messiness and incomprehensibility of ordinary profane and secular life, Jesus says – and I believe him – ‘Things that are impossible for man are possible with God’ and again ‘All things are possible with God’. I hope you too have been, or will become, and soon; ‘raised from the dead by his powerful arm’
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