Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Christian Virtue of Patience (but I digress)

By David Horn, ThD
Director, The Ockenga Institute

I caught myself banging on the side of my computer yesterday. Can you believe it? It’s a MacBook Pro. Only two years old, which, in dog years now, is like driving around in my dad’s old 1964 Buick Electra, the dark blue one with the big fenders and the automatic windows (but I digress).
Perhaps it was the sound of the banging that jolted me back into the Middle Ages when seven deadly sins and the great seven heavenly virtues ruled the day. Patience. That’s what I need more of. (Patience…and a better memory. Upon further research, patience is not one of the original virtues, but for our sake here, let’s say it is one of the great eight heavenly virtues…but I digress).
Imagine, the Christian virtue of patience is now being defined by the length of time that it takes for me to blink my eyes. My entire psychological makeup—to say nothing of my sense of spirituality—now hangs on the thin mili-second thread that strings together my past to my present to my future. My understanding of God and His omnipresence is being redefined. My ability to trust patiently in Him is being reworked.
And then I thought about my grandfather, the potato farmer from Minnesota. What did patience look like to him during the early part of last century? How did he live up to his moral obligations to God and his friends and family during those lean years during the 1930-1940’s? For Enoch Bjork, patience was like a long-legged farm dog stretching out before a fire on a cold winter night. Once the dog got down on the floor it seemed like it took an entire day for him to untangle himself and throw his long appendages into all corners of the room.
For my grandfather, patience was measured by the seasons. In his mind, it started in spring when he put in his corn and it was tested all the way to the fall when he—hopefully—saw some fruit from his labor. The winter in between stretched out as a long, cold interlude that never seemed to end.
I wonder what it was like before clocks when Middle Age man lacked the capacity to look down at his wrist, at any given moment, to measure with precision how his day was passing. Imagine how he ordered his day—as it moved from past moment to present to future—without this basic technology that allowed time to pass before his very eyes. More to the point, I wonder what it meant for him to be patient without an instrument to measure patience.
Neil Postman has it right in his book, Technopoly, when he says that all technologies possess inherent ideological biases. They are not neutral tools but they shape us in ways we cannot begin to imagine. Just imagine, the presence of a simple piece of technology like the watch has altered our ability to be patient. Just imagine, I am banging on my computer because time is no longer fast enough. Just imagine (but I digress).

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