CONCERNING VAIN BEHAVIOR
Parallel to his disdain for "superfluous and vain apparel" is Barclay's rejection of superfluous and vain behavior.
Each morning, a day is given to you. Each evening, that day comes to an end. This succession of days is the canvas of your life. You may do with them what you will. But remember, your days are finite. Eventually, they will come to an end.
Because our time is finite, each day we receive is of great value. Each day is irreplaceable. A day that is lost will never be found again. A day that is wasted will never be restored. As Barclay points out, time is "precious and irrevocable."
Because our time is precious, Barclay urges us to make good use of each minute. In particular, our devotion to God should be apparent in the way we spend our time. By filling our days with prayer and service, contemplation and honest labor, we may live a life that is pleasing to God. Such a life may also serve as a witness to our neighbor.
On the other hand, if we waste time on "amusements and diversions," then nothing of God's character is revealed in our behavior. To the extent we spend our time watching soap operas, reading cheap science fiction novels or aimlessly wandering the mall, then we are indistinguishable from the rest of society. We lose our ability to act as leaven.
Barclay suggests that our inclination to amuse ourselves is doubly dangerous. Not only are we tempted to waste time, but in wasting time we are distracted from the presence of God. When Chicago is down by two with three minutes left to play, do you focus your attention on God or on Michael Jordan? (Yes, Bulls fans, there is a difference.) When fifty million dollars worth of special effects rolls across the big screen, are you mindful of God? Out on the fairway, are you mindful of God? As you shuffle that deck of cards, are you mindful of God? Not only do our amusements fail to produce anything useful, they also distract us from the reality of God's presence.
In fact, many of our amusements foster negative emotions. We may be tempted to cheat. Competition might lead to violence or hard feelings. Devotion to your favorite team could lead to despair (when they lose) or gloating (when they win). No matter what form it takes, devotion to our own amusement can cultivate a self-centered perspective.
Barclay's disdain for amusement probably sounds shrill to modern ears. We tend to believe that everything should be entertaining. We attempt to overcome the apathy in our schools by making them more exciting. If the church is in decline, we strive to make it more entertaining. We have come to believe that boredom is the death knell for any institution.
In this century alone, we have developed the motion picture, radio, broadcast television, cable TV, electronic games, and the Internet. There are visionaries who imagine these tools can be used for education and community-building. But for the most part, these technologies have surrendered themselves to our quest for "escapist" entertainment. The entertainment industry has become a central element in our society.
On this point, we may feel inclined to dismiss Barclay as a puritan (according to the classic definition: Puritanism is the nagging suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having a good time). As someone with a fondness for cheap science fiction and the occasional game of cards, even this author wonders if Barclay may be a little too severe. Perhaps Barclay's catalog of frivolous behavior is too all-encompassing. Perhaps Barclay is wrong to even list specific activities. But Barclay is absolutely correct to raise the issue. How we spend our time does matter.
In fact, I'd like to see us expand the discussion. Our amusements can distract us from God, but so can our jobs. So can our families. We might just as well ask, "When you are working late, are you mindful of God? When you are changing diapers or driving your kids to soccer practice, are you mindful of God?"
The real problem is living life out of balance. The real problem is allowing something other than God to take control of our lives (and therefore our calendars). Even Barclay agrees that some recreation is necessary. In fact, he recommends "For friends to visit one another; to hear and read history; to speak soberly of the present or past transactions; to follow after gardening; to use geometrical and mathematical experiments, and other such things of this nature."
Perhaps the real questions are these: does the way I spend my time make me a better person? Does it reflect the presence of God in my life?
Here are a few others questions:
1. Spend a moment thinking about what makes time precious. Does the limited nature of time make you sad or happy (or both)?
2. By what criteria should we judge our amusements? How will we know if something is bad for us?
3. What do you think about the prominent role that "entertainment" has come to play in our society? Do you think people have the right to have fun?
Continue to Proposition Fifteen (pt. 4)