Barth answers,”Paul, baseball isn’t played in chronos time. It’s kairos time. It’s kairos time.”
If you aren’t laughing just now that’s o.k. You have to be something of an old-school theology nerd and a baseball nerd to get it. And yes I understand that explaining a joke is almost never a good idea. Nevertheless, let me explain.
Theologian Karl Barth was not the first to notice that “time” shows up differently in our lives, but in the mid-20th century, he described some of those differences in biblical language. In the Greek of the New Testament there is “chronos” time (you might recognize the root of “chronology” in that Greek word) and there is “kairos” time. Chronos time is similar to clock time. It is measurable, consistent, and predictable. On the other hand, kairos time is better understood as a moment in time. Kairos time is unpredictable and unmeasurable. It is, in some sense, God’s time. It is more like “timeliness”. The New Testament writers call it is the “fullness of time“, when God is about to break into human history.
So if you’re still with me, the sports joke I referenced above is a nod to the way baseball, unlike games such as football or basketball, measures time in indeterminate innings which can be short, or very, very long. While the football game is over when the clock runs down, the baseball game isn’t over until all the innings are played, and someone is ahead. Baseball time has no concern for the clock.
In 1984 the Milwaukee Brewers played for eight hours and six minutes, over two days, until they finally defeated the Chicago White Sox in 25 innings. On the other hand it took the New York Giants just 51 minutes to defeat the Philadelphia Phillies back in 1919.
And since, in baseball, time does not “run out” in the chronos way, a comeback is always possible. Seattle fans might remember a 2016 game where we were down 12-2 in the 5th. But with rallies in the sixth and the seventh, the Mariners went on to beat the San Diego Padres 13-12.
From a different perspective, there is also that painful game in 2001 when Cleveland overcame a 12-0 deficit to beat us in 11 innings with a score of 15-14. That contest included five runs in the bottom of the 9th with two out to put the game in extra innings. Ouch. Sometimes kairos time stings.
So, there. I warned you about baseball and theological nerdiness.
Of course, now the whole world has been invited into a consideration of time. Many have appreciated this observation making the rounds on social media: “Until further notice, the days of the week are now called, Thisday, Thatday, Theotherday, Someday, Yesterday, Today, and Idon’trememberwhichday.“
All of that is to say that many of our ways of marking time have fallen away. Time is rearranging itself and is not the predictable, measurable thing we have known. To say that this experience of being not quite sure what day it is feels disorienting is an understatement. I have taken to using the phrase “the Before time” in a way that assumes we all know what that means. And we do. I am hearing it more and more these days. I must have heard someone say it, at some time, but I don’t remember when.
And if there is a before time, we also anticipate an after time. But no one knows when that will be. Folks who compare this COVID season to running a marathon overlook these fact that with a marathon at least you can predict the approximate location of the finish line. But in this race, we are just running. We have no idea how long we will have to be at it.
Here on Whidbey, I am measuring time on a seasonal scale. We have gone through shearing and lambing and the summer solstice. It is now blackberry time. The lambs are half grown and the grass is drying up. Soon the apples will begin to ripen.
And where you are, how are you measuring time? How has it changed for you as so many “chronos” markers have fallen away?
Here is the thing about kairos time. For everything else it is- unsettling, hopeful, anxious- kairos is also a sacred time. It is an invitation to tune oneself to What is Happening Right Now, and to watch for what is coming into fullness. Kairos is an opportune time for crucial action.
It is no surprise that with chronos set aside, the kairos of racial justice shows up. Kairos gives eyes to those who would see and who would act. Karl Barth’s concept of kairos emerged out of his despair with 1930’s Germany and the support the German church gave to the government. For Tillich, that time in Germany history was kairos time and God was calling.
Of course one does not have to go all the way to 1930’s Germany to recognize a kairos moment (although sometimes the comparisons can make one shutter). The Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary, whose Director Is also the cochair of The Poor People’s Campaign, put it this way: “We believe we that we are living in a kairos moment: a moment of great change and great transition, where the old ways of doing things are breaking down, new ones are trying to emerge, and decisive action is demanded.” They add this recognition: “A kairos moment brings serious dangers, and also rare opportunities.“ Yes, that does feel like the world in which we now live. Serious dangers. Rare opportunities.
So what shall we make of this time? What shall we make of this moment? Since it has already been established that I am a Bible nerd, let me throw in a timely quote from the Book of Esther: “Perhaps you have come to the place you are for such a time as this.”