Empire, as a concept, is built on lies. (I’ll pause for a moment to let us all contemplate the delicious irony of the Empire State, where so many of us call home.) You can think of any number of lies that exist solely to prop up hegemony, colonialism, the rampant abuses of late-stage capitalism. Poor people are poor because they don’t work hard. Conversely, Work hard enough and you, too, can become rich. Closely related: Some people don’t deserve [x] because [y], never mind the fact that a great many people who seem to be holding on to [x] just fine cannot point to anything, or at least not anything truly supererogatory, that would mark them as deserving.
But one of the most pernicious, insidious lies of empire is the lie of Never Enough. It’s one of the most foundational and therefore the most difficult to uproot. And maybe the only lie harder to uproot from our empire thinking than Never Enough Money is Never Enough Time. Because, as the thinking goes, you can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.
Or can you?
Donna preached on “a saintly use of time” this past week, as we entered into the next seven weeks of ever-more-diminishing light. Our extra hour of sleep, as any number of folks on Twitter were happy to tell me, was bought with weeks and months of seasonal affective disorder or milder cases of the blahs. Cooking even an earlier dinner in the dark gives us the confirmation bias our reptilian empire brains want: not enough time, or at least not enough daylight, to do the things we want.
A saintly use of time is connected in many ways to the messages we’ve been contemplating about care of the Earth. “What we think is convenient is often expensive,” Donna reminded us, in terms of its costs in human suffering and damage of the planet, everything convenient from our packaged fast-food lunches (yes, that includes my salad from Sweetgreen) to the untruths we are told about the extent to which we can kick the can of climate change down the road. Reversing those lies takes time. So does sowing seed, as the parable to which we returned reminded us.
And it takes being willing to face the truth. Donna told the story of how Lewis and Clark set out with canoes to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase (empire!) but were stymied when they reached the Rocky Mountains, where canoes would clearly not be needed. They sold their canoes and bought horses. What canoe am I willing to sell—to live without the lies of empire?
Am I really willing to stop believing that so much of what I have is the result of generosity, privilege, or good luck, not my own hard work? Am I really willing to stop believing that I can somehow earn goodwill and love? That, in yet another paradox, only when I can admit that in a broken, empire world that there really is no such thing as enough money or enough time can I start to feel like I have enough of either?
Nearing the end of this year, a year I began fully engulfed by the lie of Not Enough Time, I look back and I start to see my slow liberation from this lie. This is a liberation that I have to ascribe to God. I said—I can look back and see where I said—help me with this, I cannot do it, I cannot see my way out of it. I’m going to have to stop thinking about it as much as possible and let you work on it. And God did. And as I sit here and think about the passage of time and breathe normally, I think maybe I didn’t sell my canoe as much as I just turned my back and let God rifle through the garage until she found the canoe and put it on Craigslist, but sometimes that’s what needs to happen.
Empire lies, condemns, and crucifies. It’s one of the most useful concepts I’ve learned in my spiritual adulthood. Sometimes I even manage to remember it.