Chronos is actual, specific time. Kairos refers to the timely moment, the “right” time. Chronologically I have been ill for 27 years this month. Chronologically the world has always been at war, somewhere. Chronologically the globe is warming. How much time, specifically, we “have left” is open to debate; however there is no doubt about the fact that the glaciers are melting at a faster and faster rate.
Was the speech President Obama gave in Oslo when he received the Nobel Peace Prize the right speech at the right time? It was a great speech. Great in spite of, perhaps because of, the challenge of the timing, right after he sent more forces to war. War is very much with us. He said, “The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God.” And so, in the midst of the chronic nature of war, he dared to live as a man seeking peace.
There are only a couple of days left of the 2009 United Nations Summit on climate change. “Will anything get done?” “What will have been accomplished?” “Will expediency cause such compromises that any action will be meaningless? “Will the nations that live in poverty be overlooked once again?” Long lines, protestors, entrenched super powers. And yet they gather. And we dare not be merely skeptical viewers; we must gather too. The earth is chronically ill. So what do we do? How do we live?
Twenty-seven years ago I was struck by a disease with a terribly misleading name, and with no known cause and no cure, Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFS). I must deal with unrelenting exhaustion, weakness, depression, seizure-like episodes, triggered by sudden loud noises, with times of being unable to walk or speak. While many become bedridden, unable to work, with the aid of two wonderful doctors and supportive family and friends, colleagues and students, I have been able to life a fully productive life. Similar in a way to global warming, progress has been impeded by those who through the year have had doubts about how real the disease is since it could not be identified under a microscope, even though more than l million people in this country and millions more globally suffer from CFS.
This fall researchers have identified a strong connection between people with CFS and an infectious human retrovirus, xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV). After so many years I have simply accepted that fact that I will need to live with this chronic illness the rest of my life. How do I receive the news that there could be a breakthrough, that things could change? Will research be too slow to make any difference?
On a much larger scale, we human beings have come to believe that war is inevitable. What would a world without war be like? And, in regard to climate change (also an unfortunate name that does not describe its devastating effects), people may assume there is nothing we can really do. Research will be too slow to make any difference.
The president’s poll numbers are down. Four years for a presidential term presents relentless chronological pressure to get something done quickly, lest “time run out.” President Obama knows this. And still he called the peoples of the world to vision, hard work and persistence in thinking about just war and the imperatives of a just peace. “Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice.” He called for three ways to build such just and lasting peace: 1) We need to develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior; 2) Peace is not just the absence of visible conflict; just peace is based upon inherent rights and dignity of every individual; and 3) Just peace includes not only civil and political right but economic security and opportunity.
Chronological time presses on. Sin is real. War is relentless. The earth is ill. Those of us who live with chronic illnesses grow weary. And one could say that all human beings are chronically ill, at best only temporarily able bodied.
So, in the midst of these realities, how do we hope? At the kairos moment Christ came and comes again. Christmas presents us again with realities and possibilities.
I cannot depend upon the identification of the human retrovirus XMRV to change my life, but perhaps, after all these years of no progress on CFS, maybe it will. Whether or not that will happen in my lifetime, CFS cannot hinder my commitment to live and serve. .
We cannot depend upon a U.S. president alone to solve the problems of war and make peace (our work being only to give him “grades.”) Working for a just peace is the responsibility of all of us. Obama’s speech in Oslo recognized the chronic human predicament, saying that human nature is not perfect and we do not live in an idealized world. And yet he said that if we lose faith, dismiss it as naïve, we lose our sense of possibility.
We cannot wait for countries to agree on one strategy to keep our earth from becoming fatally ill. The Copenhagen summit will end, but those attending and those of us watching are called to continue our commitment to live and to serve and to work towards global health. The kairos moment is here.
Chronically ill? Yes! A kairos time? In Christ, always.