“By what sin/error a person is overcome, by that (s)he is enslaved.” 2Peter 2:19
“A person slack in his work (as in lateness) is a brother to a great destroyer.” – Proverbs 18:9
“Because of their character and conduct, God is not ashamed to be called (in the open) their God.” – Hebrews 11:16
Shalom. I write this as the rabbi of a specific community, and I write to help consideration of these precepts within my own sphere, because I see significant room for growth among us in these regards. It will be obvious, I have been mulling on this topic for some time, and have somewhat to say about it. My aim is shalom and freedom. To grow, things must change. To change, things cannot stay the same. One area it seems to me in which our community can grow is faithful stewardship of the holy things God has given us; and certainly, our community worship, prayer, and events are at the heart of how we exist as a kehilah kedosha – not merely a community, but a healthy spiritual community.
Knowing our blog is read and our podcast listened to by many outside our own community, I also offer this to the wider world: both locally and globally I offer it in in hope of helping clarify things now cloudy and hard to see – and thus, helping toward freedom any who might be trapped in a cycle of consistent lateness from which they cannot find an effective and enduring way out. Knowing chronic lateness affects every life connected to the one trapped in it, as well as the late-comer’s personal and vocational well-being in a massively impactful way – I feel it is important to write/speak about it – and with clarity. I pray what is offered here is received in the spirit in which I am attempting to offer it: to slice through the fog and let things be seen clearly for what they are. If the truth about chronic lateness is what will set people free … why tell anything other than the truth about it, as best any human may? Here is my attempt. May it all be for shalom.
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “All of the people are late some of the time, and some of the people are late all of the time.” This blog concerns people who find themselves in the latter grouping. If you are late most or all of the time, your lateness is a message. The question is, what is the message?
1. Lateness As Medical or Spirtual Symptom
The best place to start dealing with a serious matter of conduct is the angle of compassion. As per this Scriptural concept, “By what sin/error a person is overcome, by that (s)he is enslaved.” (2Peter 2:19) let me start by offering for consideration the possibility a person genuinely cannot be on time because there is a neurological or mental health issue involved that might be addressed through medicine or therapy. There are adults with syndromes like ADD, ADHD, and others that are now clearly understood for their effects on basic conduct – and qualified medical intervention can mean the difference between a chaotic life and an orderly one. If you are reading this and honestly know yourself to be someone who just cannot seem to be on time most of the time – seek help. Visit a doctor. Be open hearted and tell the physician everything. The truth will set you free: and “by expert counsel, you should conduct your effort.” (Proverbs 24:6)
If there is possibly a spiritual component to the issue, go to your leadership pro-actively – don’t wait for them to come to you due to a damage trail that needs addressing. The spiritual and psychological are often intertwined, and hard to separate. Don’t try to self-diagnose in either sphere. Go (Proverbs 15:12) and actively seek help. Ask for prayer, counsel – or both. The man in Scripture with the worst spiritual oppression described in the entire Bible could not be prevented from actively going to and presenting himself to Messiah for deliverance. (Luke 8:27-36) Medicine, prayer – both.
There is a path to freedom, but the one in need must humble him/herself to admit the need and go actively in pursuit of freedom. Many people can tell you their stories of how a few milligrams of this or that medicine – or one session of prayer or godly counsel – changed everything for them. Do not let fear or pride keep you trapped in behaviors defraying your shalom and that of those who surround you. The more people who depend on you to be the right version of yourself, the more important it is that you seek help sooner rather than later. All it can change is everything.
2. Lateness As A Passive-Aggressive Show Of Antipathy
Yeshua of Nazareth taught, “Where a person’s treasure is, that is where his heart will be also.” The most crucial possible message chronic lateness may be sending is, “I don’t really want to be here doing this thing with this person or these people.” Lateness is the next-best thing to not being there at all. Further – if other people are in some manner depending upon one’s presence, then lateness has the ancillary benefit of inflicting some measure of pain on the people one does not want to be with, and harms the thing one does not really want to be doing. Chronic lateness with this motivation is an unconsciously-inflicted form of abuse – it is disguised violence.” A person slack in his work (lateness falls into this ethical category) is a brother to one who is a great destroyer.” said King Solomon in Proverbs.
Clearly, Scripture does not frame chronic lateness as a charming personality quirk: “Oh, that’s just So-and-So. (S)He’s always late.” People being assessed to this category does not mean they are being accepted as quirky: it is what Scripture calls, “becoming a by-word.” Such a person is relegated in the community consciousness to the standing of, basically, a fool. Such a person is expected to fail one of a combination of some of the most basic standards of responsible adult conduct: keeping one’s given word, honorably fulfilling commitments, treating others with respect, having a sound work-ethic – and more. The key here is, “adult conduct.” In the inventory of behavior, responsible keeping of commitments is a basic of adulthood: to lack it can thus evidence a presence of child identity ruling an adult life and body. The adult version of the person is not present when the decisions are made that influence timeliness: something else is in control. “By what sin/error a person is overcome, by that (s)he is enslaved.” says 2Peter 2:19. It is important to note that Peter sees such lack of control paired with religious behavior: “They promise other people freedom, while they, themselves, are enslaved,” are the words that preface “By what sin/error a person is overcome, by that (s)he is enslaved.” Such a person can talk a great game of religion: have pet religious themes, passages of Scripture to read as poetry or inspiration, zones of personally chosen charitable or religious behaviors – but still be openly known as enslaved/overcome by whatever makes him/her unable to muster very basic adult conduct, and God-following character.
2. Lateness As Control-Behavior or Self-Aggrandizement
“You’re late!” said the lady to Will Smith’s character in Independence Day. His response was, “You know me, baby: I love to make an entrance.“ What does arriving late do to the others in the room? One’s late entrance removes attention upon the focus of the event already underway, and brings it to the person(s) entering the space. Chronic lateness can thus be a mechanism for getting attention one has not obtained because of one’s appearance, standing, or achievements. It can thus be an expression of the paired sins of pride/presumption – and simultaneously, a demonstration of low self-esteem. One who gets attention in an orderly way is formally introduced to the room as the focus of the event: a performer, a speaker, a group presenting in some manner. The late entrant is not a designated focus of attention: to get the attention (s)he believes (s)he rightly deserves, (s)he must steal it. The result is not positive when the pattern becomes entrenched: it backfires per the formula, “Woe to the one who increases what is not his.” (Habbakuk 2:6) A person turns him/herself into a by-word by such a pattern, and once that reputation is established, the community assigns that person the role of a fool. Such people walk about in a fog of self-deception: feeling superior, they are regarded by all around them with a combination of contempt, bemusement and pity. Imagine how it looks to God! Someone prancing about in a self-view of aristocracy, while all those around view that very person as an incompetent. Only the truth will set such a person free. Without facing chronic lateness for what it truly is, the person will continue to self-justify and self-exalt – and thus, self-deceive: and the state of slavery will continue.
If a late arriver is known to the attendees in a space being entered, then, in addition to the mere distraction of the entrance, the standard courtesies of greeting and acknowledgement take over, demanding the diverted attention of the attendees to be fixed upon receiving the visual, gestural, or vocal greeting gestures of the late arriver – and acknowledging them. Once the late arriver reaches his or her seat/location, then comes the settling in process: placing whatever is carried (movement and noise inevitably resulting), removing outer apparel, placing moveable seating where comfortable – and if there are children involved, settling in children with their toys or distraction devices – all are movement and noise distracting from the focus of the already-begun event.
Psychology sees lateness also as a possible expression of ego in the sense that the other people’s time – who do arrive early – is not as valuable as the time of the one arriving late. The late-arriver feels superior to others – or alternatively, feels so inferior (s)he needs to superiorize behaviorally – and arrival early enough to assure being ready for the start of the event is not “worth” the moments arriving on time represents. Other lesser people might do so, but not him/her. Thus, lateness becomes an inner and a public demonstration of superiority. (Mapp, A.H. Psychology Today 14 Nov. 2015 )
We were taught in Scripture that “you (God-followers) shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The truth is, chronic lateness is just plain wrong. It is not cute, charming, an endearing personality quirk, something others (the rest of the world that is not chronically late) will just have to get used to about anyone. Unless you are Marilyn Monroe, no one will put up with it. Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios in Hollywood, was once asked why he put up with the chronic lateness of Marilyn Monroe. He replied, “You know, I’ve been on time for work every day of my adult life – but no one will pay five dollars a ticket to see me on a movie screen.” Here is the truth that will set you free: except for perhaps one or two in a billion of us who walk the planet, it is most likely … you are no Marilyn Monroe.
Moreover – even if you were Marilyn Monroe – if you are a professing God-follower, any good pastor of any sort would tell you, “Marilyn, a God-follower can’t just do what comes naturally. Your character should be influenced by the presence of God’s Spirit in your life, and gratitude for the redemption from the penalty and slavery of sin. (Romans 6:15, 1Corinthians 6:20) These things in your life should be making you a better person, not releasing you to indulge the quirks embedded in the worst versions of your nature.”
3. Lateness As Defilement Of God or Defiance Of Government
The quote from Hebrews 11:16 is very important: “For this reason, God is not ashamed to be called their God.” What does that mean? Imagine being a part of a congregation in which you are always seen arriving late. Does God want some new God-follower to see your conduct and decide it is the pattern to imitate? I have visited a congregation in which arriving at a certain level of ordinal office seemed to be an excuse to skip the midweek prayer meeting all the rank-and-file members were fervently exhorted to attend faithfully. Behavior is the main declaration of either ethics or bondage. The message sent in that congregation’s case was clear: the leadership sees attending prayer as a kind of “paying one’s dues” in the path to prominence: but once one has been given elevated standing, such faithfulness is no longer needed. It is a double message to be sure. Is the message about how God is to be followed, that you want to send to other people around you, that arriving late all the time is either right or alright? Is God – literally – “ashamed to be called the God of” a person demonstrating in the open this as their established manner of relating to God and His community? In the same way God would be ashamed to be called the God of a female pastor who wore see-through blouses on the pulpit, and a male pastor who wore shirts unbuttoned to his abdomen while preaching? You can just see God in heaven, wincing in shame – “Oh, please don’t associate My Name with such conduct.” God literally does not want them identifying Him to other people as their god.
“Rebellion is in My sight as the sin of sorcery,” is how God spoke of sinful defiance of authority in 1Samuel 15:23. Western culture since the 1960’s has an image of the glorified rebel raging against The Machine, which can be easily misapplied to justify a sin Scripture calls, “despising governments.” (2Peter 2:10) Lateness can be a level of demonstration of unwillingness to be ruled – by anyone or anything. No one tells this person what to do, be, think, say – the person will literally not be governed. The same passage refers to such as “self-willed” – which is the accurate description of the manner in which their lives are guided, no matter what their spiritual pretensions. If you are a person who is chronically late, it might behoove you to step back from that one zone of behavior and look at a wider picture. Does lateness fit into a larger pattern? If I a given a direction, do I alter it? If I am given a deadline, do I break it? If I am given parameters within which to operate, is it most likely I will find some pretext to go outside them? And – do I consider such actions laudable? Do I see myself as “assertive” – or “a thinker outside the box” – or some other such positive label applied to what might be, in reality, hatred of all authority: rebellion, or despising government of any kind? If things are truly this way, the truth will set you free. The Scriptures are rich with teaching on how to humble oneself before the rightful kingship of God, which was the primary way in which Yeshua of Nazareth’s teaching was described. He taught not of a distant placing coming near some day in the future: He taught about how to be a rightful citizen in the kingdom of the universe it is God’s right, as its Creator, to rule. One cannot be a “believer” if one does not submit to the kingship of God, just as one cannot be a citizen of a country whose government (s)he does not recognize, and whose laws (s)he will not obey. “Those who cover their sins (with positive labels) will not prosper.” (Proverbs 28:13)
4. In Summary
Is chronic lateness a behavior to be defended, preserved, excused? Is toleration of it to be demanded from the community on threat of loss of goodwill, or retaliatory harm-doing? “Have I become your enemy,” Rav Saul asked in Galatians 4:16, “because I tell you the truth?” Will you go in search of people who will tell you being late is somehow either right or alright? Paul said in another place, “I have no one’s blood on my hands, because I have not shrunk back from telling you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27) What would make a person shrink back from telling the entire span of what Scripture says? Fear of the possible harmful reaction from whom Scripture calls, a scoffer: a person unwilling to let any entity other than him/herself define his/her behavior or momentum.
For anyone in whose life chronic lateness is a trait – you have been in slavery: and walking around under the flag “fool” flying over your head.
No one who loves you wants you to be a slave – or seen as a fool.
But only the truth will set you free.
Now, it is up to you. What will you do with the truth?
5. The Counter-Attack / Move The Show Option
When addressing entrenched behavior, a receptive and even-handed response is hoped for, but not always experienced. “A wise person loves the one who corrects him, but from a scoffer you will get wounds and insults in return.” King Solomon observed in Proverbs 9:7. Yeshua of Nazareth taught on the way a person’s character is revealed by their response to truth in this way: he said, “Do not cast your pearls (of wisdom) before swine (people with a brutal, haphazard nature), lest they trample your pearls underfoot, and then turn upon you to tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)
The above counter-attack behaviors are an option for anyone in response to this blog.
There will always be at least one sentence in it you can counter-attack as being wrongly written in some way; and you can seek to make that the topic of conversation. In debates, this is called, “moving the show.” It is neither new, nor clever: it is, however, ethical suicide. If you succeed, you will lose the war by winning the battle: you can maintain your status quo: nothing will change. Is nothing different than up to now really what you and those around you want for you and themselves? For your chronic lateness not to change – ever? And for all those around you to give up on you?
It is my fervent hope whatever above-written truths – as you determine them to be truths – will set you free, and bring increased shalom to you and all around you, who depend upon you to be where you said you would be, when you said you would be, ready to do what you said you would do.
May the wind of Heaven be at your back.
Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen, 14 June 2016 • New York City