No future tense = a better future?

Phloem and Xylem: No future tense = a better future?

11 March 2015

Today I am in the Bluffton/Pandora area for a CDC pastors meeting and some work with the Ministerial Committee.  On the drive up here I listened to the TED Radio Hour episode “The Money Paradox.”  One of the featured speakers, Keith Chen, talked about his research on the relationship between financial savings practices and language.  As it turns out, people whose primary language does not differentiate between the present and future tense have a much higher (consistently 20-30%) savings rate than those whose language does.  English, for example, has a future tense: “I will drive home this afternoon and will see my children.”  Chinese and Finnish are examples of languages that don’t have a future tense.  “I drive home this afternoon and see my children.”  Chen’s theory is that, when it comes to how we manage our finances, there is a psychological advantage in not differentiating between the present self and the future self.  It’s the same self.  A related study through a financial counselor invited people to consider the percentage of their income they would like to set aside for retirement.  People in one group were given a worksheet which included a current picture of themselves in the corner.  The papers the other group received had a computer simulated picture of what the person might look like around retirement age.  Not surprisingly, the ones who were confronted with their future self in the present chose to save more.

One of the things I have enjoyed about this Lent theme, “Praying with Creation,” has been taking a deep time perspective of our relationship with the natural world.  We come from the primordial waters and Noah’s flood causes us to ponder the different extinction events that have occurred throughout history.  Earth and land have always been central to how we survive and thrive.  Cattle have not always been cattle, but once roamed wild.  I wonder what Mark will do this Sunday with serpents!  How we think about ourselves as creatures within time can have a profound impact on how we live in the present.  The New Testament seems intent on messing with out notions of time in declaring the Kingdom of God is here (the future is present), even as we remember the cross and resurrection as an ongoing present reality.  In light of this and the TED talk, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the core of all biblical ethics, includes the future version of yourself and your neighbor, and even your neighbor who will be here long after you’re gone.

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