Part Three of What we Should Have Seen, Where we Go From Here (3 of 8)
This series of short essays was originally intended to be a simple two- or three-part blog. My goal was to ponder the impact of Covid-19 on both the church and culture at large, where we’ve missed it (1 & 2), and what we need to do get back on track. However, as my working thesis became clear—that we have clearly and irrevocably crossed a line in the invisible sands of history; that 2020 has, in fact, ushered in a new era—I soon realized three blogs was not enough. The series expanded to eight, which I will continue to release weekly, but anyone who desires can also get the whole series now, without waiting for the weekly blogs, as a small, free ebook.
Get the whole series without waiting for the weekly blogs. Free ebook.
HYPERBOLE OR REALITY?
I am not so concerned with the hyperbole of my claim as the possible truth of it, because if it is true, we must behave accordingly. Did Covid-19 trigger this tectonic shift in modern history? It hardly matters. Many other significant, retrogressive factors have been snowballing for decades. The church has recently been focused on “Seven Mountains” precisely because all seven are crumbling, and civilization itself is about to get caught in the landslide.
At minimum, Covid-19 has forced a sort of time-lapse effect, condensing years and decades of hindsight into weeks and months of real-time updates, causing us to see the vast tapestry of international, political and economic processes normally invisible to analysis by virtue of their ponderous pace (like a flower blooming or clouds rolling overhead). It is precisely this compression of the normal timeline that permits us to recognize our “new era” whereas, in the normal course of events, decades of thoughtful review would have been required.
While normal life will certainly resume in many respects, history itself has tilted, and we can’t go back. It is pointless to try, much like Sylvester Stallone’s character Gabe Walker, in the old mountain climbing disaster movie, Cliffhanger. Suspended by cable over a deep ravine, Gabe has put himself in great danger and is desperately clutching the hand of his friend, Sarah, after part of her harness broke.
“I’m not going to let you die,” he snarls. Pure Stallone, veins popping. Of course he’ll save her, we reassure ourselves.
But then her glove slips. She falls. It was unstoppable. There was nothing he could do.
For all our sentimental longing for the America we thought we knew, we need to reorient to, and reinvent, a new future, rather than clinging to a past that has surely slipped beyond our grasp. Antichrist forces have no failure of ambition in this regard, no lack of foresight or strategy, nor any compunction about crafting the future narrative of nations—including ours. To the degree that we don’t get a clue, or continue forcing the square peg of yesterday’s norms into the round hole of tomorrow’s demands, we will only waste time, energy and resources on ill-fitting, well-meaning, nostalgia-tickling solutions that aren’t so much anchors for the soul as concrete shoes for our feet in the uncharted waters of this bold new future. We can’t afford that kind of thinking. We are already behind the curve of awareness, much less readiness. Let the past fall. It’s dead already.
Why isn’t reformation-level thinking — envisioning that future — more urgently discussed among the people of God? Why isn’t that conversation occupying our time and organizational efforts, with much fasting, prayer and inquiries into the Word? Instead, we seem to either be whistling in the dark, or determined to get back to the comfort and assurance of our Sunday service. Is that really our Big Win? Is that sufficient for the challenges ahead?
THE PROBLEM OF PERSPECTIVE
Perspective requires time and distance. That’s the problem. Typically, when you need perspective, you are too close to the events to have it. Once you have it, you generally no longer need it.
Here’s some perspective: For thousands of years, eras were measurable mostly by shifts in empires. Later developments became more paradigmatic, involving cultural and philosophical thought systems, and also modes of social, financial and governmental interaction. For example, instead of an empire ending with the death of a king, such as when the dominance of Medo-Persia shifted to Greece in Alexander’s defeat of Darius III (only for Greece to later be supplanted by Rome), centuries later an era shift would be defined by something more abstract, like the medieval, agrarian, monarchal feudalism of Dark Age Europe giving way to democratic capitalism and the Renaissance. This culminated further in the cataclysmic changes of the Protestant Reformation, another true era shift. Mind you, the latter developments were not empire shifts, they were thought systems around which people and nations organized and either prospered or suffered.
We are in such a moment right now, likely the first since the Industrial Revolution. Part of how you know is when the old era starts to unravel. With shocking ease and speed, the modern civilized world has been revealed as an Emperor with no clothes. Government, society, politics, finance, media, medicine, entertainment, sports, retail, international relations, all face existential threats to their continued existence under the old norm, if for no other reason than that our shocking response to this crisis—whether manufactured or real—has now leveraged our economies, and therefore our futures, to a debt load of total unsustainability. Such a statement belies the fact that we were already there prior to the trillions of new money and new debt that has been injected into the global economy. We took our house of cards and have somehow managed to balance a cinder block on the top card, but nobody’s fooled. This thing is living on borrowed time.
No one alive today, nor their parents, grandparents or great grandparents, has experienced a true era shift. Measuring even with decades and centuries, we have only witnessed “platform changes” largely related to technology, i.e. from the Atomic Age to the Space Age to Information Age. My great-grandmother came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, buried a child along the road, and lived to watch a man set foot on the moon. That is a monumental shift, yet even that lacks the fundamental degree of change that a true era shift portends.
FRAMING THE FACTS
Admittedly, these articles have sounded gloomy so far as I’ve attempted to do two things: firstly, to cast a wide enough net to capture the macro story and zeitgeist of 2020; secondly, to pinpoint some particular issues the church needs to face head on. But now I want to pivot, because in truth I am filled with a staggering sense of hope for what lies ahead. You cannot know Yahweh, Lord of Covenantal History, or El-Shaddai, the Almighty, or the Most High, sovereign of nations—cannot know His nature, heart and power—without also believing that we are on the cusp of a spectacular advancement of God’s Kingdom, in spite of evidence to the contrary. No, friend. Don’t despair. God is playing the long game. He is playing 10-million-dimensional chess. Behind the veil of what we see lies a divine perspective we must come to first trust, so that we might also come to know.
The particular box we put around something will either limit or liberate a range of possible insights based on what fits in the box and what is left out of it, as well as the shape of the box and how it groups the data we focus on. In other words, facts are rarely just facts. It all comes down to perception. If you can manage to draw a different frame around whatever data you possess or circumstance you face, chances are good that new insights or pathways will present themselves. This is what lawyers do in criminal cases; working from the same body of evidence, they cleverly frame the same facts differently for the jury. Relationally, we do this when we give someone the “benefit of the doubt.” We reframe our assumptions about whatever situation has aroused our suspicion and look for a more positive side to their story.
This is more than positive thinking or a “glass half full” cliché. Better answers typically require better questions. Author and educator Ken Robinson reframes history by pointing to how the pioneers of astronomy reframed their science: “Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler did not solve an old problem, they asked a new question, and in doing so they changed the whole basis on which the old questions had been framed.”
Vision is not always about being visionary. It’s about a mindset that uniquely perceives the same data everyone else has access to. In Change to Chains (quoted in my last article), William J. Federer describes how “corn growing in a field appears orderless, till one turns the corner and sees the rows line up.” He says history is similar. “All the names, dates and places are there, but it is not until they are seen from the right perspective that lessons become clear. History is boring, until it comes into focus.”
In 2020, certain long-running trend lines are coming into focus. We don’t have the full picture yet. I certainly don’t! Nevertheless, I intend to ask questions and explore possibilities. In the next couple of chapters, I’ll detail some of the possible perils and advancements I see coming down the road and around the bend. At present, I simply want to frame our future with hope. This hope is not glib, nor is it without hardship, suffering, resistance, and even possible martyrdom for many. But to be fair, that’s a weightier, more distant future, and therefore another topic. The hope I first want to address relates to the positive cause of our present voicelessness. I’ve already described the problematic side—the lack of truly prophetic, apostolic, declarative, bold, humble insight—the kind that offers guidance to culture and speaks truth to power. I outlined these in a spirit of repentance to give us tools for prayer and dialogue with the Father. While this remains true, I want to reframe the same silence differently. Same data, different box.
The new box speaks to me of great things stored up in the heart of God for His people.
THE LULL OF LOAD TIMES
A modern metaphor will drive the point home. When heavy machinery, high-voltage appliances, or massive mainframes are replaced or updated, it involves a careful process. You don’t move fast. People could get hurt and fragile systems could get compromised.
In a more modern sense, server clusters and data architectures involving hundreds of millions of lines of code and profoundly diverse, integrated hardware platforms, don’t just turn on and off. They have to reboot. The reboot itself is a series of steps in careful sequence.
Closer to home, when you get an update on your phone or computer informing you that a software update is available, the message typically advises you about the expected wait time, followed by a spinning wheel or sliding progress bar. This is the point at which you can’t do anything until the process is complete.
You have entered the silent, unusable time of the upgrade cycle. During an update, the normal use and functionality of your machine is suspended. New code is being installed. You are in limbo. It’s a delicate process that can’t be interrupted. It has to run its course until complete, and you don’t know it’s complete until the load time finishes and it restarts your machine. While this is happening, you can’t access the features you previously depended on.
Lesser updates—routine security patches and such— are typically invisible in their benefit to the end user. But for major system upgrades, the reboot brings a slew of new features, enhancements and improvements. As of this year, for example, Tesla owners can pull their car into a Tesla shop and request the Full Self Driving upgrade. During the time of the installation, they can’t use their car, but $8000 later, once the upgrade is complete, their car will now drive itself. The iPad I bought several years ago has never had the ability to use a mouse or trackpad. Now, with one software update, I can use either. I got an upgrade by download.
Four takeaway points:
- Upgrades generally happen because the previous level of technology is no longer sufficient for the times. We don’t use Eli Whitney’s original cotton gin because many generations of improvements have rendered the original machine obsolete
- Major upgrades are noticeable, offering new solutions, forms of interaction, and new possibilities
- The upgrade cycle requires a necessary period of rest, stillness and waiting. There is a lull when the heavy machinery is unplugged from one power source to a new one. There is a delay in the reboot sequence. There is necessary pause for the upgrade to install.
- Many times, you don’t know what’s coming until the upgrade is complete. New things are wonderful, but they are new for a reason. We haven’t seen them before. We haven’t been down this road before.
We see this in Scripture, most notably in four centuries of silence between Malachi and Matthew. There is no “upgrade” to humanity comparable to the birth of the Messiah, and it was preceded by a long silence. Also, remember, when Elijah finally emerged from the cave in response to the divine whisper, he had a new assignment: anoint Elisha, anoint Jehu. He got his upgrade—a double portion prophetic son and a new king to finally overthrow Jezebel.
Era shifts reboot history. If we frame the facts of 2020 this way, there is reason to believe that the Lord is preparing upgraded tools and resources for His people. These will not be independent of Him, but will be extensions of Him. The old truths are eternal truths, but some of the old ways might need upgrades. Some of our assumptions, perspectives, priorities and strategies might need to be discarded, or dramatically altered. We need new questions with better answers. The baseline of what we expect spiritual gifts to look like might need a new floor, and a new ceiling. Authority structures need to shift. Adaptive, non-Sunday centric expressions need to flourish. It’s a new day and we should welcome it. With God’s grace, guided by His Spirit, we should shape it. The Antichrist is not the Lord of History, Jesus is. For that reason, the silencing of our voice might look like a triumph to the enemy, but maybe, just maybe, an invisible download is happening in the spirit, suspending our normal routines so that we can see our previous weakness and instead desire new communion, new dependence, new strength.
Maybe, just maybe, the next wave is coming. Which is precisely why we need to understand the “tells” of the enemy in his resistance. From the beginning of time to now, war—cosmic war—is the framework of reality. The hope of a Third Great Awakening vs. Covid-19 (with all of its societal demands) is merely the latest manifestation of the unceasing opposition of the enemy to the plans and purposes of God, yet it may be even more calculated, clever and dynamic than any of us first realized.
Next week: “A Pneumatic Metaphor for War”