Sunday, 5 May 2013

Future Shock

Do you remember Alvin Toffler's book "Future Shock"? I was browsing old copies of the Pilot from the 1970s at the Library, and came across this article by the Bishop of Winchester, John V Taylor, on the subject. What he says still seems very fresh and relevant today as it did back then. The pace of change has, if anything, accelerated. Of course, the dark side of change is now also with us - the cheap labour in foreign countries supporting our own economies, and the trough of a deep recession, but gadgets still seem to be coming out with more features. And there is also the treat of climate change, of a violent disruptive weather that is a changer from the more settled weather of the past.

What I particular like is his analysis of how the pace of change has caused a fundamental alteration in how people understand their lives, and the old way of understanding cause and effect has been ruptured by this change. It is like a swiftly flowing stream of Heraclitus - "Everything changes and nothing remains still ... and ... you cannot step twice into the same stream" - and while we still have the past with us, the future changes also change our own mindset. The recent Referendum showed this in microcosm. No one wanted the more settled option, and some wanted very radical change. It is interesting that in Tim Nash's interview in the JEP about China, they value antiquity far more than we do. But as China changes into a major industrial power, will they lose that as they face the pressures of change?

Of course, the past is not always good; sometimes, as John Taylor points out, it can be a straightjacket, when we get caught up in patterns of behaviour that can be destructive. It is almost as if the patterns take control, rather like when you take a particular turning without thinking because it is the usual way you go, and has become almost automatic. So change is not always bad, sometimes it is necessary. Wisdom lies in knowing what change to accept, and what should be treated with caution.

Future Shock
By The Bishop of Winchester (Dr. John Taylor)
From "The Pilot", 1972

THEY CALL IT `FUTURE SHOCK'. In a book with that title many features of our present state of mind are analysed -- the instability of society, the violence, the failure of communication between the generations, the irresponsibility of our economic behaviour, the search for short-lived heroes and leaders, the experimenting with anew cults and forms of mysticism. These are symptoms, it appears, of man's inability to keep up with the pace of change.

We cannot simply call a halt to change. Technology is self-propagating. The more we can do through the application of science, the more rapidly we discover other things we can do. The more we know, the more quickly we can push back the boundaries of our knowledge.

They say that as many new `discoveries' have been made in the last fifteen years as were made in the previous 250 years. Most of us have not heard of them, and if we had we could not understand them, yet they are already affecting our lives.

Side by side with the invention explosion is the better known population explosion. In the 1960's we began to face that as a fact of statistics; today we are actually feeling it as a physical reality changing our landscape. Basingstoke explodes from 18,000 to 80,000. New motorways are already becoming so congested that we have to plan more and bigger ones. `More and bigger' is the cry affecting our farming policies, our transport and distribution industries, our programmes of higher education, our housing needs, our hospitals, our prisons. And all the time our compassion is stirred by the cry from poorer parts of the world where the explosion of numbers is much more drastic.

With luck the invention explosion may match the new needs created by the population explosion. But in any case more and bigger changes are inevitable in every direction we can think of. No wonder we are losing our nerve both as individuals and as a society. The speed of change "forces man to question everything : as never before he feels the agent, even builder, of his own destiny, yet at the same time he feels himself to be almost an atom lost in the unmeasured galaxies."

That is a quotation from a book of meditations by Carlo Carretto called The God Who Comes, which I strongly recommend. I shall be quoting from it again this Rosewindow. One reason why we are thrown off balance when change becomes so rapid is that we are accustomed to having our lives affected much more by the past than by the future.

That seems to be a more natural experience if we live in a world that obeys the laws of cause and effect. We have all grown up believing that what happens to me now is happening because something else happened before. I am short of eggs this morning because I forgot it was early closing yesterday afternoon. But the daffodils are cheering me up just outside the window because I planted new bulbs last autumn. My young friend cannot get the job he wants because he did not work hard enough at school to get his `A' levels. But the reason why be wasted his time at school is that his parents' marriage was breaking up just then. And that was almost inevitable because of what happened to them both in the war-and, speaking of wars, Northern Ireland is locked in conflict today because of what English and Scots and Irish did in the nineteenth century, or the seventeenth, or the fourteenth.

Cause and effect means that the present is given to us by the past. `Now' is the product of `then'.

Sometimes that is a very reassuring thought. We feel that steady, dependable flow of time through history to the present day. We are the heirs of a great heritage. In the echoing spaces of Winchester Cathedral we who find prayer difficult, almost impossible perhaps, are buoyed up by the faith and worship of many earlier generations. And among the ancient oaks of a New Forest glade we feel we are more in touch with our own roots as human beings than we can be in the suburbs of Southampton. The backward look can, in fact, be so comforting that we use it as a form of escape from responsibility.

And yet the backward look can also be an imprisonment. The chain of cause and effect can bind us in a determinism that robs us of all freedom. If I am what I am because of my place in society, my background, my childhood, my heredity, my race, what hope have I of becoming anything else? What hopes have my children? If the past causes me, then I am not to be blamed, and I have not a chance of doing anything about it. That argument lets me off the hook completely. It is another form of escape from responsibility.

Cause and effect, combined with irresponsibility, produced Good Friday. That frightful event was just as inevitably the fruit of the previous histories of Jerusalem and Rome as Northern Ireland today is the fruit of attitudes and decisions in past centuries. Judas and Caiaphas and Pilate behaved as they did because their own personal past had made them what they were. When the crunch came they one and all refused to be responsible. Caiaphas manoeuvred Pilate into making the decision, Pilate tried to pass the buck to Herod, Herod deftly passed it back. Pilate put the blame on the Jewish people, the crowd thrust it back on him. Their total moral failure that day flowed inexorably out of the past of the whole human race and none of them knew what he was doing.

Jesus alone was a free man and took responsibility upon himself. So one might say that his death was the final effect of all past causes. All history converged upon the Cross and with the words "It is finished" Christ cut the entail of the past. His death was truly the end of all things.

But Easter Day was a new beginning for all things, a new creation.

And creation is the only kind of happening which has no cause. It is not the effect of anything but God's Will. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was an event which did not come out of the past. It came out of the future, given fresh and uncaused from the hand of God. The resurrection, therefore, put the flow of time in reverse for anyone who chooses to commit his whole trust to the Risen Christ and live by his power. To those who live in the power of that resurrection. `now' is a gift from the future, not a product from the past and time flows towards us from out in front, not from behind. Even that, is too impersonal a way of saying it. It is truer to Christian experience to say that God is coming towards us and life is the gift he brings, new every morning. The life we now live is the life of the world to come-the life of the world that is coming into being because God is creating it. This is what Carlo Carretto expresses most movingly in his book :

"God is always coming, and we, like Adam, hear His footsteps.
God is always coming because He is life, and life has the unbridled force of creation.
God comes because He is light, and light may not remain hidden.
God comes because He is love, and love needs to give itself. God has always been coming. God is always coming...

This evening I saw backwards a million years, ten thousand centuries. The pale light of the nebula which reached my eye this evening, left there a million years ago at the speed of 187,000 miles per second. From that time, and doubtless from before then, God has been coming to meet me...

It is a long time since God set out to come to me, a time I was not yet born. Neither had the sun nor the moon nor the earth nor my history nor my problems been born."

That, surely, is an antidote to `future shock'. For what are the changes that shake us in our tiny span of time compared with the birth of new suns and the explosion of planetary systems? Yet those gigantic `events' are held in the grasp of the God who comes to us, as Person seeking and meeting person. That is the truth expressed in the poetry of the Book of Revelation : `He had in his right hand seven stars ... and he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last and the Living One. I was dead and behold I am alive for evermore.'

During Holy Week the congregations related to the Team Ministry in Basingstoke were led this year in a series of meetings, at various times and in many different centres, all focussed on the theme "Living today for the day after tomorrow". That is much more responsible and realistic than living a day at a time. For it recognises the speed of change. It takes account of the fact that "the day after tomorrow" will be different from today without being unnerved by it. Those who live today for the sake of the day after tomorrow are the ones who refuse to be helpless victims of uncontrollable developments, but insist on planning creatively, taking risks, making decisions without the paralysing fear of making mistakes. Such people are going to make sure that the future will not be catastrophic but creative-creative because it is the gift of a loving Creator who has never allowed things to get `out of hand'. They may even lay down their own lives for the sake of that future and that God.

For living today for the day after tomorrow is what Jesus did supremely, and quite literally, on Good Friday. "For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross . . ."-and that joy was realised on the day after tomorrow, Easter Day. We, too, will have to endure much -perhaps a cross of some kind-for the sake of that joy and that future, but in doing so we shall be living, and enabling others to live, here and now, the life of the world that is coming.

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