Transcending the Noisy Present
In his latest book Bob Johansen, of the Institute for the Future, teaches leaders to project out ten years and then “look back” at the present. It’s an odd exercise in temporal gymnastics, and at first I balked. “I can’t figure out what’s happening next year, much less in ten years, “ I sniffed.
The futurist had an answer for me. “Surprisingly,” he writes in New Leadership Literacies, “it’s actually easier to look long than to look close in. There is too much noise in the present.” No one had to convince me about the noisy present. I read on.
Once Johansen was consulting with a European client on food security and global hunger. Very quickly, however, the whole process melted down. Some people had very strong opinions and feelings about GMO (Genetically Modified) food. It was impossible even to have a conversation about food security because people were arguing strenuously about food chemistry. (That sounded rather like church.) Everyone felt paralyzed, until Johansen suggested that they look 30 years out. What did food security and global hunger look like in three decades? Surprisingly, even the people who saw GMO as a yes/no issue now and for the next decade could see that in 30 years GMO would be part of a whole spectrum of food chemistry choices.
Just like that, the discussion shifted from polarized paralysis to cautious conversation.
That one story made a futurist believer out of me. Right now the pitched arguments in church and society make wise and bold leadership very difficult. People are fixated on binary righteousness, anxious dogmatism, and FOLO (fear of losing out). Conservatives and progressives battle within churches for whose vision will save the institution: is the answer going back to core essentials, or is it leaping into a Truth that only reveals itself after you have leapt? (The answer of course is both.)
That’s our noisy present. It helps to take the long view in order to get a bead on the short, otherwise we get swept into the paralyzing right/wrong of this cultural moment. When we look out 10 years or even 30, we know that spirituality will be ancient/future; the content will be remarkably intact but the forms will be unrecognizable. Religious leaders must help people step into that future now, even when it’s not quite here yet. That’s never easy, but for several thousand years Christians have known the necessity of living now in a reality that is only partly here. We call it “inaugurated eschatology,” known by its shorthand, “already/not yet.”
When he tells us we must go out ten years and “look back,” Bob Johansen is describing a faithful practice we ought to recognize. It’s what we need right now to keep us from falling prey to the noisy present.
Guest Blogger David Anderson is the rector of St. Luke's Church, Darien, CT. He is co-chair of the CEEP Conference 2018 (San Antonio) and 2019 (Boston).