Is This the Season to Be Worried?

Plant ShootI am worried. I am worried that people are worried. I am worried that people seem to have lost a sense of optimism. I know that can seem such a sweeping statement, so sweeping as to be inane. Things change, and maybe we are in a downswing of mood, but things will be looking up again soon. You know, that American spirit, always optimistic in the end.

But I am worried that broad cultural changes do happen, big shifts take place. I am worried that we might wake up one morning and recognize that our can-do optimistic American confidence about our ability to fix our problems and build a better future may be gone. History tells us the spirit of a people can be enervated. There are many who talk that way about Europe right now.

We must worry immensely that our younger generation might lose a sense of hope about the future, a sense of confidence that they can address the problems of the world, a sense of confidence about their own opportunities to make a difference. We talk a lot about this at Seattle Pacific: How do we equip young people with the skills and the vision to change the world? This should be on our minds as parents and educators right now. This should be on the minds of the leaders of our organizations and our institutions and our country.

The problems seem so huge. That’s one source of our consternation about the future. That’s one source of our intimidation about making a difference. Our debt is huge, mind-bogglingly huge. Much of it is owned by China. I keep hearing that this current recession is different: “We may be in this slog for another five years.” Now that’s discouraging. We are living beyond our means, individually and nationally. We are involved in two wars and face the constant threat of terrorism. We can’t get enough vaccine to protect the vulnerable against the flu. The list seems to multiply.

But as Peggy Noonan says in a recent Saturday column in The Wall Street Journal, “The biggest long-term threat is that people are becoming and have become disheartened, that this condition is reaching critical mass, and that it afflicts most broadly and deeply those members of the American leadership class who are not in Washington . . . .”

And so how do we go about the job of restoring that sense of confidence? That’s a big question. I think it has something to do with the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. What is the guiding narrative we adopt about ourselves as individuals and the story we adopt about our nation and our world? And if it isn’t can-do optimism and confidence, what is it? I know these are big questions indeed. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And then maybe I will return to this topic in a later post. What do you think?

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Categories: Change, Culture, Economy, Leadership

6 replies

  1. I have had similar thoughts these days, but on a bit more “micro” level. Thinking about orphanages where I stay when in Uganda, and how back home in America – in the normal course of every week my family of four will throw away (much less consume) more protein than the kids get in their meals during the same time.

    And how in our Puget Sound region we have been struck with enormous paroxysms of the worst form of violence: wanton attacks on the very people who keep us safe. I can’t imagine how our law enforcement (and all public safety) professionals are dealing with the weight of that right now. These events have all of us at a precipice, staring over the edge of the abyss of anti-social and violent behaviors. This is a confrontation by evil. We must respond like never before, as we are called to, with the spirit and action of Christ’s love.

    And so, for all of us: Psalm 31. Definitely Psalm 31. But someone wrote about similar concerns more recently, in 1934 actually…

    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

    The endless cycle of idea and action,
    Endless invention, endless experiment,
    Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
    Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
    Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
    All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
    All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
    But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
    Where is the Life we have lost in living?
    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
    The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
    Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.

    – T.S. Eliot, (Opening Stanzas from Choruses from “The Rock” )

    And while reflecting on Psalm 31, consider a download of Henry Purcell’s anthem “In thee O Lord I put my trust”. I highly recommend it!

    Through all of this we remain hopeful, and thankful. Particularly for the students in vigil of prayer and activism all around Martin Square and Tiffany Loop (and throughout campus) today on World AIDS Day. And for the amazing spirit of optimism and incredible creativity brought by students to the social venture plan competition. In the many ways they have been called, touched and led – they respond with enormous talent and impressive displays of knowledge and purpose regarding the very issues that the vast majority in the world turns a silent, cold shoulder away from. That’s our story. And its only just getting started…

  2. This is more an acknowledgement of what you’re saying than a response, but I want to say you’re not worried over nothing. It is incredibly hard to be optimistic today as an American youth. Unfortunately my time in Uganda studying international missions and aid efforts taught me than many well-meaning initiatives are riddled with unforseen (and sometimes continually unseen) problems, that efforts to solve other people’s problems (and often our own) either lead to or illuminate deeper problems.

    While it has made me a little cynical about solving the big problems of our world, it isn’t making me depressed or hopeless. Somewhat frozen, perhaps. Disillusioned, for sure. I wonder, ten, twenty years down the road, am I going to have regained my naive sense of optimism, will I have given up and settled into my own narrow little life, or am I the kind of person who doesn’t need to fix anyones problems in order to share with them a meaningful and restorative existence?

    I feel like a hypocrite at times for embracing the personal troubles that come my way as opportunities for enlightenment and growth and then wishing desperately to erase the troubles of the people I care about… and then I feel guilty and callous for thinking that. Easy for me to say, I think, I am white America. My problems aren’t legitimate enough to speak authoritatively on the meaning of and response to suffering… are they?

    My significant other is an Apachee who is deeply involved in the youth movement for Native rights, and he and I discuss these issues often. It’s a fascinating back-and-forth as we represent so many different realms of power hierarchy to each other, and he is beginning to restore in me the remnants of a belief in change… The apathy, this frozennes so many of us feel, it might be an epidemic mainly affecting those of us in relative power, recognizing our power distances us from people who know better what they need than we do. Maybe.

  3. Dr. Eaton,

    I just wanted to thank you for asking such thought-provoking questions through your blog, and for attempting to answer some of the hard ones. One of the things that I love so much about SPU is the passion to engage with the culture in a way that is relevant and purposeful without losing the edge of the gospel. We can’t water it down. We can’t attempt to blend into the culture so much that we stop having an impact. This is a huge challenge for the church and for Christians who desperately want to impact the world in a meaningful way. We want to earn credibility and respect, but we can’t do it while compromising our faith. Such a challenge. I believe that God has called SPU to be a leader in this dicussion and that we are going to see radical movements in the faith through SPU and the lives touched by their time at SPU.

    I believe this post is an encouraging challenge to Christians. The world is finally asking some serious questions and we have the opportunity to speak life and truth into what seems like a very dire situation. I pray that we seize the opportunity.

  4. I am optimistic long term but not short term, and I think people should be worried about the next 5 to 10 years. We have serious world issues that are not being addressed in any productive way. The leaders of the modern world either don’t want to, or are too afraid to stop doing things in the old ways that do not work anymore, they are more interested in political strategy than they are in finding and presenting the truth. I believe that the world we have built has come to a point of critical mass where it cannot change for the better without first falling near completely apart on a large scale. I think that sounds scary and I’m sure if it does indeed happen this way it will be scary, but I do believe in the long run it will work out well. As Christians we are called to be the light of this world and we should NOT be worried, we should be faithful and optimistic, yet prepared for one of the biggest storms we have ever seen, and I believe the Bible tells us this.

  5. This is a great opportunity for Christians because we have hope that does not depend on economics, power or current circumstances. Our narrative is God’s history of love for us and God’s endless ability to create solutions (e.g., Christ’s arrival). This is completely different than optimism and confidence based on what humans can do.

    This hope does not ignore or deny reality. We need to strongly counter the argument that faith equals delusion (e.g., http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200912/rosin-prosperity-gospel and the book “Brightsided”) by acting to address the huge, complex problems (e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/opinion/18friedman.html) that will take years of effort to manage much less solve. If human effort and goodwill are all we have history doesn’t give us much hope but Christians always have hope. We know God can provide what we need. Christ’s coming empowered us to face the challenges of our day, live and work for justice with mercy, power with humility.

    I see SPU doing this in so many ways, thanks for being at the helm,

    Janette Plunkett

  6. We have done nothing to prevent this… we go from one crisis to another. We do not learn nothing from history. We must first change people minds the the rest.

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