The Lectio Letter - Issue #12 - How to Control the Future
The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries. —Rene Descartes
Welcome to Issue #12 of the Lectio Letter. A newsletter filled with suggestions, links and at least one article by me every two weeks. This issue’s article is a little shorter than normal and so I included a few more links for the your reading enjoyment.
The Article this time is on “How to Control the Future”, some music recommendations from Justice Der and Jose Gonazelez, a film by Childish Gambino and instead of a recipe, a little wine wisdom for those trying not to make a hash of it in the supermarket aisle.
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How to Control the Future
2020 is a year that will mark our generation. Just as the great wars, depressions and plagues of the past, the experiences, surprises and anxieties of this past year will fuel and inform the decisions those of us alive will make for the rest of our time on this earth.
Looking back at the impact of major events in history we can see the evidence. Those who grew up in an economic downturn are perpetual spendthrifts. Those who survived the second world war had great gratitude (as signified by the fact they created the baby boom!) and also a deep suspicion for extreme and charismatic authoritarian leaders! Those in the US who witnessed 9/11 cultivated a fresh wave of national solidarity. How will this year and its event mark us?
Uncertainty that creates a desire for control
Certain experiences, death, loss and illness pierce our collective denial that we are finite. That we have an end. Fear of death is a powerful motivator under the surface and in response, many of us look for control. In the loss of control we experience through events like COVID-19 and the recent ‘Black lives matter’ events, we find our selves lashing out in anger; why didn’t anyone tell us about this? Why weren’t we better prepared? Why can’t we control this? Our anger is an expression of the grief that comes from the death of the idea that bad things happen to 'other people’ and not to us.
It’s well observed that our desire for control, for stability runs deep. The person who can’t fix a failing marriage obsesses about every aspect of their maintaining a garden, the person who isn’t processing the loss of a parent cleans their house furiously. When we sense a loss of control in one aspect of our lives we turn to another to regain this sense of being in control. Of course, we are meant to have our hands in the world, we are called to make a difference, to cultivate and develop what we’ve been given. But being able to act decisively in the world is not the same thing as having control.
Predictions and Promises
Recently, I was listening to a podcast about entrepreneurship in this new economic reality and the distinction between promises and predictions came up. We are well acquainted with predictions; we calculate rainfall, outcomes in elections, stocks and shares. But the challenge is, even with all the best historical data in the world, the meteorologist gets it wrong and there is a sunny day instead of a rainy one, elections suddenly swing the other way and the stock goes down instead of up. Our world is filled by predictions and when the data is right but the outcome is wrong we suddenly lose faith in what we thought we could depend on.
The second reality related to predictions in our current scenario is that they don’t matter. While you can predict a reality you very often can’t move people to act on it. Now well documented, Bill Gates publicly and convincing explained exactly this COVID-19 scenario around 5 years ago and invested much of his own time and money developing resources for such a scenario. Those in the African American community have not only begun to find their voice now, there simply hasn’t been the appetite to listen until now. Predictions give us the illusion of control but it takes more to get people to act.
The way to control the future is to make a promise. When we promise, we don’t just predict the future we commit to making it. We give up the illusion of controlling the future, but we make a promise to commit to our part in it. We make the future through our promises. One of our clearest examples of this is in a marriage. In marriage vows you don’t predict the future, you commit to it no matter what the circumstances; “For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…”. This is the power of promises, they are inherently relational and inherently limited. Promises are commitments to act in a certain way no matter what the circumstances are. In that way, they are a commitment to build a certain type of future. Promises focus on what you can control, namely, you, while predictions tend to focus on what you ultimately can’t control, namely, everything but you!
Covenantal Promise Keeping
This brings us to a biblical model for these types of promises or commitments, a covenant. A covenant understanding is key to understanding how the biblical story unfolds. God sets up a creation-partnership with humans. Of course, this partnership breaks down as the first humans decide to go their own way rather than work hand in hand with God. God then establishes a covenant relationship with Israel, he makes promises and asks Israel to fulfil certain commitments too. The purpose of this relationship is to renew God’s relationship with the rest of humanity. But Israel breaks all of these commitments by worshipping other gods and allowing injustice. Along come the Prophets speaking of a day when God would restore these covenants despite Israel’s failure. When Jesus comes as fully God and fully man he is the covenant partner as man and covenant partner as God. God fulfils his promises by keeping up both sides of the covenant as both God and a Jewish man in Jesus Christ.
In a world that turns on data, predictions, and reactions we need more than ever to be a people of promise, a people of covenant faithfulness. A key reality for covenant commitments is that you can’t have too many of them! We engage in relational commitments, like a commitment to be kind to those who treat us poorly, a commitment to live out generously despite hardship, to live in loving connection to friends and family members even when it would be easier to go it alone. The people who will make and mark the future won’t be those that simply predict, but those that promise. The Christian story gives us a sure foundation in God to promise to act and live in certain ways because we can be sure that God has already underpinned our lives with his deep promises that can inspire and empower our own.
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