The Saddest Trend of 2015

My friend, Greg, sent me an article from a UK News Source, The Telegraph, titled, The Saddest trend of 2015. The article is about the growing popularity of the technology of “mindfulness.” The practice of mindfulness, rooted in Buddhist meditative practice and now a phone app, was so popular in 2014 that it was, in the writers words, “pretty hard to get through the year without noticing it.”

If you haven’t heard about “mindfulness,” take it as a reminder that you don’t have to travel into space to explore other worlds. The writer lives in a different world than you.

Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present, and leaving behind the cares and worries of the past and the future. And it’s popping up in schools, business offices, and, as in the featured photo to this article (Photo: Neilson Barnard), even on the street. There’s even a documentary about it.

(As a side note, It figures that I would write a book on “leading from the future” in a year that was all about the present.)

The article takes a nice twist, as it cites data from the Mental Health Foundation that estimates that one in four people will experience a mental health problem every 12 months, when it asks:

“Why are so many of us living lives we feel unable to cope with? How is it that we are so unhappy with our lots that we will willingly sit cringing in a room with our colleagues while remembering to breathe?”

The writer concludes that an app that helps guide us in mindfulness may not be enough. The problem is “our lives and how we lead them.” Rather than a practice to cope with a life that depresses us, how about a change of life? If that were the end result of mindfulness, the world could change.

Jesus seemed to point in the same direction. He also told his followers to focus on today: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6.34)

And just before this, he told them: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6.33) In other words, be intentional about what your life is all about.

So, in bullets:

  • Make sure you’re intentional that your life is about what matters (macro)
  • Focus on today (micro)

As I’ve mentioned before and expand upon in Makers of Fire, there are (at least) three undercurrents in 21st century life that indicate we’re trying to be more intentional about what our lives are all about. They are trajectories that move us from

• outsiders to insiders
• above to within
• against to with

In a thumbnail, we are trying to design a world that has room enough for everyone to benefit. (<— Click to tweet) And, when I say “everyone,” I don’t just mean everyone who is alive today but future generations too.

We want a world …
…that is more integrated, not a world of “us” vs “them, but “us” with “them”.
…that bursts open with life because it is our garden. We live within it not above it.
…of collaboration in which we tap into the genius of our species to solve problems and create solutions that work for everyone. Perhaps we might even evolve from a world of “‘us’ with ‘them’” to world where it is just us.

Then maybe we would not need to remember to breathe. We would not need to turn to an app to help us find peace and happiness. We could just open our eyes and look around and enjoy the beauty of the world and of our relationships. That would be a happy trend.

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Artists (like Gungor) have much to teach theologians about scripture

Recently two Christian artists crossed my radar. The first is Gungor, who does not take the Bible “literally.” The second is evangelical recording artist, Vicky Beeching, who came out as gay.

This post is about Gungor. Now, I don’t know Gungor or his music. I’m listening to his music for the first time as I write this. My tastes tend more towards Thievery Corp, Zero 7, Bjork, Koop, Fau, Brae, Gypsy Kings, and Bebel Gilberto. But as I read this interview about Gungor’s “drift” from biblical orthodoxy as described by World Magazine, I was reminded that orthodoxy is the heresy that won.

Just about every week I read an article about how theologians wrestle with scripture in light of the science of evolution. Let’s be clear, this post is not about evolution as much as it is about scripture. And, for full transparency, I have evolutionary frameworks for understanding how the world came to be as it is. But I could care less if evolution were overturned or established tomorrow. Quite the contrary, I would be delighted by whatever new thing could be learned and discovered.

This post is about how we understand the scripture. Theologians wonder how we can understand the biblical figures of Adam and Eve in light of the fact that, given the evolution of our species, they had ancestors reaching back millions of years. They struggle with how there could have been death and suffering in the world for millions and millions of years before the “fall of man.” They struggle with how the creation story fits with what we know today about the emergence of life in the world, as if they were somehow parallel.

So many of us listen to theologians, academics, and other fundamentalist christians wrestle with these questions with the same incredulity we would if they were wrestling with how to understand cosmology in light of the church doctrine that the earth is the center of the universe.

The challenge for Christians is not that we don’t understand the science. It’s that we don’t understand the Bible… at least not the way millions of believers will understand it the farther we get into this century.

Enter the artist.

Michael Gungor reads the creation stories as a poem.

(This may also be a minority opinion, so far. In any case, majorities are overrated. After all, Christ was crucified with the majority in agreement).

The opening chapters of Genesis are a poetic saga. The creation story of Genesis is an epic myth thoughtfully and intentionally constructed from a multiplicity of sources including the babylonian poem known as the Enuma Elish.

Genesis does not record the chronological origins of the universe. It is the consolidation of stories from multiple sources (and cultures) which had substantial oral histories. These stories were brought together to express a particular and new faith that emerged four to five thousand years ago. This new faith is arrived at by a nomadic tribe whose patriarch, a man –whether a composite or an individual– named Abraham, had encounters with a guiding spirit in the wild. Their intention in pulling together these stories may have been to offer an apologetic for faith in Abraham’s God in a world full of gods.

For so many Christians it seems impossible to maintain this kind of point of view and still follow Christ. But Christians who have an evolutionary framework for understanding the world listen to Gungor and hear nothing but common sense. And they have fewer problems integrating new science with ancient faith than those who read Genesis like it was written by an ancient community that was somehow up to date with 21st century science. This may be one of the fault lines between Modern Christianity and the Christ-following faith of the 22nd century that is still in vitro.

To those within these frameworks, it is the theologians, academics, fundamentalists, and Christian organizations –especially the “watchdogs” of orthodoxy who are cemented in the past —  that seem biblically illiterate.

Are artists like Gungor, with or without intending, parting a theological sea? Are they, with or without knowing, raising a staff and prophesying the way of faith forward? Many who cannot understand the fundamentalist faith will run through these waters and begin to shape a tribe of faith that will populate the latter 21st century. They will read the scriptures with different eyes.

But, even fundamentalists can be saved. That’s the beauty of the courageous leadership offered by Gungor. (And, Im not saying here that he’s got it all figured out or even claims to have it figured out. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know much about him.) After Israel left Egypt, things went back to “life as usual” in the land of the Pharaohs. The Egyptians probably didn’t even miss a step. But the narrative arc of the story followed the nomadic tribe who found their way across the desert and through the waters led by a guiding wind.

I suspect that the narrative arc of the story of scripture may be headed out into the wilds again and the artists may be leading the way.

By the way, Michael and Lisa, enjoyed your music.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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Summer Reading for 2012

What’s on your reading list for this summer?

Here are some of mine…

NONFICTION

On the nonfiction side, I’ll be reading from among these…

Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything, Anytime, Anywhere Future.
This will help me think through the questions that we’ll bring up at M2012
this September in Motown about where we’re going as a species.

Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World
I remember sitting at a table once with Len Sweet, Tom Wolf, and my brother, Erwin, some 15 or more years ago when Len said to us, Buddhism is the religion of the 21st century. Every year that seems more true. The influence of Buddhism permeates our lives. So I’m extending my life long interest in the religions of the world to this book written by the Dalai Lama for the summer.

The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Human Values
My gut instinct tells me this is going to be a snoozer, but, unless it puts me to sleep, I want to give anti-theist Sam Harris a chance to explain how science will tells us what is right and wrong.

The Next 100 years: A Forecast for the 21st Century
Because I can’t help it.

Reinventing Life: A Guide to Our Evolutionary Future
Our choices will alter the evolution of the world and of our own species.

FICTION

I’m more of a fiction reader. This year I’ve enjoyed the Hunger Games Trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the Enders Game first Volume and the second volume, Speaker for the Dead. As I turn towards summer I’m wondering what I should start with? Any recommendations?

What are you thinking about reading (fiction or nonfiction) this summer?

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Well, I’ve been tempted to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but decided to read the book first. My paperback copy came in right after Christmas, at about the same time I got sick, so I just finished the novel, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson.

It’s a slow-burning, investigative journalism type novel featuring the dark and fascinating computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, who helps crack a long forgotten murder.

Now, I’m ready to follow up by watching the original subtitled film. Then I’ll feel ready to go watch the newly released film.