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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4 Trends for Churches to Consider

When I first saw Ed Stetzer’s original article titled, MissionTrends: 4 Trends for Churches to Consider, I had some points of difference. But I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to write about them because, overall, I think we should all think more about the future.

But the article crossed my sights again in “Charisma News” post titled, 4 Trends in Christianity That Could Scare You, According to Ed Stetzer.

I don’t know why this was in my feed, but there it was. So, I decided to look at the article again. I think what tipped me over was that Charisma News added “That Could Scare You” in the title.

We should not be scared.
We should seize our moment.

For those of you who did not read Stetzer’s blogpost, here are his “4 trends”:

1. The word “Christian” will become less used and more clear”
2. The nominals will increasingly become “nones”
3. Christians Will Increasingly Change Cultural Tactics
4. More Robust Churches will Result from the Death of Nominalism

Here are some of the ways my take differs from Stetzer’s “4 Trends”.

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1. The word “Christian” will become less used and more clear”

The first trend, according to Stetzer, is “less people are calling themselves Christians and those who are will take it more seriously.”

A trend can be described as a change in a variable over time. In this sense, I’m not sure I would classify any of these 4 as “trends.”  These “4 trends” seem more like forecasts based on experience (or hopes)  rather than extrapolations based on data. Ok, too nit-picky and this isn’t my point anyway. Let’s move on to the good stuff.

Stetzer goes on to say, “In the future, the word Christian will mean more to those who would be considered convictional Christians. However, it will mean-and be used-less to those who were nominal Christians in the first place. The word will be less used and more clear.”

In contrast, I think, that in the future, the word Christian may also be used less by those to whom it means more. In other words, those who follow Christ out of conviction, rather than simply because of culture, may use Christian less as a self designation because they recognize the cultural, political, economic acculturation of Christianity with modern culture.

In other words, they will use the word Christian less

  • in an attempt to be less syncretistic in their faith
  • in an attempt to be able to express their faith with less baggage
  • and because they honestly sense that their experience of faith is not represented well by the word

Those believers who are more attached to the status quo, who have less cognitive dissonance between the Modern era, America, and Christianity will be more likely to use the word Christian.

So, it may be Stetzer’s “squishy middle” —those who, according to Ed, were “nominal in the first place” — along with the keepers of the status quo who will actually more frequently use “Christian” as a self designation.

2. The nominals will increasingly become nones

Stetzer’s second “trend” is “The nominals will increasingly become nones.”

Stetzer argues that nominal Christians — those who are Christian in name only but not out of conviction — are becoming the “nones.” For those of you who may not be familiar with term, the “nones” are those who do not identify with any religion.

Ed notes that 30% among college students now count themselves among the “nones.” It’s true that many thoughtful and motivated young people are choosing against Christianity. In some cases it is because they have failed to be convinced by the evidence and by experience. In other cases, it’s because they can’t distinguish between the Christ following faith and the Christian religion as represented by some cultural artifact such as the political right wing or left wing. In yet other cases, the young may be leaving Christianity in a sincere attempt to follow Christ. So here I totally agree with Stetzer, but even more emphatically, when he writes, “we should change the way we think about engaging culture.”

However, the “nones” is not the new designation for nominal Christians. In contrast, I think that the “nones” may also be the new designation for the most zealous Christ followers. (For my post on the “Nones” click here.) I think the “nones” may include precisely those believers who are changing the ways they “think about engaging culture.” And, it’s not just about engagement, it’s about authentically feeling their way forward towards a new way of following Christ beyond Christianity.

I know many devout believers who would say they are a “none” when asked about their religious preferences because they do not believe their relationship to Christ is a religion.

Others refrain from using Christian as a self designation because being Christian is often perceived (depending on the listener) as belonging to a certain political party, or being anti-science, or having a particular attitude, etc. Perhaps we should consider returning —and perhaps will— to the days when others accused us of being Christians, rather than us resorting to self proclamation.

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3. Christians Will Increasingly Change Cultural Tactics

I agree with Ed here. He argues that “convictional” Christians will advocate less for the legislation of traditional values and be more focused on protecting religious liberty.” Again, while this may not yet be a trend, this is a good tactical suggestion, as Ed states.

But focusing on “religious liberty,” as tactically correct as this might be, is not the gospel. We must focus on embodying Christ in the context of community as a way of announcing that in Christ God will make all things thrive. To exercise religious liberty will mean to live out, in our own faith communities, a new politic, economy, and society.

Stetzer argues that we must “hold the Word of God in high authority” and that “we should also wisely discern the present culture…”

I would say it this way: we must know our story and live in it and we must know the competing narratives that surround us.

I would add that we must start new communities of faith that embody this story. Starting new communities of faith is a way of creating the future. And these new communities are the greatest evidence of the trustworthiness of our story.

4. More Robust Churches will Result from the Death of Nominalism

Again, this is not a trend based on data, but something akin to “hope” and more along the lines of “prophesying the way forward.” Stetzer argues that “Churches that are preaching the gospel and are focusing on biblical truths are going to become more clearly distinct from the culture around them.”

Well, first, I think nominalism will survive. There have always be those who say, “Lord, Lord…” (Matthew 7) and I don’t see that changing. And, if more robust churches emerge, it won’t be because of the death of nominalism. It will be because robust churches continually choose to die to themselves and give birth to new communities of faith. If this happens, the spirit may move, regardless of what happens to nominal churches and christians.

I do agree that new unique and distinct communities of faith will arise. But I also think that many new communities will both embody Christ’s resurrection and meld with culture as opposed to “be distinct from” culture, if by this we mean separated/ isolated from culture.

So What is the Way Forward?

There will be the stream that seeks to accommodate the new culture. They will lose a large part of their narrative. There will be the stream that runs counter to culture. They will disappear into antagonistic irrelevance. There will be the stream that retreats from culture. They will have no impact. There will be the stream that tries to educate the new culture. They will leave the will untransformed. There will be the stream that seeks to become the new culture, the future culture, the culture that follows wholeheartedly after Christ. And they will create the future.

10 trends for 2013 from JWT

As someone who is obsessed with the future, the future of humanity, technology, faith, genetics, AI, etc…the question I often ask is not “what happens?” but “what happens because of what happens?”

The two big “next things” I see on the horizon, in terms of the evolution of the human experience, are robots and 3-D printing. These will be things that happen that will make the future unrecognizable to us.

But before we get there, we’ll need to journey through 2013 first. This is the first of my thoughts about trends for 2013.

Below I’ve embedded a slide with ten trends for 2013. This one is from JWT Intelliegence, a well known marketing communications brand. Browse through these. I’ve added some of my thoughts below the slideshow.

The first thing that stood out to me came from the first slide, “Play as a Competitive Advantage”. Of course, JWT works with business and so competition must be factored in. But what might happen because this happens? Must everything become about competition? Taking a step back, we must not feel compelled to reduce everything about the future to the vision of business. Even if play becomes nothing more than a tool to create more competitive companies, we must not lose the idea of play for nothing more than enjoyment. Play for sheer delight is not a waste of time and is a human treasure that must not become the sole property of corporations that want to get more out of us. I would like to see humans play more for the sake of enjoying life and experiencing laughter. Not that I object to having a “recess” at work, mind you.

The second slide that stood out to me is #10, Health and Happiness. This strikes me because of my interest in “longevity”. I recently attended a lecture by Aubrey de Grey, an expert on human longevity or, as he says, “robust human rejuvenation”, where he emphasized that his interest was not human immortality but health. Longevity is a by product of health. He envisions adding 30 years to the human lifespan in the near future and hundreds of years after that. (I’ve written a post about this titled, One Thousand Years Young, which will publish next week). Happiness, Health, Longevity will be a trend and more than that as therapies that extend life emerge more rapidly. But, why extend miserable and unhappy lives? Let’s figure out what makes us happy.

Of course, The internet of things is huge. JWT trend number #3 Intelligent Objects describes how practically everything will become a data gathering and distribution device. I’ll have more to say on this trend as we look at other trend reports.

I will comment on several of these trend reports so I anticipate some contrasts and comparisons as we move forward.