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"SERAPHS OR SNAKES?"

A terrible wind is blowing the new direction of time. It is difficult enough to prepare for events that happen once in a lifetime. It is dreadful to face forces that have never occurred in recorded history.

Yet, wait! Are these "dreadful forces" or have church leaders simply mistaken "snakes for seraphs"? Have we wrongly held sinister deaths for saving deaths? Have we hung stubbornly to where God has been at the expense of where God is going?

For more, read on:

Trends and Rumors

Someone is hurting us! Something unknown is waging an undeclared war! Who is it? What is it? Surely it’s our enemy!

We feel the pain between the "then" and the "not yet." We sense the suffering between the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Because the "now" is gone . . . the moment is disorienting! And our myopic eyes can’t see the future. In this end-time . . . this post-modern period, even scholars disagree on what "postmodern" means. So the world of trends and rumors becomes our "real" world . . . our only world.

Rumor or not, a terrible wind is blowing the new direction of time. It is antimodern! It denies our reality . . . our language . . . even the way we think. It demands the death of the world in which we’ve lived.

We could call this intrusion a "paradigm shift"1—a required change of vision that comes ever so often. But this shift is bigger . . . mightily bigger! It’s not a mere change in the way we see the world, it’s an upheaval in our very knowing.2 It is the biggest overthrow in the history of Christianity. And it ends 6,000 years of "civilization" as we have known it.

No one will escape. This intruder is transforming our work, our play, our reality, our language—everything. It is difficult enough to prepare for events that happen once in a lifetime. It is dreadful to face forces that have never occurred in recorded history.

"The Ghosts of Technologies to Come"

Fiction is no longer fiction. Truth is no longer truth.

Strange frontiers—as capacious as outer space—expand beyond the reach of our reason. Weird times—from nanoseconds to millennia . . . unknown realms—from the subatomic to the galactic . . . and bizarre realities—from quantum physics to biotechnology extend beyond the scale of our understanding.

Physics, in short, has become metaphysics . . . but it’s not a mere philosophy.

Computuer guru Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2019, a $1,000 computer (in today’s dollars) will perform 20 million billion calculations per second—roughly equal to our brain. It will "think" the way we think and will evolve its own base of knowledge. Still more scandalous, it will enjoy the gifts of personality, humor, beauty, joy, sadness. . . . And it will desire a human body.

We will wonder, "Who is virtual and who is real?"

Technologies, like these, are more than trends. They are "the driving force of the overall economy."3 And they are creating "the fastest growing social organization in all of human history."4 We buy a new computer, for example, every two seconds, and the Internet doubles every 100 days.5 Yet, what we see today are only "the ghosts of technologies to come."

The "brains" in computers are not only changing. Human minds are also changing. A different knowing and a different language are gate-crashing our world. We are shifting from mind to spirit . . . from logical knowledge to revelation knowledge . . . and from propositional beliefs to intuitive beliefs.

As a result, a new "proof" for Truth struggles to emerge. A new "because" for faith fights to surface. History, after all, has outrun our theology . . . our ethics. Today’s question, for example, is not between beliefs. It’s whether we should believe anything at all!

Truly, dark forces are at hand.

Seraph or Snake?

Yet, wait! How many times have we felt hurt only to discover later, it was not real harm? How often have we felt offended only to realize afterward, it was not true offense? How endlessly have we confused seraph and snake only to see finally, it was something else?

So, are we mistaken? Again? Is this intruder really the enemy? Does a different future demand a sinister death? . . . or a saving death?

The psalmist compares the past to old garments that wear out. Then, like clothing, God changes them.6 After all, the Lord of History is not only "Who was and Who is." He is also "Who is to come."7 Endlessly He commands, "Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it, and will you not give heed to it?"8

At moments like this, should we simply comfort each other with "Don’t worry, God is sovereign"? Should we just console each other with "Never fear, He’ll pull the fat out of the fire"?

No! The Apocrypha warns, "Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin. Say not, ‘Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive.’ For mercy and anger alike are with him."9

When the Lord of History moves, harm comes when we don’t move with Him.

"Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy" Isaiah 8:12-13 (NIV)

Modern Illusions

The Chinese have an old saying about tradition, "It’s like carrying a raft on your back after you have crossed the river."10 Are we carrying a modern vessel into the postmodern world? Are we on the wrong side of history? Are we in a state of denial?

Carl Jung claimed, "Every period has its bias, its particular prejudice, and its psychic ailment."11 Voltaire called it, "The lie commonly agreed upon."12 Our religious illusions make us feel good, for example, "because they are in harmony with (our) opinions, prejudices, and unconscious assumptions about the nature of reality."13

In other words, our "way of life" is not necessarily His "way of life." After all, culture is not the same as Spirit. Never was, never will be.

Our "way of life"—our illusory truth began harmlessly about 300 years ago. We believed science, reason, and logic could "save" us from superstition, irrationality, and false beliefs. And, no doubt, there were plenty of false beliefs.

When left to our own, though, things always go wrong. So rational minds turned to an irrational belief in the rational. Reason reduced God to the reasonable. And science "proved" a "reliable" source for nonscience. As a result, faith formed from rigid, linear ideas—soulless and insensate . . .

. . . a perfection of empty precision that history now refuses. This artificial, arbitrary reality of the past has slammed into the reality of the future. Yet, the church continues to answer questions that postmoderns are not even asking.

After all, pure logic never converted anyone.

Even the wrongheadedness of our know-it-all heads wouldn’t hurt if it weren’t for a more dangerous enemy: Pride! God created man in His image, and man has been returning the favor ever since! Lethal and immaculate in our vanity, even self-reform—our reform—cannot move the hand of God . . . no matter how hard we try.

Yet, we continue using Scripture to prop up the very illusions that the early church fathers promised would rob our faith. We keep on believing we can outlive a time that has already passed us by. And, we go on preserving where God’s been at the expense of where God’s going.

...a closed system maintains itself through fear, imposed secrecy and silence, deifying the past to maintain the status quo, "in order to prevent the emergence of disturbing new ideas."14

A Changing Language

Wake up! A new language is emerging out of the ashes of modernism . . . not a new language itself, but a new "language" of language—a whole new way of seeing and sharing. It is our gift for survival in the new century.

History has witnessed similar revolutions. At first, the sages spoke their stories. Then, they embalmed them in text. Today, we broadcast them with pictures. And now, we’re telling stories in forms totally unknown by earlier norms.

The language of the future will move past the surface meanings of words. It will steer clear of rigid rules. It will avoid objective "distance" or the mere exchange of data. That’s because we will speak the language of art—not the art of today, but a new art that transcends art . . . an art that lives outside cultural "schools" . . . an art that supersedes old apologetics and brings a new proof of Truth.

Of course, we’re not talking about the superfluous, decorative arts of the past—the ones we could do with or without. We’re talking about a new way of meaning what we mean—a dynamic, intuitive, open-ended, mosaic technology of talk . . . a "technology" that finds its origin in the word tekhne, which means "art," and logia, which means "the study of."

And, like all arts, rituals, and symbols, this new tekhne—this new art—will represent something "not there," something beyond itself, something unseen. In the hands of the Church, it will "call those things that be not as though they were." And it will have the power—through God’s grace—to transform us, to recreate us, even to heal us.

Empowered Passions

Certainly, this new language will retain a degree of reason . . . a quantity of common sense. Thank God! But the "feelings" within this new art will gain more power over reason. We are discovering, after all, that life is bigger than logic . . . that awareness requires personal encounters . . . that reality must be experienced—including the experience of emotion and feeling. So John Naisbitt correctly observed that we have moved from an industrial economy, then to a service economy, and now to an "experience economy."15

"Legal tender" is growing increasingly "tender."

And the driving force is technology itself. Already, terms like "virtual" reality, "cyber" space, "real" time, "artificial" life, and "endo-" and "nanotechnologies" blend the scientific with the sensuous, technology with touch, and the Internet with intimacy. Indeed, we are becoming "cyborgs"—blending cyb(ernetics) with our org(anism).

In this sensory, emotional multimedia—more real than reality itself—life will become a virtual hall of emotional mirrors . . . a kaleidoscope of sensory images . . . a meditation of multiple metaphors. In short, virtual reality is the language of the future, art is the power in virtual reality, and emotion is the power in art.

These emotions are not the knee-jerk, garden-variety emotions that so often overpower us. They are not old feelings warmed over again . . . they are not mere emotions in postmodern dress . . . and they are not pie-in-the-sky passions either.

Instead, they are "knowing emotions" . . . "felt meanings" . . . "intuitive revelations" that precede logic and stir us to decisions. They are "empowered passions" that will determine future reality and totally shape relationships in the twenty-first century.

Yet, we are not discovering a new truth. We are rediscovering a forgotten truth. For the language of the postmodern future returns us to the passionate oral tradition of the ancient Hebrews. Unlike our modern words—known mostly by the brain—Hebrew "words" emerged first from the body . . . from visceral feelings . . . rather than the logical mind. To them, the "Word" was a living, aesthetic experience. That’s the reason they even talked of "dancing" with it.

The oral tradition "is still the most powerful code . . . and will remain the principal one for the foreseeable future." It is "something that is profoundly deep and mysterious."16

Prophetic Metaphor

Still, technology, art, and emotion—by themselves—simply mean better video games and more money for the movie industry. Merely more fun! So something else begs to speak Truth to the Postmodern world. Something deeply powerful and transcendent—a godsend for this moment in time.

Suddenly, "metaphor" walks on stage. Suddenly "metaphor" becomes central to all studies of meaning (from linguistics to philosophy). And, like a dangerous intruder, it hurries the collapse of modern thinking. It destroys the rules of ordinary language. It denies the pride of mere ideas. And, it dismisses the comfort of narrow ideology.

Yet, in its rebellion, the strange becomes familiar . . . differences become friends. And when truly inspired—when prophetic—metaphor calls forth elusive beauty and transcendent meaning. For it is incarnational language . . . it makes infinity imaginable . . . it is the ultimate communion. It is even trans-religious, for it speaks of reality, not culture.

Again, this metaphor mirrors exactly the prophetic metaphor of the ancient past. Inspired prophets were creators of comparison and contrast . . . artists of analogy and affinity . . . virtuosos of similarity and similitude.

They spoke the language of prophetic metaphor.

Then and now, metaphors involve a "spiritual level." And—at that level—they become "active forces in the world." Carl Hausman claims they have the power to bring "something into being."17 And Paul Ricoeur insists: They have "the power not only to generate meaning but ultimately to change the world."18 Murray Krieger even promises that they invoke "the miraculous."19

The multimedia, multi-sensory world of the digital age will prove a perfect haven for powerful prophetic metaphors. And the intense, innovative interaction of this new environment will promise a perfect platform for empowered prophetic voices.

The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man. (José Ortega y Gasset)

Perils Among the Possibilities

Before we can "change the world," though, we must know the world we’re changing . . . for many perils endanger the possibilities.

Let’s be honest. The West has said farewell to a Christian culture. Christianity no longer enjoys its protected role. In fact, Christians are now a "subculture."20 The rejection of our own government and the rise of alternative spiritualities bear cold and silent witness. Adding trauma to tragedy, postmodern leaders gleefully reject any universal Truth and boldly flirt with moral anarchy.

It’s a sinister gladness.

Other more sanctified hearts remain hopelessly trapped in the grip of the modern church, pathologically immune to past, present, and future. Some leaders are passive, vulnerable, childlike . . . consenting to any and everything. Some are angry, aggressive, hyper-modern . . . harboring a negative image of an inevitable future.

Still, others—caught up in the novelty of a philosophical fad—salivate for a sweeping remake of Christianity. Yet, their proposals amount to little more than lobbing a bucket of paint on Leonardo da Vinci’s "Last Supper."

And those spiritual adventurers who have long left the church for secular salvations now consume experience rather than live experience . . . now whore after the numinous rather than revere the numinous. As a result, pop spirituality blurs the boundaries between cult and culture. And "alternative" religions seek the seductions between half-truths and half-lies.

. . . never knowing that the wrong metaphor can kill you.

A New Frankenstein

And if that won’t do it, something else will. The Frankenstein of the future has arrived. The world of technology threatens to turn us into an endangered species. And, like ideas that can’t be put back in the box, once they’re out, they’re out.

In this technological invasion, we encounter the excess powers of both human and machine . . . we run the risk of mistaking machines for humans . . . and we discover the dark forces of perpetual online links. As in Shelley’s book, Frankenstein, we confront the perils of endowing inanimate matter with intelligence—never trusting in a future espionage whom they will serve.

"It is most of all the power of destructive self-replication in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR) that should give us pause."21 Further, "The commingling of human and machine in the life of the libido is inevitable, and inevitably destructive."22

So we die either in the modern world or in the postmodern world. We either get pulled into the grave when the modern world perishes, or we self-destruct when machines finally take over. We’ve known these destructions before:

In 587 BC God dismantled the known world in Israel. The temple was destroyed, the people displaced into exile and all public life ended. This was a massive ‘phase change’ for them: everything their faith had relied on was destroyed. God’s actions were not immediately obvious.23

We are on a collision course with the Holy Spirit. And we are rightfully warned of a great shaking.

A New Vision

At this crossroad between opportunity and danger, hope begins by confessing vulnerability. We are, after all, a religious remnant. And, like the prophet Ezekiel—who discovered God’s presence during the Exile and in a strange land—we, too, must find our Source during this Exile and in this strange land.

We can’t simply rehearse old visions of a lagging church. We can’t even ride the wave of a "healthy" modern church. Why? Because we can’t get there from here. We can’t drag the modern world into a postmodern age. In other words, we can’t solve future problems by merely "improving" ourselves.

The new church is not a warmed-over reformation. It’s a new birth. It’s a new creation.

To get there from here, we must envision a new vision. We must see with other eyes . . . hear with other ears. We must think afresh the most basic assumptions. We must discover an even deeper Truth . . . a more profound prophetic voice . . . a more "transcendent" orthodoxy.

After all, our God is the Great Creator—not the "Great Imitator." And He created us in His image. So we were created to create . . . and then, re-created to re-create. While modern world "problem solvers" solve problems, inspired creators create new creations.

The pioneers of the past risked the unknown with ships and guns. But the pioneers of the future will call forth a new unknown simply with the power of metaphor.

. . . all in the name of a new language. A different language. Mainstreamed, prophetic images will move past the facts and worldly meanings of modern language to connect with a certain, manifest Truth. The philosopher Wittgenstein wrote prophetically, "To imagine a language is to imagine a way of life."

So we must imagine this language . . . this new way of life. Our credibility will depend on the ability to proclaim passionate metaphors—or vital virtual realities—in the coming age. Like a universal musical instrument, we must learn to play it in time with a future time.

An Alignment of Forces

This moment brings "a rare and momentous alignment of forces."24 This Spirit-birthed age is birthing spirit. The very dynamics that define the digital age also define the first century Church: a new community . . . a new communication . . . a new reconciliation . . . a new creativity . . . and a new power.

We are "in the midst of the most significant spiritual search our country has every known," according to William Van Dusen Wishard, president of World Trends Research. And technology is moving this search at warp speed. Over the epic endlessness of the World Wide Web, cyberculture is "seeing through" space and time.25

And our minds are following.

Esther Dyson, author of Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age, says that nonprofit institutions—especially the church—will grow from all this. It’s no surprise, then, when the Vatican revealed the names of their three giant computers: Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael—God’s messengers to man according to Catholic tradition.26

Out of the ashes of the past will emerge a new knowing, a new language, and the greatest opportunity in the history of the Church.

"Your time is now." (John 7:6)

The Incarnation of Power

And we have a role.

Scripture doesn’t claim "what is." It demands our part in "what is coming to be." Jesus even built His church on this inspired vision.27 And Scripture further affirms that this vision is more real than the world in which we now live, which is already passing away!28 The "actual" universe, in other words, is the universe as it one day will be.

So faith is pregnant with the future . . . with the not-yet inside the already. We anticipate the time to come in the midst of the here-and-now. We claim the culmination of our promises within God’s promises. And our hearts grow restless . . . set on fire for creation’s renewal.

We transcend!

Not since the first century have we been so empowered. For, again, we are returning to the awesome mystery of an oral culture—or more precisely, an electronic oral culture. In a truly oral culture, "words"—or prophetic visions—have power . . . they "do things." And in this century, a new language will determine a new reality.

"Religious" or not, we will explore the implied power of Pentecost—the many ways in which the human spirit flows from the Holy Spirit. We already see it in the mainstreaming of creativity. Explosive innovations are anticipating the yet-to-be. They are looking "to things that are unseen" and "perceiving" the things for which we hope. Then they are giving "substance" to our visions.

These dynamics, of course, are the very dynamics of faith!29

The coming age will also recapture the potent mixture of power and passion of the early Hebrews. For the creative future and our prophetic passions will walk hand in hand. A new, unfettered boldness will cry out in-your-face-and-in-His-grace.30 For intuitive visions and inspired feelings deeply require each other. The excitement of discovery and the curiosity of creativity lovingly commingle.

This power and passion are not ours though. We can’t claim the future through self-assertion, wishful thinking, or human potential. We can’t call forth the Divine through the "progress of humankind," illusory utopias, or even the fleshly prowess of our faith.

Our boldness comes not from creaturely destinies, but from the One who destines . . . not from the goal of our existence, but from the goal of His existence.

Then—in His goal—something happens. What we envision becomes real. Our inspiration becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It derives its meaning from the evidence we proclaim, even as we proclaim it. It creates a new reality from the new world we announce, even as we announce it.

Power incarnates power.

A vividly shared imagination is not simply a shared consensual delusion, but a collective form of incarnation; it is more like a civilization than a fantasy.31

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

ENDNOTES

1. From Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).

2. William Irwin Thompson, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981) p. 3.

3. PC Magazine August 2000.

4. In a speech by President Clinton, 10/17/97, Buenas Aires.

5. George Will in Newsweek.

6. Psalms 102:25-27, AMP.

7. Revelation 4:8, AMP.

8. Isaiah 43:19, AMP.

9. Sirach 5:5-7, The Apocrypha..

10. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in New Millennium Culture (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1999) p.91.

11. Brewster Ghiselin, The Creative Process (New York: Mentor Books, 1955) p. 218-219.

12. Thompson, p. 136.

13. Thompson, p. 92.

14. Mary Dunn, "The Church’s Shadow Side," in The Tablet, 27 July 1996, pp. 980-1.

15. John Naisbitt, "Beyond the Service Economy," John Naisbitt’s Trend Letter (15 Dec 1996): 1-4.

16. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture (Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 193.

17. Carl Hausman, Metaphor and Art: Interactionism and Reference in the Verbal and Nonverbal Arts (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989) pp. 5, 111, 198.

18. Morny Joy, "Images: Images and Imagination," The Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987 ed., VII, l08.

19. Hausman, p. 5.

20. Mark Driscoll in: Sarah Means, "Postmodern church targets Generation X in Seattle," THE WASHINGTON TIMES, http://bit.ly/a1E63t

21. Bill Joy, "Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us." Wired 8.04-April 2000.

22. Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (New York: Basic Books, 1997) p 187.

23. Mark Riddell, Mark Pierson, Cathy Kirkpatrick, The Prodigal Project: Journey Into the Emerging Church (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000) p. 108.

24. Johnson, p 10.

25. de Kerckhove, p. 138.

26. Daniel J. Wakin, Associated Press Writer, "Papal reach grows with new computer network" http://www2.nando.net:80/newsroom/ntn/ world/081798/world10_23148_noframes.html.

27. A careful reading of the original Greek in Matthew 16:15-18 reveals Jesus founded His church on spiritual revelation, or inspired vision.

28. 1 Corinthians 7:31.

29. Hebrews 11:1.

30. Brad Sargent, "Enemies in the Post-Postmodern Era . . . Unless . . . ," Strategies For Today’s Leader, First Quarter, 2001, Volume 38, Number 1, p. 24.

31. William Irwin Thompson, Coming Into Being (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996) p. 153.



Future Church Administrator