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Jason Derr

Jason Derr

Posted: March 4, 2011 12:36 AM

Seeing the Future in 3-D: Incarnation and the Sputnik Moment


Cognitive scientist George Lakoff, in his major work of philosophy, Philosophy In The Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenges to Modern Thought, explores the notion of time as partly the correlation of events and as partly characterized by metaphor. Time, he points out, is defined by conflicting metaphors -- as flow, as a continuous unbounded line, as a linear sequence of points or as a single spatial-like dimension in a mathematical theory of physics. Holding together multiple metaphors, Lakoff says this about the experience of time:

"That experience, like our other experiences, is real. Thus time is something 'created' via our bodies and our brains, yet it structures our real experience and allows us an important understanding of our world, its physics and its history."

From this we can identify that time is constructed in two ways -- one as metonymic (the correlation of events) and one as metaphoric (from an understanding of motion and resources). For Lakoff this is important and holding the twin constructions together we can identify the way in which time is both a constructed and experienced phenomena with out reducing it to any one system of thought. If this be the case then the multiple metaphors for time are not competitive but complementary, leaving us with the room to hold multiplicity of meaning together in a way that subverts reductive thinking or what Lakoff calls some of our sillier notions of time, arising from our taking one metaphor as primary over another. Like Ken Wilber's Integral theory or my own theopoetic model, from my book Towards a Theopoetic of the Cross, what emerges is multiplicity and its importance.

When we speak of time in regards to the Biblical narrative what emerges is the Greek notion of Kairos time. The following is what Wikipedia has to say on the notion:

In rhetoric kairos is "a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved."[2] In the New Testament kairos means "the appointed time in the purpose of God", the time when God acts (e.g. Mark 1.15, the kairos is fulfilled).

Here time is understood as a moment of opening, a moment in history, an era or season in which opportunity breaks in and the human subject is asked to participate in the new thing that is happening. For Paul Tillich these were the existential moments in history that demanded a response from the human subject -- with Christ as the prime example. For President Barack Obama it is the Sputnik Moment in which the opening of history that is before us is the opportunity to create, build and define America for the postmodern age, an opportunity to, as he says, win the future by use of a radical, relation engagement with its possibilities and potentialities.

What comes to mind is a quote I heard during the podcast series "Advent of Evolutionary Christianity", a series engaging Christian thought leaders that invited reflection on the ways evolutionary, deep time eyes can influence how we do church, faith and theology. I apologize that I do not remember who said this quote:

"We have to stop thinking of the future as a nightmare."
From many quarters the future is constructed in apocalyptic language. Either as an end world scenario as popularized in the Left Behind books, or an environmental/nuclear future where humanity is wiped out. Not to be outdone secular conservatism has its own secular apocalyptic constructions in the forms of Glenn Beck's fear of a worldwide caliphate and the encroaching dangers of the 'liberal agenda', socialism and unions.

If we shift our view of the apocalypse and apocalyptic literature away from pronouncements of the end of the world or as road maps to the ways in which the world may end we can return to the original intent of apocalyptic literature: to present a critique of the present age and the ways in which the powers-that-be break bodies and participate in the marginalization of human persons, it becomes a theopoetic with new vitality in our day and age. Then what we have is not a road map to doomsday but an invitation to open up the future in a way that anticipates and participates in the work of God, hear understood as the flourishing of creation toward justice, mercy and diversity. To quote the musical Rent: "the opposite of war is not peace, but creation!" To quote my sadly anonymous podcaster: "the future is not something to be afraid of; it is after all a sputnik moment."

Emerging church leader Brian McLaren in his book A New Kind of Christianity refers to this idea as a 3-D universe, a universe with no predetermined, Disney-movie-esq ending featuring 666's, raptures and 7 headed beasts. McLaren defines the 3-D universe as a space of continual unfolding, a liberation that unshackles us. McLaren asks us that we think of creation -- the unfolding creation -- as height, liberation as length and peaceable kingdom as death. The open, 3-D universe is one in which existence bends towards justice.

The future is an open thing full of moments of becoming that the creation of God is asked to participate in. Not peace, becoming is at times not peaceful (new questions, new contexts, revolutions of thought), but a participation in and through creation and creativity! History does not have a fixed end point, but an ever-widening space of participation. Not just one Sputnik moment, but an unfolding and never ending sequence of Sputnik moments.

Viewing the future as an open, participatory thing must be held together with Lakoff's warning of how we construct our notions of time both as metonymy and metaphorically. He also warns against metaphysic construction of time. Time, he points out, is a construct that allows us to conceptualize time as happening in or at times. Just as color exists in the body through body processes that interprets wavelengths of light, time does not exist 'out there' to control and define. Furthermore Lakoff says:

"When the concept itself is defined by metonymy and multiple metaphors, it is odd to ask what the objectively real correlate of that concept is."

But oddly enough Layoff's work takes an incarnational turn. Time, he tells us, is something we experience in and through our bodies. The metaphors we use to construct our competitive metaphors with come to us through our bodies. The future is not something that happens 'up there' but something that is happening now, in us. In other words we are the future. We are the incarnation of the possibilities and potentialities of the future -- the sputnik moment -- made alive in the energy of our lives played out across our lifetime and the lives and events we influence and initiate.

The future opens up but does end up there, though it does begin now. The sputnik moment is a moment of incarnation and intention. If we are honest then we can say the world is pregnant with sputnik moments. Information technology is making us rethink how we think and interact in the world, the environmental crisis is allowing us the space to rethink our technologies and resource management and the economic crisis is allowing us to rethink how we view wealth and capital in a world of dwindling resources. And that is just North America.

The Middle East and Africa are facing challenges of a generation-defining nature and the future that will emerge -- is yet to be defined. The call is upon all of us -- Prime Ministers and Presidents, citizens here and abroad -- to enter into the future not as spectators awaiting the end of things but as co-creators and participants who have an opportunity to take part in the start of things. The future is incarnate in the present. So, how will we answer the call?