Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Fourth Turning: Personal Preparation for the Crisis Ahead

If Strauss and Howe are right -- we're do for a season of crisis that will fundamentally re-shape the structure of how things are done in our society. Truth be told, we can see inklings of that crisis already: Our nation is at war with a completely different kind of enemy; we are threatened by North Korea and at tension with China. Energy and Environment concerns threaten to turn the channels of power upside down. And, as we saw in yesterday's post, a cynical culture of exploitation threatens to overwhelm people of basic goodwill.

So what is to be done? Strauss and Howe suggest how America can prepare for this Crisis (or deal with it since we're likely already into it) and how we as individuals can prepare. Today, I'm focusing on the individual side. "Picture yourself and your loved ones in the midst of a howling blizzard that lasts for several years," they say, "Think about what you would need, who could help you, and why your fate might matter to anybody other than yourself. That is how to plan for a saecular winter." (317)

Their suggestions:

Rectify: Return to classic virtues People will know who is reliable, trustworthy and helpful, and who isn't. People will begin to shun those who are only out for themselves. Now is the time for building a reputation of trustworthiness.

I look back to the old Boy Scout law as a fine list of the classic virtues that we all need to build within ourselves. A Scout is trustworhty, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent (to which my troop would always add "and hungry"). The church is a school for such virtues -- not because we believe that they're what saves us, but because we believe that the Holy Spirit works in the redeemed and sanctifies them. Our opportunity in the church is to take the opportunity to point to the classical virtues as expressed in scripture and call on people to pray that the Holy Spirit works these virtues out in their lives.

Converge: Heed emerging community norms Don't isolate yourself from the majority "Appearances will matter. Justice will be rough, because society will require more order but have fewer resources and less time to impose it. As technicalities give way, innocent people will suffer. If you don't want to be misjudged, don't act in a way that might provoke Crisis-era authority to deem you guilty." (319). This is one of the more disturbing ideas in the suggestions. I suggest that we as Christians cannot just go along with any emerging community norms. However, there is a point that we must do our best to co-operate where we can.

Bond: Build personal relationships of all kinds Relationships will help us weather the storm -- knowing and cultivating these relationships at all levels is key. See the film Hotel Rwanda for
a real world example of how one man leveraged every relationship he had to save his life and the lives of others during the genocide in Rwanda.

The church, when working right, is a breeding ground for such relationships. If we also send our people out into the world to be involved in community organizations, then we expand that relational power. This is the time for us to take seriously I Corinthians 12.

Gather: Prepare yourself (and your children) for teamwork Lessening individualism, showing how you can work well with others, how you can respond to authority and work within given limits -- these will be great skills for the trying time ahead.

Again this is a great opportunity for the church as we challenge people to engage in ministry together. Pastors will have to learn to be less the center of the show and encourage more teamwork. Churches will have to become even more missional by sending people out into the community to be involved (note that this does not mean that churches should compromise their message, only that they should share their resources) -- empire building by pastors will have to slow down or halt altogether.

Root: Look to your family for support A return to extended family as a source of people upon whom we can rely. Again, I suggest that we continue to look to the church as a kind of second tier extended family. There are a lot of people who are alone in a city, far from relatives -- they will need support and connection in the trying times.

Brace: Gird for the weakening or collapse of public support mechanisms Institutions will be able to provide less and less -- this is a great opportunity for churches to step in and meet needs -- if they are prepared. Many churches will be stuck in the 70s trying to support a seeker sensitive megachurch model. People will need practical help with bills, kids, family, job hunting, learning to do more with less, etc. I predict that people will care less and less about whether the church has a power point slide show on Sunday -- they'll care more and more about whether the people in the church care for them and they hear about hope in Jesus Christ.

Hedge: Diversify Everything you do Here they're talking about hedging investments and skills -- the flexible people will be able to survive well. Those who keep learning new skills will prosper. Don't put all your investment eggs in one basket.

To these suggestions I might add:

Practice simplicty and contentment The disciplines of the church: fasting, prayer, sabbath, bible study, fellowship -- all these disciplines teach us how to be content with less. There will be less to go around, so we might as well get used to it. Also, if we learn how to get by with less, we'll have more to share -- the less we're attached to material things, the more willing we are to part with them. Such sharing forges bonds that will help us through the Crisis time (think It's a Wonderful Life)

Prayer I believe the Holy Spirit is what will carry us through the crisis and enable the Church of Jesus Christ to prevail. We need to pray that God would so shape us -- that He would grow within us love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, and self-control. We need to pray that the hard hearts in our culture will be softened and that there would be a massive turning to Christ because of this crisis.

Study What did the culture do (and the church do) during the previous crises. What was right and wrong about what has happened in the past?

I think that this crisis time will be a great opportunity for the church to be the church. It is also a great time for us to communicate the message of the saving power of Jesus Christ. In the resolution of the crisis time, social norms for the next 80 years will be established. It would be wonderful for the church to find a way to plant the seeds for the church to prosper on the other end of the Crisis.

Ultimately, no-one knows the course the crisis will take -- how severe it will be or what it will look like. We may even now be at the river's bend, about to ride the rapids through. I look forward to your thoughts on how we can persevere and thrive.

Soli Deo Gloria

Index to the Fourth Turning Series
First post
Concepts of Time
Crises of American History
American Awakenings
Generational Archetypes

Supplemental Articles
Kruse Kronicle: Index on Generations
American Thinker article: "Parkinson's War" (thanks Chris Larimer)
Ypulse -- Ypulse provides daily news & commentary about Generation Y for media and marketing professionals.