September 3, 2023 – Future So Bright – by Lia Scholl

Future So Bright – a message by Lia Scholl – 09-03-2023

I had a conversation with a Guilford County school board member a few weeks ago at a rally in Winston Salem. As we lamented the state of politics in Winston, and in North Carolina, we reminded ourselves of an idea from so many of my favorite activists, that the problem with the future is that we cannot create what we cannot imagine.

It’s like, you can’t get to a wonderful future if you cannot imagine what that future looks like.

There are forces which keep us from doing that imagination work. One of those is a lack of time. We are so busy in our day-to-day lives that we don’t have the time to be creative. And some of it is worry. If you’re worrying about the future, it’s hard to imagine what a better future might look like. Honestly, worry seems to be the opposite of creativity.

And I don’t know about you, but if I cannot imagine a world that’s better, it’s hard to have hope.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself.

I want to tell you about my friend Cass Dale. Cass and I have been friends for about 15 years. We’re the kind of friends that chat with each other on facebook —sometimes about important things, sometimes about just run-of-the-mill life stuff. We’ve hung out a few times in person, and I know a lot of his people.

Cass is a futurist. His says his job is to forecast and contextualize the present to equip us to make a better, kinder future… In another place, he says he “advises the US government on religious conflict.” Just so you know, that’s an understatement. He is a specialist in religious extremism, and if you’ve heard anything about religious terrorism over the last years, he’s probably been one of the investigators.

Cass is also very attuned to church. His father was a Baptist pastor and seminary professor of some note, and Cass himself consults with churches about the future. Cass writes a Substack called Think Future.

And nearly 15 years ago Cass wrote a small ebook called The Knight and the Gardener. In it, he explains how the future depends on our internal worldview, and how there are two major worldviews that are thriving in the world today. Knights and Gardeners.

Knights see the world as a battle between good and evil, or maybe between reason and ignorance. Cass writes, “Knights believe the primary calling of good people is to undertake crusades—moral, spiritual, and political—to protect the innocent and defeat the forces of evil.” To a knight, you’re either an ally or an enemy, and life is a zero sum game.

Gardeners, on the other hand, see the world as, you guessed it, as a great garden. In Cass’ words,  they “believe the primary calling of good people is to cultivate the Garden through planting, good planning, the pursuit of transformative discovery, invention and innovation, and artistic revelation.” He continues:

For religious Gardeners, God is the creative force whose greatest attributes are imagination and creativity. Gardeners view themselves as imbued with the divine creative spark and charged with growing the Garden beyond its current borders. Christian Gardeners, for example, spread the Gospel to restore broken people so they can rejoin the ongoing creation process, and to awaken others to their meaningful role in tending the Garden.

And just so you know, it seems like Knights and Gardeners are opposites, but really, like all binaries, we all live somewhere on the spectrum.

This is where I want to talk some about the future—and how our theology, and that Knight or Gardener worldview, will shape our future, here at First Friends Meeting, in Greensboro.

Cass, quoting a Biblical scholar named Harvey Cox,  says there are three types of visions for the future upheld in the Bible.

  • There’s the Hebrew prophetic view that presents the future as open and undetermined. While God has benevolent intention for us and for our futures God hasn’t predetermined their outcomes. And since God created us in God’s image — the Creator made creators — our job is to co-create the future with God. (This is the view in most of the Old Testament and by Jesus most of the time throughout the Gospels.)
  • There’s the Greek teleological view that asserts that God has the future all preplanned and our job is to adhere to the plan… but not to make plans of our own. (This is sometimes the view presented by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament and only once or twice by Jesus in the Gospels.)
  • And there’s the Persian apocalyptic view that asserts that the end of the world is coming soon, it’s a blazing end, and our job is either to pack our bags to shuffle off this mortal coil or to hunker down to outlast it. (This is the view in Daniel and others written in that same time and place, in Revelation, and once or twice by Jesus in the Gospels.)

Our scripture today reflects some of these different ideas about the future.

Jonah envisions a God who changes God’s mind, so the future is not set in stone. The Romans text shows us a different view—a God who foreknows and predestines, and we shouldn’t be making plans. And the Revelation passage gives us a vision that essentially says that THIS world doesn’t matter—all that matters is the afterworld.

And Jesus? Well, he admonishes us to stay in this moment.

As Cassandra reminded us last week, “The past is history, the future is mystery, and today is a gift from God, which is why we call it the present.”

But I don’t think that means that we shouldn’t work for the future. But we should recognize that worrying about the future isn’t the work… creating the future is the work. And it can only be done in this moment.

By the way, Cass says that the future belongs to gardeners.

But this… this is what really got me thinking about all of this.

Cass says this:

The end of the world is usually just the end of a worldview… or the end of a spiritual approach, theology, church model, or family model. The people who are most scared are often the folks who can’t imagine goodness surviving the death of what they’re attached to. Just because they can’t imagine a good future doesn’t mean that a good future can’t be imagined. It’s hubris to conclude that God’s imagination is as equally limited as yours. Their worry is just a map of where their imagination ran out.

So, as the activists say, “Imagine the future you want to live into.”

And when you get scared, remember that the end of the world is usually just the end of a worldview… or the end of a spiritual approach, theology, church model, or family model.

Goodness will survive the death of your worldview, of your spiritual approach, of your theology, your church model, and your family model.

Stick with it—and in good Quaker fashion, remember that God’s imagination isn’t limited like yours is.

Listen for God… and for the new thing that God is doing!