I read a book today that was a compliation of essays on what the future might look like. It was published in 1970, and included authors like Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, and Buckminster Fuller. Some of them contained an almost eerie accuracy. But the ones I found most interesting were the predictions that failed to come true.
The goal of the exercise was to use current trends to predict what 1984 would be like, but many of the authors extrapolated to the unimaginably far distant year 2000. On communication, John Pierce writes "instead of trying to solicit a limited amount to information from one man - a hotel porter or tourist guide, for instance - we will be able to make inquiries about hotel accommodations, weather forecasts in any area, restaurant facilities, sporting facilities and many other items simply by interrogating a computer" - of course in his vision we had all become adept at sifting through the text based computer responses - but still, the direction of the future in many ways seemed almost obvious. A phone in every pocket. Amazing advancements in medicine and industry, automation, solar and wind energy.
Some other predictions that seemed "obvious" :
-- a shift from farm to ocean based protein sources, far more economical. Also, exploitation of new ocean technologies for rudimentary weather control like the ability to redirect hurricanes, and large scale desalination of water (which would we come to realize we were in short supply of).
-- advancements in medical science leading to better treatment of mental illness with a vast application in criminal jurisprudence, and a large reduction in incarceration.
-- a voluntary redistribution of wealth to offset the economic gap between rich and poor countries, to circumvent war.
-- advancements in new fuel sources leading to decentralization of power stations, with homes generating the majority of their own power needs.
-- social life more oriented toward the family and home as we move from industrial to information age and advanced technology freed us from the labors of every day survival.
-- 90% worldwide literacy.
-- more professional and effective politics and politicians, with a more even representation.
-- shorter work days and longer holidays.
-- more generous provisioning for the elderly and disabled as standards of living increase nationwide.
-- strong secular morality.
If I were alive in 1970 I would have thought some of these things seemed obvious too. But what they apparently failed to take into account were our capitalist heuristics, our amazing propensity for shortsightedness, the white-knuckle refusal of entrenched generations to hand over authority or allow social progress, and human nature itself. There is a lot to reflect on here - what the baby boomers and gen-x'ers did right and wrong, what we can learn from the history of human progress, et. cetera. But more fun than that - I think, given the techniques they used in this book (looking at current issues and their historical progress up to the present), coupled with our ideas of where theses authors fell short -we could make some pretty accurate predictions of the next 15 years. My challenge to you and myself - given what you know of the direction of society, technology, religion, politics, education, medicine, and the environment (and our ability to improve it as well as screw it all up) - describe the far distant world of 2027.
I have a confession. I know this is horrible, but I recently watched a you tube video titled "ugliest girl in the world" for the shear curiosity of watching what I thought was going to be an amazingly homely, overweight, 40 year old woman croak out a pop song. And I snickered quietly because - Ha Ha - at least I'm not *that* ugly! But my revelry at my own good genetic fortune turned to ashes with the sudden and horrifying realization that the creature I was watching was actually an adolescent girl. In an instant I remembered how much it stung the day my grade school crush called me ugly. I think I cried for days. I can't even imagine what it would have felt like to have fourteen thousand people agree with him on a public message board. That poor girl is going to have a very very difficult journey through this life with the face of an unhealthy 40 year old woman.
I've been thinking a lot this week about beauty. It's come up in articles and documentaries, it's in my circles, conversations, and well - I'm having trouble squeezing into my size 12 pants (formerly known as my "fat pants") which means it's time to break out the old eating disorder, dust it off, and put it to work. So beauty is on my mind.
Do we already have it?
There's a Dove commercial circulating that reminds us women that other people probably see us as more beautiful than we see ourselves. All of us women have a tendency to judge ourselves more harshly than we judge others. Serioulsy, the only women I personally know who are actually ugly - are made so more by their personality than their physical appearance. So why do we all have such low self esteem? Did all of you have some 25 year old kid draw a charicature of you with no hair and covered in zits and nick name you dragon lady? Cause that's my excuse. Maybe that type of incident is more common than I realize. Thanks for the pep talk, Dove - but it's too hard for us to reconcile the message of how pretty we all are with the message of how pretty we are not.
Should we care about it?
A blogized rebuttal to this Dove commercial is also making the rounds. It's a righteous and angry conviction from the feminist rebel that dwells deep within all of us. We are more than physical beauty! take up your hippy dresses and doc martin boots, shave your heads, and lets march on our enemies and tear down the corporate machinations that keep us subservient to moisturizers and push up bras! Ok... well I'm paraphrasing a little. But the point is - being obsessed with beauty is shallow. It's so true. But are we really happier to ignore beauty altogether?
Can we really fight BioSocioPsychoEconomics?
Ya. I made that word up. But my point is, there is some scientific basis to our reaction to beauty. Evolutionarily - beauty ensures genetic traits get propagated. From our earliest ancestor, who chose to mate with the opposable thumbed pre-ape - to today, where we subconsciously (or consciously, if we're shallow) make snap judgements about a stranger's socioeconomic background, value system, and general health based on what they look like. We can vow to not let physical appearance affect the way we treat others - in fact, I strongly advocate for that position - but you can't change your wiring. And it won't change the fact that others are still going to judge you by your looks, and then treat you accordingly.
What if there are two kinds of beauty?
I was watching a documentary (about Mr. Rogers. It was good) and someone was talking about finding beauty in the world. It was their belief that, if people could just take the time to find the beauty in a sunset, or enjoy the simple beauty of a gorgeous day that it would effect the way we all see and treat each other. That might be a little too granola for me, but I think there's a crumb of truth in there. I recently found a site for artists that had hundreds of references of the human form. Mostly naked. Young, old, men, women, fat, skinny, and in all of them the photographer had managed to capture a simple beauty. Their diversity was magnificent, their emotion, their expectant hope and lives before them. Yes, even you tube girl would be beautiful as a study in human diversity, and form, and light and shadow. Are there two kinds of beauty? A shallow, superficial one, and deep, natural one? Is the Dove corporation looking at one kind, and 25 year old boys another?
Where does all this leave me?
There is a little you tube girl in all of us. If we look at her through the eyes of an artist, or a free spirit, or a Dove advertising genius - we are deep, gracious, and fulfilled. But we are also going to be judged as having less social worth by a cruel and biologically/psycho-socially programmed society designed to make life easier for pretty people. But if we take that inner child and starve her, paint her up to cover her flaws, and straighten her hair - people will be nicer to us, smile at us more, hold the door and find reasons to make conversation in the elevator. But we'll be shallow, and the ideal we seek is ultimately unattainable, so we'll also be unsatisfied. Maybe I can find some kind of happy medium, where I fit in these pants.
About 6 months ago I left a blog post about laying down all my burdens and my broken, messed up life, and begging God to take it. Then I dropped out of the world for awhile. Since I decided to stop fighting the current and let the river carry me, it's been a wild ride. Everything worked itself out. The mortgage problems were solved when my house suddenly sold, the health problems were solved when my doctor identified the problems and after some surgery I'm doing great, the legal problems have come to a resolution I can live with for now, and my meaningless job - well I quit to pursue a life of meaning, service, and simplicity. These last few months have been the best few months of my life. I've found my voice, and I can sing again. My guitars have never been so happy.
It's not all roses though. I still wrestle my demons of anger and forgiveness, self doubt, fear - in many ways I'm still the same broken person. I'm up this morning at 3 am because I can't sleep. For the last few months I've been hiding quietly away in my new home where I've been re-learning to just be myself. I am an introverted, creative, free-spirited, weirdo - and I'm so much happier when I'm not struggling to act like something else.
Over a year ago some very unkind people I worked with said some very unkind things about my appearance and personality that really cut deep. It's funny how these things can overwhelm your self image and affect how you think other people see you. I tried really hard to change the way people saw me, but I just ended up pretending to be something I wasn't. I left that job and at my next job I avoided everyone because I thought they wouldn't like me either - but I wasn't any happier being invisible than I was being disliked.
So I dropped out of the whole world - and it's been pretty awesome. I'm so happy here, sequestered away in my house, surrounded by my family and a couple of close friends who love me for who I am. Alone with my family, my games, my music, and my creative outlets - singing while I do the dishes and programming my own video games - what could be better? I would stay right here forever. But I can't, because God has a job for me and I have to go out into the world to do it. I've been accepted into a CNA training program. This is WAY out of my comfort zone, but I think maybe I can do some good. Take care of some people who need caring for. But the very thought of leaving my house and putting myself back out into the world to be judged and discarded by an entirely new set of people gives me nightmares. Maybe i can better serve the elderly by making them a nice web site? I can do *that* without leaving my house.
On October the 6th I was baptised in a river near my home. It was an amazing experience, made more amazing by the people who came to support me and pray for me.
I've read a lot recently about baptism being symbolic, and how it's not necessary for the modern Christian. Anyone at any time can give themselves to Jesus, and be taken in by His grace. But that was too hard to believe. I made jokes about bursting into flames or being struck by lightening during my baptism, but the truth was - I didn't honestly expect to be accepted. I pictured a private moment, where I would face myself just as I am, exposed, vulnerable, emotional, and afraid. I thought that I would come, begging for forgiveness and love, and leave not truely knowing if I was recieved.
But instead, a small church full of wonderful people met me by the river. I wrote a testimony, and honestly exposed the things that I hide, the things I'm ashamed of, and the thigns I'm afraid of, the things I wanted to lay at the feet of Jesus, and be saved from, and someone read it while my friend and pastor held me and I cried. They sang a hymn called "just as I am" as I walked toward the water.
It was a cold day, and late in the afternoon. The sun was still high, but sinking to the west so the the river sparkled with it's yellow reflection, and the trees that lined it on both sides picked up the sunlight from below and looked brillant-bright green with deep shadows. A tiny levy stretched across the river making the water ripple and carving out a spot waste deep where it poured over it's shallow wall. A rustic mill sat quietly on the right, frozen in time, and a large rock outcrop jutted out to the left where the church gathered to watch.
Suzee, my friend and pastor, took my hand and with my boyfriend Mike, lead me out 1000 cubits (give or take) where the water was to my ankles, and I stopped because it was so cold that it hurt. A kind of freezing burn that drowned out all my other sense, and the sounds of trees and water and onlookers melted away into the background and anchored me in the reality of what was happening. We waded out to where the water was waste deep and our toes hurt from the cold and with the sun at my back and shining on her face, she asked me "Do you believe your sins are forgiven?" They layed me backwards and the water came up to pull me under like a thousand icy fingers, in an instant painful and terrifying, and then the sun spilled across my closed eyes and I was calm. Coming back out of the water the icy fingers released their grip one by one, the sun was instantly warm on my face, and they held me while I wept.
On the shore the hands and feet of Christ waited with blankets and prayers, and warm fire, and warm food, and they sang Amazing Grace, and annointed me with oil, and told me I didn't have to be afraid, and I knew that I was recieved. The air smelled like campfire, and bubbled with laughter, and children ran through the field catching frogs and footballs, and I was warm and loved and it was amazing.
Maybe not everyone needs baptism, but I did. Because Jesus met me there to tell me I am recieved.
I don't have pictures to look back on and remember, but I make pictures with words.
I thought accepting Jesus would feel more like a bride accepting a marriage. Man, was I ever wrong.
I have recently come to the conclusion that the most important thing I can do right now is be baptized into Christ. Over the course of the last year and half of research I've come to believe that He existed, and that his companions genuinely believed that he returned to them from the dead - although I don't really understand what they understood that to mean. I have struggled to put the story of Jesus into context with the God of my personal experience. I have sat in the pews with the true believers feeling like an affront to them as I waited for the epiphany that would explain how Jesus's death was supposed to save me. I studied his words and his ministry in all it's academic context, trying to isolate the man from his modern commercial enterprize, waiting to make the connections that would package the whole religion up into a simple mental framework I could choose to accept or reject. And in my progression of learning, seeking, knocking, and asking - I thought I might someday reach a point at which I was willing to accept Jesus, and everything he stood for.
I expected that "being Christian" would mean more than just surrendering my doubt. It would mean abandoning my gift at the alter and reconciling all of my broken relationships. It would mean that I would never again laugh at someone else's misfortune (... I don't do that, forget I said that ... ). It meant giving up the material things that bring me happiness. It meant I would have the courage and conviction to stand up in front of everyone I respect and say "I am Christian." It meant being the light on the hill. It would be a long time before I was ready for all that.
The next step in my journey was supposed to be a clear and decisive academic understanding of atonement, so I set about looking for a theology course. I didn't find one, at least not one I can afford, but I did find a flier that said "Do you want to turn your life over to Jesus?"
And it hit me like a mac truck - ya. I do. Oh God, I do. And in that brief moment, something very strange happened. I imagined myself giving up all the wars I fight every day, but the future I imagined didn't scare me, it excited me. All these big intense life wars - my kid's drug problems, my mother's most recent dirty court-drama attempt to steal my children, my underwater mortgage, my feelings of career stagnation, the constant anxious memories of broken relationships and hurt feelings I can't let go of, and my insecurity that my boyfriend will eventually figure out that I don't deserve him - I imagined laying them all down at Christ's feet, and accepting whatever happened. In that brief moment, I was free. Do I want to turn my life over to Jesus? yes. yes I do. Please, take this broken life. Please take it.
And I have this feeling that everything else will come with time. The understanding, the lifestyle, the courage, the reconciliations - they aren't a prerequisite.
No, accepting Jesus didn't turn out to be the mutal-respect-acquiesence of a marriage of one worthy person to another. Nor is it a contractual agreement to a lifestyle in exchange for membership. It's the utter surrender of a broken, undeserving sinner begging for a grace that is scarecly believable. I'm not agreeing to accept Him, I'm begging Him to accept me with all my burdens, baggage, and flaws.
But the moment of clarity was fleeting, and I've since been plagued with fears and doubt. What if I'm granted a grace I don't deserve - and I screw it up? Maybe I should wait until I have more to offer, or until my wars are won, or until I've set some of my transgressions right? Maybe I should wait until I have proven I can live as a Christian, or until I have no doubts. Maybe I should not make such a public declaration, to avoid people thinking I'm any crazier than they already think I am? Or the one that really scares me - maybe I am crazy. Maybe I'm the laughing stock of the greater Christian community, who all secretly believe that Christianity is a means to effective child-rearing but you're not supposed to take it that seriously.
Baptism, for me, will be moment I stop reconsidering and really surrender. Now all I need is a pastor, some water, and the courage to go through with it.