From the Pastor – I’m about 50 pages into a 500 page book I just picked up during a recent visit to Cambridge, where my wife and I thoroughly enjoy spending time browsing through the Harvard Coop bookstore. The book I happened across and ended up buying, was one I had heard about recently on the radio. It is not a religious book from a religious writer, but it does have implications for people of faith. The title of the book is “Thank You for Being Late” by Thomas L. Friedman.
The author explains the origin of the title as follows. He often makes appointments to meet with people over breakfast in downtown Washington, D.C. It’s his way of “packing more learning into a day and not wasting breakfast by eating alone.” Due to travel difficulties in the crowded metropolitan area, his guests often arrive 10, 15, or even 20 minutes late. They invariably offer an apology for being tardy, giving the reason behind their delay. But after a number of such experiences, Thomas Friedman came to realize that no apology was needed – in fact, he started thanking people for being late! Which, as you might imagine, caught them off guard. He explained that their being late was something of a gift, because he ended up having a few unscheduled minutes to himself. Such a pause in his otherwise overly hectic schedule, allowed him a brief span of time to just sit quietly and think.
The value of being able to sit quietly for a few minutes and think, ties in with the sub-title Thomas Friedman chose for his book: “An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.” That modern life tends to operate at a fast pace isn’t a new idea. But Friedman’s thesis is that what we are experiencing currently is unprecedented. Hence the phrase “age of accelerations.” Modern life isn’t just moving faster than before, he argues, but is also accelerating faster than it has in the past. One metaphor he uses is that of being in a car as it accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 10 seconds. Such a ride could be awfully exhilarating. But then imagine that instead of staying at 60 mph after that first 10 seconds, the car continues to accelerate even faster – reaching 120 mph 8 seconds later, and then 180 mph 6 seconds after that. The thrill would certainly be gone! Replaced, in all likelihood, with feelings of disorientation and fear.
It is that kind of exponential change of speed that Friedman argues is happening across many sectors of modern life. Not surprisingly, technology is one of the areas on which he focuses. Some of his analysis, I have to admit, is over my head. But here is one example he gave, the significance of which I found easier to grasp. He started with numbers comparing the first generation microchip made by Intel in 1971 to the chip Intel is marketing currently. “Intel’s latest chip offers 3,500 times more performance, is 90,000 times more energy efficient, and is about 60,000 times lower in cost.” Wow – I guess?! Though the raw numbers are quite large, not being technologically proficient their impact isn’t all that great. But then Friedman goes on to write that Intel engineers did a rough calculation of what would happen had a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle improved at the same rate as microchips did: “That Beetle would be able to go about three hundred thousand miles per hour, it would get two million miles per gallon of gas, and it would cost four cents!” WOW, WOW, WOW!!
Living, as we do, in an “age of accelerations” unlike anything that has gone before, can certainly be disorienting and even fear-inducing. Friedman’s analysis isn’t just that things are getting faster and faster all the time, but that they have reached a speed that is outpacing our human ability to adapt. If we can’t fully wrap our mind around one new change before the next one comes along (two day shipping giving way to same day shipping giving way to delivery within two hours of ordering which is in development), it is likely to be deeply unsettling, making it difficult to feel like we have any firm foundation on which to stand.
I’m not sure why Thomas Friedman describes himself in the sub-title as an “optimist,” in the midst of the tectonic shifts currently under way, and I will be interested in reading that part of the book when I get there. I do know, however, that as followers of Jesus we have every reason to be optimists, despite living in this age where things are accelerating so profoundly. Among the many places in Scripture that provide us with assurance that God remains firmly in control, no matter what is happening around us, is the opening verse of Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.”
All the changes going on in technology – they belong to the Lord. All the changes going on in medicine or finance or education or government or whatever – they belong to the Lord. “Belong” not in the sense that the Lord is behind each and every change, causing it to happen, bringing it into being. Because let’s face it, not all change is good. But it ALL belongs to God in the sense that NOTHING is outside of God’s power and influence. NOTHING is going to thwart God’s ultimate purpose. NOTHING is going to prevent God from loving, protecting, guiding, forgiving, redeeming, giving hope to “the world and those who dwell therein.”
My prayer for each of us during this season of Lent, is that we have moments to sit quietly and think – reflecting upon all that God has done, and continues to do, on our behalf. God’s presence in our life, as individuals and as a Christian community, is the fundamental reason to be optimistic!
Yours in Christ,