My brain is intent on proving me wrong.
More than a decade ago, when my two closest friends were living in East Lansing, I moved down to join them. Having only visited the apartment once or twice, and not knowing the area very well, I was confident that I knew the way to get there; however, I wasn’t confident of other ways to get there. After getting stuck behind a few slow-moving cars, I sped around them, only to find I had misjudged the distance before my turn, so I checked my blind spot and did that merge/turn from the left lane. I focus on that brief moment in which I waited to see if I a car would rear-end me.
I don’t know why, but that memory pops into my head whenever I have the slightest bit of doubt in myself. I think of that dangerous, stupid thing I did when I was 22, that could have caused a major accident. And the funny thing is that that comes to mind today when I poor the wrong cereal in a bowl.
The other day, I wrote that we must appreciate a broad view of history, particularly making account for the big picture and the unsavory bits, rather than cherry-pick the meaning we desire. Sometimes we can’t help it because our feeble brains do that for us. But I was reminded of the Soren Kierkegaard quote:
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
I don’t believe time is so linear as that: as if we follow a straight line like a never ending railroad. Nor do I believe that we live in a circle; locked into a perpetual loop of constant relearning of the very same things. Time is more mysterious than that. But I do identify with the underlying difference between forward and backward thinking. It does seem that those focused on the past are ill-prepared for new challenges: that rather than being knowledgeable about the entire historical endeavor, we relive it in a shorthand. Like that crazy mistake I made years ago, popping up out of the blue.
A few days ago, Tony Jones wrote about a Hartford Seminary study that demonstrated steeper, more troubling decline across all Christian denominations than expected over the last decade. The study isolated the one common factor within those places with high congregational vitality is innovation, while the steepest declines are being felt among the unchanging and rigid churches whose liturgy lives in yesterday. This tracks with the emerging church’s sense that our living, including our liturgy, must be lived as if God is present among us, and should represent a current, interactive relationship.
It might seem as if this contradicts the earlier post’s suggestion of being knowledgeable about the past. But it doesn’t. Because the important part is our focus: where our heart resides. If your heart lives in the past, living in the midst the memories of dead friends and family and life highlights, then your intentions aren’t prepared for the future. Visiting the future is seen as rejecting the past, so an eternal present is spent in constant backwards comparisons. However, if your heart lives for the future, then excursions into the past attempt to learn for future benefit, mindful that our present needs are a viable future.
That mistake that haunts me in the present doesn’t really inform me of anything, even safe driving habits. I don’t remember it constructively or in instructive moments and my brain doesn’t think of it thankfully. It comes at times of doubt–when I am not confident–and tries to sabotage the present and future, making me cowardly. It is my brain’s own attempt at intimidating me into not growing up and not dealing with the future. This is why the idea of seeing our thinking as backwards is so useful, and yet our living must be forwards.
I encourage you to click over to Tony Jones’ blog in the above link or right here, because he asks an important question about serving the needs of aging membership and the needs of the next generations. My question is this: how might we help all of us to live forwards, even when our orientation is to be in our heads reading our history backwards?
© 2011 Drew Downs. All rights reserved