Jason Byassee: 25 on 25
As fun as it is to make outlandish and depressing predictions, maybe the future isn't as bad as it used to be.
It’s always fun making predictions. Especially outlandish ones. If you turn out right you’re a genius. If not, it was just a prediction, done in fun. Who could possibly hold you to it? This is why in NCAA tournament brackets one should always choose a low seed to run the table. Sure, it hasn’t happened yet, but when it does you’ve got a chance to be in USA Today -- and what fun is it picking Carolina anyway? Let’s try it now: In 25 years long-predicted earthquakes will have broken off not only California from the rest of the United States, but all the Plains states west of the New Madrid fault-line in Illinois, clearing the way for three distinct republics.
Now isn’t that fun?
As befits their professional reputations, the writers for Duke Magazine’s “25 on 25: Projecting 25 Years” have generally eschewed the outlandish. In fact, they seem drawn to the questions to which they do not know the answers. Susan Tifft, professor of journalism and public policy, really doesn’t know how journalism will alter its business model as it moves from print to digital. She just knows it will. Alma Blount, director of the Hart Leadership Program, asks with genuine openness, “Who could possibly know what our circumstances will be in 25 years?” And chapel dean Sam Wells’ title answers with the only certainty appropriate on such matters: “God Only Knows.”
Of course, we’ll still have journalism, leadership and religion. In fact, these prognosticators’ fortune-telling skills are surprising in that each seems so hopeful, down to the jaunty photos of the authors that stand alongside. Once, a friend asked me, “Do you ever see a film about the future that suggests anything like hope?” The future, Hollywood tells us, will be marked by ecological catastrophe. Financial collapse. Global pandemic. Alien attack. Childlessness. You name it -- if it’s bad it’s coming -- anything but happiness and the thriving, pulsing life God intends for creation.
By contrast these authors may put anti-depressants out of business. Not that they don’t face major questions, even crises, in their respective fields. Nonetheless it’s never been a better time for journalism -- just not the business of journalism. The death of religion has been grossly overstated for Wells, and if anything we have a chaotic profusion of (potentially competing forms of) life. And Alma Blount projects the greatest hope of all, quoting the Mexican poet Octavio Paz’s “Homeland of interwoven pronouns,” regarding the place “where I am you are us.”
Tom Long speaks of Christian hope as conducted in the future perfect sense. All manner of things will have been made well, to use Julian of Norwich’s great formulation. Such a tense, if awkward for learners of languages, is spot on for us human beings. It doesn’t let us whitewash present difficulties: We do face ecocatastrophe, if not alien attack at the moment. And it takes full cognizance of God’s working within those to bring about life abundant despite the death we humans keep dealing to each other and all creation.
God’s shalom sweeping across the face of the globe as the water covers the sea: now there’s a prediction worth making.
Jason Byassee is executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity