..someday soon, your whole life’s gonna change
You’ll miss the magic of the good old days
(Macklemore: Album GEMINI)
What ever happened to the Good Old Days?
A sure sign of getting old is the wish to return to a mythical past that seems better than the present. Because change is hard, and exhausting and challenging …and frightening!
I see nations frightened by change: the political suggestion that people can “Make America Great Again” is nothing more than the wish to return to the “good old days” when the USA did not need to compete against other countries in the world’s markets. The desire to take Great Britain out of the European Union is built on fondly remembered “good old days” of the English colonial power who shaped the history of the world to favour white Englishmen. The adulation of President Putin as a strong man who will make Russia great again is nothing more than wishing for the “good old days” of an all-powerful Soviet Union that imposed its will on smaller nations.
I see individuals who fearfully resist change and cling to the ways of the “good old days”. I know that I can see this in myself:
- I look at the prospect of driverless/autonomous cars that operate on electricity, and sigh for the good old days of hand on the gear stick and voet-in-die-hoek (foot flat on the accelerator) across the ruler-straight roads of the Karroo. Of course this might not have been the best way to drive, but it is a great memory.
- I observe the appalling behaviour of our political leaders and reminisce about the dignified way our forebears led the town and nation. Of course this is really a rose-coloured memory because history teaches us that the vast majority of leaders served their own interests and the interests of their culture/family, and did whatever it took to win at all costs.
- I look at the mis-behaviour of Christian Church leaders, and the churches they lead, and fondly recall the “Giants of the Faith” of my youth who exemplified the ways of Jesus. Again, while it is true that there were a few good people who stood their ground for Christian values, most churches and their members acquiesced to the prevailing culture and imported these cultural aberrations into their faith and called them “Christian Values”.
Nevertheless, I gaze at my children’s – and grandchildren’s – future with apprehension and concern, wishing for the “good old days”. They are facing a world that I no longer recognise. I am reminded of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World. His futuristic fictional World State, inhabited by genetically altered citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy has alarming resonance in 2019. Yuval Noah Harari points out that “the twin revolutions of infotech and biotech could restructure not just economies and societies but our very bodies and minds” (21 Lessons for the 21st Century: Jonathan Cape 2018). The world of my childhood has changed irrevocably, and it is impossible to go back to it. I can only go forward!
What matters is not the fact that a brave new world awaits us – but rather the way we go forward to meet it. While our future is unknown, we do know that our future is not uninhabited. I believe that the God who was with me in the “good old days” is the God who waits for me in the Brave New World. The God who gave courage to me in the past, is the God who will continue to give courage to those who need it in the future. The God who helped us to figure out life in the past, is the same God who will help future generations figure out life in a world yet un-imagined. So we do not need to hanker after faded glory, or try to recapture a forgotten greatness. This is the stuff of frightened, insecure people who live as if there were no God and therefore need to grasp at past achievements.
Instead we can embrace the future with courage and curiosity – because God is already in it, awaiting our arrival.