Finding Our Place As Paradigms Shift

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery,
like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf.
We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape,
really see it, and describe what’s going on here.  Then we can at least wail
the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or,
if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.
– Annie Dillard
New paradigms emerge as an attempt to solve
a society or culture’s most pressing problems.
Howard Zehr

It is clear that many things are changing in our time. People have begun to wonder about the “new normal.” In his writings, James Fowler (1991) highlights the elements undergoing transformation in our time. He says we are moving into an “ecological, nuclear, religiously pluralistic, and gender inclusive era” (p. xiii). That’s a lot of adjectives, and a lot of change!

The new paradigm we are headed toward, Fowler predicts, is marked by a change in attitudes and behaviors. Writing 20 years ago now, he predicted the movement away from a Western culture marked by individualism, hierarchy, and exclusion to an operational worldview marked by interdependence, mutuality, and inclusion.

I remember the profound impact for me when I first began to read about this mental “shift” taking place. As I began to get the full picture of this new paradigm and its implications, one day I had a very significant insight emerge in my thinking – a real “aha” moment. Suddenly I realized that for me there was no need for a paradigm shift. Somehow, the so-called holistic and inclusive “new paradigm” already was my paradigm!

A great sense of relief washed over me with this new realization. I suddenly saw that many of the frustrations I had experienced throughout much of my life were explainable – they happened because I never lived in the old paradigm! It became clear to me that ever since childhood I had defined reality for myself in terms of the inclusive, unconditional, fully relational, loving embrace of the mysterious presence that pervaded my deep, early spiritual experiences.

Wow, what a freeing moment of realization that was! Finally, I knew my own answers to the fundamental spiritual questions were different from the dominant paradigm. I knew at last why I always had felt at best slightly out of place, and at worst, a deep sense of anger and resistance toward how I experienced the dominant structures of our world operating.

The significance of Fowler’s description of the paradigm to come seems even more important as we face at the start of the 21st Century the very real potential of climate change and other disastrous challenges facing our Earth community. It is indeed a time for falling walls – for letting go of old ways – and yet, it is also a time for birthing something new, a new relationship to our Earth and to one another.

One more recent learning helped me to commit to the need to take a broader view of things to understand my place in the paradigm shift now happening in our culture. Recently, I learned of the Native American practice of taking into account in all decision-making the needs of the seventh generation. In other words, before making any decision, persons in the Native American tradition of governance would ask, what will be this decision’s effect on the generations coming long after us?  As an avid Star Trek fan, I one day realized that the originator of the Star Trek series, Gene Roddenberry, has given all of us living at this time of crisis in the 21st Century a view of our collective seventh generation in the world of the crew of the Star Ship Enterprise. Mathematically, Roddenberry’s vision of a thriving Earth community far in the future reaching out into the galaxy to “boldly go where no one has gone before” is our seventh generation, and will come to be a reality only if we make the right decisions from within the right paradigm now. Some go so far as to say that any future at all for our seventh generation may very well rest upon this generation making the right decisions in the next decade.

As a human community, what will guide us in making those decisions? How will we regain our sense of meaning and purpose in this new era, provided we do not first destroy our planet’s capacity to sustain life, and ourselves? No doubt, the process of doing so will require the falling of yet more walls, and the emergence of a new consciousness.

The good news is that cracks in the old walls are beginning to show rapidly now, in many places as a result of the appearance of the “pluralization of voices” to which Fowler refers in his writings. Many of those voices have helped me to find meaning and purpose in this challenging age. They have and are helping me gain the knowledge and skills I need to find my rightful place in the unfolding of the new future.

Finding your own voice:

  • Whose voices have made an impact on your own way thinking?
  • Which voices are missing in your life?
  • Women’s voices?
  • Men’s voices?
  • Children’s voices?
  • The voices of the poor or elderly?
  • The voices of indigenous peoples?
  • The voices of species facing extinction?

Fowler, J. (1991) Weaving the new creation: Stages of faith and the public church. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

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