This Golden Age

This has not been a great week for our globe.  The rioting in Europe working in conjunction with the U.S. credit downgrade have joined with the uncertainty of our new global economy to create an anxious stare in the eyes of even the most optimistic of people.  This is the kind of week that makes people openly pine for “the good old days”.

“The Good Old Days”, you remember them right?  They were a time when things seemed so certain, people were more trustworthy, and music was so much more meaningful.  During the “Good Old Days” you didn’t worry about things like calories or fat content, interest rates or balloon payments, you just enjoyed life because it was quite simply better.

Obviously I’m talking about the Reagan years.

Or did you think that I was talking about the British Invasion ’60’s?

For some of you it was the Wally and Beaver era ’50’s.

Depending on your age, the time period we’re talking about is different, but the feelings are the same aren’t they?  When we think back on the “Good Old Days”, we both experience the same feelings, even though you may be remembering HALO while I remember Burgertime, and a grandparent is thinking of a hoop and a stick.

This week I had the privilege of watching Woody Allen’s latest picture, “Midnight In Paris“.  Like most Woody Allen pictures it’s hard to tell if you’re watching a comedy or a drama, but in the end it doesn’t really matter because Mr. Allen isn’t trying to make you laugh or cry, he’s just presenting you with his version of what life is like.

The film features Owen Wilson as a successful hollywood screenwriter who yearns for a life that he’s never lived.  As a product of the modern age, Wilson’s character pines for the 1920’s, an era where daring American expatriate’s like Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Hemingway rubbed shoulders with European innovators like Dali and Picasso against the backdrop of The City of Lights.

Wilson’s character Gil is a whimsical dreamer indulging his predilection for our world’s first truly global golden age.

During a trip to Paris, he magically finds himself transported to the age of his heroes where he meets, inspires, and is inspired by them. He would rather visit this fantasy world after midnight than spend his days in the presence of his soul crushing, self-serving fiancee and her equally boorish parents.

It’s during one of these trips to the Twenties that he meets Adriana, the muse of so many of his golden heroes’ quests for beauty and glory.  As the two of them fall for each other, it seems like he’s finally “found himself” in a place that he’s never been. There’s only one problem…

As a citizen of the 1920’s, Adriana pines for her own preferred golden age, Le Belle Epoque of the late 19th century.

As the two come to grips with the misfortune that their divergent desires have brought them, Wilson brilliantly delivers one of Woody Allen’s most honest lines of dialogue:

“Maybe the present is a little unsatisfying because life is a little unsatisfying.”

It’s in that moment that Woody Allen unwittingly relays a Biblical truth found in the mouths of both Solomon and the Apostle Paul; both of whom confirm that there has never been a Golden Age.  Even Jesus refuses to allow us to believe that his time here on earth was better than the one we are currently experiencing:

   “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.   And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” –John 14:12-14

We tend to romanticize the past, not because it was actually better than the present, but because it holds the certainty of something that is completed.  In orienting ourselves towards the completed we desperately attempt to maintain our equilibrium as we speed towards an uncertain future… at the expense of the present.

This is a problem that most evangelical American churches face isn’t it?  An orientation that is backwards, facing the certainty of past, while the fear of an uncertain future robbing us of an effective present?

Is this why the music of a church tends to reflect it’s own glory days?

Is this why the leadership of a church fails to innovate?

Is this why the young (even young Christians) leave to find their own church?

If so, the damage to our present is warranted.  While nostalgia can be a pleasant momentary diversion or an all consuming denial of reality,  in either case it’s an orientation towards something that is ultimately self-serving because it’s an orientation to the certainty of our own pleasure.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that our orientation should not be backwards, even when it means looking at success.  Our orientation should be focused on something that exists fully in the past, present, and future:

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy  awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” -Hebrews 12:2

When our eyes are fixed on Jesus the certainty of our present, and our future, are guaranteed regardless of how painful and uncertain they may be.  This is the good news for us and our uncertain globe: in Jesus the Golden age is yet to come.

6 Responses to “This Golden Age”

  1. Jordan August 10, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    I think you once said, “What’s next is killing what’s now.” I guess the same can be said for ‘what was’ if that’s where we place our focus.

    It’s hard not to dream about what today would be like if things were “perfect” like back when, but ultimately I don’t want to end up being an Uncle Rico.

    • Jon August 11, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

      What is great about your comment is that incorporates spiritual reality and Uncle Rico… possibly the sign of true genius.

  2. Sharon O August 10, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    I always love your blog and your challenge to think … You are an awesome pastor teacher.

    • Tamara Griffin August 11, 2011 at 8:29 am #

      “Sorrow looks back. Worry looks around. Faith looks up!”.

      • Jon August 11, 2011 at 11:59 am #

        So true, I’m stealing this.

    • Jon August 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

      Thanks Sharon, you’re always such an encouragement!

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