by Berry Friesen (August 4, 2015)
How does one live amid unrelenting bleakness?
Ian Welsh, the futurist whose work I quoted in my last blog, says that because of water depletion and climate change, “agriculture is going to fail. Period. Right now hunger is due to distribution issues: we grow more than enough food to feed everyone, we just don’t care about feeding everyone. In twenty to thirty years this will not be the case: we will just not have enough food. Water will be as precious as hydrocarbons . . . Expect much of the world not just to be hungry, but thirsty.”
As for the social sphere, Welsh’s view is just as dystopian. We are approaching “an unprecedented panopticon state, one in which various technologies will conspire to make it so that individuals are tracked nearly 24/7, not just online but physically.” Governments are doing this, of course, but so are private companies through technologies that link our online interests, consumer purchases, cell phone networks and physical movements.
My last blog post suggested one response to such unrelenting bleakness: a new ideology, which my co-author and I think can be found through a careful and critical reading of the Bible.
Another response, one that is complementary and yet more demanding, is suggested by our friend, Norman Lowry, prisoner KN9758 at Dallas State Correctional Institution in northern Pennsylvania.
Norm is serving a seven-year sentence for trespass at a U.S. army recruiting office in Lancaster, my home town. His first offense was causing physical damage to recruiters’ vehicles sitting in the parking lot; his second offense was blocking the door to the recruiters’ office. When he blocked the office entrance a second time, a local judge imposed the harshest sentence he could—seven years.
Within the walls of his prison, Norm lives as if it is the place where God wants him to be.Thus, he refuses to accept offers for early release that are conditioned upon his promise to stop protesting U.S. militarism.
Why would God want him to live in prison? Because, Norm says, people there don’t understand how God loves them and wants them to experience the abundant life Jesus lived. (You can learn more about Norm and his understanding of his calling here, in his own words.)
Norm is a living witness to that love and that life. “What could be better?” he asks.
As I see it, Norman’s prison is a microcosm of our world. It is defined by an ideology that imprisons many so that a few can get rich, that claims overwhelming violence is the sign of the righteous, that finds purpose for living by creating a pecking order and then humiliating the damned.
There, amid an ideology that leads inexorably toward estrangement and death, Norm is a living witness to another way. Were it not for the witness of Jesus, I would say Norm is crazy. Yes, I really would.
Yet as Earth’s dystopian future descends on us, as our inability to escape its iron laws becomes painfully clear, what will you and I do? The deceptive illusions of wealth, of violence, of humiliating hierarchy will remain, no matter the bleakness. So will bearing witness to the love of God and living the abundant life of Jesus.
In his choice, Norm has found comrades there in Dallas prison. So will we as we walk the way of Jesus.