Thursday, November 07, 2002

Why KairosFocus?

The Caribbean -- especially Jamaica -- is at kairos. Crisis-point: danger, plus opportunity to shape the future.

So -- and echoing the ANC of South Africa -- it is a time for reflection so that we may accurately understand our past, act wisely in the present, and build a sustainable and desirable future.

First of all, we must squarely face the historical importance of, and contemporary leadership failure of the church. For instance, Dr Hilary Beckles (a leading regional Historian), as he spoke to yet another regional crisis — that of Cricket — commented in Caricom Perspective in the mid-90's: "There is no [Caribbean] political movement that connects its manifesto to the idealism of the historic struggle for social change with justice. As a consequence, the region's 'labour parties' have become anti-labour, and workers everywhere are running for shelter and leadership within the walls of a revivalist evangelical christianity [sic] that now commands the communities' largest social gatherings.The death of social idealism, and the triumph, for example, of 'born-again religious escapism,' signal the abandonment of the youth to apolitical social engagements . . . " ["Rethinking West Indies Cricket: Notes on the Third Paradigm." Caricom Perspective, No. 66, 1996; p.75.]

Perhaps, these words are too sweeping and sharp, but they raise concerns we must squarely face.

So, to context: when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and then when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, socialist economics and Marxist ideology were exposed and abandoned as deceitful, destructive, futile delusions. This easily explains the wistful nostalgia of many of our region’s Post-Marxist intellectuals, who are now forced to reckon with “the death of social idealism.”

Then, in the early 1990’s, we heard of a New World Order, an era of free trade-driven global Capitalist prosperity and peace. However, paradise did not arrive with the Internet. For instance, many of the formerly Communist nations soon fell into economic, ethnic, and military turmoil. As one sad result, "Ethnic Cleansing" has now entered our language.

Global environmental challenges and economic earthquakes soon followed. These issues are of particular concern to the Caribbean, for we are especially vulnerable to global economic downturns, and to the intense hurricanes and rising sea level that are projected as likely consequences of global warming. This is sobering, because economic troubles and natural disasters have repeatedly caught us napping, exposing inadequate preparation and poor management.

As a direct result, Caribbean countries have, on the whole, been economic underachievers over the past thirty years, especially since the oil price shocks in 1973 and 1979. [The Dominican Republic's sustained high growth rate has been a major exception.]

So, almost everywhere in the region, traditional agriculture — sugar, bananas, cotton, spices — is in serious decline. The competitiveness of our manufacturing industries is an open question. Nor has tourism, now our dominant industry — it accounts for a fifth of our employment and up to a third of national income in some countries — proved to be a cure-all.

Consequently, the stability of our economies and currencies is threatened, especially as the World Trade Organisation's rulings against the traditional protective European tariffs that favour our bananas begin to work out on the ground. For, competitiveness is the new global theme song, and inefficient or inferior producers — in this case, us — will simply be run down, run over and forgotten.

On the social front, our illegitimacy rates have sometimes climbed to over ninety percent, reflecting even more alarming declines in self-control, sexual morality and family life. Education, too, is a major concern, in the face of a new high-tech age. Further, crime is clearly trending upwards, accelerated by our increasing materialism, the illicit drug trade and one of our few unwelcome imports: deported criminals.

Dramatic changes are also taking place in the Caribbean’s spiritual climate. While many of our educated people are still skeptical over any form of spirituality, the inner emptiness caused by modernism’s failed attempt to dismiss God as a fairy tale has created a great hunger for spiritual experience.

But since the church often seems to be just as discredited, irrelevant and outdated as Marxism, "New Age" spirituality — repackaged paganism — is rapidly spreading across the world, including in our region. Islam, too, is aggressively responding to the hunger, and is working hard to win converts and build a strong base in the Caribbean. Even Hinduism is now taking a far more assertive stance, especially in the Southern Caribbean, where it has a strong ethnic base.

In short, there is clearly a multi-dimensional regional crisis, one that is largely taking place at the expense of the church. And, thus far, we have largely been silent or shallow.

So, the challenge to the church now is whether we can be like the "men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do." Or, will we be like the Pharisees and Sadducees: "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times"? [1 Chronicles 12:32, vs. Matthew 16: 3b.]

For, in times of severe crisis — as we now face in the Caribbean — men lose confidence in their abilities, institutions and leaders. So, as communities and nations grope blindly, hoping for a vision of the way out of distress, they are open to new leaders and messages.

While this naturally provides a powerful opportunity for the gospel, if it is correctly and wisely applied, it also often makes us vulnerable to "blind leaders of the blind." Such misleaders will "tickle [our] itching ears" with what we want to hear, but they are only capable of leading us into the nearest ditch. [Cf. Luke 6:39, 40 and 2 Tim. 4:3, 4.]

And so, to our task.

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