Occasionally I find a book that's hard to put down. This happened a week ago, when "The Age of the Unthinkable" became my companion on flights to and from Montana, along with the late nights in the cabin where I was staying in Rockies. It's written by Joshua Ramo, a former journalist who splits his time between China and America. It's this split that gives him a unique capacity to explain the broadly different ways of looking at the world that exist between East and West.
The subtitle is, "Why the new world disorder constantly surprises us and what we can do about it." Covering subjects as wide as Gertraud Stein's life in Paris, Cubist art, the Vietnam war, intelligence gathering methods of Israel, military strategies of Hezbolah, and the invention of Wii, the primary thesis of the book is that we need to spend more time looking at the context of our world and problems if we're going to find ways forward on the myriad of problematic fronts we face, because the old way of looking at the world (as static, where nation states fights for territory is the greatest threat) is wholly inadeqaute and inaccurate. We live in a world where a terror act on 9-11 costling less than one million dollars, has resulted in security measures costing one million dollars an hour. It's a David/Goliath kind of thing, and it's everywhere - how did Wii slay the x-box giant? How do terrorist cells turn back nation states from acheiving their goals? How do we live in such a world in a manner whereby we're not only able to survive, but able to be forces of hope and creativity?
The answers, accoriding to Ramos, are found in learning to examine and absorb the ever shifting context of our worlds (economic worlds, political worlds, vocational worlds, environmental worlds, faith worlds), because addressing contextual issues is often where solutions to our deepest problems resides.
His thesis is hopeful. Observing the dangers that a few dozen hedge fund traders or a few terrorists can do, he quickly adds: "it is also possible that each of us, any of us, can unleash powerful and permanent change. Some of this change will be simple. We can each start to live more resiliently: saving more, eating better, driving smarter, educating our children to be global and competitive, volunteering, reaching out to neighbors and new friends." And then, significantly, he adds that, living in an uncertain world is the reality of this age, and there will be moments when we're afraid. "At the times we're most scared", he adds, "we'll need to replace the habit of striking back with new efforts to connect to the world instead of alienating it and isolating ourselves." Connecting means taking the time to understand those who think differently than us, seeking, as St. Francis prayed, "to understand more than to be understood."
The book makes little mention of faith, no mention of prayer or Bible reading, or Jesus. Why do pastor's read such books? Why did the apostle Paul read Greek poetry? Our calling is bring the truths of our faith to bear on our world, and we do this by seeking to understand BOTH our faith and our world. Either without the other falls short!
If you enjoy books that challenge your paradigm and offer a telescoping sweep of our world, then this is a must read.