Hinge Point

Posted in: Current Events,Spirituality by bill-o on January 24, 2009

The use of the term “hinge point of history” by Pastor Rick Warren during his Inauguration Prayer for President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, has received some interesting discussion.

For example, please see:


Evidently, an exact definition of the term “hinge point” is not known. The phrase seems to bring us to images of how a door swings on its hinges, thus allowing a door to close or to open.

Regardless of the “official” definition, I think, though, that Pastor Warren’s intent was to say that history, with the inauguration of the Mr. Obama, is now making a clear turn from one era to another.

Whether Mr. Obama’s ascent to the highest office in the United States represents a new era (the Age of Obama, perhaps), I’ll leave it for others to decide. As is usually the case with such things, time will tell. As a history professor once told me, it really takes at least 25 years of time to pass before past events can be put in the proper historical perspective. It’s at that point that politics begin to pass into history.

What I can say here is that, for the spiritual seeker, the true quest in life is to find the door, the “hinge point”, between time and eternity. As the book of Ecclesiastes says, we are each born with “eternity in our hearts”. Yet, at the same time, we have been placed in a world where the eternal is somehow restricted. The desire to press through from this present world to the mysteries of the everlasting can never be completely pushed away. For this is the journey for which are spirits yearn for, cry out for. It is the spiritual call which gnaws at us and drives us forward, yet it is also the search from which we are sometimes so easily distracted.

As you consider the term “hinge point”, please consider not just politics or doors, but the spiritual journey. For it is this eternal hinge point that matters most.

I have been fortunate to have read William Strauss and Neil Howe’s seminal work Generations when it was first introduced in 1991. I was introduced to it when I read the authors’ preview article for this book in late 1990 in the Washington Post. As soon as their sequel book The Fourth Turning came out, I bought it and read it quickly from cover to cover.

The thesis of these two books is that the course of the history of the United States is not entirely linear but also cyclical in nature. There are regular patterns in the course of the life and times of the nation that are repeated usually once every four generations. The term used in Generations for this four-generation cycle is the Latin word saeculum. A saeculum usually lasts for about 88 years (the length of a relatively long lifetime), where each of four successive generations is about 22 years long.

The four types of generations come in the following order:

Idealistic, then
Reactive, then
Civic, then

As the generations move through time in four life-stages (childhood, young adulthood, midlife, elders), the eldest generation fades away from public life and is replaced shortly thereafter with a brand new generation of children of the same type.

The alignment of the types of generations specifies what is called a turning. A turning, which roughly corresponds to the length of time of a generation, strongly influences the events of the day and how the public at large reacts to those events. The eldest generation during a turning most strongly influences its events and reactions, whereas the youngest (child) geneation influences events the least.

The first turning is called a high. In this turning, a reactive generation is in charge and uses blunt-force to push through projects of national scale and scope. Society appears to be the most orderly during high turnings, yet witch hunts often occur during these times.

The second turning is called an awakening. This is where young adult idealists begin to criticize the perceived lack of spiritual depth of the society as a whole. They begin to confront the existing order of things by protest in the streets or by withdrawal to communes in the countryside. Religious questions and yearnings that were suppressed during the previous turnings are pursued with fervor, and religious revivals usually occur during such awakenings. The arts and music are usually at their most creative during this period.

The third turning is called an unraveling. This is when the spiritual fervor of the previous awakening burns out and people concentrate on individual pursuits and goals. Starting and growing businesses and the stock market takes a high degree of public focus. Civic-mindnesses deterioriates as the elder adaptive generation tries to patch over the fraying social contract with increasingly complex sets of rules and laws. Unresolved cultural disputes reach hard impasses, while show trials and silliness in the life of public figures are most likely to occur during such times.

The fourth and final turning is called a crisis. This is where the entire resources and energies of the nation are put towards resolving a crisis or series of crises. This is where society as a whole is at its greatest peril and the entire social contract and fabric is rewritten for future generations. Here, the elder idealistic generation pours out the spiritual zeal that it had found in its youth for the good or ill of society at its darkest hour. The no-nonsense reactive generation produces mid-life leaders to lead the civic-minded young adults into life and death situations. People want to see big actions taken to confront big challenges and are even willing to tolerate big mistakes along the way.

In the U.S., the latest first turning (high) came from 1945 to 1963. The second turning (awakening) lasted from 1963 to about 1984. The third turning (unraveling) started in 1984 and may now be giving way to the fourth and final turning of a saeculum, a crisis.

To give you a better idea of how serious crisis turnings are, consider previous crisis eras in U.S. history. According to these books, the periods of crisis in American history include the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Great Depression and World War II (which were twin crises).


Are we now at the next fourth turning, the next crisis era in the United States? My honest answer is mixed: yes and no. Yes, as per the overall mood and state of the nation; no, as we have not necessarily seen the dramatic “catalyst” event that Strauss and Howe say must usher in each fourth turning. (For example, the catalyst event for the Great Depression was the stock market crash in 1929. The catalyst for the Civil War was Lincoln’s election.) A catalyst event is so significant that even people contemporaneous to that event can recognize in it a clear “watershed” moment in the affairs of the world.

We now see an idealist generation, the baby boomers about to enter their elder years of public and political influence. The adaptive, or “silent”, generation is starting to fade from public view and influence. An ice-cold and hardened “Generation X” is turning from its young adulthood as “slackers” into mid-life (as crisis managers?). And a young and eager generation is rising that is comfortable with moving in close step together with others in order to accomplish large-scale projects for the good of the whole society.

The recent financial disturbances can be seen as a classic harbinger of a crisis turning. We see here the careful compromises of the past thrown out for quick and decisive public action: for example, very large bailouts of failing financial institutions with very little forethought or debate. We observe the yearning for change and hope for a new civic-mindedness that is expressed in Senator Obama’s presidential campaign. We look at the possibility of divided government giving way to nearly one-party rule (we’ll see in one week after the election), which is something characteristic of a fourth turning. We notice popular movies starring teens like the High School Musical series, where all of the young adults are dancing and singing together in choregraphed steps. (This is something that would have been unthinkable in the previous young adult generation of so-called slackers.)

If this is not the start of the fourth turning, then it must be right around the proverbial corner.

Please also see:



Arbiter of the Kingdoms of This World?

Posted in: Current Events by bill-o on August 16, 2008

The Saddleback (Church) Civil Forum of the two major presidential candidates just occurred in the United States. The forum occurred inside of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. The forum was not a presidential debate. (For those of you outside of the U.S., face-to-face presidential debates are held in October and not in August.) Rather, this televised event consisted of two consecutive and separate interviews of Senator Barrack Obama and Senator John McCain by the popular pastor and author Rick Warren. Mr. Warren asked each senator the same series of questions, and each senator was interviewed for about one hour. Mr. Obama went first, while Mr. McCain waited offstage in some kind of closed area where he could not receive any advance knowledge of the upcoming questions. Because Senator McCain’s answers were shorter, Mr. Warren was able to ask him a few extra questions.

I watched the entire forum from beginning to end. On the positive side, I do appreciate the way that Mr. Warren allowed both of the candidates to give fairly detailed answers to questions without interruption (something that is increasingly rare in the American political process). I also appreciated the contrast in responses to the same set of questions by each candidate. Mr. Warren also appreared to be non-partisan, not favoring one candidate over the other.

On the more critical side, I didn’t like Mr. Warren’s last question to each candidate. Others may disagree, but this question was basically asking each candidate to publicly justify what Mr. Warren and his church were doing with this forum. Perhaps this is little harsh to say but I think that this is like inviting someone to a party and then asking him or her, at the end of it, to publicly state to the other guests why the host of the party is such a good host.

And since Rick Warren brought it up via this final question, I would like to discuss here why I do not support this civil forum. Why?

1.  Quite frankly, I don’t see such a forum as having any biblical basis. In the Bible, I do see prophets confronting evil leaders, apostles (“sent ones”) sharing their faith with rulers, and I also see capable advisers raised up to give advice to kings and even serve as high-ranking appointed leaders directly underneath those kings (like Daniel and Joseph, for example). I even see prophets ratifying (anointing) the selection of a king, as per God’s choice (like Samuel and Saul). But I do not see any biblical pattern for serving as arbiters, gatekeepers, or kingmakers regarding the selection of the kings of this earth.

2.  Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. Yes, as ambassadors of Christ, followers of Jesus should be prepared, as appropriate opportunities present themselves, to serve in love the rulers of this world, if they ask for the aid, assistance, and counsel of Christ’s followers. True disciples of Jesus are also very much interested in the causes of social justice and real care and concern for their surrounding communities. That said, the Bible clearly says that our citzenship is in heaven. The view of the gospels is to live in the kingdom of God here and now in the world and thus change the world around us with God’s love. In contrast, Jesus did not say to change the kingdoms of this world via manipulating the mechanisms of those kingdoms. (Rather, Jesus said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.)

3.  Mr. Warren started his forum by saying that “faith is just a worldview”. Faith in Jesus Christ is anchored in eternity, and the word of God stands forever no matter what happens here in this world. Faith is an “eternal-view” and not simply a worldview.

4.  If followers of Christ actively arbitrate the process of selecting the kings of this world, then the world will be resentful and angry with his followers when things go wrong, as they inevitably will to one extent or another. Even worse, if the selected kings make immoral or evil decisions, Christ’s disciples in the world will appear as being complicit or hypocritical. Followers of Christ should not seek to interfere with the processes of king-selection, just as followers of Christ do not want the world to interfere with their life and work in this world.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?