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Reading “Non-Anxious Presence” (II)

August 29th, 2022 | 3 min read

By Jake Meador

Before getting into more prescriptive analysis in his later chapters, Sayers spends the first chapter developing his concept of a “gray zone.” To begin,

The pandemic, cultural change, political polarization, and technological disruption have rapidly altered the world we live in at a breakneck speed. Most understand that the world has changed. However, the sheer rate of change has left many disoriented. We have been left with a sense of the potent chaos in the world. We are not as in control as we thought. We are left with questions of how to lead at such a time when the rules seem to have changed.

In this “chaotic, formless” state Sayers says it is natural to feel a certain sense of fear and anxiety. However, we shouldn’t let that fear distract us from the broader picture:

When reframed, the phase that feels like destruction, mayhem, and death is the moment just before rebirth.

We are moving into our in-between moment, in which the usual rules do not apply. The markers and measurements that we use to find a sense of place and direction do not operate in this phase. This creates anxiety.

Yet we will also discover that in-between moments are filled with potential. They are the moments over which the Spirit of God hovers, waiting to bring new creation. Gray zones are filled with pressure and chaos, yet they are where God does something exceptional inside His people, calling leaders to Himself in a new and more profound way.

From there, Sayers goes on to lay out his three key themes for chapter 1:

We have not entered a new era; instead, we have entered an in-between phase, a gray zone.

This period is a transformation defined by “a chaotic period where most anything can happen and little can be predicted, where competing global visions collide with each other; where remnants of the past, present, and future coexist simultaneously.”

Gray zones exist in the overlap of two eras.

They contain the influence of both the passing and forming era; this makes gray zones confusing and contradictory. Specifically, gray zones tend to contain intensified elements of the passing era alongside the emerging traits of the new era. One writer he cites looked at this as it applied during the pandemic: “The crisis seems to have thrown the dominant characteristics of each country’s politics into sharper relief. Countries have in effect become exaggerated versions of themselves.” The pandemic served to “intensify and entrench already-existing trends.

At the same time, we have seen a seemingly contradictory movement to stronger localism and a stronger attachment to digital technologies.

A futuristic mood emerged during the pandemic. Cryptocurrencies became mainstream. Viral videos showcased rapid advancements in robotics. The pentagon began reporting on encounters with UFOs. Economist Tyler Cowen remarked, ‘I have been reading science fiction for half a century, having spent my childhood consuming it in various forms. Now, for the first time in my life, I feel like I am living in a science fiction serial.’

The gray zone will be the context in which you will live and lead. We must understand it and learn to flourish within it.

This is Sayers’s briefest section, but the main idea here is simply this: While the pace of change can seem relentless and disorienting, these two things remain true: First, that we worship a God who does not change. Second, that God has placed us in this moment.

There is something of Tolkien at the end of this chapter:

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).