Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Hundred Year Plan

While in Orlando, I heard about a church that went to the trouble to develop a one hundred year plan. Back then, I thought the idea to be audacious and indeed a bit silly. How could we dare to dream that far into the future? How could we burden our children's children with visions not their own? It seemed to me to be an exercise in hubris.

I've tempered my views a bit. Dramatically changed them, in fact.

Maybe it was reading Brunelleschi's Dome, the story of the construction of the magnificent cathedral in Florence Italy: there I learned about the multigenerational effort involved in completing the project. The building was started with plans for a dome. However the engineers at the time had no idea how to actually construct a dome the size that would be required.... they left that problem for the next generation. Blessedly, Brunelleschi figured it out and designed what none of his contemporaries thought was possible.

Perhaps it was in reflecting on the US Constitution ... a document designed by the founders to last for generations.

Maybe it was from reading this article about 100 year business plans: Medtronic, Toyota, Nestle, SC Johnson are all names that come up as having (or likely having in some internal documentation) 100 year plans.

It could have been this video about the oak beams at New College Oxford. Though the story is completely false, it's still a lovely parable that just makes me think "well, even if it isn't true, it ought to be."

Whatever the case, I've come to the conclusion that audacious visioning for the future is what is in order. Strangely, now is a great time for it. For we are in a time of cultural fragmentation, declining economic opportunities, and general anxiety. What the world craves is a compelling positive vision. This is exactly what the church needs to provide. And I mean something other than the typical vision for political renewal ... Christians of both the right and the left have put too much hope in visioning around politics. I'm thinking whole cultural visioning.

Over the next few days, I hope to tease out this idea in a series of blog posts dealing with some of what I've been reading and thinking. But I'll lay out one principle right now. That hundred year plans necessarily deal more with transmission of values than of specific tasks.

The great for-instance in my own family. My grandfather 10 generations back was a Huguenot refugee who emigrated to Ireland. Most of his children moved to America, and as a way of encouraging family togetherness, he wrote his memoirs in which he told the family story going back 3 generations. He also used the memoirs as an exhortation for his children and their children to stick together, to impart the faith to the next generations, and to compact together for the mutual good. 10 generations later, the Fontaine-Maury society still exists to bring together the far flung members of the family. I have a copy of his memoirs in my library.... and thus through this artifact, Jacques Fontaine continues to exert multi-generational influence.

What are the artifacts that we leave behind .... Andy Crouch talks about this in his Culture Making... and his reflections should give us pause to consider. The hundred year plan finds its root in producing artifacts and customs that will outlast us. And they convey what we find most valuable.

Looking forward to your thoughts.....

Soli Deo Gloria