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Dubai: Reflections on Modern Change

On the way to Africa a few years back, I stopped in Dubai. It's like Phoenix, with way more money. The airport is impressive and the clash between what's modern and what's tradition and what's western and what's eastern is both dazzling and dizzying.

If you've seen the MIssion Impossible: Ghost Protocol film, you'll note that Dubai is prominent as the heroes navigate tall buildings and sandstorms. Dubai encapsulates modernity's rise in a centuries old desert. Os Guinness notes in his book The Last Christian on Earth that "Christians have always shown a curious inability to consider things from a long-term perspective." The latest isn't always the greatest.

How, then, do we hold on to ancient wisdom in an era of restlessness? What happens to long-term or longview leadership in an age of start-ups?

Certainly, some things should not change. And herein there is a clash between what is considered 'modern' or the fruits of technological advance in the unprecedented information age and timeless truths such as love for neighbor, sacred community, and amazing grace. While living in the Phoenix, Arizona, area, I recall driving home one day and having to cautiously endure a sandstorm. The entire experience paralleled my Midwestern upbringing where more than once I have been unable to see very far ahead amidst a driving snowstorm. Common knowledge says not to stop, but to continue on, slowly, because one truly can't see far ahead. And because in either a sandstorm or snowstorm, visibility is poor, one relies on fixed points. Yellow lines that remain in the middle of the road, topographical landmarks, and the like. In other words, we don't stop moving forward when visibility is low, we trust the fixed points.

The challenge of today, illustrated a bit by Dubai itself, but also played out in our culture by things like social media, SCOTUS, economic crises, and tragic gun crimes, is that we sometimes lose sight of the fixed points.

G.K. Chesteron has said that " when men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything. Put simply, this world is very difficult to navigate without pressing forward, slowly, day by day, step by step, through the storms of life, unless one can truly see where the fixed points light the way.

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.