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Finding Truth across the Decades

By Ray Waddle

The ’90s are back. The Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block recently reunited. Beavis and Butt-Head are on TV again. A fond documentary on grunge music is making the rounds in movie theaters.

A soft spot for the 1990s is understandable. What a frolic it was. The decade knew nothing of 9/11. Washington was faced with spending a revenue surplus, not a historic debt crisis. Even the decade’s biggest dread, a Y2K computer meltdown, never happened.

Every old decade makes a comeback. The nostalgia industry has already featured the ’70s and ’80s. Don’t be shocked when the ’00s get their turn. It’s society’s way of sifting through memories, assessing social progress and processing the outrageous passage of time.

Religious trends marked the ’90s, too – Promise Keepers, Christian Coalition, WWJD jewelry, Jesus Seminar. Some trends were a foolish waste of time, like the rumor about a national underground satanic conspiracy. Others were tragic folly, like the Hale-Bopp suicide cult.

Such lists raise a question: What difference did it make? Did any of these spiritual trends prepare us for the surprises and heartbreaks of today? Did any offer real wisdom for navigating these strange days? The passage of time ruthlessly sorts out what’s authentic and what’s a flakey distraction, what lasts and what doesn’t.

As one’s decades pile up, the question of what’s worthy of our time – and what’s useless – becomes personally more intense. Last week in church, the pastor read from (as always) the Gospels. I was struck, again, by how sturdy the stories remain, decade after decade – and what a tattered flag our noisy trend making is.

An encounter with the Gospels offers a market correction, a rebuke, a touchstone for judging all the shenanigans pulled in Jesus’ name. To read the Gospels anew is to watch the whole Jesus story awaken again: the reading experience captures a timeless trinity of past, present and future. There I find Jesus in the corner of my eye, moving from ancient Judea to the 21st century moment, the news pouring onto a battered planet then and now, swift-moving, substantial, coming in fast.

In Luke 12, it says, “This very night your soul is required of you...” Each decade – each day – is a referendum on that eternal challenge.

Ray Waddle is a columnist, author and the editor of Reflections magazine, published by Yale Divinity School.

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