And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had under-standing of the times, to know what Israel ought to do;
1 Chronicles 12:32
• time. Pronunciation [tahym]; noun, adjective, verb, timed, timing —noun. Often, times. The period or era now or previously present: A sign of the times; How times have changed!1
There are, by some reckonings, 64 different definitions of the word “time.”2 In 1 Chronicles 12:32 it is interesting that, while commending the Sons of Issachar, the word “time” is plural. In any person’s life there are several Times. Whether these are real or perceived, large or small, global or personal, the experience is true for any life. There are several beginnings and endings that periodically occur—we call them “paradigms.” We have lived through several influential events that have been defined as an end, followed by a new beginning. On the geopolitical scene we have, perhaps, recently and quietly gone through the end of a Time.
In our most recent memory there have been three geopolitical paradigms that have risen and then later been eclipsed by an-other.
In the early 1960s, those old enough to remember were absorbed and fixated on the military race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. This was an intense and dangerous Time. While not an overt or outright physical conflict, it had the potential to escalate to one at any perceived, or real, misstep. The weapons build-up of the period is still influencing policy today. It was no surprise to anyone at that time that it was labeled The Cold War Era.3
With President Ronald Reagan’s famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” referring to the Berlin Wall, the next Time began. Bounded by the end of the Cold War and the startling events of 9/11/2001, this was a Time of great technological and economic development and expansion for the entire world. Great strides were made in every discipline of human endeavor. Aside from a few regional conflicts, the world was free to focus its attention on the hope of economic prosperity through technology rather than through military intrigues. There were no longer two “super powers.” There was only one.
On 9/11/2001 most paradigms changed. There had never been a direct attack upon the mainland of the U.S. in its population’s memory. Not only was the safety and security of the American culture shattered, the rest of the world woke up to the realization that if it could happen to the U.S., it could happen any-where. Since that September morning we have been actively en-gaged in the War on Terror.4 Every country has had as its focus the reestablishment of cultural and personal security in light of this new Time.
The required reassessment of economic and political relation-ships has caused great disequilibrium within the global system. Historic enemies, for their own self interests, now find them-selves aligned against historic partners. In the midst of these uneasy relationships we find the beginning of the next significant Time.
Energy for Power
Political and military power creates economic power, and economic power creates political and military power. This axiom has been played out and verified throughout every paradigm that civilization on earth has endured. Those who control one or the other have an overwhelming influence on the course of human events.
Today, those countries that have oil-rich resources have been able to contribute their influence on world events in a seemingly disproportionate-to-their-size manner. Those that have technologically been more efficient in their application of energy have dominated the world political scene.
The world’s population has been relatively quiet amid fluctuating energy costs. As long as upward fluctuations have not threatened the hope of a return to normal, lower levels, the world has endured and absorbed the moderate negative economic impact of rising energy costs.
$130 Per Barrel
In the fourth quarter of 2004, the average price of a barrel of oil was approximately $34. A year later that same barrel had risen to $50/bl.5 Then midway through 2007 oil hit $70/bl. By December 2007, the price had continued to increase to $82/bl.6
Even with this steady rise, there was little impact on global systems. Everyone complained about the cost of gasoline at the pump but very little effect was seen on the cost of products and services. There was no feeling of crisis, no restriction of movement. There was only a confidence that once this “fluctuation” ran its course, oil would return to historic levels and all would be good and familiar. With historic prices around $40/bl, it was within reasonable expectation that $70/bl wouldn’t last.
As the months went by and the cost of oil continued to rise, the global complex found its presuppositions and positive expectations under more and more pressure to accept a more pessimistic view of the future cost of an ever-expanding energy need for world economic development. As oil crossed $100/bl, an almost audible moan could be detected.
Now as we cross $130/bl, wondering just how high is “high,” we find ourselves hoping for a dramatic drop back to $100. A drop to $70 would be a miraculous event. The idea of oil ever contracting back to $40/bl has been discarded. Our perception of a temporary rise in prices has been replaced with the realization, and accompanying dread, that this may all be very long term.
With this new awareness of our situation, global systems and services have started to “react.” We find that the entire economic and industrial system is not only dependent upon a constant supply of energy, but that supply must conform to a certain window of price expectation.
In the New Paradigm
Have you ever noticed when prices rise quickly, they never actually fall by the same rate or to previously low levels? Whether because of an increasing demand and an ever-tightening supply of resources—or some conspiracy among oil providers and refiners—the result is the same. In the future we will pay more for the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed (or addicted).
Those countries that supply the raw resources will exert more and more political influence, while those that are “users” will realize a more restrictive political environment. Those dependent societies that require a sustained or increasing level of energy will be driven by their energy “cravings.”
Political alliances will shift accordingly. Those that have the resources will “buy” the protection of those that have the military strength. New sources of energy supplies will be frantically sought out. Areas and deposits of raw materials historically seen as either unethical or economically undesirable will be considered anew for development. Weaker, and presently poorer, countries that have untapped natural resources will be increasingly seen as “ripe for the picking.” This new paradigm will produce an ever more destabilized environment, domestically as well as internationally.
The Price of Bread
The commodity markets have started to see the effects, not as a result of the rise in the price of oil, but because of a loss of confidence by the investment sector. Then, as if by coincidence, there have been pestilence (wheat fungus),7 weather (cyclones),8 and earthquakes (China, et. al.)9 that have disrupted the avail-able global and regional food resources. This “perfect storm” is coming together to further destabilize the global political systems at a time of increasing political “high anxiety.”
Consumer prices on goods and services are rising as a result of increased transportation and production costs. Business travel costs are restricting normal processes, stifling the speed of transactions and decisions. Businesses that depend upon the unrestricted movement of their customers are slowly but surely grinding to a halt. Discretionary income is withering. Consumer purchasing habits and cycles are being affected. Basic subsistence commodities are going up globally. We in the U.S. only see inconvenience as yet, but the majority of the world’s population does not live with surplus. Their daily food supply is being threatened. All of this is just the “first effects” of the current economic environment. The price of bread is actually going up.10
For Such a Time as This
It is possible that the prices of both oil and basic commodities will plunge. Interestingly, no one quite understands the complexity of the current economic environment. But if this latest upsurge is only perspective driven and not a result of fundamental changes in the global system, will prices roll back to their previously low levels? Human nature and history would argue against such a case. It is Time to reassess our own economic priorities and habits.
Whether this is a temporary or a fundamental shift, the Church was created “for such a Time as this.” In fact the Church has always thrived in a climate of crisis. People will awaken from their complacency and recognize their fundamental weaknesses and needs. Never has there been a better Time to lay hold of every opportunity to provide spiritual food and drink to an ever more thirsty and famished global community.