Dear Minster and Friends,
We are all in danger of having thin or terrifying dreams. Frederick Winslow Taylor, and industrialist from Philadelphia, began to imagine a revolution in manufacturing – where each task was broken down and perfected, and then workers would all exercise very specific tasks and roles – a factory, and though the workers grumbled that they were having their jobs reduced in scope to that of automatons, productivity nevertheless skyrocketed and new elements of the industrial age blossomed. In a heady moment Taylor articulated his dream: “In the past, man has been first, in the future, the system must be first.” (Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management. New York:1911, p.7). His legacy stays with many of us in workplaces all over the world – feeling we are human ‘resources’ and cogs in the wheel – where the system is everything. Mechanisation, industrialisation, management systems and now the digital age and the influence of algorithms have declared futures where the system ‘must be first’ ahnd do so at a rate that was far beyond what the early industrialists originally thought. Novelists take over, and then developments often follow where the imagination once went: Philip K Dick wrote a novel in the 1960’s called ‘Do Androids dream of electric sheep’ – later turned into the Blade runner films – where dreaming and empathy are explored as uniquely the signs of life. In our digital image-laden age, those who have the power to tap into our hopes and dreams are incredibly valuable, and the power of aspiration fuels many an ‘Instagram influencer’. Political leaders who can track and trace these dreams, and vent our disappointments are also crucial – and people like Martin Luther King became known for their ‘dream’ – it was one shared by many, and it inspired the civil rights movement.
And Ancient Babylonian culture also realised that the ability to understand and interpret the dreams of others – general dreams and specific daydreams, nightdreams and nightmares – was a key part of reading culture, religion and society. The King declares “I have had a dream – and I am anxious to understand it.’ But, as one used to being spun a yarn, or the power of flattery, Nebuchadnezzar raised the stakes – he wanted the wise men to tell him the dream, and then to give the interpretation. And as the wise men squirmed in fear they assured him that no human being could possibly do such a thing, and as the orders went out to execute, Daniel came forward and said that though humans cannot do this – God can. ‘There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…’
Whilst our technology is reducing and thinning the dreams of this generation – our anxieties are multiplying our nightmares. I remember so clearly a set of conversations with friends at University who were becoming dependent on the drug ‘ecstasy’ in the early days of its use and misuse. When they took it – the dream of being in love with everyone, and part of a dancing, unified whole people seemed clear, but they lived in fear of this dream state turning into ‘the fear’ – the terrifying, isolating, dark clutches of all-encompassing evil which lay on the flip side of every dosing. Synthetic dreams, cyber fantasies and calculated interpretations will always leave us hollow – but there is a God who tells and interprets us – who made us and understands us – who is our companion in nightmares and our captain in hope. And maybe we, like Daniel, could be those who know and share the dreams of our generation.
With much love,