Know When to Hold ’em, Know When to Fold ’em, Know When to Walk Away, Know When to Run

Music has always been an inspiration to me.  At a Stampede breakfast on Saturday, I heard Don Schlitz’s song, The Gambler, that was made popular by Kenny Rogers. (1) It is about an old man giving a young man who’s down on his luck some advice about life.  I instantly knew it was the title of my second post in this Evolutionary Religion series.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep”

In my June blog post I talked about how human beings evolved over time.  At some point our brain evolved to a new level of perception and ability to connect more complex information. This happened as homo sapiens recognized patterns in the natural world, made up stories about why that happened and realized how they could benefit from this information.

In the last 500 years, through the scientific method, we’ve come to understand how the universe is put together and how we can interact with the physical world to our benefit. Since Darwin, and especially in the last 50 years, the theory of evolution has itself evolved through many iterations, moving from Darwin’s view of natural selection to “a more holistic process that includes both objective and subjective dimensions of reality as it moves toward greater exterior complexity of form and greater interior depth of consciousness.” (2)

In recent years the social sciences, philosophy and theology have embraced evolution as a way of explaining how we continue to grow as human beings. Curiosity and the power of observation have led the social sciences to search for patterns in our human community as our ancestors looked to the natural world.

I remember the 1980’s book, The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson. She was interested in the human potential movement and researched and wrote about the cultural shift that was bringing about personal and social change. Her book was written at the beginning of the New Age spiritual revival movement.  Herbert O’Driscoll, an Anglican cleric and writer, spoke in the 1980s about a new pattern, in which every 500 years or so there was a cataclysmic change that began a new direction in human development.

Lately writers have been predicting the beginning of a 3rd axial age.  William Strauss and Neil Howe’s 1997 book, The Fourth Turning (3) describes generational change as an every 100-year pattern of four turnings.  At the beginning of the book, he focused on the United States and then expanded the theory to the whole world.

The first turning, is a High Time that comes after a war such as the war of independence, civil war or second world war when there is cooperation and recovery that lasts for 20 to 25 years; the second is a time of Awakening where new ideas and values appear; the third turning is an Unraveling of the accepted “normal”, with attacks on the current values, structures and institutions; and finally the fourth turning is a time of Crisis when human beings have swung from community to individualism — from working together to achieve a better life, to everyone seeking to get ahead in their own way (isolation, selfishness and greed).  This is where we are now according to this theory. Hidden in this struggle is the opportunity to leave behind an old order that is no longer serving humanity and find a new vision for the world. Richard Rohr sums it up this way: Order, Disorder and Reorder.

I will stick to Christianity, the religion I know. Christianity has not escaped this process and is now in crisis and decline. I believe this is because religion, at least the western Christian religion, has become enmeshed in the culture instead of being rooted in its sacred texts. It has abdicated its role of leadership in the evolution of the human race. Susan Beaumont’s book “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You Are Going” (3) was written about living in uncertain times. The Christian church must stop following and start leading if it is going to be a positive influence in the evolution of our species.  Science has taken the lead, providing new information about how the world/universe works so we can better control our life.  We are in the age of information and technology, and also in the collapse of our current world order.  This era has been dominated by the belief that life is fueled by growth – that accumulating more stuff, more power, more of everything defines our worth, but this quest for growth has led us into an unsustainable lifestyle.

Since the 1500s the church has resisted scientific views that contradicted the beliefs of the time, as when Galileo Galilei offered evidence that the Earth was not the centre of the universe. For trying to explain how God worked in the world, he was branded a heretic.  The church has continued to drag its feet in accepting scientific evidence about the way the universe works. The Theory of Evolution became the sticking point for a large segment of the Christian church because it challenged the belief in God as Creator, and they feared it would call into question the work of Jesus in the salvation of the world.  And they were right. Our faith is going through a re-thinking because human beings are on the cusp of shifting into a new level of consciousness that embraces new ways of understanding how God is part of our life and our world.

It is only recently that the conservative Christian church accepted evolution as true.  They developed a theory of Intelligent Design as a compromise, acknowledging human development over time but saying that it was achieved by the influence of a Creator who has a plan for us.  In 2007 Michael Dowd, a conservative Christian writer, wrote a book aimed at a conservative Christian audience called Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and the World. (5)  This signaled a turning point for the acceptance of evolution by Christian conservatives. Today there is little resistance to the theory of evolution in the Christian church.

The disorder is apparent, but the reorder is not clear.  It is always a struggle; it has to be a struggle to let go of the way things have been and what we’ve believed. In fact, it is the place of the church to conserve, to help us find some stability in a constantly changing world.  This why Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler, resonated with me.  We have to know what to hold on to.  And we need to recognize when our beliefs are no longer serving humanity and know when to let them go and walk away.

We are seeing a massive exodus from the church in our time, but that is not what I mean by “walk away”.  To leave behind what has sustained us but is no longer working for us is hard. It feels like we are giving up without knowing what we are moving to, but it is the only way to be open to a new understanding of who God is and what Jesus’s work was all about. This is a contemplative task that begins with Awareness, moves on to Letting Go, and lands on Being Present to life, willing to entertain new possibilities and let new life come to us. We are all in the midst of a great transition that could lead to transformation, but that depends on us. The Christian faith is not about salvation, nor growth; it is about transformation.

In my next blog post I want to look more deeply into the saying, “I am spiritual, but not religious.”  What does it mean to be spiritual?  Can we really be non-religious? Huston Smith’s book, Why Religion Matters, is an exploration of what good religion is. It is understandable that people are disappointed in the Christian church, but it is a serious step to deny the Christian faith.  Brian McLaren has written about this in a new book, Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned (6).


  1. The Gambler, written by Don Schlitz and made popular by Kenny Rogers.
  2. What is Enlightenment magazine January – March 2007, pp. 86-100. This article describes 12 stages of development in the theory of evolution.
  3. The Fourth Turning, William Strauss and Neil Howe, Crown, Reprint Edition 2009
  4. How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season, Rowman and Littlefield, 2019
  5. Thank God for Evolution, Michael Down, Viking Press, New York, 2009
  6. Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned, Brian McLaren, St. Martin’s Essentials, 2022
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1 Response to Know When to Hold ’em, Know When to Fold ’em, Know When to Walk Away, Know When to Run

  1. Lonnie says:

    John, I do not have the strong Christian foundation you possess but I have been thinking similarly. Astrologically there are the Uranus – Pluto transits (currently a square) and the US Pluto return, among other notable planetary alignments. These are about as predictable as anything in our cosmos; certain types of circumstances and events seem to unfold when these are in evidence. Sofi Archon has been advocating a new economic model as well as love among us And Raphael Cushnir is thinking in an exciting, optimistic, yet radical political-economic way about doing something constructive in advancing social good

    Keep up the thoughtful work, mentor of mine. I so appreciate what you are contributing to the world.

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