Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Perspectives

The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.  --  Psalm 24:1

This passage has stuck with me this week, as I continue reading about man's growing understanding of the universe we live in, both the larger universe of which our planet Earth is a very tiny component, and the sub-atomic universe which makes Earth as we experience it daily look gargantuan in comparison.  How can it be that our universe is as big as it is small?  It's all very mind-boggling, to say the least.   I don't pretend to understand all of what I am reading, but one thing I've gathered over the last few days is how inter-connected everything is.

We think of ourselves as being independent creatures, of every thing being separate.  If space separates us then we are independent, autonomous beings.  If we want to influence something over there, then we need to go over there.  But the sub-atomic world of quantum physics describes a different reality.  Brian Greene writes in "The Fabric of the Cosmos:  Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality," that "Quantum mechanics challenges this view by revealing, at least in certain circumstances, a capacity to transcend space; long-range quantum connections can bypass spatial separation.  Two objects can be far apart in space, but as far as quantum mechanics is concerned, it's as if they're a single entity. ...A quantum connection can unite them, making the properties of each contingent on the properties of the other.  Space does not distinguish such entangled objects.  Space cannot overcome their interconnection.  Space, even a huge amount of space, does not weaken their quantum mechanical interdependence." (pg. 12, 122)   Even Einstein found it impossible to wrap his brain around this idea.  Ironically, his efforts to disprove this theory actually provided the necessary insight to prove it!

And although I knew everything is made up of atoms, I was surprised to read Bill Bryson's explanation that, "Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you.  We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms -- up to a billion for each of us, it has been suggested -- probably once belonged to Shakespeare.  A billion more came from Buddha and Genghis Khan and Beethoven, and any other historical figure you care to name.  ...we are all reincarnations -- though short-lived ones.  When we die our atoms will disassemble and move off to find new uses elsewhere -- as part of a leaf or other human being or drop of dew.  Atoms, however, go on practically forever." (A Short History of Nearly Everything, pg 134). As organic things decompose, they cycle through the earth and air, through plants and animals, and eventually through us.  This certainly made me consider anew how much of what I throw away does not get recycled, but will always be as it is now, taking up space in some growing trash heap.

Pastor Ron Rude, who came to speak to our youth group about creation and evolution last Sunday, fully incorporates such scientific insights into his understanding of God.  In his latest book, "Re-considering Christianity," he considers the creation story in Genesis 2, the creation of Adam from dirt, in light of  evolutionary biology.  "Human beings, according to the storytellers, are earthlings.  Or better, dirtlings.  ...As a simple microscope can begin to show, one square foot of soil is teaming with billions of life forms, including bacterial decomposers, microbes that attract atmospheric nitrogen into the soil to feed plants, mites, fungi that foster plant immunity, earthworms, and insects.  As these creatures live, so we live." (pg. 24)  Pastor Ron told us last Sunday that 90% of our bodies consist of bacteria, so this is no exaggeration. 

All these gleanings came full circle when I read in Pastor Ron's book a quote from John Muir:  "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."

I am persuaded, as Pastor Ron states in his book, that God has been in the process of reconciling man to all of creation, including the earth and all therein, for millenia, because, in our delusion, we have thought of ourselves as separate, even as chosen, above others.  But all that this worldview accomplishes is hardship:  we only alienate ourselves from creation, from our neighbor, from ourselves, and, if only in our own minds, from God, when we think this way.  In reality, we are not separate.  We are part and parcel of each other. Whether we like it or not, we are entangled with each other and with all of creation.  We always have been, and we always will be.

I am aware, as never before, how superficial my understanding of unity has been.  While I promote the idea of inclusion and unity, I have viewed this as something yet to be accomplished.  But in reality, we are all already a part of God's kingdom.  There is no separation from God, from our neighbor, from creation.  Any sense that there is is an illusion.

So, what will I do with this new perspective?

Something new, I think.

As the church year ends, and Advent begins, there is always a sense of anticipation in the air.  Advent is about the beginning of something new.  I, too, am ready for something new.  As I read the last reading today for the church year, and wondered what I would read tomorrow, it dawned on me that I have been reading the daily lectionary for the last three years, a daily Bible reading for the last four years.  I could start over again.  The daily lectionary repeats every three years.  Or I could do another daily reading program.  But, although I like the structure of a daily reading, none of these ideas feel at all appealing.  So, what else could I read?

Then this idea of inter-connectedness made a connection in my brain.  And I thought of other Scriptures.  Perhaps it's time to venture into other Scriptures, or even the writings of other faithful people, as a daily discipline, and explore how these resources resonate with my thoughts on faith and life.  Perhaps it's time to fully trust that I will always hear the word of God I need to hear, however far from home I roam.  I'm a little uncertain as to how this will pan out, but I'm looking forward to tomorrow.  And that's always a good thing. 

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you always.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Creationism vs. Evolution

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.  So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. --  Romans 1:18 - 23

These words of Paul touch on creation, which is a topic that has been much on my mind lately.  So I will sort through my thoughts, try to make a little sense of them, and see where I end up.

Awhile ago, as the leader of our high school youth group, I asked the teens to write down any questions they had on any topic related to faith, the church, the Bible, etc. -- anything really.  These questions then would direct our faith discussions throughout the year.  It was a spur-of-the-moment request on my part.  I wanted to find a way to talk about faith that was relevant and meaningful for them.  My attempts last year to lead our discussions, either using Bible verses that I found meaningful or using youth Bible studies from our church's resources, all fell flat.  My only thought this year was to somehow get them engaged in talking about faith.  I didn't know where their questions would take us.  I didn't think that far ahead.

We've had two great discussions, so far:  one, on why people have difficulty accepting others who are different from them, and another, on how God's presence is felt in the world today.  I chose to start with these two because these are questions I spend a lot of time thinking about.  I know something about them.  In fact, I frequently write about those two questions in this blog.  But, now it's time to move on to their other questions, and into areas that I don't spend a lot of time thinking about.  The next topic coming up is Creationism vs. Evolution.

Knowing I don't know much about this topic, I've invited a pastor from Lutheran Campus Ministries at the University of Arizona, who does, to provide some added insight into our discussion.  Now, I could just sit back, let him take the lead, and not say much.  But, there is one thought preventing me from doing that.  And that is that, despite my difficulties and deficiencies, I believe I am in this position for a reason -- that I'm actually needed here, if only in some small way.  Perhaps it's because valuing different viewpoints is so important to me.  For within our youth group there are some who attend a Christian school where Creationism is taught and Evolution is discounted, and there are others who attend public schools where Evolution is taught and Creationism is discounted.

One of my goals for all these discussions is to foster an atmosphere in which different opinions are honored.  It's been my experience that when we listen to another person's point of view, especially if it's different from our own, we learn and grow in much needed ways.  I believe that we each hold a part of the truth within us, and this truth can only expand when we accept the truth that comes from someone else.  As youth making the transition from childhood to adulthood, they need to start finding out what they personally know to be true.  And so I'm trying to understand both points of view.

It's not easy.  Science has never been my strong suit.  My brain feels quite sluggish tackling the difference between DNA and RNA.  I am reminded of a recent hike the youth group and I went on.  They wanted to hike to Seven Falls, a two-hour, mostly uphill trek among the foothills of the Catalina Mountains.  It's a place I've heard about as long as I've lived here, but have never been to.  I was game, even though I'm not much of a hiker.  But it was hard-going -- I'm really out of shape.  They ended up carrying the backpack of extra water and snacks I brought for them.  I had to take a lot of breaks to catch my breath.  There were a couple of moments when I felt like giving up.  I thought about letting them continue on with our other adult guide, who is a fireman and in much better shape than me.  But, I knew that they really needed both of us to be with them.  So I just kept going.  Finally, I got there, and I was very glad I did.  Perseverance paid off:  the canyon was breathtaking, the water was cold and refreshing, and the little beach was the perfect place to crash!  I'm hoping I'll eventually understand genetics, as well.

To me, both Creationism and Evolution come from the same starting point:  a desire to understand the world we live in. They offer explanations of phenomenon we observe.  And they seem to make sense to a lot of people.   Creationism, the idea that a Creator designed the world we live in offers a good explanation for the beauty, complexity, and mathematical fine-tuning we observe.  And Evolution, the idea that everything alive evolved through natural laws of selection, explains the differences among members of the same species over time.  However, neither one on its own completely answers all the questions people have about the world we live in.  Both are, essentially, incomplete theories. It may be that the truth is somewhere in between. 

Unfortunately, most people don't see it this way.  Many religious people and many scientists both wear blinders when it comes to their own point of view.

I came across a book recently by the Dalai Lama (The Universe in an Atom), who also recognizes this tunnel vision.  Buddhism has it's own cosmologies and philosophies of the world, and yet the Dalai Lama states that "if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims. has gradually become evident to me that, insofar as understanding the physical world is concerned there are many areas of traditional Buddhist thought where our explanations and theories are rudimentary when compared with modern science ... some specific aspects of Buddhist thought -- such as its old cosmological theories and its rudimentary physics -- will have to be modified in the light of new scientific insights."  (pg 5)   This is an amazing confession by the leader of a faith, willing to forsake tradition and outdated explanations for a more accurate understanding of the world!  I almost wish Protestants had a similarly definitive and broad-minded leader.

On the other hand, the Dalai Lama notes that a common scientific point of view is also untenable:  "I have noticed that many people hold an assumption that the scientific view of the world should be the basis for all knowledge and all that is knowable.  ...Underlying this view is the assumption that, in the final analysis, matter, as it can by described by physics and as it is governed by the laws of physics, is all there is. ...The view that all aspects of reality can be reduced to matter and its various particles is, to my mind, as much a metaphysical position as the view that an organizing intelligence created and controls reality.  ...There is more to human existence and to reality itself than current science can ever give us access to." (pgs. 12 -13)  For example, neither altruism or consciousness can be adequately explained by evolution.

When we think of the major paradigm shifts in our scientific understanding of the world over the last 500 years, we have to realize that while the data may be very objective, the interpretation of the data is still subjective.  And since both scientists and the religious are human after all, we get some things right, and some things wrong.  A little more humility might be warranted here.  And with that in mind...

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you always.