Thursday, May 10, 2018

Week of May 6, 2018

"Just go with the flow." How many times have we heard that? "Ride the wave," "let things unfold," "Que sera sera"--we've heard them all. Why do we talk like this? It has everything to do with creation as we experience it.

A couple of the guys from the men's group have been talking about One Strange Rock, the super cool series on National Geographic Channel. I finally sat down on Sunday evening to watch a couple of episodes. It's fantastic. Thus far, the theme is clear: everything is connected. Dust from a desert in Africa to sea bottoms half a world away to glaciers chipping off into icy waters to rivers of evaporation in tropical rain forests, all of it works in concert to keep Earth alive. These processes are the flow.

If you've ever read a science book or searched up a TED Talk onYouTube, then you're aware of scientific observation. Please note the word observation. We can argue forever about how to interpret observation or our opinion of an observation, but observations themselves are not up for debate.

Let's talk basic observation. You'll remember our W.O.W. series on the subject of wonder. One week, we had a University of South Carolina cosmologist present to us the elementary findings in the study of outer space, the majority of which have been accepted by credible scientists since the early twentieth century. Let's name some:

  • The universe is 13.8 billion years old.
  • It's made up of countless stars, planets, systems, galaxies, etc.
  • Earth took shape around 4.6 billion years ago.
  • Life on Earth showed up around 3.6 billion years ago.
  • Life is connected by a series of processes of mutation and natural selection, known as evolution.
  • Modern humans emerged around 6 million years ago from the same processes as all other life forms; and over eighteen different hominin species--our evolutionary ancestors--have been discovered.
  • Our species has great power over the Earth and its natural processes.
Again, none of this is opinion or interpretation. These are very basic observations. One may opine or interpret that a falling object on Earth is carried by invisible beings or angels or spirit wind or daemons or gods. But observation says the uneven distribution of mass curves space time and, thus, relative to any point in a variant space time, objects with less mass move towards more massive objects. Observation is simply what's observed.

In 2016, the 222nd General Assembly of our denomination--the PC(USA)--felt it needed to offer up to the world, speaking on behalf of the church catholic, the "Affirmation of Creation." It posited exactly the basic scientific observations I mentioned above. Would you believe it only passed by 39 votes (305-264)? That's 46% voting unfavorably and only 54% voting favorably. A lot of opinion and interpretation might swirl around that result. But the observation is what it is: only half of the commissioners present favored the document. These commissioners are prayerfully and carefully nominated and approved by each presbytery to go and represent the will of Christ in their voting. These aren't politically motivated or willy-nilly picks. Yet basically only half could back this statement. Was it the observations themselves that almost half of the General Assembly could not support? Well, there's little we can do about those. Observations are observations. Was it the interpretative stance of the statement that barely more than half of the General Assembly could get behind? I observe that the statement puts each scientific observation in the context of "Creation," "God's call," and "God's connection." It is my opinion that this statement, therefore, interprets these scientific observations within a biblical context. So, surely, interpretation wasn't a problem, at least not for those voting favorably. What was at work splitting the gathered mind of the 222nd General Assembly?

Going with the flow is an easy phrase to toss around. Yet it's hard to wrap one's mind around going with the flow when taken seriously. We observe the flow as a series of processes comprised of seemingly random occurrences. But the more we observe these processes, the less these occurrences feel random. You and I, however, come face to face with a choice in these observations: wonder or wall off the mind.

Fear walls off the mind. Is it that I'm afraid of what I might observe by searching further? Am I too lazy to do the work? Does fear of being wrong outweigh probabilities of new discoveries? 

Wonder is that slightest crack in my dogma. It truly goes with the flow and is willing to investigate. Wonder rides the wave of discovery, like a child who plays in the ocean for the first time. Wonder allows things to unfold, searching the folds like a kid with a great book. Wonder allows whatever will be to be and finds joy precisely there, like an adolescent on a hands-free, downhill coast on a summer-day bike ride. It all rings of Matthew 18.3 to me.

Whether we would've been with the 305 or the 264, the Spirit has spoken to us all (that ancient wisdom of old). God's children aren't static in their thinking. They are discoverers who ask, seek, and knock. And, in that, they are able to better understand and to care for the world given them my opinion.

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