A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Evolution: Moving towards God's kingdom in the here and now

I have another favorite scripture passage to do to my list - Jeremiah 31:33-34. “....I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord.....”

Almost as powerful is John 12:32 - “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Here’s another one of my favorites, from Galatians 3:28 - “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to sequential time, time that can be measured in units of years, days, hours, minutes. It is a quantitative description of time and from it we derive the words chronology and chronological. It also happens to be the description of time we are most cognizant of, with our schedules and our eye to our watches. But there is an entire other dimension to time and the Greeks called this kairos. Kairos time is what happens in the moment. It cannot be measured, but it’s what is remembered. Kairos stirs our anticipation for the future. We don’t strain ahead to reach an arbitrary day, we push forward, eager for that elusive moment of joy and consummation. Kairos time is qualitative. According to the ancient Greeks, ‘Kairos was the god of the fleeting moment.’ Too often, we neglect to comprehend that the Bible is not a chronos document, but is a testimony to kairos.
The Bible is a compiled testimony of many, many different cultures’ attempts to try and capture kairos moments in time that somehow conveyed a greater truth. And very often different scripture passages do indeed pull back the curtain of uncertainty to reveal an aspect of God. But because all cultures are as limited as the humans which comprise them, all too often scripture actually obscures more than it illuminates. Particularly when people attempt to make the Bible something it is not, as is the case when Christians work to make scripture fit into the confining box of chronos.

Every so often people ask me how I am able to keep finding new things to talk about from the pulpit when I speak about the exact same scriptures every 3 years, according to our lectionary cycle, or in some cases, every year, such as at Easter or Christmas. For a long time my reply has been that by the time I travel by a scripture text again, a year or so later, I am in a different place in life and so what I see revealed changes as I age. This is certainly true. But I’m discovering something new now as well. In my first years of preaching, I trampled all over the texts trying to get at their meaning. But each successive year my footstep got progressively lighter. Now I almost feel like I do a dance with scripture each week, treading very lightly on the words in an attempt to give the Spirit room to breathe new life into my very limited understandings. And I continue to enjoy this dance very much.

I think the trick is to give these ancient texts the space they need to open themselves beyond their written words so that we might get at the yearning, the instinctive pull found in the hearts of humanity all those years ago in order to place these heart yearnings next to our own heart beats and see what that yields. When I treat the Bible as a kairos testimony and seek to find the truth embedded deep within these written words, I see a pull towards oneness, towards unity in God. It’s written all over the Bible, including in the three scripture texts I began with. And this yearning for oneness is echoed in our own most heartfelt longings today.
This is not a new idea. I’ve shared these thoughts from the pulpit at other times. However, friends have recently helped renew my hope that as a human civilization, we are indeed moving in the right direction. If you look and compare some of the earliest written books in the Bible with some of the concluding books, you’ll see that arc of progress nicely illustrated. Similarly, if you look at human civilization 1500 or 1000 years ago, compared to where we are at today, we are indeed moving towards greater unity. But in the moment, it often doesn’t feel like progress at all. In fact, too often it feels like we’re going backwards. So it’s important to keep in mind that evolution is a very sloooow process. And again, chronos vs. kairos comes into play. God exists in kairos. Think of 2 Peter 3:8 - “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”

Here are some life-giving examples to encourage each of us. One of my good friends recently finished reading the book, The End of War, by John Horgan (January 2012), for her seminary class. She shared with me how this book uses statistical analysis to make the case that as a human civilization we are evolving beyond the need for war. We are becoming a more peaceful species. Now my first reaction was to be quite dubious. But as I think back to the little I remember about world history, it does seem as though war was a constant reality. It was the way of life, everywhere. That’s really not the case anymore.

My sister-in-law and blog parnter, Sheri, also uncovered some really hopeful signs which she speaks to in one her recent blogs ( http://Ending Poverty, Changing Government: Things That Are Totally Possible ). She cites a recent Sojourners blog in which Dr. Scott Todd, a representative for the group 58, which is a global initiative to end extreme poverty, gives these statistics, 
"We used to say that 40,000 children die each day from preventable causes.
In the 1990s, that number dropped to 33,000 per day. By 2008, it dropped again to 24,000. Now it is down to 21,000. That means that in a generation we cut that number in half. 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty today. That's a staggering amount, but let's put those numbers in perspective: In 1981, 52 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty. Today it's 26 percent. Again, that means we have cut the number in half, and we did it in one generation."

Now 21,000 children dying each day from preventable causes due to poverty is still a ridiculously high number. But Scott is making the argument that we can do something about it. And in fact, in just one generation we have cut extreme poverty in half. This simply demonstrates we are in fact capable of pretty much wiping extreme poverty out all together and we are in the process of doing so.

In that same blog, Sheri also includes a link to a TED lecture. TED is an organization committed to passing on really great ideas and while it’s been around for awhile, it’s only recently becoming a really powerful online source. This particular TED lecture was by “Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America, which matches software geniuses with US cities to reboot local services.” Her talk was titled, “Coding a Better Government.” She proposes using technology to make government much more interactive and she stresses the fact that “until our understanding of citizenry changes, government will not change.” Meaning, until we begin to take more responsibility for ourselves and for each other, government will remain an outsized, and terribly inefficient guzzler of tax dollars. Pahlka asks whether government can actually jettison politics and instead be “run like the internet, permissionless and open.” Then she goes on to explain why she believes this is possible. 
Computer technology is difficult for me. My sister this week shared a quote that resonated. “Computers are a second language for people 40 and older but are a first language for everyone younger.” Could it be, however, that computers offer the real language of love? It feels like the greatest manmade force at work uniting humanity is our technologically and interactive capabilities. Why are we progressively going to war less? Because we regularly see and hear about the impact of war on people around the world. Why are we making a big dent in poverty? Because technology regularly forces us to confront these issues, these people, even in the safety of our own homes. I am awed by the way education will be revolutionized in just a few short years due to technology. My children are going to have relationships with other kids their age around this world due to connections made in their classrooms. We are increasingly becoming a global community. And technology is providing the links with others we must have in place if we are to continue evolving towards greater unity.

Even on a quantum level, scientists are sensing this movement. In an earlier blog I spend time making connections between science and theology (http://Another look at creation). I also used a quote by Timothy Ferris, a physicist at the University of California and author of the book The Whole Shebang (1998), which speaks beautifully to this idea of increasing unity.

Ferris writes, "The quantum universe may be thought of as the other side of the coin from the spatiotemporal, relativistic universe that has, to date, dominated cosmological thought. We humans, having come along when the universe was already billions of years old and being rather big creatures, able to see stars in the sky but not atoms in an apple, naturally got into cosmology from the large-scale side of things--by observing galaxies and developing theories, such as relativity, to interpret their behavior. But the universe was not always big and classical. Once it was small and quantum, and possibly it has not lost the memory of those times. It may well turn out that over there--or, more properly, inside and underfoot, marbled through the very fabric of the space that is in turn marbled through every material object--the universe remains as it was in the beginning, when all places were one place, all times one time, and all things the same thing."
If I switch now to theological language, I might say the universe is bent on reclaiming this unity of purpose, of mind, of being. And that whenever we find this unity, we see the face of God. The Reign of God is all about making God’s unity, God’s love visible in this realm of existence. I love the idea we were created with an intuitive memory of the unity that once was and a yearning for that unity to be made real once more.

Last week I offered the thought that maybe we stand on the brink of birth, a new religion evolving from Christianity. Again, friends expanded my vision wondering if maybe a new understanding of God is emerging around the world, a religion that might unite us with all humanity. It sounds almost like utopia, God’s Kingdom on earth. The Bible talks about that quite a lot too. We’ve always assumed these references were to a life that would follow this one. But what if we were wrong? What if God is gently moving us, pushing us, coaxing us towards a time of fulfillment in this age? And what if, in the realm of kairos, that reality were only a day away?

“....I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord....”

No comments: