Grace for Creation: free!

We have a great tradition of holding classes for parishioners in Lent, but once Easter comes, and Spring springs, we tend to focus on other things. But, what would happen if we tried an Easter class – like a Lent class, but later?

Have I got a deal for you:

In 2011, the Episcopal Church House of Bishops issued a pastoral letter on the environment. In response, a five-week study course titled A Life of Grace for the Whole World has been created. The curriculum follows the five sections of this letter.

via Curriculum – Grace for Creation

This is the result of work done by the Episcopal Church in New England, spearheaded by Bishop Tom Ely and two incredibly talented priests, Stephanie Johnson and Jerry Cappel. It’s a perfect fit for a springtime course, and it’s basically turn-key. Download it and go. The only thing we ask is that if downloadbutton.jpgyou use it, you let us know how it went. What could be easier?

Rainment, glistening and white.

It snowed on Friday. A tropical system, full of moisture and relatively warm air, slid north along the Southern New England coast and collided with cold arctic air flowing down out of Canada. The result was a fast developing, very wet snow fall that started at dawn and continued until an hour before twilight.

The wet snow and the relatively gentle wind off the ocean allowed the thick white heavy flakes to stick to every surface they touched. The ground was covered, as were the trunks and branches of the trees. The evergreens groaned with the weight of the snow as gravity pulled them down toward the center of the Earth. The bare tree branches were coated, and a number of limbs snapped because of the weight. Many of my neighbors lost power, and a few people were hurt. It was heavy and dangerous.

It was a day of gray air and not much light. The heavy moisture mixing in the cold air and the warmer ground temperature gave us a thick fog that started as the snow began and settled low to the ground throughout the day. I knew the Sun was up and it was midday, but I had that knowledge more on faith than observation. At least until about an hour before sunset…

IMG_0158As the day was drawing to a close, the clouds caused by the storm system cleared from west to east. The line was sharp and dramatic. Twitter lit up with people exclaiming about the bright blue sky they were seeing, with reports being made closer and closer to where I was. Finally the edge of the clouds moved over our heads and just as everyone was saying, the difference was dramatic.

By that time it was late in the day and the Sun was low in the southwestern sky.  The trees were suddenly lit from below. The trunks remained within the gloomy gray fog but the branches, as they reached up to the sky were lit with the most astonishing light. And the snow that so heavily coated everything began to glow with a glistening golden light against the startlingly deep blue cloudless sky.

The sight took your breath away. There seemed nothing to do but grab a coat and rush outside to see the thing that had happened. The forest was still full of the heavy silence that accompanies any winter snow, but the sky was full of glory – and almost boisterous golden light that seemed strikingly noisy against the silent gloom that clung on close to the Earth’s surface. And as quickly as it happened, it ended.

What was most remarkable to me was how quickly we had gone from darkness to light, and then how quickly the light faded into the azure blue of twilight. The boundary between light and dark on the surface of planet is called the “terminator” and on the Earth it sweeps East to West at the Earth rotates from day into night. It sweeps across the surface of the Earth at nearly a thousand miles per hour. I was remembering that as the light faded and we transitioned back into darkness and gloom. Because the Sun’s light had been hidden by the fog and snow for so much of the day, the brief glimpse of golden glorious light was fleeting, and somehow made all the more beautiful.

640px-Alexandr_Ivanov_015I was remembering this morning how the light of that day had been followed by the azure of twilight as I heard the Gospel lesson for this Last Sunday in Epiphany. Jesus and his disciples climb to the top of a mountain, and for a brief moment, Jesus is revealed, transfigured in the sight of his disciples, and glows with a glorious glistening light. It is a moment when we see him as he truly is, fully reflecting the light of his Father As the veil between the realms of existence is pierced, he is seen flanked by the living history of the story of the children of Abraham in the persons of Moses and Elijah.

And just as quickly as the golden light I saw on Friday faded, so too the vision the disciples had of Jesus in his transfigured state faded. But the light they saw changed them, illumined something deep within them and made them long for it to return. I suppose the light I saw, the forest that blazed with it did the same thing to me. Perhaps such experiences have done the same for you… igniting within us a longing for a glimpse of the deeper reality that is always surrounding us, yet is only seen occasionally, unexpectedly, and often when our attention is focused on something else.

I imagine the most faithful response to such an experience, since it does not seem to be our part to dwell in it forever, is to cherish it and commit it to our memory. The days are often too short and too dark and the night is long. Yet the day is always capable of bursting forth with an unanticipated explosive force, reminding us of the promise and hope that sustains us and makes life possible.

Listen to the voices that are exclaiming that the light is shining, even if you sit in darkness. And when they do that, go outside and look up to see, if it is granted you, the reason we always have Hope.

The Creation Museum: More about the founder’s fears than their faith

 

Savannah Cox, writing in Salon about the Creation Museum Petersburg KY:

A closer look at the Petersburg attraction reveals that the questions raised in the museum are deeply existential, and ones which are steeped in — and troubled by — an atheistic logic: If it is indeed true that Adam and Eve did not literally exist, as science says, then there is no original sin. If there is no original sin, then Jesus did not have to die for it. If Jesus did die, but not for our sins, then why is he our savior? If he is not our savior, then what is he? What are we?

Viewed this way, the Creation Museum becomes less of a clearly demarcated home for the irrational, but rather a metaphysical space for individuals deeply troubled by emerging forms of authoritative rationality. The museum complex, which sprawls over dozens of acres, is less of an amusement park for fanatics and more of a fortress for the vanishing fearful. It is a space where the likeminded can physically enter a mindset that they know, and that they worry — if science has anything to say about it — might one day become unknown. Questions of social justice, evolution and humankind’s place in the universe are answered here — and usually in 150 pages or less. Indeed, the Creation Museum offers itself as a vital, life-affirming buffer against the spiritually weathering effects, and warnings, of coming worlds.

Source: My Creation Museum quest: A skeptic’s genuine search for faith, science and humanity in a most unlikely place – Salon.com

Cox concludes: “If only the museum’s founders believed enough in their own faith to see them through it.”

Pew: Non-religious people see conflict between science and religion. Religious people don’t.

New Pew study on the perceived levels of conflict between science and religion in American culture:

While 59 percent of U.S. adults say they saw science and religion in conflict, that drops to 30 percent when people are asked about their own religious beliefs.

It turns out that the most highly religious were least likely to see conflict.

And those who said they saw the most conflict between the two worldviews in society are people who personally claimed no religious brand, the “nones,” according to the report.

So – it appears that Rowan Williams response to Richard Dawkins is more true than expected. People are rejecting a God that most religious people don’t believe in either.

Source: Do science and religion conflict? It’s all in how you see it | The Christian Century

How quantum theory helps us understand intercession

Christianity Today on whether prayers make an external difference:

This means that at the macro level as well as the micro, the idea that the world is fixed and predictable is just wrong, and that arguments against an interventionist God don’t work. So, Wilkinson says, chaos might give “space for God to work in unusual and specific ways within the scientific description of the world”. Again, he quotes John Polkinghorne, who says that chaos means that the world is open to the future: “This means that we can pray and God responds by working in the openness of a chaotic system.”

Source: What God does when we pray: How quantum theory helps us understand intercession | Christian News on Christian Today

Lucas Mix: Toward a definition of Life

My friend Lucas Mix, who is Warden of the North American Chapter of the Religious Order of which I am a member is working on a definition of “life” – a project which is taking on new significance now that we have found water on Mars…

He writes in introduction to a series of posts he’s planning:

I would like to suggest five prominent approaches to how we model life. I do not claim these five ways are exclusive or exhaustive. Rather they are five well worn paths that many have taken in search of the meaning of “life.” Specific models – such as Aristotle’s nutritive soul or Schrodinger’s delayed entropy – can be assessed by the work they do in each approach. Often they will have been designed with one approach in mind and be very successful in that way. Often they will then be appropriated by thinkers to do work in another approach – with mixed success.

Each of the approaches comes associated with a focusing question or two that highlights what I see as a central concern. I hope to better identify the place of these various approaches in specific conversations – for example scientific origin-of-life research or Catholic environmental ethics – as well as global conversations on the definition of life. I will return to these questions at the end with my own concerns – how to search for life in space and how to build healthy relationships between individuals and communities. First though, I hope to improve communication between a wide variety of people with a wide variety of concerns by talking about what may be at stake for them – and for all of us – as we discuss “life” together.

Read more at the source: Lucas’s Weblog | An Ecclesiastical Peculiar

Connection is the cure to addiction

Jesus teaches us how to live in real, life giving community. Perhaps we need to by a lot more intentional about reorienting our focus from celebrating the life giving relationships and faith we find in church to going out into the world and inviting people in pain to find life with us.

In the 1970’s Bruce Alexander, a researcher in Vancouver, discovered that the social experience of laboratory rats in addiction experiments had a profound effect on whether or not the rats became physically addicted to various substances.

Essentially, what he discovered was that isolated rats, kept in bare cages by themselves, when fed addictive substances quickly became physically addicted. But rats in stimulating environments (happy cages) kept with other rats, rejected the drugs they were fed and had a significant physical resistance to developing addiction.

His work has been repeated over the years and is referenced in a new book by Johann Hari called “Chasing the Scream: The first and last days of the War on Drugs”. Hari references Alexanders’ work and subsequent research by Gabor and Cohen on human addictive behavior.

In an article on his research Hari writes about the futility of our present models of treatment for addiction where we treat physical addiction by essentially asking people to endure pain (withdrawal and denial) rather than suffer the worse pain (physical and emotional) which is caused by the active addiction:

“If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

You can read the whole article here.

Rhode Island has the highest rate of marijuana use (and I’m told of heroin use) of any state in the US. We’re also a place that is suffering from a lack of hope in the future. We’re a place where, it is my observation, people find it much to easy to isolate themselves into small groups, small families or stable small communities of acquaintances. People will cut themselves off from the larger connections that a vibrant participation in community or activity might bring.

It seems to me that our congregations might have the real solution to the pain that so many people are self treating with illegal substances. Jesus teaches us how to live in real, life giving community. Perhaps we need to by a lot more intentional about reorienting our focus from celebrating the life giving relationships and faith we find in church to going out into the world and inviting people in pain to find life with us.

Is there any objective reality at all?

“As measurements improve further, physicists will be left with two possible interpretations of the wavefunction: either the wavefunction is completely real, or nothing is.”

To my mind the fundamental objection to a Quantum reality, from a philosophical perspective, is that it seems to raise the question of if there’s any reality that exists outside of the experience of the observer. In other words, the Universe is only realistic if there’s someone looking.

The classic thought experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat is the best known illustration of this conundrum. A cat in a closed box and a randomly timed explosive device is, as long as the box is closed, both dead and alive at the same time. It’s only when the box is opened that we “pin” the cat into one state or another.

Most often the weird idea is explained away from having any physical reality by insisting that the whole paradox stems from our incomplete knowledge of the system. In other words, the cat is alive or is dead in the box, but because we can’t see into the box, we’re just writing a mathematical expression that contains our lack of knowledge. There is, goes the argument, an objective reality that exists apart from the observer, even if we can’t perceive it.

But that’s not true according to a new analysis by a team of Australian physicists who have done a detailed analysis of the situation.

They looked closely at the mathematical description of the cat’s state in the box, it’s “wavefunction” and how that function describes reality. The weirdness of Quantum Mechanics is essentially contained in the question of how to interpret and understand how wavefunctions describe reality.

This is what they found:

“‘Our results suggest that, if there is objective reality, the wavefunction corresponds to this reality.’

In other words, Schrödinger’s cat really is in a state of being both alive and dead.

As measurements improve further, physicists will be left with two possible interpretations of the wavefunction: either the wavefunction is completely real, or nothing is.”

More here.

I don’t know which is more interesting. The superposition of life and death, or the denial that there is any objective reality. Both would have profound implications in theology. Both would be a pretty big challenge to classical formulations of the faith, at least as they are typically taught.

(Though those of us who are fans of Karl Barth, who seems to me to be a fan of Meister Eckhart, might see that his fundamental insight about the unknowable reality of God, other than what God wills to reveal to us, could be profoundly useful.)

Anglicanism and Evolution; “show, don’t tell”

What do Anglicans believe about evolution and the relationship between science and faith? That it’s a fantastically interesting conversation with lots for both parties to learn.

With all the talk the last few weeks about Pope Francis’ speech regarding the compatibility of Faith and Evolution, I’ve found myself having to remind numerous people, including media folks, that this is not a new development. What Pope Francis has done, albeit particularly effectively apparently, is reiterate the existing relationship between science and faith, at least from a non-American evangelical viewpoint.

But a number people asked me if Anglicans had anything to say on the matter, and other than a few essays here and there, a book or two, and of course the Catechism of Creation that a group of us are continuing to work on, there hasn’t been much that was accessible to non-specialists.

Logo

But that’s changing! A Manchester based group in the UK has a new site up called “God and the Big Bang” that is meant to provide all sorts of resources for secondary education students, and students in post-secondary (college) schools and even professional scientists at the beginning of their career.

The programs (and there are different lectures and events designed for different sorts of audiences) intend to inspire curiosity and encourage young people to think this sort of thing through for themselves:

God and the Big Bang allows young people to ask some of the big questions they usually struggle to find answers to, and hear responses from leading scientists with a wealth of knowledge about, and passion for, both science and theology. With fascinating questions and deeply insightful, respectful and honest answers, this panel session prompts a high level of discussion around science and faith, providing pupils with the opportunity to grapple with current ideas surrounding science and faith, in an inspiring, eye-opening way that helps make the event one that will be remembered by students and teachers alike.

Rather than telling people what to think about the relationship between science and religion, the programs demonstrate how various scientists think about such questions. It’s not a matter of telling, it’s a matter of showing (show, don’t tell” is one of my favorite teaching philosophies).

Keep an eye on the page.

What do Anglicans believe about evolution and the relationship between science and faith? That it’s a fantastically interesting conversation with lots for both parties to learn.

Divine Uncertainty: “Jonathan Edwards in a New Light”

“Jonathan Edwards’ statements about fundamental reality are based on the nature of light, not as metaphor but as model for all aspects of being, from time to consciousness and selfhood, to love, to the experience of the sacred, to ontology, to God Himself.”

When I was a student at Yale Divinity School, I was part of group that tended to eat our lunch at a table in the refectory that was under the portrait of Jonathan Edwards, a former faculty member who later departed to be the President of Princeton. We knew him as a man of heroic faith, who had died as result of offering himself to be a test subject for a smallpox vaccine. And we talked in hushed tones about his famous sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God”. But sadly we never discussed the details of his thought or of his philosophical inquiries.

https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5609/15342208118_349f05b854_n.jpg

Which turns out to be a real shame because Edwards much like Bishop Barclay, a contemporary, were both significant philsophers whose work has been neglected as western thought has made the shift from modernity to post-modernity. And that’s surprising because both Edwards and Barclay have much to say about a reality in which absolutes exist but are likely unknowable in any complete sort of way.

This afternoon I stumbled across an essay written by Marilynne Robinson and posted on the National Endowment for the Humanities website which looks more closely at Edward’s work, particularly focusing on his writings as “new light Calvinist” (a group that held that ongoing revival was an important part of Christian Life).

I was particularly struck by this quote that details the ways in which Edwards used natural theological revelation as a source for his understanding of God and God’s nature:

“Never departing from strict reason, Edwards sanctified the unknowable. I experienced a quiet, cerebral awakening of my own, as much secular as religious, as much scientific as theological, though these categories are not so clear-cut as they are often made to seem. Edwards intended from his earliest work to create an all-unifying metaphysics and, though he did not achieve this, his thought feels shaped by the intention to keep the possibility implicit. It accommodates Locke and Newton, the best philosophy and science of his period. His thought asserted a great influence on the intellectual/activist movement that arose out of the Second Great Awakening that created many educational institutions across the country, among them Grinnell and Oberlin, and that pressed for the containment and abolition of slavery. Lyman Beecher, his sons Edward and Henry Ward Beecher, his daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe and the large circle associated with them accepted the need for the kind of conversion experience Edwards famously described, and adhered as well to the model of intellectual rigor he presented.

Edwards’s metaphysics is first of all an esthetics. His statements about fundamental reality are based on the nature of light, not as metaphor but as model for all aspects of being, from time to consciousness and selfhood, to love, to the experience of the sacred, to ontology, to God Himself. In Edwards’s understanding, these things participate in one another so deeply that their radical likeness is a kind of identity. Light for him is a virtual synonym for beauty, and the given world is saturated with it. Natural light is an analog or a metaphor for ‘supernatural light,’ an important phrase that makes an important distinction, though his exploitation of the character of ordinary light is essential to his argument.”

Lots more here.

I’m particularly taken with the last thought in the essay:

“Edwards as a Christian theologian begins with belief in a creator, whose role in existence and experience no doubt elaborated itself in his understanding as he pondered the imponderable problem he had posed to himself. The intuition is sound in any case. It places humankind in any moment on the farthest edge of existence, where the utter mystery of emergent being makes a mystery of every present moment even as it slides into the mysterious past. This by itself elevates experience above the plodding positivisms that lock us in chains of causality, conceptions of reality that are at best far too simple to begin to describe a human place in the universe. Edwards’s metaphysics does not give us a spatial locus, as the old cosmology is said to have done, but instead proposes an ontology that answers to consciousness and perception and feels akin to thought. I have heard it said a thousand times that people seek out religion in order to escape complexity and uncertainty. I was moved and instructed precisely by the vast theater Edwards’s vision proposes for complexity and uncertainty, for a universe that is orderly without being mechanical, that is open to and participates in possibility, indeterminacy, and even providence. It taught me to think in terms that finally did some justice to the complexity of things.”

Fossil Sitting In Sun Light

It’s a view of the Universe that seems much more in tune with the sort of writings you come across in modern theology than one would otherwise expect. As a follower of Popper’s post-positivism myself, I rather taken by what happens in Edward’s schema as he takes the experience of reality as seriously as I think Barth does in his writing. It gives you room for the mystery of the divine in a way that non-experiential thought doesn’t seem to do.