Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What You See Is What You Get

Okay, so let's assume that we agree that the fundamental Big Question is whether or not there is a Go(o)d. What if the answer is both "yes" and "no" and the determination is made when we choose our answer? What if this question is like the poll that's been on this site for so long--is the glass half full or half empty? The answer to that one, of course, is that it is both, or either, and that you and I get to choose which it is.

This may seem to be some kind of wishy-washy cop out. How can there both be and not be a Go(o)d? Certainly the theists or the atheists must be right, one or the other. Certainly there is an answer, how else can we possibly act with any kind of assurance that the answer we've "chosen" is the right one?

I know that it's dangerous to take scientific theories and apply them to philosophies or social constructs, but religious language is essentially poetic; it doesn't deal with facts and figures but with the sense of things. So it seems perfectly appropriate to apply the language of science--as poetry--to the Big Questions we face in our living.

And one of the things we've learned from modern science is that we live in a pretty weird world. The scientist and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark once wrote, "The universe is not only more strange than you imagine. It is more strange than you can imagine." And it does seem that we live in a fundamentally both/and universe.

Consider light. Physics tells us that there are essentially two distinct states--waves and particles. Yet quantum physics tells us that light appears to be both or, perhaps more confusingly, it can be either depending on what you're looking for. If you conduct an experiment to examine light as a wave, then it shows up as a wave; if your experiment is designed to look at light as a particle, it is there as a particle. And taking this a step further, physicists tell us that it is more accurate to say that light is either, or neither, wave or particle until you look at it as one or the other at which point it becomes precisely what you're looking for.

Hard as this is to wrap our heads around, it seems that it's not only light that can exist in two seemingly discreet and contradictory states simultaneously. Even more weird than the state of protons there is the famous thought experiment that has come to be called Schrodinger's Cat in which a cat is placed in a sealed box along with a mechanism that creates a 50/50 chance of killing the cat. According to an application of quantum law the cat can be meaningfully said to be both alive and dead until an observer opens the box. (Here's an explanation of all this . . . in verse no less!)

Alive and dead; wave and particle; half full and half empty. To paraphrase the Preacher of the Jewish book of Ecclesiastes, "Paradox, paradox! All is paradox."

What if God is the same way? (And here I'll just start using the three-letter version because I hope it's evident by now that I'm not talking that God when I use the term--whatever "that God" is for you.) What if God can be meaningfully said to be both existent and non-existent, both real and a delusion with the determinant being what it is that you're looking for? Like the scientist looking at light it's a particle if that's what the experiment is looking at and it's a wave when that's what's being studied. So God is for those who seek God, and equally is not for those who don't.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant in the phrase he is remembered as saying so often, "for those who have eyes, let them see . . ." or where comes the certainty in the encouragement, "seek and you will find."

In Gassho,


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Is There A Go(o)d?

I've often said that one of the purposes of religions is to help us wrestle with life's Big Questions. (And thanks to A.A. Milne and Pooh for the idea that Very Important Words should always be capitalized!) The Big Questions are things like: Why am I here? What's the meaning of life? What happens when we die? How should I live? Things like that.

It seems to me that one of the biggest Big Questions is, Is There A God? Now, by this I am not meaning is there an anthropomorphized deity, a big daddy or big mama in the sky, or, as a teen once put it, "a buff Santa in a toga" looking down on us from the heavens. That question, it seems to me, is too specific. It's like wondering if there's something called water but asking if there's Perrier.

So let's start at the most general. A philosopher's definition of God might be, "That Than Which No Greater Can Be Conceived," because whatever other specific attributes have been conferred on humanity's various god and goddess images, all religions have held god to be the ultimate, the absolute. So whatever else might be said about something deserving of the name “god” it must be the best, the preeminent, the unsurpassable.

And this, it seems to me, is the foundational Question we need to wrestle with: is there an absolute, preeminent, unsurpassable, ultimate . . . something? Plato called it “The Good,” and for him it was an ideal, a conception, not a tangible thing. Theists, obviously, call their "good" God and give it consciousness and will. Taoists see it as an impersonal flowing movement, the Tao. What all of them have in common is the assumption of an underlying, all-pervading, ultimate.

This question is foundational because if you believe there is a "go(o)d" then that in which you believe can provide order and meaning for life. If there is no "go(o)d" then this is a truly relativistic universe and there is no direction. Answering this Big Question, then, provides a basis to help with answering all of the others.

In Gassho,


Monday, June 11, 2007

Where It's All About You

A colleague recently posted a link to a video from the website It's a Christian source for short video clips preachers can insert in their sermons. One of them, the one linked here, is called "MeChurch" and, well, it speaks for itself.

I am often tempted to root some of the problems I wrestle with as a parish minister in Unitarian Universalism itself. (And some no doubt are rooted there.) Yet watching the MeChurch video reminds me that the "cult of the individual" has been enshrined not just within UU congregations. Another clip from the same site is a mock ad for a new collection of worship songs called It's All About Me which features such songs as "Now I Lift My Name On High," "I Exalt Me," "How Great I Am," and, "O Come Let Us Adore Me." It's definately aimed at a Christian audience.

So how do we combat our culture's emphasis on the individual without going too far and dismissing the individual? How do we reconnect people to the power of the whole without letting go of the much needed affirmation of the parts? And, more specifically, how do we change the culture in our congregations so that individuals know themselves to be part of something larger than themselves--so that the first question isn't "what do I need?" but, rather, "what do we need?" I think of this in terms of such endemic problems as: low levels of financial support; one "interest group" battling another; those without kids wondering about the importance of religious education for our kids and those with kids wondering about the importance of resources for our elders; people leaving the church in a huff over this slight or that slight. I see this in church after church after church.

How do we make that shift? No answers; only some of the questions that I'm wrestling with.

In Gassho,


Size matters

Back in 1776, the United States of America consisted of 13 colonies, and there were roughly 2.5 million people living here. Today there are 50 states, and an estimated 301,139,947 people. This may not seem like an overly insightful observation, but we're a whole lot bigger than we were when those "founding fathers" established the forms of government which by and large are still in place today.

I was thinking about this recently during a presentation about a proposed new governance structure that was being given to the congregation I serve. One of the things noted is that all of the experts agree that when a church with an average attendance of, say, 50 grows into a church of 500 it needs to organize and govern itself differently. The two churches are not just different sizes, they are effectively different animals. (In fact, the church growth expert Lyle Schaller describes different sized churches not as "family," "pastoral," "program," and "corporate," as they're often called in the literature but "cat," "collie," "garden," etc. as a way of accentuating the essential differences of different sized churches.) In short, church experts agree that when it comes to organizational structure, size matters.

Now the growth of a 5o member church into a 500 member church is a ten-fold increase. The growth of a 2.5 million "member" country into an over 300 million "member" country is more than a one hundred-fold increase. Yet we are operating under essentially the same governance structure now that we're a "nation" as when were when we were a "cat" (to use Schaller's terms). Could this be at least part of the reason for why our "body politic" seems so unwell?

Just a thought.

In Gassho,