The Paul S. Wright Lecture Series at Menucha October 14-15,2013 this year; our guest keynote speaker was Phyllis Tickle. She blew me away with her intellect, poise, delivery, and wide-ranging thinking about how our faith is begin impacted by the time/place we are in right now in history. She is one of those people you come across once or twice in your life and instantly feel like something significant just happened and it may take months to unpack it. I am going to try to summarize two days of intense lecture and discussion, all of which I believe will have a huge impact on my faith. This is my first attempt.
We are at a point in history that comes around in a very large cycle. A 500 year cycle of “great emergence.” Every 500 years a huge shift happens in the life of Judeo-Christian believers, and something new and incredible comes out of it. We are living through a time of one of those shifts. The last one was the Protestant Reformation. Each time one of these cycles come around to the point of genesis into a new period, one question, among others, is asked, “Where now is our authority?” Last time the Roman Catholic Church lost their authority, and the Protestant Reformation affirmed the new authority to be Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura).
This time around, as the Bible is increasingly studied along with other scriptures not in the Canon, it is increasingly apparent the the scope of the shift this time around is as major as the shift that occurred 2000 years ago…the shift in Jerusalem that ended First Temple Judaism and heralded the end of the last Era; which theologically we can call a 2000-year era of God the Creator. For the past 2000 years, we have been in AD, and I use that intentionally instead of the popular secularized CE because it really has been about ano domini Jesus Christ. Following the 2000 year cycle superimposed on the 500 year cycle, we are entering the Age of the Spirit…some early secular spiritualists from the 60s called the Age of Aquarius (the astronomical/astrological calendars reflect this as well). The important thing to remember is that Christianity is changing, culture is changing, even the human being is changing.
What did I just say?!?
Yes, the human being is continuing its evolutionary journey, and a major shift is happening right now. Besides the 500 year ecclesiastical question “Where now is our authority?” we are also facing fundamental scientific advancements that require the questions: What is a human being? What about medical miracles resulting in HP printers creating whole new organs from snippets of DNA which then get “printed off” and sewn into real lives bodies as replacements? Is human and machine finally merging? Is this what evolution for our species is? I wonder if this is what happened to all the ancient civilizations that have since disappeared from the face of the earth leaving us hardly a trace. Spiritually, this leads us to: What is a soul? Which leads us to: What is God? And, depending on our particular mindset with the answer to that, where does suffering play into that?
Out of this change will come a new anthropology, a new a new doctrine of atonement, possibly a new Canon, and even probably, a new merging of faiths into one stream of spirituality. For that to happen, a new aspect of human awareness must be re-awakened in its newly evolved state. Science is standing by, waiting to be invited back into the fold of Faith. Particularly biology and physics-both fields recognize that there is an external stream of something that has been there all along eternally inserting itself into the DNA of life resulting in growth, spontaneity and joy of new creation.
I am attempting to do what Phyllis did with elegance, grace, wit, humor. She has more knowledge and footnotes to back her up, so I don’t even come close. But I can say this: When we are faced with all these questions in relation to our faith journey, we come down to something like this:
What are human beings that You, O God are mindful of us? And who are we that we can even begin to seek out and commune with your awesome presence? How do we even begin to describe what the human-divine relationship is? Reflecting back on history and the questions that are perpetuated in every cycle and every age, perhaps some answers can be reached when we reflect on this offering:
What if scripture is a written conduit for God? What if theology is a rational conduit for God? What if beauty is an emotional conduit for God? And what if the human being is a spiritual conduit for God?
In the same way of thinking, what if Faith is a river of spirituality; each faith is but a tributary in it, some tributaries have other additional parts that make up its whole, such as the many streams of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in the Abrahamic tributary. Regardless, here is a truth worth our attention: just as staring with positive intent at a bowl of water will result in the water itself becoming more healthy- molecules form the most intensely complex and beautiful snowflake-like crystalline structures, so too staring at a bowl of water with malice, hatred, or anger will result in unhealthy molecules that do not form complete structures, or structures so stark and blunt there is no complexity of development and much less beauty observed.
Now apply that to the river of multi-faiths. What if we regarded one another-Islam and Jew, Christian and Arab, East and West, North and South – with the same positive regard as the first bowl of water? What would that do for the cause of world peace?