Monday, February 25, 2013

21st Century Life is Challenging

“There is no security on this earth – only opportunity!” [General Douglas MacArthur]

“Today is life – the only life we’re sure of. Live it. Make the most of today.” [Character on CSI-New York]
“The journey of life is always forward. It’s OK to look back – but it is impossible to return to yesterday.”  [FSM]

Recently I have been in a Book Club discussing Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future (Anchor Books 2011) – dealing with “how science will shape human destiny and our daily lives by the year 2100”.  Alternatively it is fascinating, irritating, frustrating and un-settling.  Without any doubt, advances in computers, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, medicine, energy, space travel and wealth [subjects covered in his book] will be radically different.
At times it is tempting to “ease” my angst about life as Kaku predicts by simply taking comfort that at 82 years of age those challenges will not be mine.  More frequently, however, the angst drives me to wrestle with how one might discern ways to maintain the significant values of civilization while adapting to those challenges.  The changes he identifies will challenge human-kind in every sphere of living: How we value life. How we value work. How we value differences in human potential. How we posit truth and compassion and love as essential for the good life.

Simultaneously with reading Kaku’s book I’m reading The Eloquence of Grace – Joseph Sittler and the Preaching Life [Cascade Books] by James M. Childs Jr & Richard Lischer.  This is a collection of transcribed sermons and speeches from the life of Joseph A. Sittler [1904-87] – “one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century” as well as the professor under whom I was privileged to study while in seminary.  Sittler would have loved Kaku’s book!  He welcomed the challenges brought by advances in every sphere.  Welcomed them – and wrestled with them as he sought ways to involve them in the truths of faith.

In one of Sittler’s presentations on “Christology” – in 1954! – he talks of how quantum physics impacts our creeds.  1954!  The Quantum theories were still relatively new. Albert Einstein in 1921 and Werner Heisenberg in 1932 had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on quantum fields – but many were wrestling with how such discoveries would challenge even basic laws such as gravity!  Into that mix comes Sittler, wrestling with how one might ascertain what changes Quantum physics might require in the basic Creeds [Nicene, et al]. And this quote jumped out:
..when we in our day, inheritors not only of the theology of the Reformation but also continuing inheritors of critical biblical-historical studies, seek to administer the understanding of the Reformers, we are compelled to see the Nicene Christology in a way they did not and perhaps could not….Sixteenth-century veneration for Nicea has descended to us as a twentieth-century frustration; the fourth-century settlement of Christology so massively overlays the sixteenth as to make the sixteenth stutter as it addresses the twentieth. It is not too much to say that our theological tradition, whereby we gather up and contain in the theology of our day both the fourth and the sixteenth centuries, constitutes as invitation to theological hernia.[Underlining mine]

Confronted with/by these challenges, many succumb to the temptation of wanting to deny what is new. They would rather return to the “comfort” [false comfort to be sure] of yesterday.  Some will put forth “The Bible says . . .” as if it could “un-do” what is new.  As if one might still fancy a world that is flat with “heaven” up there and “hell” down there.  As if we didn’t know what we do about gravity; about molecules; about carbon emissions; about human psych-sexual development.
But - we do know!  And – we cannot go back!

God – as identified and preached and taught – by almost every religion is the Absolute, the Mighty One, the Supreme Being.  While the 21st century advances will challenge many of the human-made statements or positions about that God – they do not challenge God.
Scriptures – Holy Writings – of all religions have always been a living dynamic story rather than a dead static construct.  If that were not true there would not be so many factions within the religions of the world – factions which want to keep certain beliefs or standards or values which other factions believe have changed.

None of the challenges deny the value and importance of love in human relationships.  None of the challenges deny or dis-prove the value of honesty and trust as essentials for humans to live in community.  While some challenges do call into question some of the arguments that religious folks have used to “prove” God – none of those challenges prohibit anyone from still believing that her/his God is real!  That’s why it’s called faith.
I remember times in raising our children [and I had the privilege of 22 years of raising teen-agers!] when they would challenge certain rules.  The hardest rules of maintain were often the ones which came from my childhood experiences.  The temptation in the face of numerous “why’s” was to simply state – “because I said so”.  But as every parent knows, such a parental approach can only be sustained for a very limited time.  Harder – yet, subsequently more satisfying – was to engage the teen-ager in dialogue so as to mutually discern what was the value and which was the external that had borne the value.

We need to willingly engage in those dialogues.  At times it will be scary.  At times we will make mistakes.  At times we will need to move ahead on trust and faith in each other.  That’s what it means to be human.