Friday, January 30, 2009

Don't Change the World- Love the World

I love the natural and honest dialogue in the movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz are all excellent and create great chemistry.

Apart from adding Barcelona to my list of must visit places, it’s a wonderful story about love and hate, passion and choice. Two American women visit Barcelona for the summer and meet an artist, Juan Antonio.

This short exchange really captured my imagination. It took place when Juan Antonio took one of the women to meet his Dad, a brilliant poet who doesn’t publish his work.

Juan Antonio and Vicky sit down on the wall.
Vicky- So, uh, tell me, why won’t your father publish his poems?
Juan Antonio- Well, because he hates the world, and that’s his way of getting back at them -- to create beautiful works and deny them to the public, which I think, it’s...
Vicky- My God. Well, what makes him so...angry toward the human race?
Juan Antonio- Mm, because after thousands of years of civilization...they still haven’t learned to love.

The dialogue struck me because I have a miserly side that would deny the world myself at times. At my best, I don’t believe that being miserly will bring love to the world. Note to self- I don’t have to change the world. Just love the world. And that will make all the difference.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wonder Unites Science and Religion

The silver light, which, hallowing tree and tower,
Sheds beauty and deep softness o'er the whole,
Breathes also to the heart, and o'er it throws
A loving languor which is not repose. Lord Byron

It’s that time of year again. Darwin’s day is just around the corner, and evolution’s sibling rivalry (science and religion) is back on the agenda. Science generally deals in what we know to be true and the truth needs to be tested. Religion generally deals in what we need to be true and the truth needs to be trusted. Science looks for what can be seen. Religion looks beneath the surface for things that can’t always be seen.

The psychiatrist's secretary walks into her office and says, "Mr. Matthews is in the waiting room asking to see you again. This time he claims he's invisible."
Without hesitation, the psychiatrist replies, "Tell him I can't see him."

Science and religion don’t necessarily have to clash. Religion can embrace the advances of science without fear. Science can embrace the experiences and poetry of some forms of religion without defense. It does require religion to take a decisive and deeply humbling step; recognize that religion is a human creation and therefore it is open to critique and revision.

This isn’t new. Religion has slipped back into dogma, after Immanuel Kant, and Frederick Schleiermacher had solved the problem back in the 18th century. The scientific advances of the Enlightenment made a mockery of superstitious religion. Kant and Schleiermacher said that while you can’t say for sure that the invisible guy in the waiting room exists, you can describe your experience of the invisible man. You know what you experience. You know what you like. You know what moves you.

They don’t seem to have this problem in India. Maybe that’s because Hinduism has intuited so much scientific truth in its ancient wisdom. A 4,000 year old verse from the Rig Veda, a sacred Hindu text says “O Moon! We should be able to know you through our intellect, You enlighten us through the right path.”

It’s a curious irony to westerners that the first Indian moon landing took place in 2008. A week before the launching, millions of Hindu women fasted until the first sighting of the moon’s reflection in a bowl of oil. They do this to safeguard the welfare of the family. The magical qualities of the moon don’t seem to be compromised by getting up close and personal with the giant ball of silly putty in the sky.

In the west, much scientific advance chips away at religious doctrine, like thinning slices of a fading moon. Christianity struggles to hold the magic of heaven within, once the certainty of heaven up there is questioned. Once the curtain of religious wizardry drops to reveal that religion is actually a human construction, devised, revised and organized in the human brain, many feel the lure of flatland secularism.

Consider taking a cue from India. Affirm both the curiosity of science and the imagination of religion. The moon is its own metaphor for the relationship between science and religion, with its yin yang shades of light and dark, receiving and reflecting the sun’s rays. Her front porch is lit with guiding light, while the inner parts of the house are in deep darkness.

When the child sees in the moon a giant rabbit standing over a kitchen table, maybe the child is intuiting something about the parent like power of the moon to affect human mood and behavior.

Shine on you crazy diamond. Fill us with the light of your lunar wisdom. Teach us to bask in the beauty of it all, scientific curiosity and religious wonder alike.

At C3 over the next 3 weeks, we are paying homage to wonder. With no need to fear science, we will discover that all of life has a unity. Each moment is filled with enough beauty and mystery to keep our attention locked in wonder’s gaze forever.

Wonder is a uniquely human trait. It allows you to suspend habitual thinking, and consider new possibilities. Wonder has the ability to dethrone your well laid plans in preference for some well laid mindfulness.

Wonder allows you to see (experience) the world in a new way; with fresh, unprejudiced attention. It’s a sight that is akin to the Hindu notion of “darshan”. It is the ability to see divinity in all things, if divinity is the highest and widest of human ideals.

Wonder is seeing divinity within; the universe of consciousness that resides within you.
Wonder is seeing divinity between; the joy of crossing galaxies to touch the moon is matched by the joy of crossing the street to bring muffins to neighbors, touched by love.
Wonder is seeing divinity beyond; the discovery of a connection between yourself and all else.

The prized gift of wonder is the ability to see yourself as a participant in a greater whole. You are a player on life’s stage with a love so large it can travel to the moon and back, shedding beauty and softness on the whole, and never lose its luster.

Both science and religion can embrace wonder. However wonder should not be confused with knowledge. The scientist must be able to acknowledge that the world may be more wonderful than current theories can account for, and religion must be able to acknowledge that its truth is poetic and not absolute.

Wonder unites the science of curiosity and the religion of imagination. In the words of the classic 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, wonder “throws a lasso around the moon and pull it down, then you can swallow it…and then moonbeams shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair.”

“God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.” Dag Hammarskjold

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

25 Things About Me

At first I was skeptical about doing the 25 things about me exercise. I couldnt believe that it would be of interest to anyone. When I started, I found it quite therapeutic to reflect on my life. It turned out to be a great experience. I recommend it. Anyway, here goes-

25 Things About Me

1. I had a baby sister named Heather who died at 4 days old. I never met her, but still feel that she is part of my life.
2. My first friends in primary (elementary) school were the future criminals of inner Sydney. My best friend broke into classrooms on weekends to vandalize and start fires.
3. I won a Storm Boy look-a-like competition when I was 8. Now I constantly get told I look like Dennis Quaid.
4. I went to the most elite school in Sydney….and flunked miserably. Repeated my HSC (SATs) at a community college and never looked back
5. I began reading the paper (sports only) on the throne when I was 10. Never missed a day since, except now its Oprah.
6. I sang the “Messiah” in the Sydney Opera House. Great experience, luckily my sound was overshadowed by the massive size of the choir.
7. I played Rugby on the Sydney Cricket Ground- a “curtain raiser” for an international match. Played the whole second half with concussion. Ah, good memories (well hazy memories)!
8. One of my teenage hobbies was second hand record collecting. I was the only kid I knew who liked (or had even heard of) “Deck Chairs Overboard” “Pel Mel” and “Bow Wow Wow”.
9. The first album I bought was “Scorcher”- the songs were listed in a bare woman’s belly. Included Brian Ferry and Bee Gees.
10. I went through a Ska stage in my late teens, thought “fatty buster blood vessel” was pretty cool. It lasted a few months, but I never wore boots and braces. It was just about the music.
11. When Henry Blake died on MASH, I cried inconsolably for an hour.
12. My first job was selling cigarettes. Despite never being a smoker, I know my Gauloise from a Gudan Garam
13. I once tried to evangelize a stranger in a park. Turned out he was a theology professor toying with me. Never acted so arrogantly again. ( I hope)
14. I’m a sucker for an emotional altar call. Got converted every time Billy Graham came to Sydney. Thankfully, it didn’t take.
15. I was too shy to make a move on a girl til I was 17, despite having 3 older sisters.
16. Meg stood me up on our first date. I’m still trying to recover.
17. I was present when a crazed protestor tried to kill Prince Charles....with a starter pistol.
18. One of my favorite things about being in Auckland was my little Vespa. I was described in a local paper as “quicker Vicar”, which is ironic considering that the Vespa went the same speed as a ride-on mower. I once wore church robes on the Vespa, only way I could get them to a wedding without major creasing.
19. I lived next door to The Thomson Twins in Auckland
20. I can be obsessive about things, and like my routines
21. I’m hopelessly optimistic.
22. I like my alone time.
23. I wear American flag boxers to bed, partly cause they're comfy, partly because the irony makes me smile.
24. I’m a passionate believer in people and life. I believe that all I need for a full and extraordinary life resides within me. I’m suspicious of any system (religious or otherwise) that claims that something from outside of me can bring me meaning, satisfaction or salvation.
26. I hate being given arbitrary limitations.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Unity in Diversity

“Multiplicity without unity is chaos; unity without multiplicity is tyranny.” Blaise Pascal

Everybody loves unity. How could you not? But what do we mean by unity, and do we seek unity at any cost? Unity can sometimes be a justification for uniformity. That is a dull form of unity that sucks the humanity and creative freedom out of life.

Unity can sometimes be a justification for conflict avoidance. I sometimes felt in the Anglican Church that unity was code for “lets not rock the boat.” As Bishop Spong says, “the church may die from boredom, but it won’t die from controversy.” Unity that compromises principles and core values is unity that will eventually destroy vision.

The third danger with unity is fragmentation. If unity is legislated, it can fragment groups who are unable to toe the line. Even “minorities of one” can be marginalized by this form of unity. Unity needs to hold in balance personal freedom and social order.

Unity in diversity is the healthiest form of unity. It looks something like this.
Unity in diversity- Unity without uniformity
Unity with truth- Unity without defensiveness
Unity with dialogue- Unity without fragmentation

In my sermon on unity, I attempted to outline the case for unity in diversity. Unity begins with a healthy sense of self, and proceeds to a sense of self in comm-unity with all that is. I used the example of Gandhi as the greatest example of unity in diversity. Last week’s Inauguration was a beautiful symbol of unity in diversity, and a call to the work of unity that all of us need to take responsibility for.

I didn’t include this quote in the sermon, but find it quite a beautiful expression of unity in diversity-
“…the individual effort to compose a life, framed by birth and death and carefully pieced together from disparate elements, becomes a statement on the unity of living. These works of art, still incomplete, are parables in process, the living metaphors with which we describe the world.” Composing a Life, by Mary Catherine Bateson