Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln, Darwin and Unemployment

Unemployed at last! These are the famous opening words of Tom Collin’s classic Australian novel, “Such Is Life.”

Unemployed at last? It seems insensitive to say these words at a time when global unemployment is expected to hit 50 million in 2009. How could losing your job be such a moment of glee and relief? It’s like saying, “Ah, finally my bank account is empty, or at long last my hips are arthritic.”

I don’t expect its true for everyone, but I keep meeting people who announce their lay off with a sense of cautious optimism. I can understand joy at good news. The fact that January retail sales rose by 1% is cause for cautious optimism. But I don’t immediately understand the joy of being laid off.

I look to Darwin and Lincoln for the answer. They both share today as a birthday, and they share much else in common. They were both heretics in the truest sense of the word. They chose to follow their own intellect and wisdom even when it meant being unpopular. Like other fine heretics, Jesus and Einstein, St Francis and Galileo, they promoted the idea that all things are related.

This was a radical departure from the worldview that they (and many of us) inherited. We were taught that life is like a pre pay phone card. The beginning and ending is pre-determined. In this analogy the phone company is God. God made the world with an order that we are not to mess with, lest we breach our contract.

The truth of evolution is so liberating. Even death, especially death, is necessary for natural selection. Without huge amounts of death, nothing changes. Without huge change, nothing new can emerge.

And this doesn’t have to compromise religious beliefs in any way. If God is the source, evolution is the process. If God did it, Darwin described it. Or maybe to continue the phone analogy- Evolution is God’s way of doing upgrades.

While some find a manual for pre-pay creationism in Genesis, I see Genesis as free form brilliance. It is ancient poetry describing evolution before they had words or science to match. It is camp-fire story telling with the intention of praising an unseen order to which they felt intimately related. This unseen whole grounded them as it does us, no matter what name you call it. It gave them a moral compass, as it does us. It gave them a sense of wondrous kinship, as it does us.

I’m excited about Darwin’s birthday. I’m excited to be part of a community that embraces the best of science without fear. I hope to alleviate any anxiety about embracing evolutionary theory, and to show the spiritual liberation that evolution points to.

And now I get it. Unemployment, no matter how death-like it feels, is a natural selection for new possibilities and growth. Unemployed at last. Such is evolutionary hope.

NB I ran my thoughts by our resident physicist Howard Van Till (another fine heretic) to make sure I wasn’t committing any scientific blasphemy. He replied with a nice description of genetic variation and natural selection. He said I could include it here

Spontaneous genetic variation is the way that Earth's ecosystem explores new possibilities for life forms. No exploration = nothing new to look forward to. Thank "God" for genetic exploration.

Natural selection = go with whatever happens to work best at this time and place. That implies that the future will be interesting but admits that the details are yet to be worked out. This approach preserves the possibility of surprise. Thank "God" for surprise.

One last note- I LOVE this Darwin quote on attention.

“Attention, if sudden and close, graduates into surprise; and this into astonishment; and this into stupefied amazement.” Darwin Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals p. 278

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wonder and Action

I don’t often get excited about the words of St Paul, but this phrase really captured my imagination. “God’s love was poured into our hearts.” (Romans 5; 5) The context of the words was the power of hope in the midst of disappointment.

On Sunday I gave a sermon on the connection between receptive emotions like love, joy and wonder, and action. I spoke about a jug; empty, open and ready to be filled. Once the jug has been filled, it’s only natural to share the love. If you have a heart full of love, then pour your love out like a jug of compassion.

The real pearl of wisdom though occurred after the service in a newcomer’s brunch. Several people shared similar stories. They had been laid off in the last month. Instead of becoming discouraged, they were seeing this as an opportunity. They were looking to shift their attention to work that captured more of their vision for the world.

The spiritual truth (and the wisdom of Romans 5) that perceived disappointments are so often new opportunities in disguise was manifesting in these courageous people. It tapped into what for me is part of the wonder of evolution. I don’t always know how or why life is unfolding the way it is, but I can take strength from the fact that it is unfolding. There is always more. Life is packed full of second chances.

At a time when so many of us are craving a new expression of hope, a new form of activism, my hope is that we pause to wonder at our hearts filled with love, and allow this love to cascade out of our hearts with compassion. The power of wonder-filled activism is that your heart always has more love to give.

May all be blessed with moments of love and wonder that take our breath away, and fill our hearts with compassion