Connections

“There is another way to conceive of our life in God, but it requires a different worldview— not a clockwork universe in which individuals function as discrete springs and gears, but one that looks more like a luminous web, in which the whole is far more than the parts. In this universe, there is no such thing as an individual apart from his or her relationships. Every interaction— between people and people, between people and things, between things and things— changes the face of history. Life on earth cannot be reduced to four sure-fire rules. It is an ever-unfolding mystery that defies precise prediction. Meanwhile, in this universe, there is no such thing as ‘parts.’ The whole is the fundamental unity of reality.”1.

Our connections, each with the Other, each with all things here and there, past and present, are easily ignored or overlooked. The connections are too big to see, too small, too normal to examine objectively  or too extraordinary to regard as having anything at all to do with us. That we (me and you: our bodies, our hair and tongues and the rest of our physical beings) are somehow in the same ballpark as the planet Pluto, and both we and Pluto are players in the expansion of the universe and the gravitational warps of time, was not much more for most of us than a paragraph in a 12th grade science textbook.

Now, since last July, we’ve got photographs from Pluto. Not OF Pluto, but FROM Pluto.

Look closely enough through a microscope at the neurological connections in our brains and beyond to our toes and the patterns of ebb and flow look like nothing so much as satellite views of the Euphrates River Valley or the Mississippi Delta. And now we know those similarities of appearance are the antithesis of coincidence but a direct result of gravity’s dance with oceans and planetary orbits.

That we are all composed of starstuff was awesome news to most of us forty years ago, but now (thank you, Carl Sagan) it is the kind of truth that we must intentionally stifle lest we begin to destroy carefully crafted and “valuable” political/economic/cultural barriers between ourselves and ________ (fill in the name of another group of humans of your choice here).

We chew sunshine when we eat lettuce (or any green leaf), drink of the Arctic Ocean when eat at Whataburgers (or the Neiman-Marcus Tea Room), and breathe in (at an alarmingly high rate) the SAME atoms of oxygen breathed by pteradactyls, Alexander the Great, Jack the Ripper, and that jerk down the street with the always-barking dog. We humans and toadstools share 42% of a DNA template!

And on and on and on, ad infinitum..(literally).

The Connections are real. Between you and me and everything and everyone else pastpresentfuture, world without end, amen.

The gospel writer John described Jesus as the Word made Flesh. We know stuff that John didn’t know, though, and therefore couldn’t describe. It expands, widens, and deepens my , understanding and fascination with the Christ to know him as the Word made Flesh but also as the Word made starstuff in ALL of its forms: mountains, meteorites, quasars, synaptic receptors, lava, ice flows, bacteria, soil and..

Everything else: and it is all luminous. It is all filled with Light..

(amen, again)

1.Barbara Brown Taylor, “Physics and Faith: The Luminous Web,” Christian Century, June 2 1999, 612.

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Birdsong in Four Parts

I don’t know the name of that bird that speaks in repeated quatrain-

AABC again and again: four times, rest, then four times more.

Nor do I know the “whom-to” or the “where-when” of its soft low trill.

But there- over there to the west- is another responding in the

same verse, same tune,

and now another, to the east

and these two replies (plot them on graph paper if you must)

begin to reveal the “why:”

procreation?

discovery of food?

particular dried dried grasses of the correct nesting density and length?

or simply (and I kind of hope this is so)

companionship?

Do quatrain-speaking birds have dactyls they bird-giggle over?

Double dactyls that causes bird-guffaws?

Or cinquains they sing in quiet celebration?

Anything other than noting the four note melody is, of course,

mere human-bent conjecture;

worse, it is my mere personally-bent conjecture..

I would like to know on

intellectual, investigatory, inquistive

levels, what the quatrains mean.

But not-knowing is important, too:

In ignorance I have no opportunity to

judge myself separate

from the birdsong.

I can only- in Mystery- accept the calling out

as a prelude, or an echo

of my own..

4/17/10

Lola, 2004-2009, beloved friend

Lola, our five year old golden retriever, died yesterday. She was a chubby little thing and we took a walk in the too-hot midday sun. While it was a walk we had taken many times before, this time she could not catch her breath and we were not near enough to cooling water. I carried her, tried to revive her, but I was unable to help. She tried, she died. Hopefully, I will one day be able to stop second guessing myself because I loved Lola . She loved everybody. Her physical absence is today excruciating.

I wrote an article for the emailed version of “The First Morning” in October of 2006.  I reprint it today because I am unable right now to write what I will write later about Lola.

IMG_0192 Lola is our three year old yellow Lab. She is sweet in every sense of that word which humans overuse when they’re talking about their pets. She will fetch, over and over, any ball that fits into her mouth, until she is exhausted from running. At almost 80 pounds, she still stands by the chair I’m sitting in waiting for me to pat my lap as a signal to her to “crawl on up here.”

Last night, I was outside, it was about 10:00. I was reading and Lola was sitting beside me, her head resting on my knee. As happens once in a while, in a field across the highway, about ¾ of a mile from our backyard, a pack of coyotes began howling and barking. Now that’s always a remarkable sound, which usually goes on for several minutes. Perhaps a hunt has been consummated, maybe females are being called, or some danger is near. Whatever the cause, it is a sound of wildness that calls to my imagination.

And this night, Lola heard that call, too. She left my side when it began and walked to the middle of the yard and sat down, her attention fully focused in the direction of the coyotes’ howls and barks. She was alert, but relaxed- not tense and on edge the way a noisy truck on “her” street causes her to be. She was so relaxed, as the coyote chorus continued, that she laid down sphinx-like, very still and totally concentrating on the not-so-faraway sounds.

What was she hearing? This was a sound from far beyond the normal barking she hears when we take our dogs on walks and dachshunds, pit bulls, or other retrievers bark at our trespassing. Nor did Lola react to the sounds of these coyotes like she does when dogs behind fences bark at us on our walks. Fence-barkers are reacted to by Lola with much false bravado and silly gnashing of teeth. Lola is pretty much a sissy, though, and runs the other way if she perceives in any way that the fence protecting her has a weak link somewhere.

As I watched Lola listening to the coyotes, I believe I was watching her responding to the eons of DNA wound through every one of her bodily cells. Retrievers, as a breed of dog, have only been around for several hundred years. But they, like every Chihuahua, Great Dane, Pit Bull, and new little Foo-Foo of the month, have ancient common ancestors among the wolves of Northern Europe and Asia, and more recent ancestral cousins among the dingoes of Australia and the coyotes of North America. I think; no, I know, that Lola was hearing a real call of the wild. It was a call to the wild in her that she has, through breeding and spoiling, no idea how to respond to. But she can hear it. She can feel it.

clip_image004When the barking and howling stopped, Lola sat back up. She looked back at me, as her ‘real world’ was coming back into focus. I went over and hugged and ‘talked dog’ to her. It just felt to me- maybe I’m making all this up, but I don’t think so- it felt to me like there was a longing in Lola that could never, would never, be able to be expressed. The life of the pack, as her 1000X great-grandmothers knew that pack life, will never be part of Lola’s experience. But I could see that some deep and real genetic chord in her had been sounded. And she had enjoyed it.

I often wonder how many of those ancient and genetically ripe moments catch our own human attentions. Most people respond to the seashore in ways which cause them to describe it as “beautiful” or “awesome.” But those words, they also know, even as they are saying them, do little to describe what the ocean is really making them feel. That feeling is the real response to the ancient, genetically sensitive, call which the ocean makes on most people.

Most, but not all. While significant and numerous communities of humans lived over hundreds of generations by ocean shores, their DNA codes being sculpted by the foods, winds, and climates there, there were other communities with ancient histories living inland. Some people today are affected by mountains or deep forests in the same way as others are affected by the oceans. Some communities, many of them around the world, never left the base of the mountains where life-giving streams full of fish and clams were present. Others hunted and gathered in the forests and the edges of forests. Their present day descendents might feel their calls to the wild in the scent of pine, the taste of wild onions, or, in ways very different from the way Lola heard them, the howls of wolves, dingoes, or coyotes. (“Run!”)

Something which all humans in all places seem to share is a fascination with fire. In a shared setting especially, where the fire is purposefully built and controlled, the fire-fascination of people is that same kind of fascination which comes from beyond words, beyond the need for language. Fire, shared and communal, is always quieting, always a cause for reflection and wonder. It is settling. That kind of shared, life-enhancing fire is something which the majority of persons in everyone’s family trees depended on, gathered around, slept near, and were made warm by. Our genetic, human DNA was shaped by that warmth; it is not serendipity or even mere coincidence that we are, as humans, attracted to it. It is inevitable. We can’t stay away from it.

On beyond the campfires, mountain streams, forest glens, ocean waves, and calls of the coyote, there is another even more ancient and powerful call. All humans have that call in common, too. The Apostle Paul said that even the trees and rocks hear it. I’ll write about that call later in the week.

Circus

circus 4

The circus was in town today. They set up in a little field beside the VFW. There was a tent, two bobtail trucks, a couple of campers and a pickup truck. I watched for awhile.

I knew that once they started unloading whatever bedraggled, tired, and elderly animals they might have with them, that I would be so depressed that the rest of the day would be difficult. I chose the easy way out- I drove away.

I don’t think e.e. cummings would have stuck around for this one, either.

Desperately Seeking ‘Victim’ Status

The movie ““Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” opens in general release April 18th. Because of its anti-evolution stance, I have followed the movie’s pre-release marketing to the conservative Christian market with much interest. The premise of the movie is that scientists who entertain the Intelligent Design “theory” of Creation are systematically being discriminated against- expelled- by the larger scientific community.

While there apparently is no overt Christian content being promulgated by the film, there is little doubt that the conservative creationist Christian community is being targeted for the bulk of ticket sales. Piggy-backing on the remarkable success of the pre-release marketing of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, producers of “Expelled” have held special screenings across the country for conservative Christian leaders, school personnel, and others who they are confidant will create a “word of mouth” buzz about the movie. The producers have even created a method for Christian groups to use the movie as a fund raiser during the important opening weekends of the film.

The movie’s website makes much use of the word “Darwinism” as a synonym for evolutionary theory. This over-use of “Darwinism” is, in fact, one of the things which caught my interest concerning the motivations behind the movie. To describe evolutionary theory as “Darwinism” at this point is like describing gravitational theory as “Newtonianism.” (and, yes, the study of gravity still emanates from various theoretical positions. Theories are not, to paraphrase Isaac Asimov, crazy ideas thought up by groups of scientists after a night of drinking and carousing. They are fluid bases for connecting facts and ideas, subject to research and peer review- temporal and historical peer review wherein theories are modified, added to, and subject to sometimes scathing criticism.)

Theories begin when someone, somewhere puts ideas together in a laboratory beaker, in an archeological study,  or some other place of intellectual inquiry and curiosity. The results of combining curiosity with evidence usually results- during those first moments of observation and initial understanding- in an “Aha!” or, most often, in a “What the..?”

“Galileoism ” (Oops, I mean “Physics”) has grown from the publishing of a single paper in the 16th century which was condemned by the reigning Roman Catholic hierarchy of Europe, into a multi-faceted discipline of scientific inquiry that now comes up with far more questions than concrete answers. Which is what any good and valid theory will do! Stupid, baseless theories- Flat Earth theory, for instance- are shunted off to the cellars of intellectualism very quickly. They do not lead to new questions; they lead only to dead end answers based on easily reviewed facts. They remain valid only in the minds of crack-pots and those with Bronze Age axes to grind.

So, “Darwinism” is a buzz word, purely and simply. Darwin saw what he saw, with no knowledge of DNA or access to a electron microscope, and wrote down what he saw, and what he concluded about what he saw, in his 1859 classic The Origin of Species. It was a brilliant work, but it was only a beginning. Like all theories, parts of Darwin’s have held up through time, parts have been argued about and discarded, and parts of it remain open to continuing, complex, ever-increasing, and valid scientific inquiry. Darwin birthed questions by the 1000s, and a few good answers.

Intelligent Design is a compromise by creationists’s with the overwhelming evidence of evolution. It is their attempt to keep their definition of a humanly-imaginable, humanly-understandable, and a humanly-emotional and motivated god in the mix. Their definition of a watchmaker-god is part of the post-industrialist worldview that sees the universe as a collection of fitting-together pieces, rather than as a unified whole. They need answers to questions, rather than more questions, because they are afraid they will lose grasp of God, and be unable, therefore, to control what we know about God, otherwise.

It is shoddy, silly, and confusing “science.” And here is exactly the kind of “intellectual” discussion such goofiness leads to- from the official “Expelled” blog:

“Until the late 1980’s when the generic ‘President’s Day’ became the official holiday that subsumed them, America used to celebrate the birthdays of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

“As a result, “Darwin Day” has now supplanted Lincoln’s Birthday in the popular imagination; both men were born on February 12, 1809.

“We think that that is a shame.”

From a “scientific theory” to claims of victimization, in one utterly irrelevant rant. A challenge: find someone today, anywhere, for whom February 12 has “captured their imagination” as Darwin Day. But when they don’t have any verifiable, peer reviewable, honest and forthright facts to back up their silly ‘theories’ then they must resort to victimization. “They’re picking on me!” they cry to each other.

Yes, IDers, you are being picked on. For a reason: you’re wrong. You are trying to diminish God and you are clouding our children’s education. And, apparently, based on the reviews so far, you’ve made a really bad movie,too.

Creationism- Stupiding Down the Bible

“Fossils are rather boring, because they’re piles of dead things.” (tour guide, BC Tours, leading a group of children through the Denver Natural History Museum.)

“BC,” in this case, as the children on the tour are forced to acknowledge- twice- stands for “Biblically Correct.” Working from a 6000 year old model of the earth’s age, these tour guides must cram scientifically verifiable facts about the earth’s formation and the evolution of life on the planet, into a space the size of their own brains. They ignore, for instance, a whole exhibit which explains the procedures and accuracy of radiometric carbon-dating, in favor of telling the children that the crafted depictions of dinosaurs and other animals which existed more than 6000 years ago are mere “artwork.” (Kind of like those pictures in their “Children’s Illustrated Bibles?”)

They drill the students to respond to evolutionist’s explanations of biology with the question “How do you know?” They do so in a mocking way, hoping- I guess- that those of whom the question is asked will be as stupid as they are about the “facts” they are presenting. I’m not using the adjective “stupid” loosely in connection with them, either. Watch their response to the interviewer’s questions about how many generations of humans with 800 year old life spans could fit into a 6000 year model. Ok..it may not be stupidity. I apologize for that. It could be flat-out lying.

It is beyond me why Creationists must make God fit into their own imaginations. And it is far, far beyond me why parents would hand their children over to adults who must take a jackhammer and cutting torch to God’s Creation in order to make sense of it. To me, it is like dynamiting the Sistine Chapel because it is impossible to take in all of Michelangelo’s masterpieces there at once. Or believing that France is not on the other side of the Atlantic ocean because you can’t see it from any shore in North America! (“How do you know?”)

The biblical account of Creation is not invalid; it is the best explanation available and understandable to persons of the Bronze Age about the origins of the universe. Telescopes, microscopes, the language of mathematics, and radiometric carbon-dating technologies have led to more elaborate and precise descriptions of those origins. In 4000 more years, there will be even more precise and calibrated methods of measurement available, too (if we don’t blow our own existence here away by continuing to believe God created the earth as a bottomless well of goodies for humans to luxuriate in).

Those, or any, new explanatory elaborations of geology, biology, physics, and astronomy will not invalidate today’s best observations. They will have been built upon them, exactly as the things we know today were built upon the ancient observations of genuinely curious and capable persons asking “why?” and “how?” Einstein will always have a revered place in the study of physics in general, and gravity in particular, just as the cave artists of Lascoux, France- 30,000 years ago- left behind a record of their observations which is still a valid part of present day biological studies.

To fear science because it might lead someone away from God is a genuine concern if one believes God must be able to be explained and understood by human minds. Personally, my understanding and appreciation and fascination with God expands with every snapshot taken from the Hubble telescope. Every time I bend over to pick up a 100 million year old ammonite fossil (of which there are millions in this area of Texas), I am struck again by the magnificence of, and my own ignorance of, God’s continuing, creating methodologies.

The Bible should be regarded as wonderful and intriguing words about God. When we turn it into literal dogma, as interpreted by tour guides who choose to ignore what they can’t understand, then we are insulting both God and future generations of curious children.

Death.. A Finch Takes Flight

When I went out front to get the paper and watch the sunrise this morning, I discovered this:

finch 2 finch 1

It’s a golden finch, frozen in lifelessness on the back of a lawn chair. Sometime yesterday afternoon or evening, it landed there, and died. It was not frozen to the back of the chair; it could have, had it chosen or been able to, gone elsewhere. But here, looking toward a live oak tree and a pile of firewood underneath, is where it landed, went to sleep, and died.

Yesterday, an unusual snowy day in this part of North Texas, was a feeding frenzy for finches in the front and back yards. I spread almost 25 lb. of sunflower seeds out during the day and all of it is gone this morning. The finches were joined by several cardinals in their hunger and inability to get at their usual fares of wild grass and thistle seeds, and the occasional mockingbird stopped by, too, though they prefer their meals warm and wiggly.

This is the first time I’ve seen a finch, or any bird, die this way. Had it been warmer, it may have landed, died, but then fallen to the ground in the grasp of gravity. But here, frozen in place, this one remains, eyes still open, stiff and posed in the posture of sleep.

I’m thinking, as I looked closely at it this morning: “What a great way to go!” I have no idea about the consciousness of death which a bird, or any animal, might have. I think we humans make the mistake of assuming that all animals besides ourselves go through their lives in a dull litany of pre-programmed instinctual behaviors that they have no control over, on their way to a death of which they are utterly unaware. Those assumptions, of course, are born in the prevailing human attitude that the universe, from microbes to galaxies, is a mechanistic, unthinking set of interrelated parts, adding up to a whole for the benefit of humans. Our own instinctual behaviors, in that worldview, are “negligible” in light of our “superior” abilities to evaluate, rationalize, and choose.

But I think, without a shred of scientific or spiritual data to back me up, that finches know a lot more about what they’re doing than we may have the calibrated instruments or divine revelations to even begin to understand. They certainly do not process, share, or make as many choices within that finch knowledge as our brains enable us to make. But their brains, like ours, have adequately developed for their needs now, in this particular epoch of relational life on earth. After all, this is the fourth spring in a row where some finches- not all of them!- have chosen to stop for awhile on their way north from Mexico, in this backyard, in this little town, on this little acre among the kabillion others in North Texas. Grandma and Grandpa finch must have had some information which they somehow passed along!?

And while finches may not have the ability to reflect on their own consciousness, they probably don’t spend an ink dot of time reflecting on the finitude of their lives either. Certainly, they do not live their lives in the obsessive dread of death that many of us do. Still, though, this finch chose to stay perched, on this chair, and wait in a way that it had never waited before. Without a single step to the left or right, it landed, sat still, slept, and died.

What did the finch know and when did it know?

What finch memories began to fade as the hours (or minutes) passed?

Is there a place within its flock that today is noticed by its absence?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I will come back to them for days. Join me in that speculation, if you’d like. Take a look once more at the pictures of that finch. In very real ways, I believe, it has taken flight once more.

And is flying around us all, right now.