Synchronicity Episode 1 is Live!

March 17, 2009

atomI’m excited to announce that the first episode of the Synchronicity podcast is now live.

I started working on Synchronicity about eight months ago. Since then, I’ve been conceptualizing, outlining, re-conceptualizing, recording, and generally trying to develop the technical expertise to put together something that has some fairly decent production value.

Synchronicity will offer a somewhat intensive study of the Christian scriptures in an environment that is friendly both to long-time students of the Bible, as well as curious onlookers. Among other things, it is meant to be a “safe” place where people on the edges of faith (whether they are on the way out or on the outside looking in) can ask questions and explore ideas about the Biblical text.

For the time being, the home for Synchronicity is going to be on the podOmatic service. However, if it begins to draw a larger audience, it will probably move to its own site.

If you’re interested in listening, you can jump to the Synchronicity Podcast site, or you can feed on it here.

In the meantime, while I’m getting the first few episodes of Synchronicity under my belt, I probably won’t be posting much here.

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Sacred Dance #15: The Sacred Dance

March 11, 2009

In 1741 – or so the story goes – an assistant to a George Frederic Handel, after shouting through a closed door for several minutes, walked into the room only to find him in tears.

Upon becoming aware of the assistant’s presence, the composer held up a score and said to the assistant a sentence that is now famous among music historians: “I thought I saw the face of God.”

The sheet music that Handel was holding up was Hallelujah, a movement from The Messiah which is now regarded by many as the most remarkable music ever composed.

If you have ever had a chance to listen carefully to a good recording of Hallelujah – or better yet – a live performance, you already know what he meant. One can’t really say that he saw the face of God. But – whatever experience he had that day that resulted in this short piece – it must have been profound.

But it is also a reminder that – in the end – describing the way that we discover God as a mere “conversation” – as if it were all about discovering all the right information – is utterly inadequate. The interactions that I’ve described in previous posts will be grossly incomplete unless they include science, history, and math. But they must necessarily also include art, poetry, and music. God is not, after all, a cosmic computer, generating endless facts which he is asking us to digest.

Facts. Science. History. Math. Those are all beautiful things, but they are not the totality of all things. And they are certainly not the totality of Who God is.

That is why, in the end, I like to think of God as a master musician. Like Handel, he has composed a massive work – ingrained in the fabric of our consciousness and the universe itself. Our job is not simply to hear it, but to live out our lives in such a way that we are dancing with it.

Thus, as we glance across the room, across the world, across time at others who are listening for the music, and as we can begin to sense it ourselves, we are not merely passive listeners. Rather, we are learning to join in with the Lord of the Dance:

I danced in the morning when the world was young
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth

I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees
They wouldn’t dance, they wouldn’t follow me
I danced for the fishermen James and John
They came with me so the dance went on

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame
They ripped, they stripped, they hung me high
Left me there on the cross to die

I danced on a Friday when the world turned black
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body, they thought I was gone
But I am the dance, and the dance goes on

They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the life that will never, never die
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me
I am the Lord of the dance, said he

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

– Sydney Carter

…and here ends this series of posts.

May all of your conversations be seasoned with Spirit of God. May you find truths in those conversations that resonate in the deepest part of your soul. And, as you reflect on those truths, may you find your own place in the glorious chorus that dances eternally to the music of our Maker.


Sacred Dance #14: Marginalization, Abandonment, and the Ancient Conversation

March 10, 2009

Before concluding this series, lets pause briefly to remember two things about the “conversation” in which we are involved.

If we learn anything from the Christian scriptures, it is that two categories of people will play particularly important roles in the conversation. They are:

1. Those who are experiencing an absence of God; and

2. Those who are marginalized within society.

For examples of the first, we need look no further than the Psalms, where lament after lament is offered up, not because God is present and known, but because he is (seemingly, at least) absent. They beg the question: Why is God absent?

For examples of the second, we look to the teachings of Jesus, who explicitly taught us that when we come to know those who are in need, in prison, or who are ill, we come to know him.

Why are these people an important part of the conversation? I don’t know all of the reasons, but I am fairly sure that one reason is that they keep us from over-simplification and complacency.

God cares about the marginalized. Likewise, the marginalized are, somewhat ironically, the ones most likely to feel an absence of God. Unless we hear the cries, tears, and concerns of the poor, the oppressed, and the sick, we are unlikely to get a clear picture of God himself. We are unlikely to ask the hard questions that are asked by the Psalmists.

If you find that your spiritual conversations tend to be shallow and unsatisfying, one reason may be because you simply aren’t letting all of the right people into that conversation. Your network, so to speak, has become “closed off” to those particular voices.


Sacred Dance #13: Harmonic Resonance and the Ancient Conversation

March 9, 2009

In the last two posts, I’ve explored the idea that all Christians – to one degree or another – are a part of an open conversation about God and – more specifically – how God is revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

We ended with a diagram that looks like this:

This represents the way different clusters of groups, in conversation with each other, might work to get a clearer picture than they could get if they were closed off. The phenomenon by which that picture develops is associated with the scientific concept of emergence.

This diagram is, of course, a gross over-simplification. To get a more accurate picture, imagine hundreds of groupings representing churches, denominations, schools of thought, and nations, all interconnected. The web of relationships and the flow of the conversation – will necessarily be very complex.

I left off in the last post with this question: How do we know when we’ve hit on an important point? To answer this question, lets consider the concept of harmonic (or sympathetic) resonance.

When I was a teenager, I had one particular shower that I used almost every day. It was a shower, not a bathtub with a curtain, completely enclosed, with a glass door. I didn’t usually sing in this shower (no, really, I didn’t!). But as I was singing in the shower one day, I noticed that if I hit an exact tone, the glass door would vibrate, sometimes quite violently, if I hit the exact pitch.

The door, it turns out, has a particular “harmonic likeness.” When it is in the presence of the right tone – it responds to it, as if it were “meant” to sing that note.

Glass, in particular, is a subject to this phenomenon. Consider the way a window pane vibrates to a booming bass explosion from your home theatre, or the way an opera singer can break a champagne glass by hitting just the right note.

In musical instruments, this can create a particularly fascinating phenomenon known as “overtone.” An overtone, in a violin, occurs when you play one note at a level where the entire instrument also vibrates with the harmonic likeness of the main tone. Cool stuff.

Now, again, to the point.

I think that most of us will have – from time to time – experiences that are best compared to harmonic resonance during the course of a conversation. Somebody says something to us as we are exploring a question and then – bang! – its like a light goes off inside of us. Suddenly, we see the world – or its Maker – in a way that we had never seen it before.

Sometimes, powerful ideas will slip their way into the massive conversation that I’ve tried to crudely illustrate above. When they do, as the idea travels along through multiple groupings – perhaps being changed slightly here or explained in a slightly different way there – a point may come where the “light” comes on, but on a massive scale. Suddenly, lights come on all over the network. People think “this is something important.” They talk about it more. And the idea spreads.

Not unlike ants find food.

And if you want to test whether you think your own “light bulb” has pointed you toward an important truth, the best way to do it is to see how many other light bulbs are going off in connection with the same or similar ideas. Is the tone you hear resonating elsewhere?

Why is this more likely to happen within a wider conversation? Because many, many different concepts – “notes” if you will – are being generated by different people and groups. When enough of them hit the right pitches – when the ideas come into harmony like a barbershop quartet – the overtone may suddenly sound in many others…and the idea grows.

In this symphony, the most fundamental notes – of course – have always come from (and I suppose always will come from) the scriptures. It is always against them that we test our own ideas for resonance, but they can never themselves provide all of the music.


Sacred Dance #12: An Ancient Conversation

March 8, 2009

In the last post, I suggested that – to acquire an understanding of God – Christians have participated in (and continue to participate in) a very old, ongoing conversation. Here, I want to give us a way to visualize that conversation, with all of its participants.

Lets start here:

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Think of Jesus as “ground zero” out of which the conversation will emerge. While he is present in our world, there are various people who see and hear him. They are likely to be somewhat confused, especially about the event that we call Jesus’ “resurrection.” In fact, the text of the Bible all but tells us this. The question now becomes “what just happened here?”

Next, the witnesses begin to tell their stories to people. Some of those people, such as Luke, are literate and able to write down the stories:

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The accounts of what happened are now no longer being limited to where the witnesses are available to tell them. They spread all over. In the meantime, Luke and others start to think about how the Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection relate to the traditions of Jesus’ people – the Jewish nation. Soon they are beginning to interpret what was said by older, Jewish writers, such as Isaiah, in different ways:

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Of course, we live centuries upon centuries after these events. We speak a different language and come from a different culture. We therefore have to rely on translators to help us come into conversation with Luke and the witnesses that he reports on. In addition, we may rely on scholars who can help us to better see how Luke and others – who were much closer to “ground zero” – understood and interpreted the events.

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Notice how the translators and scholars are also simultaneously bringing us into conversation with other Bible writers, like Isaiah. This helps us to understand both Luke and Isaiah better.

Also, as you can tell, when you start reading your bible or listening to your Pastor teach, you are becoming a part of a very old, very long conversation about who Jesus was and how he revealed God to us. All of the components you see here are necessary

At the same time, however, a more contemporary conversation is taking place. Lets try to visualize that conversation two ways.

First, what I will call a “closed” conversation. It looks like this:

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Here we see you and other people like you. Presumably, all of you are – to some extent at least – using your translations in an effort to hear the voices of those who were closer to “ground zero.” However, you are only interacting with a limited number of people who are also interacting with you. This is sometimes called a “closed” system. This might be represented by a church, a denomination, or a small group.

Its easy to get agreement in this context, because you’re limiting the number of people who participate, and those who join in and don’t like parts of the conversation are unlikely to continue in it.

The problem, as we discussed in the last post, is that nothing new or better is likely to emerge out of this conversation. If you’ve ever been a part of a church or Bible class where people just seem to keep saying the same things again and again in discussions, sermons, etc. – its likely because the system you are a part of is somewhat closed.

But something incredible begins to happen when you begin to open a system:

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When even one extra person comes into conversation with at least one member of the group, suddenly new ideas can be introduced to EVERYONE. The conversation, even for those who are “closed off,” widens.

Now…lets  imagine an even wider conversation:

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Now you have multiple groups within a single culture and time, all talking about their experiences/encounters with God, all trying to interpret them in light of the events that come from “ground zero.” Out of this process, everyone is likely to come to a much clearer understanding of how God is revealed to us and through Jesus than they would if they remained in closed systems.

Christians should add that we believe this entire process is infused by the Spirit of God. We live in trust that he is guiding the conversation and its direction, and that God has been doing so from the very beginning.

This is essentially the process of emergence, which was discussed in the last post.

So how do we know when the conversation has hit on something important? In the next post, we’ll talk about harmonic resonance as a metaphor to explain that phenomenon.