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.