It is good to be back from vacation. During my time away I had the privilege of performing the marriage of Christy Lafferty and Abel in Managua, Nicaragua. Stayed with Molly Keefe, Lola and their beautiful daughter Sadie!
The family spent several days with my parents and brother, Andy, and his family in a hard- to-describe family camp resort nestled in the eastern hills of West Virginia. [Don’t think Greenbrier] Each morning at 8:30 we rolled out to sing the national anthem as the flag was raised. My shuffle board improved!
Did some serious pool time at Cumberland pool, read four books and made $75 at Half Price Books as I cleaned out the attic!
But a lot happened in those three weeks I was away.
LeBron won his first championship! I heard that as soon as I landed in Managua.
The Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Health Care Act.
Andy, who now lives and works in Cairo, Egypt, kept me abreast of the latest from there.
The General Assembly of the PCUSA met in Pittsburgh.
And then there was the “discovery” of the Higgs Boson: the so-called “God particle” named after a University of Edinburgh Physicist Peter Higgs.
Recreating a mini Big Bang, beams of protons were smashed together inside the Large Haldron Collider at close to the speed of light and scientists were on hand to analyze the debris.
Physicist were trying to find out why matter has mass – without mass, as I understand it, we would all be nothing but light beams floating around.
Apparently (hang with me now) in the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang some of the mass-less particles and radiation energy congealed in a sort of cosmic goo. As the universe began to cool, particles acquired mass from this Higgs field, slowed down and began to bunch up to form particles and eventually atoms and in roughly 13.7 billion (give or take several million) years you were born.
This Higgs Boson gives us a glimpse into the mechanism for the “creation” of all things animate and inanimate. If there is a theoretical physicist in the congregation, I hope I haven’t embarrassed you or myself with this description.
This is so cool. It is thrilling and increases my awe and wonder of the universe and the human mind. The Psalmist puts it into words for me: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens… When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them.” You have made them a little lower than God… you have given them dominion over the works of your hands…”
1. There is no reason why religion and science should be at odds.
I know that there are still those who stand confused at the intersection of science and religion. I simply don’t see it. My faith is encouraged by these discoveries, aren’t yours? As I saw the gathering in Switzerland and everyone was clapping and cheering – I thought I had turned into a Pentecostal service!
I suppose if for you the Bible is precise on all matters of history, science, morals – whatever – science is a problem. But YOU have the problem of reading the Bible in a way that was never intended. Christians who still believe that the world is 4004 years old drive any thinking person, scientist or no – CRAZY.
But any good scientist realizes that their best work is all about pursuing a “truth” that is out there to behold and describe. And I believe the same is true for those who use the language of faith: our best work is all about pursuing a “truth” that is there to behold and describe. Not competing but complimentary; describing difference pieces of the whole. Whether it be scientific language or the metaphorical language of the Bible – we are built to yearn to move into the open spaces of hope with all our tools – both measurable and poetic.
Science and Faith are not opposed – unless we trivialize both and make them caricatures. Scientific language gives us precision, theological language gives us depth, liturgical language gives us expression – to celebrate all is what we must be about, to diminish one over against the other is to limit expression, to narrow truth.
2. Another thing about this Higgs Boson — Physicists “discovered” what they already believed existed.
Truth is prior to our ability to describe it. Ask somebody who just fell in love. Gravity existed before Newton’s universal law, evolution before Darwin.
It was almost 50 years ago that Professor Higgs described what was discovered two weeks ago. The Higgs Boson made real what was already known.
Think of the beautiful hymn that we sang: “How does the creature say awe, how does the creature say praise…. God of the earthquake, God of the empty grave how does the Creature say Grace, how does the creature say thanks.” We seek to describe what we trust to be true. Our knowledge precedes precise description. Like gravity, like grace – God’s love is prior to our ability to name it and claim it. That is why bringing children forward to baptism and dedication is so rich – before these children KNOW, we proclaim.
You and I trust that there is a force behind all forces – we have been honed in the experiment of life, refined in the refiner’s fire, we have data, evidence… I have known what I cannot quite describe in full: a trust in the one I love, presence of support in the wake of death, romance.
See, you and I trust and keep faith in a reality evidenced by experience, testimony and data. What Christians hypothesize and believe to be true is that “in, with and under” all things there is a goo that animates, and breathes into, giving meaning, mass and mobility – we call it the “spirit” and it has form and function, matter, mass and mobility for those who seek after and know – and we call his name Jesus.
God has spoken to our ancestors in many and various ways, through the prophets, through the seekers, through the scientists, through the dreamers, through the explorers…. Discovering and naming what we already knew existed!
And just as good science jettisons those prior truths that no longer describe reality, so too does good religion jettison those prior truths that no longer describe reality. We are “Reformed and always being reformed.” We express our faith in light of new truths in confessions and creeds that give new light to life.
Anything that drives us to wonder, and moves us to humility, and invites us to delight, and to seek after meaning is science, is religion and I believe is of God! We discover what we already knew to be true.
3. And the third thing that inspired me was the amazing reality of the largeness and smallness of truth.
Our universe so vast – it is beyond our comprehension. Our universe apparently begun with something so small – it is beyond our comprehension.
And my faith reminds me too of the largeness AND smallness of God. God, always beyond our grasp, never boxed in – read Job. God involved in justice for the poor, and caring for the least of our sisters and brothers: Amos, Micah, Jesus – the bigness and the smallness of it all.
My friend, who is Jewish, was visiting his parents in Jerusalem. They are approaching 90. Both escaped the holocaust in the 1940’s. Both lost their families in the Shoah. For those of us of faith, this horror shatters any easy conception of a God who is good and gives a damn – it drives us to seek after deeper truths which better describe reality. But then again the science of the bomb shatters any easy conception that science is benign and neutral.
My friend wrote me: “We have an expression in Hebrew that roughly translates into “God is big” (used in multiple ways)…couple days ago I used it and my father immediately responded “God is small.” I laughed and looked at Mom and she said they have been talking a lot about their ‘Holocaust experiences’ and there, God more than let them down. I told this to a friend whose parents were both H survivors and he made interesting comment: many people late stage of life make their peace w God/heaven/the afterlife…..no sir, not my dad. Five minutes later, he could not remember I had visited but that moment of absolute clarity was great.
I would never dishonor my friend with a cheap interpretation – but I was struck by the power of his father’s words: God is SMALL… YES God is Small and Big too.
Truth is found not in the either/or but in the tension of the both/and. In the crucible of life seeming opposites are somehow balanced – and held together – like love and suffering, hope and horror, death and life – Big AND small, science and faith.
Jesus calls you and me to big issues and to intimate concerns: hunger and justice, equity and fairness – feeding and hosting the homeless, building an eco-village, raising a garden. We think big and act small, think globally and act locally – balanced as we move towards the kingdom of God, towards the face of the Creator, and into the mystery of life.
The cosmic and the personal – Who knows what little act of yours will create whole new worlds? Perhaps you are the God particle we have all been waiting for!
I should go on vacation again… it is when everything really happens!