Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Of course I could be wrong

Psalm 111; Mark 1: 21-28
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
February 1, 2015 – Science and Technology Sunday


This past week on WHYY’s Radio Times, host Marty Moss-Coane asked a question on Facebook about the recent forecast of a snowpocalypse and its ensuing disappointment.  Were we happy or angry that the snow never materialized after all the hype?  Philadelphia-area resident Robert Post had this to say:

“I totally understand the complexity of weather and don't expect much more accuracy in predictions than probability would allow.  The beef I have is the obvious ploy for ratings, the necessary hype to gain viewers.  It skews the forecast—almost daily.  One weather outlet I follow went into this system gunning for snow so badly, that they refused to back off their models/forecast until [it was obvious that the expected snowfall was not going to arrive]. That's not scientific.

“I tend to extrapolate that much of modern science is trying to engineer predetermined outcomes for one reason or another:  ideology, greed, or worse. One must have the faith of Job to firmly and reliably believe in modern science. There are myriad examples of its failure—just in past decades.  

“Science is not intrinsically virtuous. There is good science and bad science.  I have GREAT faith in GOOD science. There are plenty of examples of its success as well.  It’s just more scarce.”

Hype, short for hyperbole, does neither science nor faith any good.  But when we want someone to believe us, when we’re on the defensive, or we’re trying to keep someone’s attention, we can often go to extremes.  Hype can serve to encourage or discourage trust in what is being said.  In this morning’s story from the gospel of Mark, Jesus is not one for hype.  When the man with the unclean spirit cries, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God,” Jesus shuts him down, silencing the fear and hype by casting out the unclean spirit.

Even so, the crowd is amazed and goes with it.  “What is this?  A new teaching—with authority!”  Word spreads and Jesus is famous.  But we all know how this story goes.  Jesus didn’t say, “Come follow me—I have all the facts.”  In the end, no one stands behind Jesus.  He’s left hanging, literally, on his own.  Jesus has crowds of people following him, but when it comes to whether or not he’s teaching truth, no one else is willing to bet their life on it.

Just as there is bad science and good science, there is bad faith and good faith, extremism and humility.  Author Jack Miles states that religion is a “ritualized confession of ignorance”.  In truth, we can’t say so much of what we know about God but rather more what we don’t know.  Miles also says that “science keeps revealing how much we don’t, perhaps can’t, know.  …[Both] religion [and science are] among the ways that humankind has coped with the permanence and imponderability of human ignorance.”

Though we can’t stand hype and detest when we’re hoodwinked by it, even more so we abhor our ignorance of the world around us.  The unknowable is unnerving in its uncertainty.  We can no more prove the existence or non-existence of God than we can prove how much we love someone.  Which means it really boils down to whether or not we can trust God, can we trust our incomplete knowledge?  Though Einstein did not say this, it’s still a viable question:  Is the universe a friendly place?  There are a great many things to be fearful of in this world, but is this the lens through which we will view it?  How we answer this question influences not only what technologies we will develop but how we will use them.  If the universe is altogether a fearful place, then our faith, our hope faces a daily battle instead of having the power to transform our lives for good.


       Both science and religion can not only teach us how to be humble but to be in awe, to not be fearful of what we don’t know but to approach this universe with care and curiosity.  Authority comes not only from being right but also the willingness to be wrong; that failures come in greater numbers than successes, that successes are not possible without failures.  We don’t know what Jesus taught in the synagogue that day, only that he did so with authority; not by quoting scripture as perhaps the scribes did, but with utmost trust in what he was saying:  a trust that comes not from certainty but from humility; a trust that comes from vulnerability and a willingness to be brokenhearted.

Some years ago I came to a crisis in my faith, where the words “I don’t know” became my most faithful response.  After much struggle and wrestling, I came to a place of lightness, not quite weightlessness, but as close as I could get to a sense of peace.

A real life

There are times I question the whole thing
Is there a God
Was there ever
a real life
in which God was clothed
all earthly, vulnerable
in our human aloneness of being
What if Jesus never was

On the edge of that precipice
I am humbled
by one thought
I would rather be a fool
A companioned

voluntary fool

Thanks be to God
for this life within a life
that Word made flesh
mundane and fragile
for which I am indeed

happily foolish

My daughter Olivia and me in our Space Camp flight suits, Feb. 1, 2015

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