“Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven light years away—here in this place the new light is shining, now is the kingdom, and now is the day” (Marty Haugen, “Gather Us In,” © 1982, GIA Publications, Inc.)

++++

There’s a trend in our culture that’s disturbing to me. Politicians, parents, and preachers with a certain spin or take on Christian faith consistently discount and dismiss particular scientific theories and/or warnings as so flawed as not to be believed or some sort of scam or not worthy to be taught in the classroom or funded by the government. Science itself is seen as the enemy of faith and the results of careful observation and experiment are referred to as “just a theory.” (That phrase itself shows how little these people understand science. A theory is not just a guess; it begins as a hypothesis, which is tested and refined until a theory based on observed behaviors of, for example, people or particles emerges.)

Contrast the approach of someone like the popular and now controversial preacher, writer, and pastor Rob Bell. In his “Everything is Spiritual” talk, Bell uses string theory, quantum mechanics, and contemporary cosmological thought to explore what it means to be human. Bell is an evangelical, but he sees science, obviously, not as the enemy, but as an ally in the overall quest for Truth. If indeed, everything is spiritual, and simply being human means we are spiritual, then science is inherently a spiritual pursuit, honoring to God as we explore his creation.

The biblical wisdom tradition, largely ignored by every kind of Christian (the mainline Revised Common Lectionary has only a few passages over the course of three years), leads us to the same conclusion. The everyday stuff of life is the basis for theological reflection; exploration of the world and the cosmos is a holy task and can open our perspectives in ways we never imagined. For example, the long speech of God from the whirlwind in the book of Job is intended to awaken Job to the undreamed-of possibilities for his life and broaden his viewpoint.

Recently, I’ve begun to think about how science could help us approach the question of Heaven. If we think about it at all, we may assume Heaven is somewhere “out there” beyond the stars; it’s “up.” But what if we baptized M-theory or string theory, for example, which posits the existence of parallel universes (http://www.npr.org/2011/01/24/132932268/a-physicist-explains-why-parallel-universes-may-exist)? Suppose we began to think of Heaven not as “out there” but contiguous with our reality.

Such an idea would open up possibilities for passages like Revelation 4:1: “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open!” A door is a portal, an entrance into another reality existing side by side with this one like one room with another. The prophet would simply need to step through in order to enter the parallel realm. Or how about Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses….” Heaven as a parallel universe would allow us to understand that text quite literally. We’re surrounded, but we can’t see the saints, because they live in a different dimension. And of course, there are all the texts in which Jesus suddenly appears to and among his disciples. Could he have been traveling instantaneously from his universe into this one and vice-versa?

Of course, there’s no way of knowing short of our actual going to Heaven. But I think these things are fun to think about. And it’s important to affirm science as a resource for faith. Whether Heaven is a parallel realm or indeed somewhere beyond the farthest galaxy, as the old song says, “it’s a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace.”

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

“The problem with the culture war is not that it is wrong to fight for one’s beliefs. Rather, the culture war is a problem because in an all-out war, opponents become enemies to be defeated at all costs. In a war there is little incentive to search for middle ground or to make alliances on other issues” (“Prayer and Conversation,” The Christian Century, January 22, 2009: 7).

 

“‘[I]t is important for Americans to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues’” (Barack Obama, quoted in “Obama, Warren defy culture war, The Christian Century, January 22, 2009: 12).

 

“‘We don’t have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand, and you can disagree without being disagreeable’” (Rick Warren, ibid.: 13).

 

The culture wars continue to rage, with the cauldron of conflict continually stirred by pundits, preachers, politicians, and power-mongers who feed on hatred and fear like some ravenous sci-fi beast that thrives on negative emotions. For all the attention they get, the hot-button issues the culture wars are being fought over must be important to a great many people all over the nation in every generation.

 

But such a conclusion would be inaccurate or at least increasingly so. The church consultant and writer Tom Ehrich reports how a congregation working on a “Church Wellness Project” (www.churchwellness.com) recently asked members what questions they would ask of God. The two largest categories (each with 21%) were curiosity about the nature of God and the purpose of life. The next two largest were suffering at 16% and the nature of faith at 14%. “All other questions — including the topics that denominations and congregations fight most heatedly over, such as doctrine and leadership issues — accounted for tiny fractions” (emphasis mine).

 

Ehrich notes: “This congregation’s results are in line with every other Listening Church exercise I have led or seen. Left to their own desires, it seems people don’t pursue church conflicts or the topics that tend to underlie church conflicts, but rather have some fundamental questions about God and life” (Church Wellness Report, April 1, 2009).

 

Also significant is Neela Banerjee’s description of young evangelicals like those who attend Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Church. They are “tired of politics being at the center of faith and … want to ‘broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with HIV’” (quoted in Debra Bendis, “Bell’s Appeal,” The Christian Century, March 24, 2009: 23). Banerjee says that young adults are “tired of the culture wars”  (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/us/01evangelical.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1).

 

This Good Friday, I long for all churches and communities to stop their fighting over questions people aren’t actually asking and start addressing the problems, the fears, the needs that occupy their every waking moment. I still lament the culture wars and know that more than ever, we need the forgiveness Jesus asked God for from the cross, the deliverance of people who have no idea what they’re doing.

 

I share again with you my song lyrics that unfortunately continue to be relevant. They’re written as if a parent is speaking to his or her child, urging the young one not to get caught up in the wrangling and the hurt, but to seek the truth which continues to elude us. The good news is that today’s young adults, like those interviewed and profiled by Ms. Banerjee, are indeed refusing to enlist as culture warriors and instead, with right hearts, are serving as Jesus did.

 

“Good Friday (Lament for the Culture Wars”)

© 1994 Tom Cheatham

 

Slow, heavy rock (verses); acoustic (bridge)

 

There’s people out on the street; they’re startin’ to push and shove.

They use their words like swords and not a one is love.

The battle lines are drawn; the war’s about to start.

O my child, my child, you better watch your heart!

 

You tell me that you’re right, and that means I am wrong.

And so the hatred grows, and we can’t get along.

Your way, my way, no way out, unless we come to blows.

If you ask me what is true, I’ll just say “Who knows?”

 

            We won’t come to a meeting of the minds

            Until our hearts are right.

            And we won’t see the peace that there could be

            Until we live in the light!

 

Once there was a day when all of time stood still

And people watched a man as he died upon a hill.

“O Father, please forgive, they don’t know what they do.”

I wonder if his words were meant for me and you.

 

            We won’t come to a meeting….

 

Once there was a day when all of time stood still.

 

 Blog post © 2009 Tom Cheatham