Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination and death of President John F. Kennedy. As a child and teen I was fascinated by this man – the hero of PT-109, the young man who died in the prime of life and whose legacy was left forever to question and doubt. (I think, too, because I will be 47 this year and he died at 46 1/2). What my go unremarked by many today is the 50th anniversary of two other significant men – men whose lives impacted my young life in ways I don’t entirely fathom even now.
On this day fifty years ago, two men of letters died – C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley. Lewis has become more and more popular in Christian circles through the years. I first met him not through children’s stories as many have (The Chronicles of Narnia) but instead through his enduring apologetic work Mere Christianity and his science fiction trilogy about space. In Lewis I found in my teen years the logic and reason that have always been important to me and then came to bear on my faith. His science fiction works opened a door for fiction to inform and expand my faith. If you want to read a theologically profound work and also good sci-fi, give Peralandra a read!
Huxley crossed my path not at church but school. I was in a classed called “Futurology” and we read a series of dystopian novels. Among them was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Huxley was a philosopher and mystic who was also an agnostic. Like Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s book (ultimately) left me with a profoundly different perception of what leadership and influence mean. It also influenced my faith in leading me to the realization that the only genuine utopia will come with the coming the Kingdom of God (He also wrote a book that influenced me indirectly – The Doors of Perception. My favorite band in junior high, The Doors, drew their name from Huxley’s novel).
Today I ponder men long dead whose lives – and deaths – left my world and my life very different from what they would have been otherwise. One of them because of what followed and what might have been. The other two because their words have become my words, their thoughts have shaped how I think about the world, the future, and my faith.
One of the consistent messages of the Bible is the need to care for widows and orphans. For example, Deuteronomy has this injunction about harvest time:
“Whenever you are reaping the harvest of your field and you leave some grain in the field, don’t go back and get it. Let it go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so that the Lord your God blesses you in all that you do.”
Deuteronomy 24:19 CEB
While I take these instructions literally – and I think they are meant to be taken so – what if we thought about widows and orphans metaphorically? What about the social widows – people cut off from the rest of society and who have no one else and nowhere else to go except to the church? What if we thought about spiritual orphans who feel lost and alone, not sure who God is and from where they came – but wondering? Or feeling orphaned by the church and looking to reconnect?
Often when people cross the thresholds of our churches they are searching for something they either have never had or have lost. What if God holds us as responsible for the spiritual and relational welfare of these searchers as for the widows and orphans to whom we seem to understand our responsibility? What if we need to be as attentive to their needs for nourishment and shelter of their souls as of their bodies?
The Deuteronomy passage made me think about our Sunday morning’s (in the church generally and not just the church where I serve and worship). Our time and attention tend to go to the people we know, the relationships that we already have. What is left for others to glean? Do we consume ourselves in relating to those already there and then leave nothing for those searching for the same meaningful relationships and connections?
I continue to ponder this question of those who leave and may not have connected. This may not be very concrete or practical but the metaphor makes me think more deeply about how I spend my time and affections and attention.
I’ve been blogging about people leaving by the back door of our churches, lodges, clubs, etc. This morning when I went to get a cup of coffee at my local convenience store, I could barely get in the door. A line had formed at the only open register and the coffee island made the entrance area narrow and difficult to navigate. So I had to thread my way around the island and the people to get to the coffee and then get to the line to pay.
In our organizations we need to find ways to keep the doors and entrances clear and accessible. While that’s true literally, it is also a metaphor for keeping the way clear for people to connect. Sometimes the door out the back may be the one that is most accessible and most easily reached!
In the church I think that means we begin by asking questions about the doorways and entrances (sometimes literally, yes – can people with handicapping conditions even get into our buildings and restrooms and worship spaces?). But also metaphorically – can someone new find her way to a personal connection? Can a guest get into a group or gathering where he can feel like he connected to other people.
We don’t mean to do it, but the words we say and the things we do sometimes block the doors. We look up as people wander by us but don’t get out of the way. People will ask us to move if we are in their way won’t they? If they are interested they will make their way around us won’t they?
Well… they won’t! We need to be attentive to those who are trying to make their way. They showed up in our midst and want to be here. Maybe we can help them stay.
I’ve been writing about people leaving by the back door (church but also groups and relationships). I will return as promised next week to thoughts on what to do about it but…
This week I heard a story about dark matter (A Scientific Tour Of The Mysterious ‘Dark Universe’) which claims that 96 percent of the known universe is driven by dark matter and energy, which we cannot see. 5/6 of the gravity in the universe comes from – yep – stuff invisible to our eyes. The interviewer even goes in the direction my mind was already going when asked ” It’s really spooking me out totally. I mean if there’s this stuff that could sort of pass through us and we would never know, how is that different from the sort of supernatural ghost-spirits that we sort of talk about and make fun of?”
I love science, especially astronomy / cosmology. Human beings have long looked to the sky for inspiration. They have seen it as the source of life, where the gods live, where we go when we die. And the Bible joins this human cavalcade of faith in seeing heaven as “up” – Jesus ascends to heaven after the resurrection for example. God looks down on the earth.
If 96 percent of what drives the universe is dark – unseeable to us – why can’t that be true of life as well? Why can’t life be influenced by forces and powers we cannot see but are nonetheless real.? In some ways that’s true psychologically – I think much of what we do is driven by our unconscious minds and learned patterns. But there is also a spiritual life, a realm beyond the world we see and feel and experience daily. Why is it so hard to see God at work in human history even if we cannot prove the existence of God? (Yes, I know the parallel fails here since we can “see” dark matter scientifically but once we could not and it still was true). Why are there not forces at work that defy our senses and common sense.
Perhaps the physical universe that we are just now able to see in this way invites us to look to heaven. It certainly does me.