Tuesday, May 25, 2010

playing bongos at the opera house (a rant)

It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different plants, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil- which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama (Richard Feynman)

this heterodoxious quote flew from the face of feynman as part of a television interview in 1959, six years before the 'distinguished young theoretical physicist' (as he was introduced on the early-morning eisenhower-era broadcast) would win the nobel prize "for (his) fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles."

it is picked up by herman wouk and placed, with no initial explanation, as the forward of wouk's book on science and religion The Language God Talks (the title of which is also taken from a feynman soundbyte.) that's where i read it.

what i find exciting is how one person can speak a thought into being, and that thought can be preserved and shared back and forth for decades, centuries and even millenia, continuing to challenge people to discover the truths contained within it that have yet to be revealed. it is not just scripture or other epic pieces of literature that engage and exalt us in this way.

in this case, a brilliant scientist makes a mildly scandalous cosmological remark on a 'good morning, pleasantville' tv show that is faithfully transcribed and later discovered by one of the scientist's contemporaries to life-changing effect and to be explored in a book written by this contemporary a half century later and sold at superstore to a preacher who is wandering around looking for things to do while he waits for his son to get off work... but who also happens to be planning to speak to the little flock assembled the following sunday about how the Holy Spirit of God draws people into ongoing dialogue with himself and each other in ways that are sometimes 'unconventional.'

in any event, feynman was probably intending to communicate something very different in the articulation of his thought than the meaning that i took from it.

what can you do, though?
as i used to tell my students ad nausium:

"the moment you release an aesthetic piece into the physical realm, you forfeit all rights to its real meaning. It will mean whatever the person engaging with the art decides it means, which is perfect because what we really want to accomplish here is the engagement of other people in what we're doing together..."

yeah, those poor kids had to endure more preaching than the sunday morning crowd because they had me once a day, every day for an entire term or more...

anyway, feynman's words lead me not away from God,
but towards God.

words of doubt always lead me there- not in a glib, faith beyond reason, hard right-wing-push-back-attempt-at-maintaining-defaults-in-order-to-resist-change-and-ultimately-growth kinda way, but simply by inviting me to consider possibilities about God rather than impossibilities about 'the Old One.' (wouk's term of endearment)

i agree that the stage is far too massive to support this relatively small and self-contained little show about good and evil. that's because in any opera (derived from latin opus meaning 'work', but decidedly more... a 'large, multifaceted, composite work') of significance, every aspect of the production is part of the intended purpose: set, properties, costuming, lighting, visual and sonic effects, stage management, direction, blocking, choreo, harmony, score and orchestra all move together with the story and the songs, but do not come to complete realization until the show closes and the audience, cast and crew disperse, having been collectively moved and individually touched by the experience, afforded stories to tell in reflection.

in God's universe- comprised of all of those rich dynamics: the sound and silence, the beauty and horror, the darkness and light- the scripturally stated purpose is God's glory and this purpose is only completely realized when the show closes.

so in my view, a large part of our roles in this piece of cosmic performance art is to explore our beingness, not be preoccupied with explaining it. if our place in the big show is to be, say, the bongo-player, then let's get on with playing the bongos rather than go on and on about whether these bongos and the ability to play them is ordained by God or not.