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.


Blogger BL4CHRIST said...

"if your or my place in the big show is to be 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." (jollybeggar)

This is so true, I always have found myself waiting for something, approval or whatever it maybe looking to towards someone else to say yes what your are doing is the right thing...like in my Childhood and even to this day...I always felt like before I could move on in my spiritual walk, that I needed annointing, a physical touch from a disciple follower, who is filled with Holy spirit to pass it on to me. It has been a barrier for me, wondering if I am still waiting to be filled or receive the Holy Spirit like the Day of my Confirmation, I was disillusioned expecting something awesome to happen. And then when There wasn't this amazing feeling of a new presence, like I had read in the bible when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit I wondered what the heck was up...was I not worthy...did I miss something...I think probably at that point in my life is where I started to lose my faith or reality set in...that there was nothing magical...however now I know that you can not set an ordained time when the spirit will come upon you (or should I say choose to work through you)

The Holy Spirit is aleady with you and knows the time and the place when to be present in ones life. The Spirit Guides and prods in ones life slowly molding oneself to the point of being broken and being able to accept it's presence and guidance in one's life.

Blogger jollybeggar said...

yep. we make things way too complicated.

still trying to somehow discover and dial in the combination that will open the vault where the manifest presence of God is kept.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciated the quote from the physicist...this world is too great for religion to become so small (worrying only about good and evil). Christian religion does have this tendency to do that I have found...

I am in the camp that faith is much bigger than just theological rhetoric or having the 'correct set of beliefs concerning the nature of God, church, and bible'. Faith is in everything we do - from our marriages, to our work, to our friendships. We are walking the teachings we read into every path in our lives.

Of course, I am concerned with right and wrong, like Adam I have the knowledge to know better or know better and not do it anways. However, I am also concerned with career, having fun, lesiure, art, relationships, etc. Life is pretty wonderful in ways - outside the scope of worrying about right and wrong all the time.

I love God, always will. The bone I pick is with how Christianity plays out on the 'live stage'. It's soooo good in rehersals.

Blogger jollybeggar said...

'The bone I pick is with how Christianity plays out on the 'live stage'. It's soooo good in rehersals.' (SVS)

wrote a poem about that once:

who is this bride who stands
gazing into her own eyes and
swoons before her own image in the looking glass?
silly girl
she will miss the party of her life

who is this bride who
now hides her face from her suitor
behind veils of stubborn self-reliance
as though she could somehow be married
to her own reflection

silly girl
she wears her religion like a bad habit
and will go from maiden to maid
having never entered the covenant
nor having ever been entered into
and celebrated as a holy place

silly girl
so self-satisfied with your appearance
in a gown that was made to be taken off
will that gown provide any warmth for you
as you pass into the abyss alone?

tragically silly girl
pointlessly beautiful
and all alone on a Saturday night

Blogger David Kelling said...

"...explore our beingness, not be preoccupied with explaining it."

Ah... it is always fun to hear a short, sweet articulation of something you've been thinking and doing. I wonder as I wander...

Reminds me of the book Contact and a favorite little part they left out of the movie where the theologian is asked if finding out there is life out there diminished his faith. He replied something like "No, it expands it!"

Finally, not a perfect match but in case you've not heard it and would enjoy it, I highly recommend a listen to the song "Love Will Show The Way" by David Wilcox. Lyrics here: http://www.metrolyrics.com/show-the-way-lyrics-david-wilcox.html

Blogger jollybeggar said...

"I wonder as I wander" (DK)
very nice. here's some lyrics from a recent little tune that seems to head the same direction...

i wonder what makes the dancer
dance with all her might
is it this for the romancer
that makes the wrong things right
i wonder what makes the answer
hurt more in a fight
is it this that makes the darkness
surrender to the light?

i wonder what makes the preacher
resent his only friend
is it this that makes the teacher
eager for summer's end
i wonder what makes the ruler
break before he will bend
are these things that make us cooler
just tearing us apart again?

when i'm full of wonder
how wonderful am i?

i wonder what makes the silence
deafening to one in pain
is it this that makes compliance
the first voice to complain
i wonder what makes defiance
more passionate in the rain
is it this that makes my violence
so difficult to contain?

when i'm full of wonder
how wonderful am i?
when i'm full of wonder
how wonderful

although i loved the movie, i confess i haven't read 'contact' but do have a spot for it on my shelf right between sagan's 'varieties of scientific experience' and wouk's 'the language that God talks'

oh, and nice call on the david wilcox tune :)

Blogger hineini said...

"if your or my place in the big show is to be 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." (jollybeggar)

this is complicated; at least for me.

If my calling is to pry some room for the kindgom of God to arrive and the guy beside me says the same and that I can do that by buying some mutual funds and saving up for retirement then do I just shut up and give him my money? What if my playing of the bongos is sufficiently bad to give my neighbour a headache and make them ill and never want to visit again?

Blogger jollybeggar said...

perhaps we're just struggling with very different pictures of what a calling is and what 'the big show' is (although somehow i doubt it. i suspect that our respective perspective differences are relatively miniscule when placed within the big show itself.)

i hear you on the horrible bongo playing bit. i know people who, because they desire to do or be something, feel that they have been ordained by God to do or be it. if this is indeed true, then they must be God themselves, because no one else would ordain it. occasionally i even find myself thinking this way regarding the national policies of some of our neighbours. out of my depth, there. moving on.

i'm pretty sure we're all responsible to discern our own callings and being that the words of others can be used in sorting all of this out, it is valuable to pay attention. however, just defaulting to agreement with another over issues of vocation simply because he or she has said something with a little bit of confidence or authority feels a bit foolish to me. taking something into consideration is not the same as accepting it and making it one's lifeswork, right?


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