Chardin: The Matter of Man

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin lays the foundation of his theory regarding the evolutionary process currently happening all around with a poetic description of a new way to view the cosmos. Chardin paints a picture from one end of the materiel universe to the other with the hope of broadening our view of reality. He dares us to expand our preconditioned minds, from seeing only those things directly in front of us that are rooted in scientific fact, to imagine where it is we are going. Chardin challenges us to take the knowledge we have learned through science [in particular through evolution], combine it with the hope we find in the New Testament, and use these tools as a means of envisioning the direction we are driving towards in our eternal state of being. Teilhard wants to not only impart such a vision, but more importantly wants to encourage humanity to work together to help bring about that vision.

This vision begins with a fuller, more integrated view of the universe. Chardin bonds together the various ways we currently see reality, in order that the unified whole is replaced as that which is more naturally seen. As we stare out into the cosmos on any given night there are certain things that naturally arise in each of our minds—other solar systems with their own spinning planets, blazing suns being born and dying, black holes, and our dreams of the unknown. Alternatively, we see things in our mind differently when we glance around the very place we are standing or as we look into the eyes of another human. And then there is still another when we ponder those things on the atomic scale. There is space; there is what we see on the scale of the earth and the human race; and then there is the mysterious atomic and mostly undiscovered quantum scale. Teilhard lays this divided spectrum in front of us and then questions the usefulness of such a division. What if the way we viewed the universe could give us a fuller view of the hope we find in Christ? What difference would it make for Christians to regard the physical universe as a whole, rather than a spectrum of divided realities?

The New Testament declares that we are to be built up together to form the body of Christ. This same church that is being built up into Christ also rests upon Christ who is our cornerstone and from which nothing else can be done apart from. This biblical description is echoed in the very fabric of the universe we find all around us. From the smallest and seemingly infinitely divisible molecules, to the massive and constantly expanding universe, each part is both being multiplying and becoming a unified whole at this very moment and in each that follows. And each of these deriving from and hurling towards a singular point (a point later referred to by Chardin as the Omega point). As we begin to grasp the universe as a unified whole of physical matter, rather than in divided spectrums, we can turn our attention to the next layer of reality Chardin asks us to consider. A reality we must become more cognizant of if we wish to work together to build up the body of Christ—the reality of our consciousness.

I love the way the following quote from Chardin encapsulates the beauty that will arise as humanity begins to see itself beyond itself in hopes to become that which we have been called to become: “To see is really to become more … In such a vision man is seen not as a static center of the world he’s for long believed himself to be – but as the access and leading shoot of evolution, which is something much finer.”

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: A Hopeful Introduction

A Hopeful Intro Blog ImageI’ve spent the last two years devouring the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. A Jesuit priest who lived from 1881-1955. There is far too much that could be said about his life’s endeavors and experiences to include in one blog post; however, as I hope to continue to flesh out his works on my blog, I can imagine many of these will naturally arise throughout the process. Although there is one aspect of Chardin’s life that is helpful to know right up front. Chardin was both a Jesuit priest, as well as a distinguished paleontologist. His discoveries and contributions to the world are often more well known within the scientific community than they are among the religious (a very unfortunate reality for those in the latter community). This divide in scientific and religious worldviews would be his life’s passion and pain. He received opposition from both sides and struggled on how to best impart the vision he had been given to those around him. His was a vision that didn’t just make a way for scientific and religious realities to co-exist without disagreement, but rather made the two so intertwined and so dependent upon one another that once a person is able to grasp his vision it will soon become the only vision one can see. The problem is the vision Chardin casts is gigantic … and well, it’s also infinitesimal. It describes that which is both innumerably multiplied and simultaneously united into one singular being. Understanding the science behind his theory is doable, although it can still take me a great deal of effort at times. Chardin’s works are more than simply a scientific method laid out in such a way as to deliver facts based on evidence and devoid of beauty or intentionality. Teilhard is one of the most captivating poetic philosophers that I have ever had a chance to read. Reading his works is intellectually stimulating and simultaneously world changing, but at the same time spoken in such a way that I am driven to tears almost every time I hold one of his books in my hands.

My intention for this post was to get myself to a starting point with how to begin discussing his theories and ideas. I’m not sure I can say that has happened, but perhaps a short introduction–combined with a sense of my own admiration for Teilhard–was important to get the ball rolling. His first work was published shortly after he died in 1955 (He never published due to the church having forbid it due to the content). It is called “The Phenomenon of Man” and lays the foundation for his entire theory following after. I’m re-reading the work and my hope is to be able to write out some of my own understandings of what he has already laid out for us. An appropriate quote to end with today displays the beautiful poetic nature of his speech that I spoke of earlier, but also describes one type of person who he calls the enthusiast and in my opinion describes well the type of person Chardin embodied–that of a hopeful person. Hope is one of the things I find most compelling and captivating about Chardin’s qualities. He had an insatiable audacity to have unwavering hope in the truth of who Christ was, who Christ came to be, and who Christ is becoming through His church. Hope to declare a knowledge that the incarnation has truly and mysteriously enmeshed us through grace and brings us right into the midst of this incarnational story. Jesus came and then he invited us … Could it be that we have forgotten that our acceptance of His invitation must be regarded seriously both through the eyes of the spiritual, but also through the eyes of the physical? This quote comes from a lecture he gave 1943. He is describing such a hopeful being as this when he says, “Not only is it better to be than not to be [for the enthusiast], but they are convinced that it is always possible–and the possibility has a unique value–to attain a fuller measure of being. For these conquerors, enamored of the adventurous, being is inexhaustible–not in Gide’s way like a precious stone with innumerable facets which one can never tire of turning round and round–but like a focus of warmth and light to which one always draws closer. We may laugh at such men and say that they are ingenious, or we may find them tiresome; but at the same time it is they who have made us what we are, and it is from them that tomorrow’s earth is going to emerge.” To find such hope in this world and to live it out as it is already true is something humanity could never have too much of. And so, it turns out I did find my starting point for this series after all. We begin with hope, keep moving towards hope, and rest assured it is there we will find love.

The Harmonious Melody of the Good News

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The following is a reflection on N.T. Wrights article, “How Can the Bible be Authoritative?” practically applied to the parable found in Luke 15:11-32. The article can be found online here and is worth reading through at least once. It is a challenge for Kingdom people to re-think the ‘how to’ when it comes to interpreting and sharing the gospel message. 

The message of grace and forgiveness found in the story of the prodigal son is fundamental. I doubt many people would argue that point. The problem is that the fundamental note—often the only note—our current culture is hearing lacks almost all reverberating overtones. It’s a sure thing for a preacher to deliver the good news that even the worst of sinner only need turn around and can expect to be met with their heavenly Father’s arms wide open, just waiting to lavish forgiveness upon them. The problem is that when we preach only this fundamental note, even if it is because that is what we believe resonates best with the listener or most accepted in our tradition, we are undermining the very teachings of Jesus.

I use the word undermine, because the fundamental note isn’t equal to a false gospel, but it will become eroded without being further built up. There is depth to the story found in Luke 15:11-32.  It is profound and multi-layered. Each layer has a message and Jesus intended that the whole of the story would be heard. There is a power in teaching and interpreting the Bible. There is a power that can be used to elevate certain aspects and pass others depending on a multitude of reasons. This is not the kind of power Jesus came to give us though.

The way the Bible is interpreted and taught is what will eventually become the dominant worldview for a tradition or even larger portions of the corporate church. In our country it is easy to own a Bible and, for many, it is easy to read it as well. The message, fundamental and overtones alike, are right there for all to read and interpret for themselves. The problem is that everyone comes to their Bible with the fundamental notes already sounding …. The parable of the prodigal son is about a broken sinner who turns back to the Father and finds unending grace, love, and forgiveness.

There is a harmonious tale being told by Christ in this story. A story that challenges our ideas about family, motivates us to rethink our ideas about the father, and re-examine our interactions with him. There are cultural overtones worth discussing and knowing; like what it meant to be a Jewish family living in 1st century Palestine. There can be dis-harmonies if the hearer doesn’t understand honor and shame in the same context as Jesus. Jesus was preaching grace and forgiveness, and He was preaching so much more.

The church has been given authority to teach and preach the gospel—fundamental tones, overtones, and harmonies alike. There are sinners who desire to hear the good news that God will be waiting to forgive them on their return. There are others in need of good news as well. There are people looking for the good news of a God who invites everyone to the party. There are people seeking good news about a father who is willing to relinquish his honor, in order to bear our shame. There are people desiring to hear good news about a family that places restoration above reputation and reconciliation above righteousness.

The church can begin by telling the story in a new way, in a way that includes all the harmonies without forgetting the fundamental notes. And then the church can begin living the story until the whole of the message resounds to the world around them. The message that sinners are always welcome is a fairly unchallenged notion of the Christian church, but there are others that aren’t quite as obvious. This message challenges the church to be more—to be a place where you find a relationship with the Father (not just forgiveness), a place where the hope is complete restoration (not defining ‘right’ or ‘wrong’), and a place where the fatherless find their family that is bigger than God the Father alone but the whole church body. It is time for the church to challenge the world’s worldview and become immersed in the melody of the gospel.

The ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’ Preaches to the Jews

It’s easy to read the NT through the same lenses we’ve always read the NT through. We all have presuppositions when we come to these familiar texts, whether we like it or not, whether we are willing to admit it or not. The following is some reflections on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I discovered a new way of reading the letter and I thought it might have something new for you as well. Grace and Peace! 

The book of Ephesians has historically been interpreted through the lens of a Gentile audience.Although the Gentile perspective is an important aspect to take in account when reading the writings of the ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’, to ignore Paul’s implications for those within the Jewish tradition negates the fullness of God’s narrative for his people and Paul’s ability to communicate that very story. The Jewish people, alongside the God-fearing Gentiles who adhered to such traditions, lived with a theological belief about the remnant of Israel. It is this remnant people, spoken of in the Old Testament by prophets such as Isaiah that bring a vital layer of understanding to the letter of Ephesians, as well as to the church today.

The number of Old Testament parallels found in Ephesians is quite astounding; especially since, up until recent past, these notations have been mostly overlooked by scholars as an irrelevant piece of which to consider further. Not all of Paul’s uses of Old Testament material are used in a consistent manner through Ephesians; these references are found by use of words, allusions or quotations. The 1st century hearers of this letter, however, would have noticed these elements regardless of the rhetorical form in which it was used. So then, if the reader would have weighed their understanding of the message heavily on such Old Testament components; it is imperative readers today do likewise.

The book of Isaiah, in particular, contains a number of such references for the reader of Ephesians; such passages include, Isa. 11:5, 26:19, 26:60, 40:26, 52:1, 52:7, 57:19. Isaiah contained for the Jewish people a look back to their trip out of Egypt and points forward to the coming Messiah. It is a story of an exodus people moving towards a new exodus. Isaiah brings forth God’s hope for His remnant, and Paul points to that hope—found in Christ—through Ephesians.

This remnant theology is seen throughout the entire letter; however, the use of Isaiah is most clearly seen in Eph. 2 and 6. Paul’s quotation of Isa. 57:19 in Eph. 2:17, “And he came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near,” is one of the first more obvious texts. Paul is declaring the body of Christ to be the new temple; a temple that is not exclusive to anyone. Paul was creating the image of God’s remnant people being drawn together under the headship of Jesus Christ.

In 6:14-17, Paul instructs the church to put on the armor of God and, by doing so, to empower the believer with His strength. Each phrase Paul uses would create further imagery for the reader to understand the message he was relaying. There are five clear phrases taken from Isaiah that can be seen here:

 

Gird your loins about with truth

Isa 11:5

Eph. 6:14

The breastplate of Righteousness

Isa 59:17

Eph. 6:14

The gospel of Peace

Isa 52:7

Eph. 6:15

The helmet of Salvation

Isa 59:17

Eph. 6:17

The sword of the Spirit

Isa 49:2

Eph. 6:17

 

Paul was clearly speaking to an audience familiar with the story of Israel. He intended for his audience to identify as one of the chosen people of Israel or as to those belonging to the same remnant. Paul was making it abundantly clear that the Messiah they were looking for had arrived, that the time for a new exodus was now, and that standing firm in this truth was of utmost importance to do so.

The church in Ephesus and the church today have a common thread when the letter is read through the lens of a remnant theology; God’s story of bringing his people near, building them together as one, and accomplishing this through the blood of Jesus is happening right now. Bringing together God’s people cannot be done without first recognizing equality found in Christ. This building up cannot be done without community. The blood of Jesus is our new exodus and as the remnant of God we must stand firm together in order to fulfill our role as co-creators with God.