To Err is Divine

Matthew 9:9-17

Karl E. Peters writes: “To err is divine.”

This phrase feels uncomfortable to most religious practitioners in the Judeo-Christian tradition. We have been conditioned to think of the Divine as an all-powerful being who has established unchanging standards of truth and righteousness in the world. Peters, on the other hand, identifies “God” as “the creative process working in our midst.”

Biological evolution happens by mistake. Mutations are copy errors in an organism’s genetic code. Most genetic mutations have a neutral or adverse effect on an organism’s chances for survival, but some of them turn out to be beneficial. When a mutation gives an organism a survival advantage, that error gets incorporated into the genetic code and is more likely to shape future generations.

Cultural evolution happens in much the same way. When Jesus invited outcasts into his grassroots movement and challenged established moral and theological standards of his culture, the leaders of his culture regarded his actions as mistakes. The appointed guardians of tradition branded Jesus as a dangerous heretic because he did not practice his spirituality in the “right” way or with the “right” people.

The early followers of Jesus incorporated his tendencies toward inclusion and innovation into the cultural DNA of their movement. These cultural mutations gave that community the independence it needed to survive and thrive after the Roman Empire razed the second Jewish temple in 70CE. Other religious movements survived because they centered their faith and practice in the study of the Torah, rather than the rituals of the temple. These two movements evolved into the religious traditions we now recognize as Judaism and Christianity.

The following questions arise: What creative mistakes are we making in our lives today? How might today’s heretics become tomorrow’s leaders? How might “the creative process working in our midst” be adapting our communities to include new voices and invent new ways of doing things?

Peters asks:

“Are these mistakes mutations in religious thought that ought to be destroyed or might they be something else, a new and helpful way of portraying the sacred? That will be determined not by what I am saying. It will be determined only by how you and others respond, by whether these ideas help you make sense of your own experience in living.”

Karl E. Peters. Dancing with the sacred: evolution, ecology, and God (Trinity Press International: 2002).

is the space between
what is known and
what is new.

It is a constant
coming into existence.

No respecter
of who belongs
or how it’s done.

Some mistakes
turn out to be correct
and vice versa.

Some heretics
turn out to be prophets
and vice versa.

What is the STAR Cluster?

Carina NebulaAs you know, our Monday night Vespers group has been studying Thank God for Evolution by Michael Dowd. This past week, we were so inspired by a passage from the book that we decided to change our name!  Here’s what Michael has to say about it in his book…

I’ve come to think of the acronym STAR as summarizing this work to increase and deepen our evolutionary integrity…

S ervice: Supporting others in maintaining integrity and providing lifegiving service in additional ways. In so doing, we not only bless the world; we support our own growth and fulfillment, while boosting our chances for long-term integrous living.

T rust: Surrendering to the wisdom of divine Wholeness—that undeniable physical and nonphysical Reality beyond thought, belief, or denial, which is at work in the world and to which each of us is ultimately accountable.

A uthenticity: Getting real with oneself and others, owning the painful truths about one’s life, and grasping the comforting truth that God loves us anyway. Then making commitments that will cultivate healthy habits and supports for living in integrity.

R esponsibility: Stepping into the shoes of those we have harmed, and then making amends—while cultivating compassion for ourselves and others. Enlisting the support of others, too, as integrity is a team sport.

I imagine people coming together in groups, locally or online, to support one another’s growth in evolutionary integrity. We might call these groups “STAR Clusters.”  And as we develop connections among such groups—email lists, conference calls, websites—for community-building, information-sharing, networking, support, action, we can imagine bridging the distances between the STARs, reaching through “interStellar space.”

If you feel inspired by this vision of intentional community, join us at our next STAR Cluster meeting this Monday evening at 6pm at First Presbyterian Church of Boonville!  Even if you haven’t been reading Michael’s book, come anyway and join in our fascinating conversation.

The most exciting new development this week is that Michael Dowd himself has generously offered to chat with out group via conference call when we near the end of the book.  We’ll be making arrangements for this to happen and will keep you updated as plans become concrete!

The New Theism: Shedding Beliefs, Celebrating Knowledge

Re-blogged from

Interesting ideas.  Kind of feeling it…

Since April 2002, my science-writer wife Connie Barlow and I have traveled North America virtually non-stop. We have addressed more than 1,600 secular and religious groups of all kinds. Our goal is to communicate the inspiring and empowering side of science to as many people as possible…

(Click to read the full article)

Evolutionary Thoughts: Divinity Reconsidered

Image by Frank Douwes

We belong beautifully to the earth and intimately to the cosmic web of life.  Daily we breathe in the odor of sanctity that imbues creation.  Our God walks with us in the garden of life, the Originating and Sustaining Mystery who is radically transparent for those who have eyes to see.  We need a fresh approach to our theology of God, one that honors the mystery in which everything is held.  The divine is written all over creation: the quantum vacuum, the supernova explosions, the recurring cycle of birth-death-rebirth, the process of photosynthesis – these and many more are the chapters of our primary scriptures.  Divinity abounds, in and around us.

Diarmuid O’Murchu, Evolutionary Faith, p.205

Evolutionary Thoughts: Where’s Waldo?

One of my students in class jokingly compared God to the famous stripey-shirted figure of Where’s Waldo? fame.  In the funniest rendering of the “God of the gaps” problem, he depicted the divine as constantly reshaping the earth and changing the laws of physics in order to stay hidden from the eyes of humanity.

Not quite plausible, but still hilarious!

Anyway, it reminded me of this passage from Diarmuid O’Murchu:

The universe knows what it’s about.  The fact that it does not make sense to us humans, that it often baffles us to extremes and undermines all our theories and expectations, is not a problem for the universe; it is a problem for us.  We, therefore, impetuously conclude that the universe does not care about us or about anything else; like the selfish genes, it too unfolds along its blind, lifeless path.

But is a blind, lifeless path likely to produce stars and galaxies, supernova explosions and quasars, planets and atoms, bacteria and photosynthesis, and creatures of such enormous diversity?  Instead of viewing it all as mindless, why not work with the opinion that it is mindful?  Not only would that make exploration more productive and hopeful; it would also make it a great deal more exciting, energizing, and engaging.

We also need to transcend this fretful preoccupation with where or how God comes into the whole picture.  Theologians seem to be nervously concerned with keeping God in, while scientists are desperate to keep God out.  I suspect that God is bemusedly puzzled by our human reactions.

Diarmuid O’Murchu, Evolutionary Faith, p. 199

Evolutionary Thoughts: Consciousness

Photo by Abhisek Sarda

Consciousness is not something that can be measured, quantified, or reduced to neural, brain-based processes.  It is not something confined to the human mode of being in the world, nor can it be identified solely with what many religions claim to be the unique quality of life after death.  Consciousness transcends all the names and labels that we put on it.  It does not belong to the sphere of observable material reality; however, it is structured within universal life, and evidence for it can be gleaned from several of evolution’s creations.

Diarmuid O’Murchu, Evolutionary Faith, p. 174

Evolutionary Thoughts: The Paradox of Resurrection

Yes, we are a resurrected people.  Evolution has been telling us that since time immemorial.  Resurrection is the mythical/religious name we give to the triumph of matter over antimatter, life over death, meaning over meaninglessness, cosmos over chaos.  But it is also the name we give to that baffling transformative process that requires paradox – apparent contradiction – as an essential ingredient in every transformation, whether personal or global…

Assuredly, not everything in our world is in harmony, and often we are overwhelmed by mysterious forces that push our sanity and sanctity to their very limits.  But before we address these big questions, let’s get our own house in order.  Let’s begin by resolving and dissolving all the meaningless suffering that we ourselves cause either directly or indirectly.  Then the chances are that the other great paradoxes that baffle and confuse us will not seem that irrational anymore.  We then will be in a position to understand with greater wisdom and equanimity the paradoxically creative Spirit who energizes the E-mergent miracle of our evolving universe.

Then, too, we are likely to be more at peace with the paradoxical enigmas of each day.  With graced intuition we will be more at ease about the fact that death is a precondition for new life; we do not know why, but it is.  Chaos is the fermenting ground for creative order; light is meaningless without the dark; pain and beauty have a strange familiarity; suffering awakens us into compassion.  The evolutionary cycle of creation and destruction manifests itself in every realm of life and permeates every recess of our being.

Diarmuid O’Murchu, Evolutionary Faith (p. 107-108)