Tuesday, May 17, 2011

God, Galileo, and Grumpy Teddy Bears: Part 3

God, Galileo
and the Grumpy Teddy Bears
what was I thinking?

Well, it all started over a breakfast conversation with Christy. She was having a hard time getting much from the gospels during morning devotions. I sympathized. Like Christy, I had grown up in a Christian home and heard the gospel stories so many times that my original fascination was long gone. Then it occurred to me that our struggle to appreciate the gospels exemplified one of the great vexations of life: familiarity breeds contempt.

Yes, familiarity may also breed fondness, but not often, not without effort, pain, and frustration. And most of the time, we don't think it's worth it. We prefer something new, or if this is not available, then stronger doses of the old, anything but the same old same old.

This insatiable thirst for novelty is not all bad. Exploring, learning, growing--these are good things and we are made to engage in them. But engage is the key word. Newness alone will not create the joy of a new experience. We must engage the new and often sacrifice our comfort in the doing.

Engagement connotes action, attention, and commitment. If Navy SEALS attack the Taliban in Afghanistan, the ensuing engagement is forceful, focused, and totally committed. When gears engage, they move in sync, irrevocably linked until release. Getting engaged to Christy was a moment of supremely attentive action entailing a lifelong commitment.

Engagement is a total, all encompassing experience, and we are afraid of it. When we fail to engage a new experience, however, the newness soon wears out. Hence our malaise with the old and desperate search for the new.

Ironically, the harder we try to shun the old, the less successful we become. Perhaps this is because the greatest source of discovery lies in the ordinary old everyday things of life. Indeed, as Galileo and the Grumpy Teddy Bears demonstrate, engagement with the ordinary reveals a vast world of untapped newness. And it is this exhaustless world of beauty and variety which brings me God.

There is a broad consensus among many thoughtful and spiritual people that Jesus transmitted Divinity to the world. Exactly how or why he did this is hotly debated with little resolution, principally because all groups with an interest have disparate--and unmovable--a priori commitments. Few, however, turn to the gospel accounts for a look at Jesus sans religious and intellectual baggage. Suppose we tried, what would we see?

Well, what I see is a man who is above all supremely engaged in life. He is engaged with such fierce attention that his every act becomes a moment of creative commitment. For him, the ordinary is anything but mundane. Every leprous beggar, prostitute, and pharisee is precious, full of hidden newness waiting to be recognized. To me, this is the essence of Divinity. This is Love personified. This is God.


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Ironically, I've just been beginning to feel a little discontented with my job. I've begun to get restless and wish for a change. But I know this is where God wants me for at least a little while longer. Maybe I need to re-engage. Thanks :)

  2. Thanks Kristin! I can relate after a very long year of medical school:) Hang in there! For the record, however, I believe that full engagement absolutely requires guidance and direction

  3. Thank you. Especially for this:

    "Every leprous beggar, prostitute, and pharisee is precious, full of hidden newness waiting to be recognized. To me, this is the essence of Divinity. This is Love personified. This is God."

  4. I admit to maintaining a certain amount of doubt regarding the coherence of your stated topics, but I think I get it :)

    To go perhaps a little deeper; the reason you found ordinary teddy bears to be so engaging is because you used your imagination to bring them, and their stories, to life. Galileo was able to make profound insights into the way the universe works by noticing, asking the reason for, and connecting small, hitherto unimportant details. May I suggest that both methods of engagement can be applied successfully to Bible study?

  5. Thanks Caitlin!
    I agree with the Bible study application, Joel. The common thread, however, was engagement in the ordinary, with engagement defined as action, attention, and commitment. These three characteristics of engagement can be seen in the way John and I played with our now "grumpy" teddy bears, the way Galileo discovered and then pursued the pendulum idea, and finally, the way Jesus embraced humanity. In each case, the subject of engagement was decidedly ordinary and uninspiring yet the result was literally extra-ordinary, indeed a new creation. In retrospect, I probably should have stated this connection more explicitly.

  6. Yes, I understand that. But you said that the original context for this thought process was a discussion about how to maintain a fascination with the gospels. My point was that you've illustrated two great ways to do this.

  7. Sounds good, and I do agree. I was only clarifying any confusion on the overall "coherence of my stated topics".