By Charles Rush
February 27, 2011
Jeremiah 31: 31-35
(mp3, 8.0Mb) ]
etrich Bonhoeffer, one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, wrote from a German prison during the end of World War 2, that from now on Christianity would be lived in a world “come of Age”. He saw in Nazism the features of a completely secular society.
His phrase has
been suggestive ever since as this has evermore become the world we live in.
We’ve had at least two Promethean moments since then, the first when we created the Atom
Bomb. It marked the first time in human history that we had the ability, that
any species had the ability, to destroy all life on planet earth. The architect
of the bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, upon seeing the very first mushroom cloud
rising over the desert in New Mexico, quoted the Bhagavad-Gita, the god Shiva
actually, who said “I have become death, the destroyer of worlds”. Oppenheimer
did not say those words in triumph but with genuine pathos about the
responsibility that would inevitably attend all of us in the Atomic age.
moment, almost unnoticed in the popular press, was mapping the genome. We
became the first generation in human history, of any species that we know of
anywhere, who can directly, intentionally alter our own evolution.
discovered how to make fire, the gods worried that we wouldn’t need them
anymore. The truth is that we do, but in quite a different way. For now we are
responsible beyond our ability to direct it and this will haunt us for the next
generations to come.
We live with it
month by month as our informational interconnection continues to evolve so
rapidly that we buy new devices every year to keep up. More than that, we know
that we are leveraging our knowledge base so dramatically that it is changing
our social order- witness Tunisia, Egypt, Libya- and it is also changing our
consciousness. I read in the paper that the average High School senior spends 8
hours a day on the computer- and that is not counting our boys on Xbox and Gameboy. 8 hours a day is a lot of time. You realize that
when they were born, the average high school senior spent 0 hours a day on a
computer. No one can say how all of this ‘interconnection’ is going to affect
human consciousness but we know that it is. And it is a change we are making on
we live in a world “come of age”.
Jack Miles once
suggested that this was the original logic of the bible too. He meant the Old
Testament read in the original order that the Jews wrote it, the Tanakh. Early
on, God appears a few times to Moses as the people are fleeing Egypt, and God
speaks through the Prophets. But then comes Job, the problem of evil and Job
has the temerity to question God about why innocent people suffer and dies. God
essentially refuses to answer the question. God tells Job, ‘where were you when
I created the heavens and the earth?’ In other words, ‘who are you, Oh Mortal,
that you would question God?’ Job never gets an answer to his question. And
that is the last time, we hear from God in the Old Testament.
The last book,
Esther, is completely human drama. Esther finds herself in a foreign country,
Persia, among a people that worship a foreign God or no God, and she has a
complicated problem with no easy solution, and she just has to take the wisdom
from long, long ago and figure out what to do. She is on her own now.
Miles says that
is the whole point of the bible really, that now it is up to us to figure out
how to live authentically, humanely, with integrity. We draw up the Spirit of
God that guides us through the traditions of our ancestors. But, the point is
we have to figure out how to use that to make a positive difference in an all
And there is a
parallel in the New Testament as well. We have the story of Jesus, a fantastic
story about a man that was so spiritually filled that we said of him, ‘surely
he is the Son of God’. He teaches us that God loves us, what God is like and
what God wants from us. He exhibits miraculous moral courage and even shows us
how to die. People that he meets are simply healed of physical maladies,
emotional distress, and the corrosive low self-esteem of having been branded an
even the resurrected One must take his leave. And the disciples are all quite
nervous and agitated about what to do. In the end, Jesus simply breathes upon
them and tells them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”, “May Peace be
upon You”. “That which you have seen in me, go and do likewise”. “I shall be
with you even unto the close of this Age”. “Go therefore, to the four corners
of the world and make disciples.” We, too, draw upon the wisdom of our
ancestors. We meet to invoke the Spirit of God in our midst.
The Spirit of
God may be all that we have but it is all that we need. The point is that it is
now time to grow up, take what we have learned, and create a more humane,
inclusive world that celebrates the great tapestry that is our people. And with
the very difficult and challenging issues at hand, to draw upon the Spirit and
figure it out for ourselves, for our generation.
are hard-wired for self-direction. It is just about the first thing that gives
us pleasure. Babies want to be warm, safe, dry, and eating. But almost
immediately, they want to bite their own hand. And for the next year, they will
practice their one or two little skills that they have learned over and over
and over and over and over again.
I have two
grandsons, aged 15 months, and they will throw a ball at me over and over for
an hour. How can you do something like that, whatever it is, for an hour? And
the answer is, self-control and self-mastery are just
intrinsically fulfilling. It is a primal fulfillment.
It is the first
thing we pick up and it is the last thing we put down. That is one of the most
difficult parts of growing old. No conversation is more awkward than the one
where you ask Dad to turn in his driver’s license. And from there on, the test
of dignity is being able to keep control of at least a few things in your life.
As they get fewer, you can just see our elders regress. They hate it. Their
children hate watching it.
“Our desire to
control is so powerful, and the felling of being in control is so rewarding,
that people often act as though they can control the uncontrollable…People feel
more certain that they will win the lottery if they can control the number on
their ticket, and they feel more confident that they will win a dice toss if
they can throw the dice themselves. People will wager more money on dice that
have not yet been tossed than on dice that have already been tossed but whose
outcome is unknown.”[i]
The list goes on and in every case, their actions make
no sense except that they believe they have control over an uncontrollable
event. We just come with a deeply imbedded desire to steer our own boat.
seems that is part of what we are seeing played out on our TV’s for the past
several weeks across the Middle East. Because of the availability of the
internet, because of the way that it connects us socially and opens the way for
a goat herder in Libya to not only watch the riots in Egypt but also get a
first hand idea of just how few options he has compared to someone born in
of nowhere, ordinary people in all these backward, cut off countries,
are awakening and what do they want? They want more self-determination. They
want to direct their own futures. They want a stake in the game.
And we in the West
have all these talking heads that are not only caught off guard by the rate of
change happening but they are somewhat befuddled as to how to respond to it. On
the one hand, they sense that our societies have to be of a certain
sophistication to support the marketplace of real choice. On the other hand,
deep in the recesses of their subconscious, they are thinking ‘be careful what
you wish for’ because the actual matrix of choice-making in a world of myriad
choice is somewhat dizzying.
One of my
fraternity brothers sent around the new list of chores for your best friend,
first among them, “erase the history button on my internet search engine in
case of death or prolonged illness”. You can watch anything, what are you going
to watch? As you know, some astonishing figure like 70% of all internet sales
And we know
that as powerful as our sexual drives are, and as malleable as our sexual
identities can be, what you wire yourself to respond to is not so easily
unwired. I read a book review last week that was on a series of studies that
show how growing up with a background of Porno is shaping the sexual
imagination of our children. It is all out there, why wouldn’t it shape them?
What do you do with all that choice? Is this the main-stream narrative of
sexual relatedness that we want our children to grow up with? It is a challenge
for our generation.
When you talk
to High School and Middle School educators, their biggest problem is cheating
and plagiarism. I seriously doubt that our children today are any more
conniving than we were as I remember Robbie Jenkins writing answers between his
fingers. No the main difference is that we had to actually look over Roberta
Tomkins shoulder which wasn’t all that easy if you recall.
children are in the quiet of their bedroom at night, no one is around like Mr.
Helms who could scare a hardened criminal straight with his glare. They aren’t
only alone, they can download like a veritable
dissertation on Huck Finn that has some really great insights that they missed
the first reading. At 13 or 14, we’ve loaded them with enough anxiety, taught
them over and over that they need to get an edge, and then we leave them alone
to self-direct. But their brains aren’t formed enough,
they just aren’t mature enough for all that self-direction.
When you talk
to our High School and Middle School educators, they are very concerned about
cyber-bullying. I seriously doubt that our children today are any more cruel than we were, as I remember Robin Hittman getting all the girls in 7th grade to
shun Pat Curly and make her life miserable because she had kissed too many boys
that year. No, the main difference is that back then, you had to do it in
public somehow, someway.
children can pull out their phone, capture some embarrassing video of their
friend falling down drunk, half naked, take it home, and post it late at night
after their anxiety has gotten the best of them and poor decision making kicks
in. They don’t have to worry about the Principal, Mrs. Edwards, charging into
the girls bathroom to break up the take down. Now, not
only is their friend embarrassed, eventually their friends Dad sees the video
at his office and the whole parental generation has to deal with the crap of
In a very short
amount of time, we are going to have people running for higher office in our
country that are going to have to explain their break-up at 17 which got very
ugly and very public one summer they been trying to forget about ever since.
And through the miracle of eternal cyber-space, some techno-sleuth will be able
to recover a thread a very private communication you had with someone you
barely met on your year abroad in Italy that was a couple days of bad judgment
that you’d actually forgotten about. Lord spare us
from all this choice!
The prayer of
our entire generation will surely be, “God grant us the imagination to keep up
with the possibilities that are unfolding before us”, for the breadth and the
depth of change is more subtle and far-reaching than we anticipated.
will keep growing and growing in the next generation. And this is how we will
see it, through two broad spiritual areas in our lives.
The first will
be an ever rising importance of the moral question, of integrity, of
authenticity. We already exercise this more than we know in our everyday lives.
One of the reasons that Americans report such high satisfaction with their
lives compared to other countries is a very high percentage of us believe that we are largely responsible for our own
We believe that
we exercise control in our lives and that we have chosen our careers and elect
our government. The spiritual challenge in the self-determined world is living
from the inside out, to live from intrinsic motivation.
All of our
lives we are maturing so that we need less inducement and less external threat
in order to do the right thing. In a self-directed world, we live more and more
like we are always on. This is the Wiki-leaks world. All your communication is
public and retrievable theoretically, even your private correspondence.
We have the
moral challenge in different ways from the time we are quite young, dealing
with peer pressure, whether we will simply follow along with what the group is
doing regardless of its integrity or whether we will begin to develop our own
internal compass, our own values, our own commitments.
Peer pressure never
goes away but is compounded when we are young adults by the material quest and
we stay in the acquisitive phase for quite a long time. What will we choose for
our careers and why? Why do we do what we do? Is it only about the money? And
what do we do with the big pile of money that we make? What is the vision of
the good life for us as a couple, a family? What difference will we make where
we actually live and what contribution will our families make to our community?
And if we are
successful, acquisition gets eclipsed by the moral question of power and
responsibility. At some point, you start you have enough authority that you
realize that you could always game the system if you wanted to. The Bernie
Madoff option is always possible because most every business venture is
actually built on trust and reputation and you can abuse that, yes you can. But
once you abuse it and you are caught, game over. Exit Mubarak, Gadaffi, Ceausescu,
Milosevic. Reputation is everything. Reputation is pretty close to being the
only thing. The court of world opinion now extends to Libya, soon it will bring
pressure to bear on the most remote island in the Fiji’s, in the mountain
villages of Iceland.
challenge is to develop a life that you live from the inside out. And that is
also the most fulfilling life. You know people like this. I know people like
this. They have it figured out. They don’t have a job. They live a life.
make a lot of money because they are channeled in entrepreneurial ways. Perhaps
they don’t because they are devoted to a kind of artistic expression or they
have chosen service and place themselves among the poor. But they exude an
internal creative impulse. They don’t need a time clock because they are doing
what they are supposed to be about. Whether they made a lot of money or not
they would be doing something pretty close to what they are doing now because
what they do expresses who they are. So the dull parts of their work are not drudgery
And the line
for them between working and retiring is more like changing a chapter than like
changing a way of living. Both of them are filled with self-expression. Not
surprisingly, we are discovering that this is also a happier, more fulfilling
way to live your life.
And the second
broad challenge is closely related to the first. It is finding your signature
strengths and practicing them, hopefully with those you love. Psychologists
somewhat stumbled on this when they started asking the question about what makes
for the realization of our human potential.
What is that
you do? What gift do you have? What did God make you with that the world needs?
You have something, several strengths, what are they?
the Olympic track runner from Scotland, had a wonderful line about his
incredible athletic ability. He said, “when I run, I
feel God’s pleasure.” He is doing what he was made to do. What is it that you
were made to do?
character strengths that you can develop into excellence. Some of you are
curious and love learning; some of us are critical thinkers; some of us are
creative and original; some of us read social situations astutely; some of us
are brave, courageous human beings; some of us have tenacious perseverance;
some of us are models of integrity and genuineness; some of us simply generous
with our lives and our assets; some us can teach others about love and being
love; some of us have real insight on justice and fairness; some of us model
leadership; some of us demonstrate balance and self-control in our lives; some
of us are filled with an inspiring sense of hope and optimism; some of us have
lived the divine life of forgiveness and mercy; some of us have developed a
deeper sense of purpose and what the meaning of life is all about; some of us
have an infectious passion, humor and enthusiasm for our life and our world.
What is it that
you do? What strength do you bring to the group? How does the Spirit of God use
We can’t know
the future. We can’t know the challenges that lie out ahead. And when you think
about it, how much more interesting has our life been for not really knowing.
We can’t prepare for a particular challenge or a particular social challenge.
But St. Paul taught us in each of his letters that we can strengthen our character
spiritually by calling upon the Spirit of God to develop in us signature
strengths. This is what we bring to the table. We bring those together, with
our different cultures, our different experiences, our different education’s,
we invoke the Spirit and see what happens.
The Spirit of
God resting amongst us may be all that we have, but it will be enough. In the
self-directed world that we live in, we need God in a deeper, more complex way
than we did in earlier epochs. We need the Spirit of God to spark our
imaginations and give us a vision, through each other, to figure out how to
create a humane society that promotes human potential in a world of incredible
choice, in our world come of Age. Amen.
Curiosity, interest, love of learning, judgment, critical
thinking, open-mindedness, ingenuity, originality, street smarts, social
intelligence, emotional intelligence, perspective, valor, bravery, perseverance,
industry, diligence, integrity, genuineness, honesty, kindness, generosity,
loving others, being loved, justice, fairness, citizenship, duty, teamwork,
loyalty, leadership, self-control, prudence, discretion, humility, appreciation
of beauty, appreciation of excellence, gratitude, hope, optimism, forgiveness,
mercy, spirituality, meaning, purpose, faith, playfulness, humor, zest,
Meilaender: Stumbling Upon Happiness (New York: Vantage, 2007), p. 23,
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