Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent One: Hope beyond Terror

Today is Advent One, the start of the liturgical year. It’s the first day in a season of watching and waiting for God’s intervention in human history, looking back to the birth of Christ, looking forward to the promised second coming.

Our reading this morning was from Luke 21, quoting Jesus’ words about a time to come: 
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 
Tsunami damage, Sendai, Japan, 2011
Tex Texin
Some of that sounds troublingly familiar: anguish, perplexity, terror.

A roaring, tossing, destructive sea.

Yet the theme of Advent One is hope.

Watchful hope.

Hope in a time of fear.

Hope that sets anxiety aside and chooses to trust there is more to the story than the tragedy we see.

We read the words of promise:

The people who walked in darkness
     have seen a great light; 
those who dwell in the land
    of the shadow of death,
 upon them the light has shined. 

And we sing:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel. 

It seems we live in a violent time, torn in every direction by strife and quarrels, anger and accusation. 

Just say the names of the places and grieve: Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Jordan. 

Palestine. Paris. Charleston.

Forgive me for all the places I’ve left out, too many now to mention.

We know the headlines. 

The tallying of the dead.

We also know the deepening walls of division, the arguments for exclusion, the insistence on seeing anyone who doesn’t agree as obvious enemy.

I find myself thinking of Paris: the recent tragic deaths, the upcoming UN climate summit.

But also the time of the French Revolution, when one faction of revolutionaries turned against their own countrymen, their own fellow revolutionaries, in violent disagreement about how to move toward freedom.

In response to the Parisian deaths, President Barak Obama and other world leaders have mentioned the bonds of “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” national motto of France carved into marble arches and inscribed above doors throughout the city of Paris.

The first use of that slogan, “liberty, equality, brotherhood,” was by Maximilian Robespierre, who was also the first to offer philosophical justification for the proper use of terror.

Robespierre believed fully that the ends justifies the means, and was so convinced he was right he condoned execution by guillotine of over sixteen thousand French men and women: priests, nuns, scientists, civil servants, as well as the nobility whose wealth so inflamed the revolutionary fury. Total executions numbered around 40,000.

Among the last to be killed were the Martyrs of Compiègne, 16 members of the Carmelite order of Compiègne, France, who continued to pray for peace when condemned as traitors and sent to the guillotine. Waiting their death, they sang together, “Veni, creator Spiritus.” “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, Come.” Not long after their execution, Robespeirre was overturned and the bloody years of terror slowed.

In recent weeks and months, some political commentators have noted philosophical ties between ISIS, or IS, (the Islamic State), and the Jacobin Reign of Terror, as in From France’s Robespierre to ISIS’ Baghdadi (11 July 2015)  
Both Robespierre and Baghdadi believed in ideals that bring peace and harmony to the world. The first believed in the Enlightenment and the second in Islam. Yet both carried an ideology that suspended their beliefs. Both believed that virtue without terror is powerless, that virtue needs terror to promote it. Listen to Robespierre: “Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue…” This is not an Islamist. This is a French democratic secular revolutionary. Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety believed – like radical Islamists - that ‘the people’ do not know what is good for them, so the Committee will think on the people’s behalf and force the people to do good. Both have a messianic belief and a vision of a perfect society. They believed that they have the Truth, and are thus entitled to enforce it on those who do not have it. 
That’s an uncomfortable thought. We’d rather believe there’s something intrinsically more dangerous about radical Muslims than that today’s terrorists are displaying the same self-righteous zeal that propelled revolutionary Frenchmen during the same period as our own American revolution.

We’d like to place blame, build walls, open fire on the obvious enemy.

But what if we are all guilty?

What if that furious willingness to destroy the opposition is part of who we are?

Vinoth Ramachandra, a Sri Lankan Christian blogger I follow, wrote last week: 
The responses of President Obama and David Cameron to Friday night’s terrorist outrages in Paris reveal, once again, just how mired such Western political leaders are in self-righteous hypocrisy, historical naiveté and double standards. A few weeks ago, Cameron was again rolling out the red carpet, this time to the Chinese President- demonstrating once more that “British values” include kowtowing to despots and turning a blind eye to crimes against humanity so long as it benefits the British economy. The church pastors, human rights and pro-democracy activist, and journalists who have been killed or imprisoned in China carry little or no significance in the eyes of British and American governments or business leaders. 
As for President Obama- of course, the carnage inflicted on the French is an attack on all of humanity, but so are aerial bombardments of Palestinian families, suicide-bombings of Shi’a mosques in Pakistan and the deployment of chemical weapons in Syria. Are these no less an attack “on all of humanity and the universal values that we share”? And what is it exactly that an American and a Frenchman share that the rest of us do not? Perhaps we should re-phrase Obama’s speech thus: “We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté, égalité, fraternité are not only values that the French people have (fitfully and unevenly) cared about- just like the rest of us- but that we should all repent of our complicity in historical injustices and renew our collective commitment to pursue justice and peace for all humanity.” 
I wish there were American and European Christians who would openly raise these questions in their media (print and virtual), colleges and universities, and political assemblies! It would be a powerful demonstration of the distinctiveness of the Kingdom of God and how the Gospel liberates people from the self-righteous parochialism that surfaces even in times of national tragedy. 
In the day of Christ’s coming, the self-righteous parochialism of the established religious leaders made it difficult for them to hear or receive the good news of their Messiah’s birth.

And their zeal to be right led them to crucify their savior, execute his followers, miss the promised salvation.

In our day, the self-righteous parochialism of many of our own religious leaders destroys our witness, distorts the message of good news, diminishes our hope.

We forget that the Messiah we worship refused to lift weapons against others, refused to hate or attack or accuse or exclude, invited us to be like him. Demonstrated love as both end and means. 

I find myself pausing over one of the prayers for the day: 
Unexpected God,
your advent alarms us.
Wake us from drowsy worship,
from the sleep that neglects love,
and the sedative of misdirected frenzy.
Awaken us now to your coming,
and bend our angers into your peace. Amen.
So very many angers.

So very little peace.

So much misdirected frenzy.

Yet, the message of Advent reminds us: the story doesn’t depend on us.

God has intervened.

Continues to intervene

Will intervene in the end, beyond the anguish, anxiety, perplexity, terror.

And so our calling is to wait.

To wait, and watch, and pray.

To sing, with the Carmelite nuns on their way to the guillotine:


Come, Holy Spirit.

Come, Emmanuel.

Come, unexpected God. 

Bring us your peace.

This is the first in a four week Advent series.

Earlier Advent One posts:
Advent One: What I’m Waiting For, Nov. 26, 2011  
Advent One: How Do I Know?   December 2, 2012 
Advent One: Rethinking Portfolios   Dec. 1, 2013 
Advent One: Hope Is Our Work, Nov. 30, 2014 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving Three: Communion

I spent time this week in Pittsburgh at a conference on Shale and Public Health, where I listened to doctors, public health officials, environmental chemists talk about the unexpected consequences of unconventional gas drilling.

What happens when more than 750 different chemicals and compounds, mixed in more than 2000 different ways, are shot at high pressure and heat into fissures in the earth? We know the impact of one chemical at a time on adult males over short periods of time. What about multiple chemicals, over long periods of time? On skin? Lungs? Blood stream? Other organs? What about impacts on women, growing children, unborn babies whose organs are still forming?

We are all connected, in more ways than we know. Surfactants shot into the earth in one place can bubble up in another. Fractured shale in one town can increase radon in towns many miles away. Particular matter released in the air can be detected through markers in the next state downwind.

Newtonian physics posited an orderly world with discrete, separate entities interacting in predictable, definable ways according to their own particular traits. Quantum physics shattered that, offering instead a more complex, interwoven world.

In my high school physics class, our brilliant teacher, Mr. Appell, set us to testing quantum particle and wave duality. For weeks we worked our way through detailed experiments attempting to prove matter functions as either wave or particle. In the end, we were asked to defend and debate our conclusions, with mounting frustration: how could both be true?

I remember Mr. Appell twirling the ends of his reddish mustache, smiling with glee, as we argued, scribbled notes on the board, waved our results at each other. Logically speaking, both can’t be true: how can electrons be both particles and waves? How would you draw it? What would that look like?

That’s the challenge at the heart of quantum physics: our binary thinking doesn’t hold. We want to say choose one or the other. Door A or Door B. But somehow, it doesn’t work that way.

One of Einstein’s most puzzling, frustrating experiments revealed something called “entangled states,”a challenge to a core principal of classical physics known as “locality.” According to locality, and our most basic logic, an object is directly influenced only by its immediate surroundings. According to “entangled states,” testing or measuring an object in one place can simultaneously impact an object many miles away. Einstein called this “spooky action at a distance,” and for eighty years physicists have been trying to prove, disprove, explain the phenomenon. 

Physics points us toward a universe where what happens on a plant light years away can somehow influence what happens here.

Microbiologists have been coming to strangely similar conclusions from very different directions. Recent research has made clear that the human body is host to billions of invisible microbes, living on our skin, our hair, our teeth, multiplying in our blood, bones, brains, digestive systems. Since 2007, the National Institutes of Health have been promoting and funding experiments that catalog human microbiota and demonstrate connections between microbes and human health and disease. Depression, anxiety, autism, diabetes and more have been linked to abnormalities in human microbiotic communities.

Other research is showing that environmental changes caused by things like fertilizers, antibiotics, nanoparticles in sunscreen or packaging can impact the microbiome in ways that support or harm human health. 

What happens to a cow on a farm in Iowa can impact the mood of a child in Pennsylvania.

The work of a farmer in rural Guatemala can help or harm an executive in his office in Manhattan.

We are a tangled web of untraceable cause and effect, tied to “spooky action at a distance” in more ways than we’ll ever know.

The news, as I’ve traveled through the week, has been of bombs in Paris, migrants in Greece, airstrikes in Syria, terror alerts in Brussels.

Endless political posturing by our national would-be leaders.

It’s all connected: what’s said in New York echoes in Syria, flares across Europe, ricochets across college campuses, triggers violence in ways we can’t track, foresee, undo.

It’s beyond our control. Most of it.

Invisible microbes. Unknown additives. Planetary movements. Drones exploding houses on unnamed lanes in distant nations.

Two thousand years ago a group of friends gathered around a wooden table in a modest Middle-Eastern house, surrounded by forces beyond their control.

Romans patrolled the city, mercenary invaders wielding deadly swords.

Their own religious leaders were plotting to kill them, partisan patriarchs unable to consider any viewpoint but their own.

Their friend, the only one they’d ever met who spoke to storms, rebuked death and disease, that friend offered bread and wine as symbol and substance of his own imminent death. 
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11) 
For two thousand years his followers have debated what he meant.

Symbol or substance? Real food and drink, or memorial of faith?

Does he become part of us? We part of him?

Particle or wave?

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul wrestled with the implications: 
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” 
We are individual particles bound into waves by the body and blood of Christ.

But more than that, we are bound to all creation by the one who holds it in being: 
[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 
I follow with interest the studies of gravity, Higgs bosons, forces that hold matter in tension, that bind molecules together. Beyond any force our science can discern lies yet another force, announced millenia ago: in him all things hold together. For in him all things were created, visible and invisible.

There are Christians who object to language like that: only pantheists revere creation, or talk of God in Christ dwelling in every molecule.

And there are materialists who still believe that matter is all we have: nothing beyond it, inside it, before it. Just matter. Physical reality.

We know someday this world will end.

Atomic scientists point to a moment when matter explodes, when the mysterious force in atoms lets go in a blaze of light and fire.

Environmentalists posit a world ablaze: drought and wind and warming seas until the atmosphere itself bursts into fire.

Cosmologists talk of an ever-expanding universe that hits the limit of expansion and collapses back into a black hole singularity.

Apocalypse, once hard to imagine, seems closer each day, with war and rumor of war, global unrest and unprecedented population displacement.

John, the beloved disciple who sat nearest Jesus when he passed the bread and wine, saw his own world explode in persecution and war, saw his own closest friends martyred by stoning, beheading, crucifixion.

But he saw something beyond that – a sustaining word that will not leave us. 
A light in the darkness that will never dim. the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 
Fear not, the angels said.

Fear not, Christ himself repeated.

We are held in communion by a power greater than gravity, greater than darkness.

Greater than death, 

Thanks be to God. 

This is the third in a short Thanksgiving series.

Thanksgiving One: Provision, November 8, 2015
Thanksgiving Two: Creation, Novmeber 15, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thanksgiving Two: Creation

Last week I set out to give thanks for God’s provision, and found myself tripping over a simple word I use with gratitude: creation.
Just the mention of creation sets off triggers in many minds. Creation: images of anti-science legislation, arguments against global warming, accusations that the fossil record is a vast atheist conspiracy, ongoing insistence that the earth was created in precisely six days, precisely six thousand years ago.  Guilt, anger, confusion. Dread at the very mention of dinosaurs.

I wrote several weeks ago about binary thinking: the idea that there are two ways to see things, and if you aren’t one, you’re automatically the other. 

So, to a black-and-white sort of brain, Christians are anti-science, tied to a view of the world that ignores all evidence of change.

And scientists are anti-Christian, teeth set on edge by the very mention of “creation.”

Both views, of course, are nonsense, straw men propped up by sloppy rhetoric and loose ad hominem attacks.

There are many Christians who are well-respected leaders in their scientific fields.

Many scientists who are unapologetic in their expression of Christian faith and praise of the creative mind that set the universe in motion.

As I wrote last week, the fine-tuning of the universe to accommodate fragile human life has prompted a small wave of scientists to lose their faith in chance and converted to Christianity, or more confidently and publicly affirmed the faith they started with. 

In the same way, accumulating evidence in for a Big Bang beginning has narrowed apparent gaps between science and faith in the worlds of cosmology and astronomy.  Less than a century ago, most secular scientists believed in a Newtonian physics, and the underlying assumption of a universe that always has and always will be as it is today.  According to that model, the Judeo-Christian creation narrative was a laughable myth.

In 1927 Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest trained in math, physics, and astronomy, posited an expanding universe dating back to a single point in time. While many contemporaries dismissed him, Einstein found his ideas “interesting,” and in the decades since, his theories have been tested and refined, to the point that most astronomers and physicists now speak of the Big Bang as a proven moment of creation, or, as Arno Penzia, winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics describes it: 
a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, and delicately balanced to provide exactly the conditions required to support life. In the absence of an absurdly improbable accident, the observations of modern science seem to suggest an underlying, one might say, supernatural plan. 
According to Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies: 
Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover….  That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact. 
Of course there are scientists who insist the universe began without outside intervention, through events still unknown, with natural causes science has yet to find.

And there are Christians who insist that the days of scripture are twenty-four hours, not unbounded periods of time as Hebrew scholars have long suggested, that God spoke and all was immediately accomplished.

Even so, the discourse between science and faith on cosmological origins seems far less contentious than the questions surrounding life forms and human ancestry.

Binary thinking suggests we choose between godless Charles Darwin and the literalist James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland, who in the mid 17th century added ages and dates of ancient kings to deduce that the first day of creation began at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BC, near the autumnal equinox.   

Ussher was not the dunce sometimes portrayed, but a seeker of truth in his own time and context. 

And Charles Darwin was hardly the godless atheist Young Earth Creationists attack. In letters, essays, and diaries of his travels, he consistently expressed belief in a creator who intervened in natural processes in ways beyond human understanding, and confidence that humans are in some way unique: 
Amongst the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the [Brazilian] primeval forests … [for they] are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature. No one can stand unmoved in these solitudes, without feeling that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.  (Beagle Diary 1836) 
He was troubled that his work was claimed by secular materialists as occasion to jettison belief in God, while attacked by fundamentalists because he was willing to explore natural mechanisms God might have used in creation. In Descent of Man, he wrote:  
I am aware that the conclusion arrived at in this work will be denounced by some as highly irreligious; but he who denounces them is bound to shew why it is more irreligious to explain the origin of man as a distinct species by descent from some lower form, through the laws of variation and natural selection, than to explain the birth of the individual through the laws of ordinary reproduction. The birth both of the species and of the individual are equally parts of that grand sequence of events, which our minds refuse to accept as the result of blind chance. 
In letters, essays, books, Darwin probed the idea that God could use mechanisms he designed to yield results not explicitly determined. Does God ordain every leaf that falls? Every change in every creature in every place and time? Caught by demands that he renounce science in favor of a literal Genesis account, or renounce his faith in favor of a materialistic universe, he wrote: 
With respect to the theological view of the question. This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. … On the other hand, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. … I am conscious that I am in an utterly hopeless muddle. I cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result of chance; and yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of Design. … Again, I say I am, and shall ever remain, in a hopeless muddle. 
Like every scientist who has stretched the boundaries of what we know, every theorist who has struggled to see beyond the easy answers, Darwin was pressured from every side, pushed to flatten mysteries into platitudes easier to understand.

I grew up in a church tradition that saw Darwin as evil, science and Christianity as inextricably opposed, and pursuit of secular knowledge as a common route to spiritual ruin. Yet my grandmother’s Bible holds curious margin notes throughout the book of Genesis, and an interesting little outline listing “literal view,” “gap theory,” “day age theory,” “pictoral day.”

I’m thankful for her example of struggling to harmonize what she learned and saw with what she read in scripture.

Thankful for Darwin’s difficult journeys of discovery, Lemaître’s bold and brilliant challenge to the status quo.

Very thankful God lead me to a Christian liberal arts college that taught and practiced “all truth is God’s truth,” with a robust science department unafraid to grapple with available evidence: the implications of fossil record, the astounding discoveries in physics, biology, archeology, anthropology.

I’m thankful for the gentle wisdom of my college Classics professor, who graciously tried to pry his students from a too-literal view of Biblical interpretation, grieving at the way words of scripture were misread to hold women to a narrow role, misinterpreted and zealously misused to portray God’s actions in simplistic ways that missed the broader point.

I’m thankful for Christian scientists from the days of Copernicus to now who have built on the premise that truth is knowable, universal principles apply, and, as Copernicus said, it's our “loving duty to seek the truth in all things, in so far as God has granted that to human reason.” –

I’m thankful for groups like American Science Affiliation: A Network of Christians in the Sciences xand their faithful work in understanding this amazing universe we’re given.  And BioLogos  “inviting the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith.” 

I’m thankful for family and faith community willing to live in that “muddle” that Darwin described: confident that there is a Maker, deeply aware there is much we don’t know, can’t explain, may never understand about the intersection of observable fact and the God who says “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 
Most gracious God, by whose knowledge the depths are
broken up and the clouds drop down the dew: We yield thee
hearty thanks and praise for the return of seed time and harvest,
for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of its fruits,
and for all other blessings of thy merciful providence
bestowed upon this nation and people. And, we beseech thee,
give us a just sense of these great mercies, such as may appear
in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient walking before
thee all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom,
with thee and the Holy Ghost be all glory and honor, world
without end. Amen.  (Book of Common Prayer)

This is the second in a short Thanksgiving series.

The first: Thanksgiving One: Provision, November 8, 2015.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Thanksgiving One: Provision

Monarch caterpillar, Marshall Hedin, Wikimedia
At a recent funeral, I found myself talking with friends I hadn’t spent time with in years. The conversation turned quickly to challenges and changes, and to stories of God’s provision in recent times of struggle.

One friend recounted her experience of needing a car. Without one, her job possibilities had been limited. She had saved enough to buy something used, but was having trouble finding a car both affordable and reliable.

“I was praying,” she said, and I felt like God was asking, ‘What kind of car do you want? What’s your favorite kind of car?’” She laughed. “I kept thinking: I just need a dependable car, but the thought wouldn’t go away: if you had a choice, what would you want?”

She finally spent some time thinking about cars she’d had, and remembered one that had been totaled by a family member years ago.  “I loved that car!”

Not long after, she saw a similar car for sale, used, for ten dollars less than the amount she had budgeted. She took a mechanic friend to look and ended up with a far better car than she had hoped for. A car she loves. A car that makes her feel cared for. A car that makes her laugh with joy when she looks at the way God sometimes provides.

Another friend had lost her job and was anxious about how to pay the mortgage on a new home she’d recently settled on. She had had some interviews, but had been waiting too long to hear. Her job ended Friday. On Monday, she’d be on her own.

She called a friend to join her in prayer and together they prayed that she’d hear, very soon, about the one job she’d been waiting on.  That there would be an offer.

That same afternoon the call came. A very good job, for a very good salary. To start the next Monday. She was comforted by God’s care.

Sometimes God provides just what we need, just when we need it. Sometimes in ways that make our hearts sing.

Coincidence, I hear you say (you know who you are, my dearly loved friends, who shake your heads that someone so well-educated could continue to be so naïve).

Cedar waxwing, Putneypix, Wikimedia
The same kind of coincidence that delivers bequests to ministries in need – with just the right amount, at just the right moment.

Or leaves bags of clothes outside a seminary student's door on the very day he and his wife began to pray about how to buy winter clothes for their kids.

The same kind of coincidence that met a seventeen –year old me in the hall of a college administration building and promised “if you come here, you’ll never worry about money.”

Or stepped on the elevator in a crowded hospital, looked at an infant gasping for breath, and said “treat that child for strep pneumonia.” And saved that child’s life.

God’s provision is sometimes so blatant, personal, impossibly precise, that to ignore or explain it away is a greater leap of faith than accepting and rejoicing.

And yet, yes, there are times when provision seems lacking. When what we wanted doesn’t happen, when what we need seems too late, or too small.

I watch the refugees from Syria, the sorrows of our inner cities, and wonder.

Yet I don’t know those stories. And find, on those occasions when I’m blessed to hear from those with experiences far different from my own, that God is at work there, as well. Providing in ways I can’t see, wouldn’t expect, have no way of knowing.

The birds in my back yard are singing this week. High in our aging locust trees, Bluebirds and Cedar Waxwings have been celebrating a wealth of Virginia Creeper berries and the attendant clouds of tiny bugs. Robins, Titmice, Hermit Thrush: it’s a Thanksgiving party, a few weeks early.

The more I know of creation, the more I marvel at the ways provision is hard-wired into the interwoven webs of life.

Red knot © Hans Hillewaert, Creative Commons
Horseshoe crab eggs for migrating Red knots at just the exact moment they’re needed.

Milkweed plants hosting hungry Monarch caterpillars. 

Endless supplies of goldenrod seeds for Goldfinch young in the golden autumn afternoons.

Interdependent biospheres alive in human organs.

Yes, some believe that all happened by eons of undirected self-selection, the interplay of chance across endless millennia:
"By chance, of course!" As if
that tied up ignorance with a ribbon.
In the beginning something by chance
existed that would bang and by chance
it banged, obedient to the by-chance
previously existing laws of existence
and banging, from which the rest proceeds
by logic of cause and effect also
previously existing by chance? Well,
when all that happened who was there?
Did the chance that made the bang then make
the Bomb, and there was no choice, no help?
Prove to me that chance did ever
make a sycamore tree, a yellow-
throated warbler nesting and singing
high up among the white limbs
and the golden leaf-light, and a man
to love the tree, the bird, the song
his life long, and by his love to save
them, so far, from all the machines.
(from Leavings, Wendell Berry, 2010)
In recent years a small wave of scientists have quietly lost their faith in chance and converted to Christian faith, or more confidently and publicly affirmed the faith they started with. They affirm that the laws that govern energy and matter - atoms, cells, solar system, light - point to an intellect beyond understanding, that the details of our common life are fine-tuned so precisely that chance is no longer adequate explanation.

Astronomer Allan Sandage, discoverer of the first quasar, converted to the Christian faith at the age of fifty. In a New York Times interview he explained: 
“Science cannot answer the deepest questions. . . As soon as you ask why is there something instead of nothing, you have gone beyond science. I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery, but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing.”
A 1998 Newsweek article quoted Sandage and other respected Christian scientists, noting: 
 “Something surprising is happening between those two old warhorses science and religion. . . Physicists have stumbled on signs that the cosmos is custom-made for life and consciousness. It turns out that if the constants of nature – unchanging numbers like the strength of gravity, the charge of an electron and the mass of a proton – were the tiniest bit different, then atoms would not hold together, stars would not burn and life would never have made an appearance.
"When you realize that the laws of nature must be incredibly finely tuned to produce the universe we see," says John Polkinghorne, who had a distinguished career as a physicist at Cambridge University before becoming an Anglican priest in 1982, "that conspires to plant the idea that the universe did not just happen, but that there must be a purpose behind it." 
The Anthropic Principle, first noted in 1961, affirms the fine-tuning of the universe to support life. Density of matter, presence of carbon, strength of gravity, levels of radiation, speed of light: the list of fine-tuned parameters keeps lengthening, gathered under the heading of the “fine-tuned universe.

In a 2011 interview, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and mastermind of the Human Genome Project, said:  “If they (constants in the universe) were set at a value that was just a tiny bit different, one part in a billion, the whole thing wouldn’t work anymore.” 

NASA astronomer John O'Keefe, reflecting on this fine-tuning, marveled at God's provision: 
"We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures.. .. If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in."
These scientists would be quick to say that fine-tuning does not “prove” God, in the same way that evolution does not “disprove” God. God, by definition, is outside the bounds of scientific proof.

I can’t prove that the provision I see in every direction is a gift from a loving God.

Just as no one can disprove it.

Instead, I celebrate, give thanks, and trust myself to the one who has been providing since the first atom was created:

Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
make music to our God on the harp
He covers the sky with  clouds;
he supplies the earth with rain
and makes the grass grow on the hills.
He provides food for the cattle
and for the young ravens when they call.
His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.

(Psalm 147:7-11)

from In der Provence, Van Gogh, France, 1888