by Susan Barreto, editor
A new song for storytellers and dreamers
Remember that old hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story?” You remember the tune I’m sure and the words:
“I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, because I know 'tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do....”
It’s a nice hymn, but one that doesn’t always fit our situation. What story are we telling? Is it our personal story or is it the biblical story of Jesus? Or are they weaved into a single story as our lives as Christians tell the Jesus story more completely?
These are the easy questions to ponder, but I believe the question is really wider in scope. Especially for those interested in telling the story of religion and science. Is it a story that burns in your heart? Is it a tale that will just burst forth from our lips at the appropriate time?
That old time hymn often makes it seem that that is what the ultimate story does — comes out of ourselves with ease via a power that is somehow larger than ourselves.
It seems there are stories of science that can spark such excitement — and certainly did for a generation of us who watched Carl Sagan’s awe for the universe in the Cosmos television series. The “gee-whiz” moment in science is often that question such as did you know that your nose is maybe less sensitive than a dog’s, but can distinguish from over 50,000 scents?
As Phil Hefner this month shares with us the story of the Epic of Creation course and what it accomplishes, he talks about “gee-whiz” moments. I think his essay highlights the fact that the “gee-whiz” moments in theology just don’t have the same ring to them. The stories here are not so widely told in the public square.
But the “gee-whiz” moments Hefner refers to are there and theologians such as Hefner and others have been bringing them out to their students and others for years. Did you know that there are theologians studying the human spirit and evolution? Or that some theologians focus on emergence from a theological perspective? Or in Hefner’s case, a theologian can look closely at how the endeavors to improve the human body or to lengthen life can redefine our beliefs about ourselves in a way that impacts our faith.
It’s deeper than giving points on how our vision of God changes alongside technological and scientific development. The stories of the dreamers in religion and science are more often about refining and measuring what stories science tells us about us and how those realities realign and strengthen our relationship to God.
Is that simple faith we hear in the hymns of our parents and grandparents and that was sung before man landed on the moon, the Internet and the unveiling of the human genome all null and void? No. If anything, we are learning that our beliefs about ourselves and our world can change, but the core of the story does not.
The story of religion and science is one about changing roles and relationships. Pastors are not there to question scientist’s findings in the lab, but are there to support their parishioners making difficult decisions related to life and death and the world around them. It’s about speaking out on topical issues related to genetics and bioengineering that could have harmful effects on subsets of the population or the environment.
So what is the story theologians should be telling? Of course it is the central tenets of the faith, but it is also the story that those involved in religion and science dialogue have been dreaming about. The dream story is not only of humanity’s future, but about human evolution and present day condition. It’s the story of wholeness and healing – physically and spiritually.
It’s a story that can’t be contained readily in a hymn’s verse. It all comes down to telling the story of what we believe we need to be in a world that needs the proper alignment between human need and human action to foster wellbeing and peace.
The scenario where this fails to play out is often referred to as the “Tragedy of the Commons”, which describes the dilemma arising when multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen. This dilemma was first described in an influential article titled "The Tragedy of the Commons," written by Garrett Hardin in the journal Science in 1968.
But what people forget is that to be rectified “The Tragedy of the Commons” requires a spiritual worldview. For many that spirituality that aims for justice can be found in God. It just needs some better storytelling to be seen in a common light.
So back to our hymn — “I Love to Tell the Story.” Let’s look for those scenes of glory here and now. Let’s remember that the time to sing the “new, new song” is now.
Susan Barreto is a journalist who has been following religion and science since 2003 with articles appearing in various newsletters and The Lutheran magazine. She is also a deputy editor of a monthly hedge fund magazine owned by Euromoney Institutional Investor. Susan is a long-time member of Luther Memorial Church in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and son.
Covalence, March, 2011