What Universe Do You Live In?: Old First E-pistle 08.09.12

What Universe Do You Live In?: Old First E-pistle 08.09.12

In a recent article about the attack on the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, the author, Avanti Kumar-Singh, a relative of people who worshiped there, quoted Einstein:

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

Einstein’s insight and the Indian American woman’s use of it struck me.

I mostly feel very at home in what certainly isn’t immediately, but, I trust, is ultimately a profoundly friendly universe. That’s almost my definition of Christianity:

“There are bad days, bad decisions, bad deeds, even people for whom the scale ends up tipping mostly to bad. But if you want to side with the deepest reality — how things are going to turn out in the end– choose to be loving. And respond accordingly. Yes, you make yourself more vulnerable, but can you lose if you are already living out what is to be the ultimate reality?”

This is my overly-philosophical explanation of the Kingdom of Heaven — the reign of God that is to come and is already here! It’s worldview has served me fairly well through some tough times. Perhaps that comes of my having had a very lucky life so far.

There was one period when it failed me. Someone was threatening “to destroy me.” Calling late at night and leaving horrible messages. Writing letters to others accusing me of all manner of things. Following me. You get the picture! (and more details still make me both sweat and sick to my stomach).

All of a sudden, the whole universe felt dangerous. Not just because I looked out before leaving the house to see if this person was crouched between two cars with a gun. Not because I had to tell my family not to open the door to strangers.

But because everywhere I went, his threat and my fears went with me. It was relentless. Not a great four months. And my rose-colored glasses were knocked from my face for a long time afterwards.

But I never actually decided to look at the universe differently… any more than I decided to understand it as sympathetic in the first place! Likewise, over time, I don’t recall a decision to convert back to seeing existence as wanting the best for us.

Certainly, how we experience what happens to us involves decisions on our part. There are also be genetic, historical, personality, communal and traditional influences as to how we experience the world. But can we effect our perception with some Nietzschean “will to power?” Do we decide how we will see the universe?

More likely our perceptions result from a series of interactions so complex we can hardly understand them. And that whole process is comprised of so many smaller experiences, influences and responses that it ends up feeling mostly beyond our willpower, even unconscious. We hardly feel in control of where we end up.

But even if we cannot connect the dots by which we move towards our understanding of the world, we can make ourselves more critically aware of our orientation. We can develop greater self-awareness of what our perceptual context is, and how it affects us.

Do you live in a friendly or hostile universe?

That’s a BIG question, more common for late night conversations in college dorm hallways. A friend offers another, similar scale for testing “the inner state of his soul.” He explains, “I find myself in various places on my feelings about humanity, a continuum of hopefulness to despair. Sometimes I am sure the world is a United Nations waiting to happen. Other times I dread that push comes to shove and existence is no more than dog eat dog.”

More often than not, he’s somewhere in between. How do you feel about living in human community?

~ Do you see all people somehow connected, dependent, needing one another, even when we fail to recognize, honor or live this reality out? or

~ Is humanity a mass of isolated individuals, stuck in too close proximity, struggling in a Darwinian competition for survival?

I’d love to hear your responses…

See you in church,


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