06 Apr Data can only take us so far. It’s time to move toward Mystery.
The science vs. religion debate has been raging for a long time. People have been surveyed. Scientists have been polled. There are whole conferences you can attend to hear all the arguments – some saying 500 years of science have made it all too apparent that God isn’t real. Others asserting, “The questions to which God is the answer are not scientific questions.”
The pandemic has only exacerbated the debate (and the divide) as many Christians claimed that you can trust in Jesus OR trust in science… but never both.
That binary view has never worked for me. And maybe it’s never worked for you either. I believe in God. And, I also believe in science. More specifically, I believe that science is not a path away from God. To the contrary, it’s a path of discovery (but one of many) that leads more deeply into God, and into all that springs from our Loving Creator. This blended view relieves the false binary. Which is good. But it doesn’t dispel all our doubts. In fact, it can stoke our questions. And cause us to wrestle all the more. A perfect example is Easter. As much as we might believe in or want to lean comfortably into the Easter story, the rolled-back rock, the empty tomb, and the risen Christ can easily confound us as much as they intrigue or inspire us. They can evoke our suspicion and disbelief as much as our acceptance and faith.
Isn’t that when we reach for the binary answer? When we feel stuck between two things that are not easily reconciled or that exceed our ability to know for sure? Isn’t that when we opt either to believe blindly and reject questions and critical thinking, or to believe only in what we can prove, measure, or quantify (and to think that if we have the right information, the right explanation, the right equation, the right tool or technology, then we’ll have the answer to the meaning of life)?
For as long as I can remember, my dad had a slide rule. Whenever I would walk by my Dad’s desk, I’d see it. Out in plain sight. Many times, I saw him use it. More than once, he tried teaching me how to use it. Emphasis on “tried.” My Dad’s earnest efforts aside, I still have no clue how he did what he did with that cool gadget that seemed more toy than tool..
My Dad was many things. He was an amazing communicator. A strategic thinker. He was great with people and a loving, devoted family man. But, as the head of all domestic media planning and buying for a major American company, he was also a math guy. He loved numbers and what numbers could help you do. Just after he died last year in early April, I sat down at his desk. It was decades after he’d retired from corporate life, yet there it was. That slide rule. With all its tiny numbers and fine lines and sliding center section, all of which were still a mystery to me.
My Dad trusted science. He loved data and crisp analysis, and well-reasoned arguments. But my Dad never believed that data or facts, alone, were enough. Never.
He taught me that while science and numbers are good for protecting us from illness, or making money, or building more efficient cars, or optimizing a media buy, they’re not always so good at helping us uncover and optimize our experience of the sacred in our lives. Big data can tell Amazon what I want, but only up to a point. Pants in the correct size and color? Probably. What my human soul seeks? Not so much – even with a Prime membership and same-day shipping.
Let’s remember, my Dad’s the one who taught me how to use a slide rule (okay, tried to teach me!). But he’s also the one who taught me that we’re never gonna slide rule our way into the meaning we find in Mystery. Most especially, in Divine Mystery.
Easter, and the whole resurrection story, are a deep-dive into Divine Mystery with a capital D and a capital M. We can’t test it in a lab or crunch the numbers, even today, when we all carry computers in our pockets instead of slide rules. All the quantification and calculations and measurements can’t prove that truth is more than meets the eye, can’t certify that there is more to life than what we can touch and see, buy and sell, quantify and commodify.
Easter is an invitation. It’s an invitation to let go of all our neat equations and simple answers and everything we think we can control. To open ourselves up to something we can’t see or touch, but that some part of us knows – or simply hopes – is real. To let go of our concern, maybe even our fear, of being misled by what we cannot fully understand. To choose to be vulnerably present to the living God who can never be pinned down, hemmed in, solved for, or sealed away. And to place our bets on a new equation: God = Love. Love > ALL THE REST OF IT.
Doing this doesn’t deny science. Easter is an invitation to meet Mystery not as anti-fact, but as the suspension bridge between the facts and something bigger. Bigger than all of us. Bigger than we can fit in an Amazon box. Bigger than we can solve for with a computer (or, in my Dad’s case, with a slide rule).
And when we accept that invitation to let go of what we think we know and step out onto that suspension bridge, well, that’s where the real, wild, and wonderful living really begins.
That’s when tombs really do get opened up and stones really do get rolled away. That’s when the Mystery of all that ever was, is, and ever shall be no longer feels fake or far off, it feels close and true and worthy of belief… even as it’s also worthy of our questions.
We’d love to experience Easter with you here at Winnetka Congregational. We hope you’ll join us for this day that can be the reminder our hearts are longing for, a reminder that the facts aren’t everything. And that sometimes, we just need to let go and follow the Mystery so we can fully step into the clearly improbable, probably irrational, ridiculously immeasurable love of God.
The Rev. Jeff Braun is the Senior Pastor of Winnetka Congregational Church, a progressive, LGBTQ-inclusive, justice-oriented and family-friendly church on the north side of Chicago. His calling is to share God’s word of love as spoken through Jesus, to make sure that everyone knows they have a seat at the table and to help us all recognize our oneness in God and with all God’s children.