Two great forces shape the world today. No, they are not economic systems, like capitalism and communism. Or political systems, like democracy and tyranny.
They are Evolution and Entropy (for this essay, deliberately capitalized). Perhaps we’ve always known they existed, but we gave them attributes, like good and evil, light and dark. Or names, like God and Satan.
Evolution and Entropy are inseparable twins, like yin and yang. Both are irresistible and irreversible. Both are subject to time. But they are mutually contradictory.
Entropy, in brief, leads toward death. It dissipates energy, usually as waste heat. The ultimate goal of entropy is totally predictable: everything, even the stars, will gradually decline towards absolute zero, when even atoms will cease to vibrate.
The end of entropy is utter uniformity.
Evolution, by contrast, is about life. About vitality. About change, diversity, and flexibility. Evolution constantly evolves – yes, I’m repeating myself – to adapt to altered environments.
Therefore Evolution always moves towards greater complexity, more specialized roles. It never moves backwards. Mammals will never devolve to single-cell amoebas. Today’s birds came from one branch of the dinosaur tree, but they will never revert to T-Rex; they will continue to evolve towards something new, something better suited their current situation.
Always moving forward
Entropy never moves backwards either. When you apply your car’s brakes, entropy turns your forward momentum into heat. Heat dissipates into the air, and eventually into space. You cannot re-use that heat to increase your forward motion by stomping on your brakes.
Evolution is mountain-building when continental plates collide. Entropy is erosion grinding those mountains down.
Evolution is finding new friends. Entropy is losing old friends.
Evolution is the steady growth of knowledge, from the first primitive chemistry experiments to quantum physics – and beyond. Evolution is the progress of medical science, from the witch-doctor’s incantations to vaccines and organ transplants – and beyond. Evolution is philosophers exploring who we are, what we’re here for – and beyond.
Entropy is the rejection of Evolution. Stifling of experimentation. Refusing to change, even to acknowledging that change is taking place in our social and physical environment.
It seems to me, sadly, that most religions prefer Entropy. They refuse to let go of old texts and teachings. They deny insights that upset traditional applecarts. They condemn re-visioning faith as blasphemy.
Joan’s parents had an old wind-up gramophone at their cottage, before they got electricity. On that gramophone, Entropy would be the spring winding down until the record stopped. Evolution would be a jazz group joyously improvising on a familiar melody.
We cannot opt out of either Entropy or Evolution. They will continue, regardless. And whether I like it or not, Entropy will eventually claim the individual I think of as me. I will die. My body will break down to its primary elements.
But in the meantime, I can make a choice. My actions can further either force.
As individuals and as communities, we can resist change, attack diversity, and long for the good old days, whatever they were.
Or we can collaborate with Evolution. We can be open to new ideas. We can adapt to new realities. Evolution is not a pre-determined blueprint – our actions today will affect how evolution unfolds.
I choose life. I choose Evolution.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I had not point to make in last week’s column – just three heartwarming stories. Without moral messages glued on to their endings. Most of the mail that came in was simply appreciative. Thank you. In a sense, those stories were my own response to the column two weeks before, when I wondered if we were suffering from joy deprivation, as a result of the daily deluge of bad news.
So here’s a sampling of your comments.
· Laurna Tallman: “These ARE moral messages. No additions necessary. Thanks for the joy.”
· James Henderschedt: “Powerful stories and witness to the ‘now’ presence of God. You have provided me with ample spiritual nourishment to get me through today.”
· Mary Collins: “Very beautiful. Thank you.”
A few letters made more substantive points.
George Brigham shared a personal experience: “The third story had a message for me. Six months ago, almost to the day, I had surgery to replace a knee and about two-thirds of my femur. This was because of cancer in the bone. Recovery has not gone very well. I still use two crutches and move around at a snail-pace. I don’t go far and tire easily. Sometimes I despair of ever improving sufficiently.
“I felt for Itzak Perlman’s slow walk from the wings and wondered if I’d ever have his courage – or need it. Then I read at the end: ‘Sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.’ Thank you!”
John Hatchard expressed a note of despair: “There are probably many more [of these stories] out there waiting to be told. If they could be found in the main media outlets I for one would read the media more eagerly. As it is, I give them all a miss. Your blog is not part of the mainstream media though, so I am very content to read them [there].”
And Robert Mason, on a cruise, referred back to the Joy Deprivation column: “We really appreciated last week's message on Joy Deprivation. I read it as my theme for the day, for the small Christian Fellowship group which we've attended every sea day since we left San Francisco, \and it elicited many different responses from group participants. Earlier this week another of the group led and he went back to the same theme and we heard some uplifting stories from members. I don't doubt we'll share it again before we arrive in England in about three weeks' time.”
My Bible defines Psalm 71 as an old person’s prayer, but it could equally well apply to a young child. Both are vulnerable and dependent on others. I chose to paraphrase verses 1-6 from the child's viewpoint, verses 7-14 from the old person’s.
1 Don't let them make fun of me.
Let me hide myself behind your skirts.
2 Comfort me and protect me; listen to my fears, and enfold me in your arms.
3 When I am in trouble, I run to you.
I have no one but you to rely on.
4 The bigger kids won't leave me alone;
their greedy hands keep grabbing at me.
Rescue me from their clutches.
5 From the time I was tiny, you have been my refuge.
I have always been able to trust you.
6 Before I was born, I felt safe in your womb.
As an infant, I rested on your breast.
You are all I have, and all I ever had.
7a People stare at me. They see the creases in my face;
they open doors for me, and catch me when I stumble.
They pity me.
9 Don’t despise me too, God,
when my mind fails and my muscles weaken.
Most of my friends and relatives have died already;
my children have moved away —
don’t you abandon me too!
12 Don’t distance yourself from me;
don’t leave me alone in my rented room.
10 I have no one close any more;
everyone is a stranger.
11 They pity me.
13 Someday they’ll know what it’s like;
old age will catch up with them, too.
Then they’ll understand —
they’ll regret their former attitudes.
14 As my body fails, I hang my hope on you.
I look forward to joining you,
7b for you are my rock, the unchanging constant in my life.
8 I will concentrate on you, every day I have left.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I posted a new poem there on Tuesday.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet