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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chaos and The Butterfly

In the past several weeks, through what my father liked to call "the miracle of television," we've witnessed political uprisings and protests in Tunisia, Cairo, Tripoli, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Djibouti, and Saudi Arabia.

And, of all places, Wisconsin - Madison, Wisconsin, for goodness sake! - where the protests against the governmental attempts to shut down collective bargaining appears to be spreading to Ohio, Tennessee, and Indiana, and influencing labor organizers in Pennsylvania and politicians in Washington, DC.

It's as if the Midwest has become the Middle East, leading some to ask, "Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights?"

What's going on here? Is some yet unnamed socio-political virus making its way 'round the globe like 'Swine flu' or 'Avian Influenza'? In the now increasingly socially-networked global village, is the cry for freedom from oppression 'twittering' around so that it is more clearly experienced and becomes infectious?

Are we witnessing The Age of Aquarius - not the song from the play/movie "Hair" - but the term astrologers use to define the time in the cosmos of cultural trends and tendencies.

An Aquarian Age, Wiki informs me, is traditionally marked by a such things as rise in democracy, freedom, humanitarianism, idealists, modernization, rebels and rebellion. Other ideas believed associated with Aquarius are nonconformity, philanthropy, veracity, perseverance, humanity and irresolution.

If this is the case, then some astrologers would argue that we are a wee bit ahead of the time line. Although there is some debate about this, The Age of Aquarius 2012 theory states that the new age will start on December 21, 2012, the last day of the Mayan Long Count calendar.

It's the end of the world as we now know it, folks, coming soon to a neighborhood near you. This is the "new age" the New Age people have been talking about since the 60's and 70's "Hippie Movement."

I have an affinity for the "butterfly" effect of chaos theory as one possible explanation.

Now, math is not exactly my applied science of choice or ability, but as I understand it, chaos theory holds that, underneath what looks on the surface to be disorder, is actually a beautifully intricate order.

Sort of the way, when one looks on the back side of a tapestry or piece of needlepoint, all one sees is a jumble of threads. Flip the piece over, and one finds a beautiful image.

However, the reverse is also true: hidden underneath the surface of unspeakable beauty often lies an equally mysterious chaos.

The key to chaos theory is the belief in a system of interdependence - as fragile as the wings of a butterfly and yet strong enough so that, if a butterfly flaps its wings in Peking, it could set off an effect that will be felt in Peoria.

As I recall, this happens even though these systems have their own independence and can determine their own future behavior. There is no randomness involved. Even so, this does not make them predictable.

To my simplistic mind, chaos theory has always been a mathematical manifestation of the divine gift of free will. This is a problem, of course, for those who believe that "God has a plan for your life," as if the goal of one's life is to somehow gain access to the File Cabinet In The Sky, secure the Heavenly File Folder of one's life, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest its contents, follow it exclusively, and - Voila! - one will live 'happily ever after'.

Actually, chaos theory and the butterfly effect help me to understand and live in the tension of both theological concepts - free will and "God's will".

In any event, it seems undeniable that, in all of these events, there seems to be a "disturbance in the force" as Obi-wan Ben Kenobi was fond of saying.

In one of his lessons, Obi-wan says to Luke Skywalker,
“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
Or, as Yoda taught,
"Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
Is that what is causing the uprisings in the Middle East and the Midwest? "The Force" and some disturbance which has occurred there?

Have we lost touch with it? Forgotten how to use it? Or, are some of us just now remembering how to tap into its power?

It is remarkable to me, as I sit here in my third floor 'lonely writer's garret', and watch these events unfold in chaotic images on my television screen, that the effects on my soul and in my heart and in the depths of my psyche are undeniable.

I was deeply moved as I listened, yesterday, to Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an influential Sunni cleric, as he delivered his first public sermon in Cairo in 50 years.

Mind you, the 84 year old Sheik has been living in exile in Qatar - a neighbor to Bahrain - and has been banned from the United States and Britain for supporting violence against Israel and American forces in Iraq, even though he condemned the 9/11 attacks.

He began his sermon by saying that he was discarding the customary opening “Oh Muslims,” in favor of “Oh Muslims and Copts,” referring to Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.

He praised Muslims and Christians for standing together in Egypt’s revolution and even lauded the Coptic Christian “martyrs” who once fought the Romans and Byzantines. “I invite you to bow down in prayer together,” he said.

Imagine! A Muslim cleric calling fellow Muslims and Coptic Christians together in prayer! Who would have thought that even remotely possible?

No, I don't think The Parousia is immanent. Jesus doesn't have a boarding pass on the next jet out of Heaven International Airport bound for the Middle East or the Midwest, but He may be lacing up His sandals.

As I write this, the winter wind occasionally slams bare branches of trees into the side of the house and occasionally rattles the windows with such force that it seems to be demanding me to turn my attention to its force and power.

Something quite remarkable is happening, right in our very midst. It will be to the philosophers and sociologists and political analysts to explain it to us more fully.

Perhaps it will be left to the next generation of the citizens of this universe, who will receive the benefit of the detached perspective of historians - with their advantage of viewing things on the other side of the time line - to truly understanding what is happening right now.

It is, at once, both terrifying and exhilarating. I am awash in a jumble of emotions - helpless and outraged by the violence and yet oddly amazed and hopeful.

I can only imagine how the leaders of the so-called "Free World" are experiencing all of this. The worst thing would be for us to look upon this and turn to consuming The Bread of Anxiety to assuage our fears.

A friend of mine reminded me that it is the nature of the Leader to act. The nature of Wisdom, he said, was to wait.

I keep hearing the words of Yoda. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

I hear echos in that of 1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

As I watch the events from the Middle East and the Midwest, I keep recalling - in my mind's eye - the scene in Star Wars of heat of the battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader - the battle between Good and Evil.

In a moment of weakness and despair, Luke hears the words of Ben Kenobi, "Use the force, Luke."

In the midst of the chaos, it may be time to set loose a few butterflies.

Don't bother. They're already here.


June Butler said...

I have an affinity for the "butterfly" effect of chaos theory as one possible explanation.

As I do, Elizabeth.

And what IS going on? Whatever it is, I could not agree more with you that our response must not be one of fear.

The sermon by Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, calling Muslims and Christian Copts together for prayer, is extraordinary. If we are to survive in these times, must we not join hands and hearts in cooperation and acceptance, in spite of our differences? I started to say "tolerance", rather than "acceptance", but I believe more than tolerance will be called for.

Thank you for a marvelous post.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for your visit, Mimi. I'm going to find the Sheik's sermon. As I recall, there were some troubling pieces, but it was remarkably tolerant, considering the violence inherent in the situation as well as the man's history of seeing violence as a solution.

Bex said...

Viva la Cheddar Revolution!

(I didn't think this one up, but I wish I had).

Muthah+ said...

My hermenutic of suspicion is working over time, so I am a little slow in thinking that these calls by the people to gov'ts that have failed them, to be victorious in the long run. But what I am delighted in is the energy of the young to be rooted in peaceful displays in the face of power and force.

I am also pleased to see Muslim leaders calling upon Christians and Muslims to pray together. It is at this place where I think that this past age of maniacal hatred is beginning to ebb.

Revd. Neal Terry said...

Thank you for a beautiful reflection Elizabeth. Your description of Chaos theory is simple and understandable I hope to many. Lorenz would be pleased I am sure.
The call of the Sheik reminded me of the occasions I have prayed alongside my muslim friends from Tunisia, Libya, Morroco, Egypt the Lebannon, Syria and Turkey. The last time we were all together was for the final day of Ramadan in the Sulamaneye Mosque in Istanbul. The randomness of events which brought us together was indeed a chaotic nodality but produced a unity of feeling which can only be described as moving. 'Luminous beings are we.' The stuff of this earthly existence unimportant compared to the possible.

walter said...

Elizabeth the ‘immanent’ and the ‘today’ of the New Testament are diverse from the ‘immanent’ of the eternal presence of the being of Parmenides because it is about an ‘immanent’ and a ‘suddenly’ in which appear thunderly the gospel of the promised future. In this sense only we need to call it an eschatological future. For the Greek parùsia was the quintessential presence of God, of the presence of the being. But in the New Testament the parùsia of Christ is conceived exclusively in the category of the awaiting thus it does not mean praesentia Christi but adventus Christi, that is to say it does not mean the eternal presence that discontinue time but as say the hymns of Advent, its future that disclose the actualizing potential to live in time because to live in time is Hope and Freedom. The believer is not located in the full afternoon of life but at the Dawn of a new day as our Dr Paul experiences in some of his posting. I think you know this already. In this sense I second your thought that the parùsia is not immanent. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused and truthful ILove my Littlee Girl, ILove my Portuguese Girl, ILove my Traveling Mercies, ILove our Helluva Woman, ILove my Brother-ILove Fran and Parson Kaeton at Freedom Theology-ILove my MysticLibby.

Walter Vitale