In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press), where he argued that scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a “series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions”, and in those revolutions “one conceptual world view is replaced by another” (pp. 10). This phenomenon – this titanic revolution in thinking – is called a “paradigm shift”. Paradigm shifts don’t just alter how scientists view the world, they also change how everyday people see and understand their lives around them.
When Galileo proposed the heliocentric (sun-centered) model of the solar system, the Church had one of two choices: it could either alter its thinking (which was earth- or geocentric) or it would have to suppress Galileo’s findings. The Church, unfortunately, chose the latter path, accusing Galileo of heresy and forcing him to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. However, Galileo’s theories could not be kept secret, and his influence on astronomy and the scientific method has been felt to this day.
In the shift between one paradigm and another, there is often a sense of confusion and bewilderment. The current system we have of thinking about and seeing the world no longer works. It seems that everything is in chaos. Nothing makes sense, and we don’t have a new language or vision to make it make sense.
In all the Gospel accounts, women are the witnesses who loyally stay by Jesus all the way through His crucifixion. Jesus was the center of their moral and emotional world, and they saw that center brutally shattered before their eyes. When the women go to Jesus’ grave to anoint His body after the Sabbath, they discover something that makes no sense: “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body” (Luke 24: 2-3). The moral center of the universe has not only been demolished, it has now disappeared.
The women are then visited by a vision of “two men in dazzling clothes” (vv.4) who announce that “He is not here, but has risen” (vv.5) . When the women attempted to tell this to the remaining eleven Disciples, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe [the women]” (vv.11). The Greek word for “idle tales,” leros, also means “babbling” – as in the words spoken by someone who is delirious with fever or insanity. When we are experiencing a massive shift in how we understand the world, and attempt to relate that shift to others, we are often seen as babbling or delirious.
I believe that we are currently undergoing a massive paradigm shift in the way that we interact with each other, obtain information about the world and influence the world. This paradigm shift not only affects us intellectually, but morally and spiritually as well. Gartner, a research firm, calls this paradigm shift “The Nexus of Forces”:The nexus of forces describes the convergence and mutual reinforcement of four interdependent trends: social interaction, mobility, cloud, and information. The forces combine to empower individuals as they interact with each other and their information through well-designed, ubiquitous technology.
Every time there has been a major shift in human communications technology, a major shift in how we understand ourselves spiritually and how we celebrate that understanding has followed. The development of the printing press powered the Protestant Reformation by putting the Bible into everyday peoples’ hands. The advent of radio, television and mass media fueled the development of televangelists and mega-churches by allowing single evangelists to reach mass audiences.
While the printed Bible is static, and broadcast religion is uni-directional (with the masses as passive recipients), mobile technology has created an omni-directional communications environment – with messages being created, sent and received from everywhere, all at once. When everyone has a computer in their pocket, and can communicate with the world at the touch of a button, it is impossible to restrict the Bible to one literal, unchanging interpretation for all people. What many of us thought was faith has shifted, changed and disappeared into the Cloud. Our immersion in this omni-directional communication environment is both liberating and confusing – for some, it is little more than white noise, babble and sensory overload.
So what does all this have to do with Easter? Everything. The historic Jesus (or what we thought was Him) – bound by Church dogma and wrapped in literalist evangelism – has disappeared from the tomb. There are new people telling us that He is risen, but we can’t say what the risen Christ – and the risen Church – looks like yet. Some of us (such as author Phyllis Tickle) are speaking of an Emergent Church movement – independent of authority and location – that is coming into being, but these people are often ridiculed as babbling by orthodox theologians of the old Church, for whom all this makes no sense (or at least, not in their paradigm).
Theologian Matthew Fox has termed the new understanding of Christ – independent of the institutional Church – as The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (1988, HarperCollins). When we see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” (Like 21: 27) – or on The Cloud – Fox says that this new understanding of Christ will include:
- an embrace and healing of human sexuality;
- an understanding of the Divine as both male and female, and full inclusion of women at all levels of the Church;
- a renewal of the arts in worship and as a personal way of life;
- the honoring and empowerment of youth;
- a new reverence for the earth and a drive for her healing;
- a renewed commitment to prophetic acts of justice and
- a deep ecumenism, reaching out across and between religions and cultures to celebrate both our commonality and our diversity together.
The tomb is empty and the body is gone. Let us now go out into the world to celebrate the risen Cosmic Christ in all life and all peoples. Amen.