Faith and Physics: Part Two

(Before you read this, review Faith and Physics Part 1)

We have discovered that in quantum physics a human observer plays an active role in determining what is real. Reality isn’t a “given” waiting for us to discover it. Rather, it is potential waiting for us to give it life. Albert Einstein, who did not like quantum physics at all, complained “Do you mean to tell me that the moon only exists when I look at it?” He eventually had to accept that was the case when presented with the data. Now we need to go a step further.

In the quantum universe every time we make an observation we birth a reality. But it is clear that we could have made any number of observations but only made the one. For example, we looked left when we could have looked right. What happened to all the things we could have observed into existence but did not? Those potentialities continue to exist because, while they have no mass, they do possess energy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics insists that energy can neither be created or destroyed. So where did they go?

Many quantum scientists believe that every possibility comes to actual expression somewhere or sometime. To account for this they theorize that there must be as many universes as there are possibilities that could be observed. I can be sure, for example, that somewhere out there my UNM Lobos are winning the NCAA tournament every season. But it goes deeper than that. As physicist Hugh Everett has theorized, each of these “Many Worlds,” as physicists call them, likely corresponds to a different Me. In other words, my observations don’t directly generate worlds, they generate different versions of Me. Each Me then produces its own World.

It’s a different way of looking at things for sure! But what does it mean? Materialist science makes everything (including me) the product of physical processes that can be studied and explained. Quantum science reverses that by making physical processes the product of something non-material, namely, observations and reflections, a process in which I participate.

Looking at the world that way things get interesting (and a little crazy). If everything is a product of observation (a process physicist John Wheeler called “Genesis by Observership”), I too must be the product of an observation someone else is making. To use the image I introduce in Kali, A Novel, we may all be characters in someone’s book or video game just as we ourselves are creating the reality being lived by an infinite number of creatures including the people around us.

At this point you might well say, “That isn’t how life feels! It feels like everything has its own existence separate from me, an existence I must constantly adapt to because it does not obey or serve me!” But quantum science invites us to ask, are you sure that is true? Are you strictly bound to a given reality that sets your limits and determines your fate or are you less limited and more powerful than you think? It turns out that there is someone who has offered an answer to those questions and even provided stunning examples that illustrate how the world really works, a man named Jesus.


Faith and Physics: Part 1

Quantum PhysicsI love quantum physics! And I’m not the only one. A surprising number of Christian preachers and theologians share my passion which, like theirs, is Biblically based. I’m so excited about this new science that I’ve written a book of fiction titled Kali: A Novel in which I make it easy for readers to understand, and more importantly, to directly experience quantum reality. And I can say this for sure: it’s quite a ride!

Why do I love quantum physics? Let me lay out some background. The still predominate way of doing science is based on a philosophy called Materialism. That philosophy holds that physical objects are everything that ever was, is or will be. This powerful paradigm holds sway in almost every field of science from particle physics to biology and medicine and on into historical studies and theories of education. Materialism is the conceptual framework on which the world we live in has been constructed. Of course, by its very nature, this paradigm excludes any active role for the faith which is shoved aside into a realm of Sunday school pageants and private sentiment.

The problem with any paradigm is that paradigms are embraced but never tested. The core assumption of Materialism that physical reality is the only reality can never be subjected to falsification tests because it provides the bases on which all falsification tests rest. No paradigm can disprove itself because the paradigm defines in advance what is true.

But what if a paradigm is wrong? It’s happened and it can really mess things up. That’s where quantum physics comes into the picture. It’s an entirely different paradigm. Quantum science began with the study of reality at a subatomic level. At that level, as you look closer and closer,  physical reality eventually vanishes into a realm inhabited only by mathematics expressed in the form of statistical probabilities. Those probabilities have no physical existence whatsoever. However, they can become physical objects but only when they are observed by a human being. What this means is that a scientist who is seeing something in a microscope or particle accelerator that seems to have an existence of its own “out there” has actually, by her process of observation, created something that was never there before. She didn’t find reality she invented it. In other words, at the deepest level, the world that Materialism declares to be everything doesn’t even exist.

The quantum perspective (which included a wide array of new concepts) shocked the scientific establishment when it emerged around 1920. Critics hoped that its principles only applied to the subatomic world and nowhere else. But as falsification tests repeatedly sustained quantum predictions it turned out that the important factor was not the size of what was being measured but the precision of the measurements. The quantum nature of reality had been discovered because the kind of research engaged in by its founders required more precise measurements made by more exacting instruments than ever used before. Scientists began to realize that if you look carefully enough, the whole universe from galaxy clusters to quarks operates more deeply on quantum principles than those that are based on philosophical Materialism. It’s like looking at a mosaic set on a wall. From a distance, the mosaic offers a beautiful image. That’s the world of Materialism. But look closer and you see that the image is really a collection of colored tiles. That’s the quantum processes that create and sustain the images that form the Materialist world.  



Just Right for Me

Peg LegA big event is happening for me this month. I’m getting my prosthesis! Readers of this blog might ask, “Weren’t you fitted for a prosthesis months ago? To that, the answer is yes and no. I was fitted for A prosthesis but it wasn’t MY prosthesis. For many months an amputee must use a generic prosthesis because it takes time for the leg to shrink to its final size and shape. The “trainer” device lets a person get around and master the needed skills. But it never quite fits and it isn’t perfectly aligned to the leg which makes it hard to put on some days. All of which means that a patient walks with a limp that varies daily with the fit.

My new prosthesis isn’t like that (I’ve already worn a 3d printed version in training). It’s much smaller and lighter. It really fits (think nylons on leg). It’s curved to align with the shape of my leg which makes putting it on very much like putting on a shoe. Testing the prototype I laughed with delight the whole time. I knew why trainers say that your life with a prosthesis doesn’t begin until you get your one-and-only, just-for-you version.

As I left the clinic that day I had a little thought. How many of us walk through life on a generic prosthesis? Of course, I don’t mean we depend on some device to get around. What I mean is that our life-walk is hobbled because of how and where we walk is directed by influences that aren’t uniquely ours. Like my old prosthesis, the goals we strive for and the values we serve are bestowed on us rather than born in us. The result is that we limp through life happy enough with what we have but its happiness is haunted by a distant feeling that this isn’t the real me and the life I am living isn’t entirely what I want.

I wrote a book about the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. It’s called The Ethics of Chaos: How to Find Happiness in a World Gone Crazy. The author of Ecclesiastes leans hard on the idea that each of us is assigned what he calls “a portion,” meaning our unique life task. The secret to happiness is finding that “portion” and living it. Our portion includes doing work we love, driven by a passion set deep in our heart, all in companionship with people gathered around us by both the dream and the work. Even in chaotic times finding and living that “portion” feels like walking on a prosthesis designed for you and nobody else. Life feels comfortable, secure and above all, it’s fun, no matter what changing circumstances may offer.  As I thought about all this I asked myself: Are you trying to limp through life on the equivalent of a generic prosthesis or are the dreams and values that support you uniquely your own? I’d seen the difference in walking between generic and personal in the clinic. Now I wanted to be sure I was bringing that same difference into my daily living.

Faith and Fails

Hero Of The Bible AbrahamI am fascinated by a story told in the Biblical book of Genesis about a man named Abraham. Abraham is a big-time Bible Hero. The Bible calls him “blessed” and a “blessing” to the world. He is acknowledged by Muslims, Christians, and Jews as the father of their religion. What made him special was his trust in God, a day to day faith that was a fine example of what God looks for in people.

The story that fascinates me, however, undercuts a lot of that good press. It’s actually two stories and I’ll summarize them this way: At least twice that we know of this “Hero of Faith” did something very nasty to his wife, Sarah. Traveling in a foreign land he passed her off as his sister concealing the fact that they were married. Sarah was beautiful and Abraham was afraid that someone might take advantage of his vulnerability as a traveler among strangers by hurting or killing him in order to seize her as their own.

In doing that he had sunk about as low as you can go. He had exposed his wife to sexual assault and even trafficking. In fact, he himself basically pimped her. He let one man bind his “sister” into a harem never raising his voice on her behalf. I expect that most women partnered with a jerk like that would ditch him fast. It’s a sordid tale made terrible by the fact that this is Abraham, the man acknowledged as patriarch by all the major religions of the western world. What are we to make of a story like this?

When you read a story in the Bible (or any book for that matter) you always have to ask yourself one question: Why was this or that scene written? Authors and editors know that every scene must serve a purpose or else it must be excised. These two stories are in the Bible (though many might wish they weren’t) because they teach a lesson.

When I see Abraham, a man of unquestionable faith, driven by fear and anxiety to do self- serving things I see a magnified version of myself. Like Abraham I trust God – I really do – or at least I try. And I do a pretty good job of it as long as things are moving along easy. But the moment things go sideways like I start bleeding at dialysis or my prosthetic foot isn’t fitting like it should, all that trust quickly dissolves into despair and depression worthy of an atheist.

These stories remind me that faith is an attitude tested daily. It passes some tests and fails others. That’s just how it is. But even the biggest fail doesn’t mean that God has rejected me. Like Abraham, I still count in God’s sight as a man of faith. All I need to do is calm down and remind myself that the Lord, who I really do trust, is still with me. When I do that I do not find that the presenting problem suddenly vanishes. But I do find that my fear and depression is replaced by the confidence I need to deal creatively with the problem.

Faith and Excellence

QualityBack in the 1980s, a movement began that invited business leaders to focus on doing things and making things that featured excellent quality. The Malcolm Baldridge Award became a prestigious achievement and Tom Peters’ books were inspiring business leaders and manufacturers to strive toward perfection. That movement permanently affected life in much of the capitalist world, driving creative minds to do things bigger and better than ever imagined or to craft unique products that offered enduring value.

As a writer in the field of religion, I would expect one fan of the Quality Movement (as it came to be called) is Jesus. In his story about a business manager in Luke 16, he chided his followers for lacking imagination and creativity specifically in their business activities and made it clear that he expects his followers to generate lots of Baldridge Award winners.

Why would he expect such a thing?  As people of faith, we live our lives under God’s power, plan and purpose. We are freed from the burden of self-reliance and from the anxieties that go along with that because we know God is working all things toward our lasting good. Living fear-free, we face a question no one ever faced before. We should not ask what we HAVE to do because we don’t HAVE to do anything. God is giving us all we need. At the same time, there is nothing we CAN do to earn our place in life because we already enjoy full and eternal acceptance and you simply can’t improve on that. The only question we face is one that most of us shy away from ever asking ourselves because it’s just too scary to deal with. That question is: What do I WANT to do with my life? Every other question has been answered. Each of us is free from all the “shoulds” and “musts” that define most lives (unless we choose to simply ignore the gift given to us). So with every possibility, the universe offers wide open to us the only question we each face is what – honestly – do I want to do? Once we figure that out our life task is simple, do it.

It turns out that the question God sets before us is also the foundation of excellence in business and living. Top quality in any area of life cannot be achieved by pursuing objectives that others have set before us or by serving the banal expectations of culture. As I demonstrate in my book The Ethics of Chaos: Finding Happiness in a World Gone Crazy (available on Amazon), a high quality life begins when we each identify the unique dream God has planted in our head and heart and pursue that dream with passion and courage rooted in faith in God and it’s natural outflow, trust in ourselves.

The Power of Trust

TrustIn my journey from amputation, through rehabilitation and on to recovery I have learned many things. The most important is the truth of St. Paul’s insight that “It is not I who live but Christ lives in me.” The wisdom and power of the Creator reside permanently in each of us. If we continually tap that resource we are guaranteed a life of abundant joy and productivity. Of course, we are also guaranteed struggles and difficulties because the Creator’s plans for our lives are never exactly the same as ours. But that’s the point. God seeks to maximize our experience of life while we have other ideas.

Most of us try to minimize life’s adventure. We do that because we turn our back on the vast wisdom and power readily available to us which leaves us trying to muddle through as best we can on our own. Feeling inadequate, anxious and afraid we tend to drift along doing whatever people expect us to do while avoiding risk whenever possible. Inevitably, the result is chronic boredom and dissatisfaction.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I have discovered that the more I trust God to live His life through me the more I trust myself. When I let God take the lead I am a more self-confident person. I remember that God has gifted me with talents and skills, gifts that come alive when I pursue the dreams and passions God has also planted in my heart. In other words, the more I trust my creator the more I trust myself. And the more I am true to myself the more I am faithful to God.

Jesus once pointed out that it’s a bad bargain to gain the whole world if it costs you your soul. Many think that statement demands self-negation but it’s just the opposite. Getting along and going along with everyone generally means losing our God-given uniqueness. Identifying and making the most of whatever it is that makes us special, regardless of what people around us may say or think, rescues our soul because it is powered by our trust in God.

Learning Trust

Learning TrustMy journey from amputation through rehabilitation on to recovery has taught me many lessons. One of the most important is the difference between belief and trust.

For most of human history, just about everyone believed in some version of a god. In Europe, the existence of God was accepted as given. What divided people was the question of trust. Do you trust God and if so, to what extent and in what ways?

But times changed. The enlightenment birthed a new philosophy called Materialism which held that physical reality is all that ever was, is and will be. The inhabitants of Olympus, Valhalla and finally Heaven were banished to the realm of poetry and pious sentiment where for many they languish today.

This created a new situation. For the first time belief in God was called into question to such a degree that mere acceptance of the possibility that some kind of transcendence might exist became for many a substitute for faith. As a pastor, I can tell you that even some who attend church regularly think that their willingness to believe that there must be a God out there somewhere provides the total content of their faith.

But that was never what faith was about. Faith presumes the existence of God but goes beyond that to trust God and not just in regard to some vague afterlife because that doesn’t count. When it comes to dying there really isn’t a thing we can do about that so we might as well hope some sort of spiritual being will help us out there. The question is do we trust God in the here and now, day to day, hour to hour to empower and direct us? When we, for example, get in our cars do we trust God to bring us safely through traffic? More to the point, do we trust that God’s will and purpose is in play if he doesn’t?

Faith isn’t a matter of believing in God. It’s about living life out of the wisdom and power of God rather than our own skills and strength. We bring our abilities to the table every day but by faith, we do so with an awareness that God is the author of our life story and the goal of that story is to maximize our experience of living in all its breadth and depth. My journey forced me to learn that the content of faith is trusting that in life and death I am never operating on my own but God is constantly working in and through me his gracious will to accomplish. With that trust in place, I’ve learned to savor life, its challenges as much as its wonders, as an opportunity to participate in some small way in the exciting things God is doing in his world right now.

The Roots of Caregiving

I was teaching my Bible Study group last week, a group that meets at a large regional mall. The subject was Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan recorded in Luke chapter 10 of the Bible. The story stimulated considerable discussion. In Jesus’ tale, an unnamed man falls prey to robbers along a well-traveled but dangerous highway. They leave him half dead. Two religious officials pass him by without even offering help but an ordinary citizen whose country and faith was at enmity with the nation where the story takes place stops and gives him every kind of short and long-term aid imaginable.

When my group talked about it they expressed the usual judgments about who the good guys and bad guys are in the story. But that response misses the point. Jesus told his story to a religious lawyer who thought he knew it all and had mastered the art of living. He knew he was duty bound to love God and his neighbor. All he needed now was to fill in a tiny technical detail. So he asked Jesus, “Who then is my neighbor?”

Jesus didn’t answer the legal question. Instead, he shaped a tale that shoves the lawyer and everyone who reads or hears it into the ditch along with the injured man. We are all drawn to this unnamed, unidentified character and for a moment become the person in need of help. That changes our perspective. The question no longer is who can I with some sense of moral superiority go out and be for them a good neighbor but who is proving to be a good neighbor to me? The lesson to the religion lawyer was that he was the one in need, in need of love, friendship and ultimately, a savior.

The point is that we all need help and not just from time to time but constantly. Those who give that help are our neighbors by Jesus’ definition But their help poses a question, for whom are we a neighbor right now? Who is depending on us for spiritual, moral or physical support? The message of this parable is that we are never in any position to act out of some sense of noblesse oblige but that we can give because we have first received and love because we have already been loved, by God if by no one else.

There is no “one up and one down” in this world. As Martin Luther pointed out we are all beggars in need of God and one another. With all the hate and division in our world today we do well to remember that and remember as well that a great life flows not from a sense of either duty or entitlement but from a spirit of humble thanksgiving.

Keep Your Own Agenda

One of the most famous sayings of Jesus is his challenge to love your enemy. This always struck me as an odd piece of advice. If I love someone they really aren’t my enemy are they? If they are my enemy then by strict definition I can’t love them.  If I do that their enemy status evaporates.

I finally figured out that this saying has little to do with enemies but much to do with keeping our own agenda in life. The idea is don’t let anyone’s actions or attitudes toward you dictate your actions and attitudes toward them. We have to maintain a kind of wall between ourselves and others. They are what they are. The important thing is that we persist in being who we are.

In the same chapter of the Bible, Jesus also said “Bless those curse you” and “Do good to those who hate you.” It’s all the same thing. These statements don’t mean that we necessarily go around blessing and doing good all the time (of course there’s nothing wrong with that!) His point was much bigger.

We just finished a nasty election season. Sitting in the dialysis waiting room I listened as people talked about its outcome. Most were bitter and angry about something. You could feel the hate and see it on their faces. They had been sucked into a national mood of extreme partisan and ideological antagonism. Good people say we need to “come together”, but that isn’t happening and it won’t at the corporate level at least. The only cure for our dark cultural attitude is for each one of us to take Jesus’ advice. We need to ignore whatever mood binds our society and concentrate instead on valuing what we personally value. We have to believe what we individually believe and hold fast to our own (hopefully positive) attitudes toward life. We must never, for even a moment, let the values, beliefs, and attitudes dominate the times that define our lives. Keep your own agenda, and don’t let anyone else set it for you.

There Must Be a Why

There Must Be A Why?

Many people are struggling through challenging rehabilitation, a difficult battle with cancer, painful struggles with a child who is finding it hard to grow up and a range of acute crises. At times the challenges can overwhelm us to the point where the battle itself becomes the sole focus of our living. If that happens it is easy to slowly lose heart, ease off on effort and finally give up.

I’ve written before about the importance of having a “why” that shines beyond the pain of the present. In 2001 I was dying because of complete kidney failure. In fact, I was only kept alive by daily blood transfusions. As you can imagine, that can’t go on for long. It finally reached a crisis. I was rapidly losing weight because I would not eat. Food tasted terrible. Doctors told my wife they were going to have to install a feeding tube if things didn’t change. They also told her that procedure might mark the beginning of the end for me.

She came to me as supper was served that day and told me we were at the moment that would decide if I would live or die. I said I would throw up if I tried to eat. She answered, “It’s all up to you now.” At that moment I looked at my youngest son. I’ve never seen anyone more afraid. Looking into his eyes I decided I wanted with all my heart to erase that mask of fear, to see him grow up, to hug his grandchildren, to be there to love him.

I took a bite of the supper and nearly choked but got it down. I took another and another and fought those bites down. It took an hour but I finished the whole plate to the cheers of my family and nurses. That moment marked a turning point. Two days later my kidneys suddenly charged to life again and I was able to go home.

That struggle taught me that “Stayin’ Alive”, as the song has it, just isn’t enough. It won’t take us through the crisis we are facing whatever it may be. There has to be a Why and not just any Why but one that moves us from the core of our being. As we struggle through difficulties (and we all do) it’s imperative for each of us to listen for that Why and grasp it with our whole heart.