My brother David taught me to read at 4 years old – he insisted I would read before the next door neighbor 8 months older than me, the one who let me play touch football with the big kids, the one who taught me to drive using his own car – manual transmission – I might add. Although he still blames me for his clutch going out. It’s a curious thing – my brother hasn’t made it into the 21st century – in fact, I think he’s stuck somewhere in the 1950’s – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He seems to have an affinity for the decade in which he was born! Every morning before he goes to teach at Amboy Middle School a suburb of Battleground – where he has taught for the past 35 years, (who stays at one job for that long anymore???), he puts on the clothes his wife has washed and ironed and chosen for him to wear. His wife is basically June Cleaver, with dinner on the table every evening at 6 pm with all food groups represented. The clincher of the story is neither my brother or his wife own a cell phone!!! In fact when I tried to gift an old cell phone his way, he turned it down. My brother is more comfortable with the last century or should I say millenium. In order for him to enter into the 21st century, he would have to undergo a massive paradigm shift.
The term paradigm shift was coined by Thomas Kuhn, an American philosopher and physicist who published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962. He referred to a paradigm as a frame of reference, an interpretive grid through which humans interpret our experience. Kuhn’s thesis was that every significant breakthrough in the field of science requires a break with old ways of thinking, a paradigm shift. English language has adopted that term to describe a fundamental change in approach or assumptions. Attitudes and worldviews are held by individuals, societies, and religions. Cultural values find their roots in our worldview, a paradigm which shapes concepts and practices.
Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks about “paradigm shifts” in his book.
He says a paradigm is the mental map that determines how a person perceives, and interprets the outside world – a series of ingrained assumptions of the way things are.
Covey tells a story of a paradigm shift.
“It was a calm, peaceful morning on a subway in NY, until a man and his children entered the car. The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, oblivious to his children yelling, grabbing people’s things and throwing them. It was very disturbing. And still, the father did nothing. I was irritated that the father could be so insensitive to let his children run wild and take no responsibility for their behavior. Finally, with great restraint, I said to, “Sir, your children are disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them?”
“The man lifted his gaze and spoke, ‘Oh, I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died an hour ago. None of us quite know how to handle it.’
“Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished instantly. My heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.
“People experience a similar fundamental shift in thinking when they face a life-threatening crisis and suddenly see their priorities in a different light, or when they suddenly step into a new role. It becomes obvious that if we want to make minor changes in our lives, we focus on our attitudes and behaviors. But if we want to make significant change, we need to work on our basic paradigms.
Think about Copernicus & Galileo. What paradigms & world views have shifted in your lifetime?
In the first-century church one a central issue for early followers of Jesus was navigating the process for initiating Gentiles as new followers of Jesus. Some Jewish Christians, including Peter, insisted that Gentiles follow Jewish law – including eating certain foods, worshipping in temple, and undergoing the rite of circumcision. Acts 10-11 emerges as a a paradigm shift for Peter. While praying and napping on the rooftop, Peter falls into a trance and receives a vision from God. God tells Peter three times to get up and eat what Peter considered contraband foods according to Jewish law.
Peter says, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” Peter argues from the perspective of religious purity laws. Table fellowship is crucial in Judaism, a religious tradition that grew up in a broader Middle Eastern culture where the choice of table sharing was a vital indicator of who was in and who was not. One of the reasons Jesus was crucified by those in his religious tradition is his choice of table companions; he ate with too many people who were considered unclean, “guilty by association”.
The voice declares, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happens 3x. When something occurs 3 times, in biblical writing, especially for Peter that’s a call to pay attention.
Meanwhile, Cornelius, a Gentile Roman Centurion also receives a visitation from God. Roman Centurions followed orders to crucify Jesus, AND Gentiles were considered unclean to Jews. And Cornelius is described as a devout man who generously gave alms and prayed to the Jewish God. That’s a lot of cognitive dissonance. Cornelius worshiped at the synagogue and attempted to follow the basic principles of Judaism. He was respected because of his piety and generosity. An angel of God comes to Cornelius in a dream, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain man named Peter.” And so he did. As Peter awakens from his trance, 3 men arrive, inviting Peter to go to the home of Cornelius in Caesarea, a Gentile city.
Peter offers these Gentiles hospitality which was considered a scandal, the travels to Caesarea, and enters Cornelius’ home which is also scandalous. With the risk of religious impurity at stake. Peter declares: “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to visit a Gentile.” But as Cornelius begins to share about his faith—Peter experiences an epiphany – a paradigm shift. If God’s spirit is as available to Gentiles as it has been to Jews, the world is a vastly different place. Peter realizes his worldview, his theology, his faith must change. He saw that the gospel was not only for those who lived and believed as he did. He was beginning to understand the inclusive nature of a God who welcomes ALL people.
In faith, Peter finally says to the others, “‘If then God gave them the same gift that God gave us when we believed in Jesus, who was I to hinder God?’ When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, ‘Then God has given EVEN to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’”
Just as God invited Peter into a paradigm shift, God continually invites us to examine our faith, and move into paradigm shifts in our lives. Who are the people or situations that you would say EVEN THEM!?!?!?
Father Richard Rohr, in a theme of paradigm shift, wrote a recent reflection last week:
History has so long operated with a static and imperial image of God, living in isolation from what God created. God’s love is perceived as unstable and preferential. Humans become like the God we worship. So it’s important that our God is good and life-giving. That’s why we desperately need a worldwide paradigm shift in Christian consciousness regarding how we perceive and relate to God. Paradigm shifts become necessary when the plausibility structure of the previous paradigm becomes so full of holes that a complete overhaul, which once looked utterly threatening, now appears as a lifeline. God’s power comes through powerlessness and humility. The Christian God is more properly called all-vulnerable than almighty God. Unfortunately, for the vast majority, God is still ‘the man upstairs,’ a noun more than an active verb. People wonder, ‘If God is almighty and all-loving, then why is there so much suffering in the world?’ But once you experience God as all-vulnerable, then perhaps God stands in solidarity with all pain and suffering in the universe, allowing us to be participants in our own healing. This does not make sense to the logical mind, but to the awakened soul it somehow does.
May we take seriously the calling and leading of the Holy Spirit, as we celebrate relationship, love, and humble service to others. May we question the assumptions which lay beneath and behind the situations we face, both locally as individuals, and as societies and cultures. May our leaders seek the common good which benefits everyone, shaped by the Prince of Peace and the Wisdom of the Spirit. Love one another, and allow this love, this image of God, to create you, and form all things.
As paradigms shift through unity and grace, may God all-vulnerable be humble, even as forever.
The call of Christ is one of inclusion. And the same message translates to the EVEN THEM – whomever we see as “outsiders” of our time: that no matter what your race is, no matter what your religious background is, no matter whether you are in this country legally, no matter what your sexual orientation is, no matter what – God loves you and wants you to know about this love. May the circles of our inclusion continue to expand outward until the whole world lives under the umbrella of God’s all-encompassing love.