Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 8:22-39) transports me a 2006 DVD-viewing experience, where I endured Marlee Matlin overdramatizing the role of Amanda, a grouchy, dispirited photographer in Portland who wants to make it clear to the world that her anti-depressants aren’t working. There are only a few movies that have left me downright infuriated for having sat through them, and What the Bleep Do We Know? is one of them (it ranks right up there with Bad Santa in my book of stinkers). In this film, Amanda’s annoying angst slowly wanes as she gains wisdom and insight from gurus who connect science and spirituality, especially around strange unexplainable phenomena such as quantum entanglement (a concept from physics describing matter that doesn’t behave according to the more basic laws of science and nature). The short version: The movie’s scientists tout the power of mind over matter, a potential they would lead us to believe we all possess. They invite us to go down the rabbit hole to explore the ever expanding world of wild possibilities and unlimited thought. We are shown, for example, how our minds can alter the molecular structure of water. By the end of the movie, Amanda tosses her anti-depressant meds into the trash, convinced that by sheer willpower she can make her way to mental health and happiness. Given the fairly substantial following the movie garnered, I can only imagine how many suicides and violent crimes ensued when gullible movie-goers gleefully followed Marlee Matlin’s lead, rushing home to toss their own anti-depressants and anti-psychotic meds into the toilet. Or maybe they just spent their time focusing some loving thoughts on the toilet water, unraveling its molecular structure before their own lives unraveled.
So, what am I to make of my anger at a movie promoting the idea that we can manipulate water with our thoughts, and that we can simply make up our minds to overwhelm the troubling spirits that haunt us, when I then read today’s passage and see that Jesus is a guru promoting the exact same notions? He might as well have asked his disturbed disciples, what the bleep do you know? His actual line was more like, where the bleep is your faith? The two stories in this passage, connected by a common set of fears, a common rebuke of troubling phenomena, and a common reaction of astonishment, are nothing if not a dramatic demonstration of quantum entanglement – not in the exact scientific sense, but in the sense of unexplainable movements happening outside the basic laws of nature and science. This is the Jesus who speaks to the crashing waves and threatening winds, and leaves a calm sea in their place. He then speaks to a naked madman running wild in a graveyard, and leaves a clothed man seated and in his right mind.
Before I could get angry and walk out on this passage, I thought more about its implications, that with enough faith we have the capacity to speak to the waters and influence the course of their actions, as well as to speak to the troubled minds and influence the course of their actions. My what the bleep do I know? moment came when I realized how profoundly we have done just that, in the negative sense. We humans over the past century have so altered our environment as to create the troubling waters of climate change; we have made waves by damaging the ozone and wiping out wetlands and expanding deserts and de-foresting large swaths of the planet. We have created our own torment of nature. As for the torment of Legion, we have created a culture that has fostered a meteoric rise of mental illness, with more and more diagnoses of troubled minds every day. What’s more, a recent book by Ethan Watters, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, documents how America has exported our ever expanding world of mental disorders to the rest of the globe. We humans do influence the malignant spirits as well as the mighty waters. So, by logic if not by faith, I look back at Jesus’ story and have to conclude that if our cultural quantum entanglement can suddenly cause Chinese girls to start suffering from anorexia out of the blue, then the opposite possibility must exist. By faith we do have the capacity to create a different culture, a different way of engaging the planet and the people suffering from mental anguish. Maybe Jesus, as Son of Humanity, was not so much demonstrating what one human can do, but what humanity can do. The passage tells us that we humans, both those who claim Jesus and those who don’t, are generally afraid of such possibilities, though, backing away from our potential for radical peacemaking and healing that could alter the structure of the world and its many tormented people. May we as a people soon be driven by our fears to rouse up the sleeping Jesus from his comfortable pillow in the stern of this storm-tossed ship of state we’re trying unsuccessfully to sail, and trust again in that power to rebuke the winds and spirits of degradation and destruction. I’m ready to suspend my disbelief and experience some quantum entanglement of the positive variety.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.