Thursday, February 23, 2017

Breaking the Bubble...

A lot has been said recently about how people tend to live in their own "bubble" of influence. That is to say, they build themselves into a sort of "cocoon of comfort" around their own ideologies, their own accepted reality or "truths" that can be very hard to penetrate.

One of the most frustrating "truths" for me is this seemingly common understanding that science and religious faith can't mix. It can only be one or the other. I have two problems with this. First is that this idea completely ignores the idea that there is any intellectualism within religious faith. We Catholics have this in abundance! Second is this idea assumes that God can't be at work when it comes to scientific endeavors. Here again, we Catholics know that God can be seen in his creation regardless of how that creation is studied, be it the mechanics of the building blocks of life or the discover of new possibly habitable planets.

Now by way of full disclosure, I lived my elementary and high school life in Catholic schools. That's my "bubble of influence." But as anyone with similar experience knows, the study of the sciences and the scientific method is alive, well, and thriving in our Catholic schools. Least there be any doubt about this, I'm reminded of what my sophomore Biology teacher, who among other things was a Capuchin Franciscan priest, told us the first day of class: "That the theory of evolution does not contradict anything about our faith. Science and religion can live together. In fact, science can show us how God built his creation, allowing us to grow closer to him." Or something to that affect... it was 40 years ago for me... so while the quote might not be exact, the sentiment surely is.

Need more proof? The article referenced here ( is a great interview with Vatican Astronomer Br. Guy Consolmagno where they discuss the intersection of faith and science. Here again, the Church has had a very fruitful relationship with science, yet all anyone can remember is how the pope put Galileo under house arrest (forgetting for the moment that this was politically motivated; a battle between a particular pope and a particularly egotistical scientist, and not some epic battle between the Church and science). Read the article for some enlightenment.

And that takes me back to "bubbles" of influence. The best way to crack these bubbles is through education and experience... and that includes education and experience outside of our normal personal cocoons of comfort.

When I first started college in 1980, a great state university (and a real culture shock from my small Catholic high school), we were taught that the definition of "university" was an "open forum for ideas." Any ideas. And all these ideas got subjected to the same credible academic rigor in order to help us inform our own minds so we could come to our own reasoned conclusions. And there were no ideas or "beliefs" that were immune to this scrutiny. There should be no ideas or beliefs that are immune to this scrutiny. And if there's anything I learned from 12 years of formal Catholic education, is that our Catholic tradition has a solid intellectual footing to withstand this level scrutiny without undermining those elements that require faith in God.

During and after college I also took advantage of opportunities to travel, both around the US and outside the US. Here again, by becoming exposed to different people and cultures, by hearing their perspectives from their points of view, I could see my own "bubble" starting to crack in some unexpected and enlightening ways. Like almost all Americans, my ancestors took a leap of faith and immigrated to the US to build a better life. People having the courage to leave their cocoons of comfort (or at least, familiarity) to step into the unknown and unexpected. Daring to break the bubble in the hopes of a better life for them and their children.

When I was growing up, I was taught that the bubble needs to be broken. That we need to expose ourselves to new things, new ideas. Only then can we know who we are. We also learned that even by breaking that bubble, we still had two things we could fall back on... our family and our faith.

Today, however, I am concerned. There are those who feel that the bubble is sacred. That the bubble shouldn't be broken. That they have the right to live in that bubble. And the bubble should be insulated and reinforced so nothing can get in. And worse, they believe that everything else should conform to their bubble. And those things that don't fit in their bubble are by their very nature something to be feared or destroyed. I have a problem with this. This is not our faith. This is not Christ.

Jesus did not teach us to hide in a bubble. Jesus taught us to reach out to others. Jesus taught us that we had a duty to those in need. He taught us that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. That same Mosaic Law that specifically called for caring of widows, orphans, and foreigners... the outcast, those who are in need, to become their benefactors to bring them into community. Jesus didn't eat with just the Pharisees, he also ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and those reviled by polite society. He wanted to heal them and bring them into the kingdom. We are called to break the bubble, and in doing so, find the Lord.
After all, cocoons are meant to be broken, for only then can the beauty within be revealed.

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