How do we situate ourselves? Where are you from, we ask? Where are we going? Where is our world going, we ask even more in the midst of political turmoil, war and environmental destruction? How do traditional powers and patterns of continuity collide with cultural changes of all kinds?
Academic institutions used to provide forums for such questions and some still do. It’s interesting to review the life of religious and cultural historian Thomas Berry, who taught at Fordham University and later founded the Riverdale Centre which used to present lecture series twice in the academic year and workshops in the summer. Now his ideas and practice is now conveyed several years after his death though film, books websites with rich resources well as online courses and social media. The ideas haven’t lost the relevance that first came to light in the seventies of the previous century.
Starting from his own religion and culture, Berry studied others searched to find their wisdom and points of comparison. This big picture thinking inevitably led him to focus on the earth itself as our common home and develop new questions with a new framing based on all the disciplines that were involved. These were not just religion also but geology anthropology, archaeology, biology, paleontology, and astronomy, We live in the world where all these play a role. Their combined role in industrial development and technology became a subject of concern for Berry as well as the lack of response to them of religion. Two world wars and subsequent ones were part of his life experience too. Most of us, in contrast, have specialized knowledge and lack a broader understanding of these multiple fields. One place to start to remedy our shortcoming is this resource for kids to learn some basics of “ologies”
Did the teachings of the world’s religions have anything to say to these scientific fields of knowledge? Did religions themselves need to get to know one another better as well as well as examining new developments and discoveries from their own perspectives?
The environment I where grew up in the thirties and forties was a comforting but basically limited world of a street, a neighborhood, a city, a province and a country. It reminds me of a scene in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town a play where the dramatist ponders life and mortality in a scene where a young girl meditates on this fact even more widely.
I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover's Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.
What's funny about that?
But listen, it's not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God--that's what it said on the envelope.
What do you know!
And the postman brought it just the same.
What do you know!
Now my family and I travel and communicate in a world more like the second part of the letter whether we go the entire distance or not. But I still start from the ideas of my original spiritual background, cosmology, music, literature, painting, sculpture and dance. I now encounter those of others - including my own family’s digital natives’ world on an equally superficial and introductory level at the start. How am I going to go beyond that? More on that soon.