Christianity in the Chrysalis: An Evolutionary Perspective on Today’s Chaos

To be introduced by my son, Jim, is quite a thrill for me. He and I have had such a marvelous relationship throughout his entire lifetime. It has also been one so filled with humor, that when I first heard that he was going to introduce me I thought I was in big trouble.  I never know what Jim is going to say or do, but he actually took this seriously. That was quite moving. Thank you, Jim.

Before I get into the content of my presentation, I want to take a brief moment to tell you how meaningful it is to me to be invited to be here with you – to spend some time with leading-edge, forward thinking, kindred souls. I also consider it an honor to be asked to be a presenter alongside Sister Joan Chittister and Marcus Borg, both of whom I’ve admired and learned from.


When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was in his later years, he was getting a bit forgetful. On one occasion, he found himself aboard a train, and when the conductor started coming down the aisle to pick up the tickets, Justice Holmes became quite agitated. He began frantically looking through all his pockets, and seemed to become more irritated, agitated, and disturbed as the conductor got closer and closer. The conductor recognized him, became aware of his frantic search for his ticket, and said:

“Justice Holmes. I recognize who you are, and I am sure you paid for a ticket. Please just relax. When you get to your destination you will no doubt find your ticket, and you can just mail it in to us.”

“Young man,” replied Justice Holmes, “I know I paid for a ticket. That’s not my problem. My problem is – where am I going?”

We live in a time when it can be very confusing regarding where we are going.  There is a great deal of chaos in the world, and apparently contradictory evidence regarding the direction the world is headed. Some people believe we are going to hell in a hand basket, and others believe humanity’s soul is being transformed in the direction of greater spiritual maturity. Pessimists abound, as do optimists – a plethora of perspectives as to where we are going.

Within that confusing cacophony of opinions, we gather here to consider the future of Christianity. Is the future in the hands of fundamentalists and those who want to go back to an earlier time? Or is the future in the hands of progressive Christians? Are we here to simply rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Christian Church’s Titanic? Or are we sailing into a new dawn and a new day for the Christian Church? How can we know where we are headed?

Think with me for a few moments about a river, as analogous to human history.  Imagine that each of us is being led, blind-folded, to a cliff overlooking a river. We are told simply that when our blindfolds are removed, we will be looking down on a body of water, and our individual task will be to determine (1) if the water is moving, and if so, (2) what direction is the water (history) going? But the tricky part of this experiment is that our blindfolds are removed only when we can look through a telescope with a zoom lens. In this analogy, the zoom lens represents the narrow focus of our lives and, particularly, our given speciality or area of interest.

For some of us, when the blindfold is removed and we are looking through our zoom lens, we find ourselves looking at a side-pool. The water is going nowhere, we report. Things are pretty much at a standstill, we think. Regarding the analogy to history, there is nothing new under the sun, we say.

Others of us, when the blindfold is removed, find ourselves looking at a whirlpool. The body of water is certainly moving, but it is simply going around in circles. Regarding history, we believe that there are, indeed, changes, but things change only to bring us back to where we started. We have a cyclical view of history.

Still others of us, given our narrow perspective through the zoom lens, say the river is clearly flowing in a direction from left to right – the analogy to history is that we are convinced from the evidence that we see indicates that the world is getting more and more conservative. While, still others of us, looking through our zoom lens see that the river is clearly flowing from right to left – the world is getting more and more liberal. But, is the former a backwater, or the real direction the river is flowing? Is the latter accurate regarding the overall flow of the river, or is it a deceptive backwater?

The point of this analogy is that every perspective is correct within the narrow focus of that particular zoom lens. Every one of us is seeing real evidence, and so we can have endless arguments regarding how our particular perspective represents the flow of the river – and we can present example after example to support our conclusion. And, yet, looking at the river through a number of zoom lens, focusing upon small sections of the water, we can never resolve the question as to which direction the river, as a whole, is really flowing. For that, we need a wide-angle lens. And, with a wide-angle lens we can see that the river contains all those realities – side pools of standing water, whirlpools, and backwaters – but the river in general is clearly moving in a very particular direction.

Deep-value research is a means of providing that wide-angle lens by which we can bring a larger perspective to the task of discerning direction in the history of the human Soul. With deep-value research we can see that there is apparent stasis at times, there are apparent cycles, and there are periods of backlash, resistance, retreat, and retrenchment. Yet, the big picture provides a clear directional movement in the evolution of the human Soul.

Another way of considering the value of this big picture research, is through the words of Edna St. Vincent Malay:

        Upon this gifted age in its dark hour;
rains from the sky a meteoric shower of facts;
they lie unquestioned; uncombined;
wisdom enough to leech us of our ill is daily spun;
but there exists no loom to weave it into fabric.”    

Tonight, I would like to introduce you to a new science of Soul – a science of spiritual evolution that, in the first analogy provides a wide-angle lens or, in the second analogy provides a loom by which we can weave all the historical data into a fabric of meaning and purpose.

First of all, Deep-value Research expands the view of spiritual evolution to examine thirty-five thousand years. When considering a history of only two to five thousand years, as most of today’s world religions do, we can be fooled into thinking that some things are stable and static, when in fact, when viewed in the longer and larger perspective, can be seen to be evolving and changing. Soul time, like geological time, or cosmological time, moves at a different pace from the calendar of a given religion.

The reason for this wide-angle lens covering 35,000 years is because that is the period of history from which we have enough evidence of the human Soul’s deep value system from which we can draw some conclusions. We have some evidence from before that time, but not enough. For instance, there is a little bit of evidence that the Neanderthals buried their dead and took care of their sick and infirmed – all of which would suggest a value system. But we simply do not have enough evidence in order to discern exactly what that value system was in any sufficient detail. Beginning 35,000 years ago, however, sufficient evidence emerges in the historical record that gives a pretty good picture of the human value system. We will come back to that in more detail in tomorrow’s lecture.

First of all, Deep-value Research is akin to an archaeological dig. An archaeological dig is an appropriate metaphor because in an archaeological dig, the deeper you go, the further back in time you go. And what Deep-value Research does is to dig down to the deepest level of human cultures, and attempt to discover the DNA of Soul, and whether that DNA of Soul has changed throughout the history of Soul.

If genetic DNA determines what we are physically, the Soul’s DNA determines what we are psychologically and spiritually. What I am calling deep-values are what constitutes the Soul’s DNA – the deepest causal influences that determine what we value in human cultures, why we think and act in certain ways, and why we create our institutions and train our professionals in the particular way that we do.

Perhaps taking a moment to define my terms will help clarify what I am talking about. (Dr. Keck here began using “power point” visual graphics to enhance his verbal presentation.)

When I use the word Soul with a capital “S,” as you can see in this definition, I am referring to the deepest part of the collective human psyche wherein God’s purpose for humanity is embedded. When I lowercase the “s,” I am referring to our individual depths wherein our own special-case version of spiritual meaning and purpose can be discovered and followed. Obviously, implicit through all this is the faithful assumption that God has a meaningful and purposeful journey for the human species, as well as for ourselves, and that it is discernible if we look deeply enough. In other words, the personal questions – what is God calling me to do in this lifetime? – can also be asked for our species in general. In other words, does humanity have a purposeful evolutionary journey, or are we just wandering around throughout history without meaning or direction?”

In this next graphic, oversimplified obviously in order to see the overall pattern, our archaeological dig into the causal and influential layers of human cultures begins with our daily lives. Our daily living – what language we speak, how we dress, eat, worship, etc. – is obviously influenced to a great extent by the culture in which we live. All mainstream human cultures are special-case scenarios of humanity’s deep-value system.

(Parenthetically, we are not overlooking, ignoring, trivializing, nor denigrating the many sub-cultures, counter-cultures, or native and indigenous peoples – it is simply that the purpose of deep-value research is to discover why certain values become dominant around the world. Only by understanding that will we understand why dominant cultures treat non-dominant cultures in the way that they do, and why majorities treat minorities in the way that they do.)

Deep-value research, down to this level, can be joined by any atheist or total materialist. It takes no particular faith in order to research the evidence of deep-values. However, as you can see from this graphic, I take it further. I just want to identify, however, that these lower influential levels do involve my faithful assumptions. My faithful interpretation suggests that there are deeper levels – that there are deeper causal influences for why we have that value system. I am assuming a Divine withinness to life – God, if you will – and a human Soul that carries that Divine presence and purpose.

So, to work our way back up through these causal levels, I am suggesting that God is the Divine source of all, that God has a meaningful purpose to the human journey embedded within the DNA of humanity’s Soul – a deep-value system – and that we can discern that DNA of Soul through empirical research by digging down into the most influential causal values in human cultures. That deep-value system shapes how and why we think and act, create institutions and train professionals, in the particular way that we do.

It is important to keep in mind that, contrary to popular opinion, our religions do not create this deep-value system. It is precisely the other way around – it is our deep-value system that has determined our very notions of the Divine-human relationship, and why we created our religions in the way that we have.

I am defining “spirituality” here as our individual awareness of a Divine meaning and purpose in our lives, and our attempt to respond to that “call.” Our spirituality, therefore, may or may not be shared in common with others. “Religion,” on the other hand, is the institutional way in which groups of people gather together to manifest, facilitate, and celebrate their sense of the spiritual; creating and maintaining meaningful community, as well as honoring and conserving and preserving their particular history, tradition, rituals, and symbols.

What is implicit throughout my discussion today and tomorrow is that it is the nature of religious institutions to conserve and preserve a given past, and the emotional and intellectual need, therefore, for historical stasis. Problems for institutions arise, however, when the human Soul is being transformed – the DNA of Soul being changed, as it were. At such times – and I will be suggesting throughout my lectures today and tomorrow – there develops an inevitable gap between what people are feeling dynamically and spiritually, and the historic and traditional assumptions of stasis.

Getting back to the spiritual archaeology of Deep-value Research, the second contribution it makes is to discern an evolutionary paradigm in the territory of Soul. A perspective of only two to five thousand years gives us the illusion of a static Soul, a Soul in stasis, whereas a 35,000 year view reveals evolutionary changes.

But, it is a particular version of evolution, akin to the recent changes in our understanding of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Initially, Darwinian evolution assumed a gradual process of the biological complexification of species. So, as in this graphic, evolution was conceived of as looking like a ramp. But in 1972, Stephen J. Gould and his colleague Niles Eldridge, published a scientific paper in which they argued that biological evolution looks more like stair-steps than a ramp – that there are periods of relative stability or equilibrium, which are then punctuated with relatively rapid change. They called their theory “punctuated equilibria” and that understanding of evolution has now become the scientific orthodoxy.

Deep-value research discerns the same pattern in the history of Soul. The human Soul has gone through periods of relative stability, only to be transformed (or punctuated) rather suddenly, which is then followed by another period of stability. More specifically, as this graphic shows, the human Soul “awakened” some 35,000 years ago and had a stable DNA, one evolutionary purpose and one deep-value system for 25,000 years. 10,000 years ago it went through its first major transformation, a dramatic change in its DNA, with an entirely new deep-value system emerging to totally change human cultures. Following another 10,000 years of equilibrium or stability, the human Soul is now being transformed once again. In other words, you and I have the scary, opportune, privilege of living within only the second transformation of Soul in humanity’s entire evolutionary history.

Thirdly, after a number of years of researching those 35,000 years of spiritual evolution, I felt that a maturational metaphor best carries and communicates the evidence that I had discovered. So, the wide-angle lens reveals the following big picture.

Epoch I (35,000 years to 10,000 years ago), appears to be the “childhood” epoch of the human Soul. One very particular deep-value system dominated that entire 25,000 year period, and it was a value-system that seems to have been for the evolutionary purpose of accompanying and facilitating humanity’s physical evolution – developing a human body. I’ll get more specific regarding that deep-value system tomorrow, but today I just want to lay out the big framework and focus upon the chaos of our particular time in history.

Epoch II (10,000 years ago until the present) appears to have been the “adolescent” epoch of the human Soul, with an entirely new evolutionary purpose – the psychological purpose of developing an ego and mind – which was facilitated by an entirely new and different deep-value system. The past few hundred years, the so-called “Modern Age” – the collective contributions of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Enlightenment – was the natural culmination and exaggeration of the deep-value system that had been in place for 10,000 years and not, as many believe, a transformation of Soul in and of itself. Post-modernity is one form of recognition that the Modern Age is over, but that is a sub-text to what we are talking about today.

At our time in history, we are living within only the second transformation of Soul in humanity’s entire evolutionary history – when Epoch II is dying, and Epoch III is being born. Epoch III, the “adult” epoch of the human Soul, appears to have the new evolutionary purpose of spiritual maturation, with an entirely new deep-value system with which to enable that spiritual maturity.

Within that larger, wide-angle, view of history, today’s chaos is the result of a very big dying – a 10,000 year long deep-value system – and a very big birthing – a literal transformation of Soul with an entirely new causal deep-value system. And, that is the period that I want to focus upon for the rest of my time today – the chaos that inevitably takes place within the womb/tomb of a Soul in transformation.

As you can see on this graphic, each epoch is represented by a circle, and the circles overlap – representing that fact that there is always a period of time when the old Soul is dying and the new Soul is being born. It is not a sudden overnight change, but rather a period wherein we have both the old and the new existing side by side – albeit a rather “sudden” transformation or punctuation when viewed in the very big picture.

So, let’s now focus upon this overlap between Epoch II and Epoch III, the chaotic period of history in which you and I are living and working.

Another analogy that may be helpful in understanding the chaotic, overlapping, transitional time, is the concept of a paradigm shift. So, consider this graphic, as we hone in on the dynamics of the change from one paradigm to another.

As you probably know, the Greek word for paradigm means “pattern,” but we usually use the word to mean a pattern of thinking, or a world-view. I need not spend much time on this, since the concept of a paradigm is familiar to all of you. It seems that ever since Thomas Kuhn introduced the word to the general public almost thirty years ago in his classic book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the word has worked itself into the widest public awareness.

The important thing to remember about a paradigm is that it is a set of assumptions, generally unconscious, about what is real and what is not real, what is legitimate and what is not legitimate. What Kuhn and other historians of science were saying is that scientific progress is not a steady progression of insights and discoveries, but that, for long periods of time, all research and progress takes place within a certain set of assumptions. Any research project that does not conform to those basic unconscious assumptions, the dominant paradigm, simply won’t get funded – it would simply be thought to be a crazy idea, and not worthy of support or investigation. In this graphic, the left-hand circle represents a particular paradigm that dominates for a long period of time. But the overlap of the two circles represents the time when, inevitably, aberrations and exceptions to the former rules begin accumulating, and the shift begins to take place into an entirely new paradigm and set of basic assumptions.

That is the chaotic time in which we are living – right in the midst of a paradigm shift, or to use the primary language of my work, right in the midst of a transformation of Soul. The arrows in the middle of the overlap, pointing in different directions, represent the fact that when a paradigm begins to die, some people think the chaos is caused by the fact that we have forgotten the good old values, and the way out of the chaos is to go back and do the good old values harder and better. I am sure you can see where I am going with this – those who think the chaos is destructive and want to go back are the fundamentalists who want to return to the former paradigm and do it better ad harder. The progressive Christians are those who believe that the chaos is the inevitable, and positive, shift into a new time, a new era, or in the metaphor I am using today, a new Soul.

Jim, in his introduction of me, referred to my health history. So, I will use that story to illustrate the nature of a paradigm shift. Early in my ministry, as I was going through my 30’s, I experienced a sever deterioration of my health – increasingly sever pain, prescribed narcotics that became stronger and stronger, and medical evaluation that suggested that I would spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. All this was the result of a negative synergy between the late effects of polio and a fractured spine.

Existing within the old medical paradigm, I was evaluated with a certain set of unconscious assumptions – primarily those that had the physicians looking only at my body, the material results of polio, and the broken back – and out of those same materialistic assumptions, they only thought of surgery and drugs as the means by which they could deal with my severe pain and crippling. It was only after years of personal search and research, experimentation and exploration, that I stumbled across that threshold into the emerging new medical paradigm – one that was more holistic, more comprehensive, and one that included the integration of body, mind, and spirit. In that new paradigm, I found a healing that because it was outside the dominant paradigm was considered a “miracle healing.” The medical fundamentalists could not even celebrate my healing – saying simply that I was exploring uncharted territory, engaging in illegitimate, dangerous, and untested experimentation.

That is a long and involved story in and of itself, and my purpose today is not to spend much time on that. My point is simply to illustrate the nature of a paradigm shift, or a transformation of Soul – it involves a dramatic change in what we know to be possible, unleashing new found potentialities, and often eliciting negative and sometimes angry resistance and backlash.

All of this brings us to the single metaphor that I believe best helps us to understand the chaos of our time, regarding the transformation of humanity’s Soul – and that is the metaphor of the chrysalis. It is a particularly relevant metaphor, because the same Greek work that is used for Soul – psyche – is the same word for butterfly.

Imagine, if you will, that the caterpillar represents Epoch II, the chrysalis represents the chaotic transformational time, and the butterfly represents the new Soul that is about to fly into the heaven of spiritual maturity. But it is too simple, and simplistic, to think of the caterpillar representing only the fundamentalists. Consider the caterpillar as representing all those aspect of ourselves, as well as in the body politic, that have have their identity in Epoch II. All of us grew up in Epoch II, so there are certainly parts of us that know that form of being best, and parts of us that LIKE that form of being.

So, imagine what a caterpillar feels when it finds itself in the chrysalis. It feels destruction, disintegration, and a dying of a familiar identity. No wonder it wants to go back. When you have had your many, many, feel firmly on Epoch II ground, no wonder you have a fear of flying. When you have been so focused, for so very long, on the identity of being a caterpillar, it is understandable that you believe God ordained caterpillarness, created in God’s image, for all time. Understandably, we would be resistive to any liberal notions that suggest that God is not a caterpillar. Or, the dangerous notions that God is transforming us into something so different as a butterfly.

And, that is probably why two caterpillars were overheard as they were walking along the ground; and one caterpillar pointed to a butterfly up in the air and said to the other caterpillar, “Man, you’ll never get me up in one of those things!   Besides, the heavens are only for God, we caterpillars are supposed to stay on terra firma. After all, if God had wanted us to fly, God would have created us with wings!”

But, a transformation of Soul is precisely the chaotic time when we are given the wings to fly into new and uncharted, sometimes scary, territory. Richard Bach has said, “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the world calls a butterfly.” No wonder, at this transformational time there are a lot of end-time scenarios. No wonder the caterpillar part of us feels like this chrysalis is a tomb, and we find it hard to imagine a resurrection into a new form of being.

Deep-value research suggests that God, after having us develop our ego and mind for 10,000 years throughout an adolescent epoch, is transforming us into adults with a new Soul, wherein the evolutionary emphasis becomes that of spiritual maturity. After developing a human body and mind, we are now called to get our act together in body, mind, and spirit.

Shakespeare said that what is past is prologue – but prologue to what? And, if we look too superficially at history, we are familiar with the past, but cannot imagine the future, or see the hints of the future that are emerging deep within humanity’s Soul. Consequently, we name the present in contrast to the past. If the past is the Modern Age, then today is the Post-Modern Age. So we have a plethora of posts – Post-Newtonian, Post-Cartesian, Post-Christian, Post-Denominational, Post-Modernity – being passed throughout the Academy on post-it notes.

But the point here is – If we don’t know the name of the Butterfly, we call it a Post-Caterpillar. Tomorrow, I’ll name the butterfly. Tomorrow, we will explore the nature of the butterfly, and identify the DNA of the new butterfly’s Soul.

As Trina Paulis, in her marvelous, classic, children’s story, Hope For The Flowers, says it:

        “How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively.
“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”
“You mean to die?” asked Yellow.
“Yes and no,” he answered. “What looks like you will die, but what’s really you will live.”

Tomorrow we will explore how God is transforming our Soul, we will name the butterfly and identify its DNA, as well as explore the way in which God is making the world of tomorrow a butterfly-friendly place in which to live and fly high.

Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Resource Types: Articles.

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