Sunday, March 16, 2003
It's years since you've been to
church. But after a restless night, for some reason you find
yourself suddenly awakened by memories of the last time you
attended a Sunday service. You were sixteen, and your parents
cajoled you to go "for their sake." You recall the pastor's
seemingly interminable readings, the choral interludes, the hard
straight pew, the smell of old wood and burning candles, the
yellowed pages of the hymnal, the archaic but familiar words you
learned to recite and sing. And you also remember the sense of
something immediate, close, and present, yet ineffable. The
intervening years flash before you, religion fading into the
background of your increasingly fast-paced life—college, work, relationships, travel, friends. And yet, that
ungraspable presence has remained, as a quiet steadiness and
You rise and go outside to find that it's a beautiful day.
Taking a slow walk toward the center of town, you hear the
church bells begin to ring in the distance. And as you follow
their sound, you find that your neighbors and many others from
the community are arriving for the morning service. You're
curious: What would it be like to be in church again? Why not
join them? you ask yourself. You approach the church and someone
hurries out to announce that elderly Pastor Shaw won't be up to
giving his usual sermon today. (He's a little under the
weather.) But, they continue, his son Kyle just happens to be
making a rare family visit for the weekend and will be filling
in. Yes, they continue, you all have probably heard that Kyle
has become a pastor himself, and quite a controversial one.
"I've heard he's really shaking things up in church circles,"
someone says. "I'm not surprised," another adds. "He was always
quite a renegade! I can't imagine what his sermons are like."
Your curiosity is piqued, and as you ascend the wide stone steps
and glance up at the church marquee, you see that the title of
the sermon for the day is being changed from "The Healing Balm
of God's Love" to "Are You Ready to Create the Future, NOW?"
Everyone takes their seats, getting the kids settled in,
glancing around furtively to appraise the situation for tidbits
of gossip. That old and familiar feeling of suffocation suddenly
grips you, and just as you're starting to seriously question
what on earth you're doing here, the young pastor, bearded and
with a long ponytail, suddenly enters from the street. Striding
confidently to the pulpit, he closes the Bible and, in what
seems like an interminable moment, looks into the eyes of every
person in the congregation. You immediately think: He certainly
a far cry from the clergy I remember from my youth!
And as the pastor slowly begins, he does so not by quoting
scripture but by carefully describing, in one detailed example
after another, the many ways in which we are wreaking havoc and
destruction all over the planet—the rivers and oceans,
the earth's species, the atmosphere itself. People sit in
stunned silence. With each word, this shocking indictment of
human beings reveals more and more your own unquestioned apathy.
"Can you find anything in any of the world scriptures that
speaks of DNA destruction?"
The entire congregation squirms with uneasy irritation.
"I'd heard he was unconventional, but this certainly isn't what
I expected," someone says angrily. Pastor Kyle continues
"No, ladies and gentlemen, you're not going to find it in
any of the scriptures because it never occurred to the early
Church Fathers that we'd ever have the power to destroy the DNA.
It never even dawned on them that we could have that kind of
power. And I'm not just talking about destroying a single
individual; I'm talking about inflicting suffering on the very
essence of an infinite number of individuals throughout future
You find his words alarming, yet his passion is strangely
"The DNA is loaded with information intelligence; unfurling
from that is the organism. It's the numinous Word at the root of
the being! But we humans have created chemicals that go into the
body and go right into the center of the cell and go after the
DNA, latch on to the DNA, and disrupt its elegance. . . . It's
in the very center of each cell of that person, and it will be
carried by the human race forever. . . ."
A wave of anxiety washes over the congregation, as a few
people abruptly stand up, grab hold of their children, and
"But our own great traditions seem unprepared to deal with
this. And let me point out, ladies and gentlemen, that without
the DNA there is no spirituality whatsoever. None. Because if
the world's scriptures stay around and our DNA is gnarled, none
of their insights will matter anyway."
There is a collective rumble of disapproval. The
scriptures rendered irrelevant?!
"That's right, everyone, because their sanctity, their
holiness, will never be able to be awakened in genetically
defective humans. When you damage the genes, all future
offspring are damaged. All future offspring come into the world
suffering! We don't have any sense of that. We can't feel it!
Because nothing in the great traditions has prepared us for the
level of damage that we are now able to inflict."
Mothers and fathers, fearful, instinctively turn toward
their children. "Why are you bringing this up?" someone shouts.
"Because we can discover a tremendous energy when we begin
to confront the effects that we are having,"
unflustered. "Try to block it out and our energy is going to
be entirely used to hide from it. But if we face it critically,
there's an enormous energy that will come into our lives: the
energy of commitment, the energy of conviction, the energy of
creativity, of moving ahead. We need a new mind. We need a new
society. But what are we doing? That's my question. We have to
know what we are doing!"
Pastor Kyle's sermon comes to an end, and he slowly walks
out of the church, acknowledging the congregation as he leaves.
People gradually file out, some appearing sobered, some
confused, some skeptical. More than a few are angry; some seem
quietly inspired. You sit dazed, unable to move, for what seems
like an eternity, absorbed in deep contemplation. The pastor's
words ring in your mind, and you can't stop thinking that life
changed: it is we humans who are now creating the
future. We have the power to change life itself, not just for
one or two generations ahead but forever
. Like it or
not, our influence has become absolute! So where does that leave
Absolute, and where does that leave the
According to Pastor Kyle, nothing in our past has prepared us
for what we are now capable of. And the great religions were
born in the past. You ask yourself what that means about the
future of religion. And what that means about the future of your
own spiritual life and the inner yearning that has haunted you
since your youth. Can religion help us? Or have the world's
religious traditions been rendered obsolete by the sheer
magnitude of our influence and our newfound capacities? So
stimulated and confounded are you by the pastor's shock tactics
and the questions he raised that time literally disappears. When
you finally rise and walk outside, you are immersed in the
brilliant sunlight of mid-afternoon. Just before crossing the
street, you turn back to face the church's majestic spire, a
confident icon of august tradition, and you know that you must
find the answers.