Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Email

Expand your perspective with thought-provoking insights, quotes, and videos hand-picked by our editors—along with the occasional update about the world of EnlightenNext.

Privacy statement

Your email address is kept confidential, and will never be published, sold or given away without your explicit consent. Thank you for joining our mailing list!


Traditions on the Edge

Can the past meet the future?
by Jessica Roemischer

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 yearning.

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 is 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 undaunted:

"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 times!"

You find his words alarming, yet his passion is strangely inspiring.

"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 leave.

"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," he replies, 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 has 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 God, the Absolute, and where does that leave the religious traditions?

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.

[ continue ]


Subscribe to What Is Enlightenment? magazine today and get 40% off the cover price.

Subscribe Give a gift Renew

This article is from
Our Future Issue