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Light over fractured presence

Everything changes. We are going through the single greatest
transformation of human life in all of known history. Technology has
elevated the pace of human productivity to astronomical and unheard of
rates. Communications technology challenges the very foundations of
existence as it encroaches toward "no-time," and in our social
interactions "no-space." The impact of the changes through which are
living on being human has not begun to come under serious reflection.

The internet and telecommunications revolution has altered life at the
most basic levels, both for individuals and families, as well as for nations
and the "global human family." The power of our connectivity serves at
once to intensify and increase our "oneness" as a species on the one
hand, and to cause radical disintegration in human relations on the other.
I can have 20 scholars working on this page with me as I write, just the
right scholars, from any corner of the world, on the one hand, and on the
other I can be surrounded by my children at the dinner table, all texting
friends here and there, utterly disconnected from where they are and
with whom they are.

If I like soccer, I need not watch the local team in the fresh air with my
fellow New Yorkers, because I might be a Tottenham fan choosing to
watch their matches in the solitude (loneliness) of my own kitchen table.
My wife and I might like the movie Meet Joe Black, but I like the 1934
version and she the 1998 remake. She'll watch her version in the den.
I'll watch the earlier version upstairs somewhere.

When I was 18 I hitch-hiked for days to surprise visit to a friend by just
showing up at his door. "He'll be shocked." Today, if my 18 year old
stops to tie her shoelace in Times square, 50 Homeland Security cameras
catch the action, and at least some percentage of NY's billions of police
will take notice. Google is probably tracking the key strokes of this
introduction as I type it, and my email and Gmail will carry ads for
shoelaces next time I open a "letter."

We are so connected, and so disconnected. We are everywhere in the
blink of an eye, yet never where we sit, or with whom we sit.

Does anyone gaze out the window of a train anymore? Or just gaze?
Pause. Let one's thoughts wander, sort themselves out, settle, find a still
resting place like water? In my world I never see a person pause and
reflect. never anymore. The cell phone, and the ever more infintie
mobile entertainment devices seem to shield human beings from
themselves, from their thoughts, from the settling of their whole being to
oneness and stasis, the foundation to carry on. Lest a fleeting moment
befall a modern in which, God forbid, they actually had a non-functional
thought or reflection, out comes the phone, the ipod, the "doing," the
consuming, the pursuing, and oh what isolated, roaringly self-obsessed,
self-absorbed, self-serving doing, consuming, and pursuing it is.

In the few short years sicne the inexorable march of cell-phone tyranny
began, all people have slid into the burden of living 3 or 4 lives at once.
Home is never away from us while we are at work. Work is never away
from us while we are home. What happens to the human spirit in all this?
Who or what provides the anchor in the storm, the still at the center, the
breadcrumbs on the path to help find our way home day by day? What do
days, weeks, and years of never stopping to think, of Blackberry email at
funerals, of office mail during your boy's first soccer game of the season,
do to the human spirit? Who and what is taking care of being human
during this hypersonic, agitable pace of change in our crowded, confused,
and fractured world family?

People who fail to intuit the importance of spiritual life, and the need for
this to institutionalize itself in religious structures, occasionally either
from ignorance, or from ideological guile try to bury religions in the time
of their founding and origins, a trick to intensify the argument of their
contemporary irrelevance. (Fulminating on things one doesn't understand
is pretty old too, though). (New religions also succumb to the error of
understanding established religions as being "from long ago.") This of
course is not accurate. All major religions are constantly evolving,
constantly struggling to be relevant to any given time and society in
which it operates. The challenge to do so in the case of religion is acute
however, since origins (which really ARE from long ago) are sacred, but
the pursuit of relevance to the present, not necessarily so. Suffice it to
say, while one errs to think of contemporary religion as arcane (despite
so many arcane trappings and habits) one must simultaneously ask or
seek for the wellspring of religion in this time, this time of hypersonic,
agitable change, that can pastor the person, the family, and our kind.

The mission to guide humanity through this time must be the context for
interfaith. This is a positive horizon. Most approaches to interfaith are
"curative" oriented, or experiential and sentimental in orientation. Truth
is that stopping fighting is never a sufficient cause to bring itself to pass.
People already know that fighting is no good, both before and while their
fighting. The mere ideal to develop "harmonious relations" does not
suffice. Furthermore, the delight of people who awaken one by one from
the slumber of unexamined and inherited religious prejudice while a good
thing also is insufficient. These folk, who tend not to be ensconced in the
power tectonics of religion cannot understand why religious conflict
persists. It persists for the same reason all conflict exists whenever
power and resources are at stake.

Where in human affairs exists the example of leaders transcending self-
interest to collaborate for the greater good? The correct answer is
nowhere (though of course there are countless instances of individual
saints and rogues with enough sense and wisdom to do so). As whole
enterprises and institutions collaboration transcending self interest where
power and resources are at stake do not exist, no matter how high
minded the enterprise is, the arts, science, the academy, and so forth.
The reason why interreligious discord stands out as an abomination is
because of the mission of religion to mediate God and God's peace. This
is the great conundrum and great challenge. Here we have an enterprise
that deals in absolutes, in non-negotiables, on matters of ultimate
concern, where compromise is not a virtue, and in fact not possible or
proper, on the one hand, yet it is meant to be the wellspring of peace,
charity, kindness, and all manner of virtue on the other.

We have never lived well with this paradox, and the history of religious
war, violence, and atrocities can testify to that. But now, as our world is
being folded in onto itself in the kiln of forced oneness wrought by
trasportation, communications, and all manner of technological advance,
the paradox of religious tension and conflict screams out as all the more

The horrible carnage that fills our lives these days, so much of which has
a "religious" (admittedly perverted religion) undercurrent, makes the
need for interfaith pressing in our time. But the religious world faces
every bit the challenge of our race as a whole.

We are being thrust more profoundly into the conditions of one world, but
we have not transcended our inner darkness that makes us comfortable
with hatred and separation. It is for this reason that families are
disintegrating, if not substantially then in heart, as technology creates
"oneness-possibilities." In the same way, religions (like all else in the
world) are being thrust into the conditions of one world, but it too has not
transcended its ease with separation. Some part of the human being, and
some part of human life must be the unifier in the face of disintegration.
In the person it is spirit, in world affairs it is religion. This is the mission
of interfaith today.