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The laws of thermodynamics and the church Part 3

The laws of thermodynamics and the church Part 3

by Maria L. Evans

Part 3/3

“The entropy of a system approaches a constant value as the temperature approaches zero. The entropy of a system at absolute zero is typically zero, and in all cases is determined only by the number of different ground states it has. Specifically, the entropy of a pure crystalline substance at absolute zero temperature is zero.”

–Third Law of Thermodynamics

In our last installment, we opened up to the possibility that “holy randomness,” aka entropy, is not a bad thing–just an uncomfortable thing. The third law of thermodynamics points out a very simple fact–that there’s no entropy of a pure crystallized substance at absolute zero temperature.

As a parable of the church, I think this calls us to look around at the things in our faith community that are crystallized, and the places where the temperature is dropping, and ask ourselves, “Where could we make this a little more fluid?” and “where could we up the temperature a little bit?”

I suspect the discomfort here lies in the fact that those of us who have come to embrace the theology and worship of The Episcopal Church have in some form, come to embrace the beauty of our beloved Book of Common Prayer and our Hymnal. However, to an outsider, in a very cool place, to be honest, it looks very, very crystalline. I actually feel sorry for any first time visitor who shows up in Lent or Advent, or even at a normal early Sunday service, when we sometimes get enamored with Rite I. Don’t get me wrong…there’s a beauty I appreciate in Rite I…now. But when I was out there in that vast land of “spiritual but not religious,” I would have thought I’d bumped into a living dinosaur…and promptly, quietly, backed out the door and left folks to it. Sometimes I wonder if, when we’re doing Rite I, we shouldn’t put a warning sign on the door that says, “Caution: We don’t always act this way. Please stay and see what we’re up to after the service.”

It’s only upon close inspection that we even begin to realize that these gems of the church are not nearly as crystallized as they appear. It also takes a while for a newcomer or beginner to gain an appreciation for our music, our inclusiveness, and our incarnational theology. What I am learning about that generation we call the Millennials is that they have an appreciation for anything they perceive as “real”–they are quick to perceive a fake–but as with all of us when we were 20something, young age and lack of life experience hasn’t expanded the possibilities of the boundaries of that perception of reality. What seems fake at first, with education and time, can become a new level of reality. In a world, though, where the new normal is to surf briefly and move on, I think that puts mainline denominations at a disadvantage.

The reality is that there is a wonderful fluidity inherent in our Book of Common Prayer that has been illustrated with each revision, the modern hidden gem being what we colloquially refer to as “Rite III”–the instructions on page 400 of the Book of Common Prayer. It even says right at the start it’s designed for something OTHER than the principal worship on Sunday. (Hint hint.) We have tools to bring the church outside its own doors in our rich calendar of feasts, in Rogation Days, and in liturgical and musical materials created to reach historically marginalized populations. We have supplemental musical materials that expand our liturgy beyond “a bunch of long dead European white guys.” It just requires some re-imagining, and some tolerance of discomfort. We see evidence of this re-imagination in things like “Ashes to Go,” and there is still much more to re-imagine.

I invite folks to join the re-imagining conversations that are taking place at venues such as TEC’s “re-imagining” Facebook page, or places like the Acts 8 moment.

Where are the places that you envision our theology and worship to be less crystalline, or less chilly?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid


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