POEM: Synctretised Swimming

Synctretised Swimming

Unearth as it is in heaven
Land and see
The evolution
Of God’s creation
And learn
Who or what
Our teachers be
In theology schooled
Like fish in water
Expounding on thirst
All the wile
Shitting where they drink
Considering it a symphony
When just one movement
And by miracle
Pinching loaves and fishes
Feeding scores
Still
Some live on bread crumbs
And what will follow

This is one of those poems that came to me in the middle of the night, and a few lines quickly grew into a full poem.  The poem’s title, “Syncretised Swimming,” is most apparently a pun of “synchronized swimming.”  Probably less obvious, is the reference “syncretised” which refers to syncretism.  “Syncretism is the combining of different, often seemingly contradictory beliefs, while melding practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merger and analogizing of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths.”  Religious purists view syncretism as some form of error or heresy.  This poem speaks against such religious purism.

So, why the “synchronized swimming” reference?  Schools of fish swim in perfect synchronization, moving the same way instantly, in a way that science cannot explain.  This mystery is used as a parody reference to the three seminal lines: In theology schooled/Like fish in water/Expounding on thirst.  Trained theologians, awash in mystery, manage to move in surprisingly similar ways, apt to expound on a set of similar abstract truths that may engender blank looks like when trying to explain thirst to fish in water.  Theology undertakes the humbling enterprise of trying to make mystery a science.  Of course, mystery cannot be fully explained by science — that’s why it’s mystery.  To try to reduce mystery to a science would deny and kill mystery by pretending to banish it.  My objection to religious purists and the issue of syncretism is that ultimately there are things that we cannot know, in principle!  Philosophers and theologians call the discipline of what we can and cannot know, epistemology.  The heart of theology is ultimately unknowable in any modern scientific sense.  This rubric of theology builds in an irreducible amount of hubris for any absolute claim.  This is why I see a necessary foundation for spirituality is openness, especially if one is looking for a living God that moves.

The reference to evolution evokes a popular conflict between scientists and some religious people, most heated between those scientists who don’t understand epistemology and religious folks who don’t understand science.  I don’t think that there is a conflict between religion and science.  Rather I view religion and science as complementary fields which need to give proper due to one another.  I intend the analogy of evolution more specifically as a context for my mixed metaphors.  Most poignantly, the line “Shitting where they drink.”  For humans, generally understood to be more advanced than fish, “shitting where you drink (eat),” is an obvious and palpable example of short-sighted and self-destructive behavior.  For fish, not so much.  The difference is context.  I think that religious purists tend to view syncretism in a limited context, perhaps not worthy of the unfathomable depth and diversity of God’s creation.  As a biologist, I look at human culture as analogous to ecosystems.  There are countless possible configurations of thriving ecosystems.  I see human culture as similarly adaptive; though human’s seem to have an accelerated trajectory of epic successes and epic fails.  What this ultimately means is appropriately a theological question.  Nonetheless, I have perhaps a more synchronous view of religion and science, whereby they are both judged by their fruits; what is produced, what works, what follows.  Of course, the most intriguing questions are not about mere utility and manipulation, but what constitutes a good end or state of affairs.  In this case, theology trumps science.  Which is fine in my book, as long as it doesn’t thump science.

I get a chuckle out of how God can take our impure, zigzagged paths and sanctify them. I get somewhat less of a chuckle out of how we humans can seem to take credit for this through our various programs of sanctification, none of which are very pure.  As a former United Methodist, I chuckle that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement never envisioned as separate denomination but desired only to be an Anglican – of which he lived, breathed and died.  Of course, the Anglicans, the Church of England, is a sooty descendant of the Roman Catholic church which had irreconcilable differences with a King over divorce.  Even further, Christianity, at times claimed solely by the Roman Catholic church, is founded upon Jesus, a Jew who never wanted to be anything other than a Jew.  Yep, Christianity is a Jewish sect.  Thank God for syncretism, holding it all together amidst our unholy messes!

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