Having Fun In Church and Dying in the Faith of Christ: What I Learned from Richard Feynman

I was watching a documentary about the development of Quantum physics recently. One of the big developments in this field came from Richard Feynman. He was responsible for developing pictures called ‘Feynman Diagrams’ which showed what the results of sub-atomic particle collisions would be. It was a pictorial way of representing very complex mathematical equations.

So that’s a summary. But the best thing I liked about the documentary was this. He said about his methods ‘There is no teacher at the end asking questions.’ Richard Feynman then went on to describe how he was having fun. Now this sparked my interest.

Here is a physicist who is working on big issues. If he publishes a paper which is wrong, he might be excluded from the scientific community. There are consequences for being wrong. But he was more interested in having fun. This is where his creativity comes from.

Last week, I was trying to fit a new motor to the humidifier in the organ space. I had to do a lot of modifications and it looks like the motor is overheating. I’ll have to try another motor. But I love fiddling. I said to my partner “It is not going to work, but it was a great fiddle.’

I am reminded too of the end of Zorba the Greek. Zorba and ‘the Boss’ build a funicular system to bring timber for supports from a forest down to their mine. The first time they send a log down, the thing sets up a sort of ‘swing’ as I remember it, and so the log catches one of the stanchions, and so brings down the whole apparatus. The Boss is devastated, but Zorba, in true Greek style says ‘It was a great crash Boss,’ and begins to dance.

I read today a story about Richard Branson. He conducts conferences 9barefoot) on his Island. It is a truism, but he says ‘You don’t learn to walk by following the rules. – you learn to walk by doing. When you are learning to walk you can’t read and you don’t follow rules. You learn to walk by falling over, getting back up and trying again.’(CEO Magazine)

In Erwin Friedman’s book ‘Failure of Nerve’ he talks about ‘reactivity’ as ne of the results of chronic anxiety. Being subject to chronic anxiety, everything is ‘dire’, everything matters, and the outcome of everything is important. There is no sense of gradation. Like my horse used to be: a new blade of grass or plastic bag on the road down to the manège could hide a predator, and so needed to be run away from very quickly!   So Friedman says (p.63 -64) ‘What also contributes to this loss of perspective is the disappearance of playfulness, an attribute that originally evolved with animals and which is an ingredient in both intimacy and the ability to maintain distance. [Chronically anxious families] lack perspective, and so their repertoire of responses is thin. Neither apology or forgiveness is within their ken. …the absence of playfulness in any institution is almost always a clue to the degree of emotional regression. ..But the most damaging effect of intense reactivity is on its capacity to support a leader…Reactivity wears leaders down be sabotaging their initiatives and resolve with constant automatic responses.’

Now I have to admit to being an anxious person. I am happy to have a failure ‘fiddle’ about something tat I am building, but having the ‘sensitive gene’ I am anxious about a lot of things. Thinking about it now, though, one thing I am not anxious about is the Church. I think it is because I was taken to Church and Sunday School since I was three, that the Church buildings, and what goes on in them feel like ‘home.’ Having done a theology degree, and been a priest now for over thirty years, I have grown more familiar, and wise I hope about the things of the ‘temple’. I feel like Samuel.

So when it comes to Church festivals and ‘doing church’, this is one place where I am not anxious, but ‘at home’. Therefore, I find it great to ‘have fun’ in Church. This is for me an outlet for my creativity which I find very satisfying.

So when, in the creed, we say ‘He will come to judge the living and the dead’, does this mean that about Christian life, Richard Feynman is wrong, and that there is a teacher asking questions at the end? Do we have to be serious about Church? I think that there won’t be a set of questions, but that there will be a ‘way of being’ which will be thoroughly ‘Christlike’ as the model of true, God-determined’ humanity. If we are not suited to that way of life, then the learning curve is going to be steep. For me this involves concern for the weakest people (‘In as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me’) and a way of being that tries to embrace as much ‘difference’ as is possible, so that ‘otherness’ is not a source of anxiety, but an opportunity for fun. That is a picture that I see in Jesus too: his characteristic picture of the Reign of God is that it is like a wedding banquet.

I have spoken before about the difference in Church between a ‘rugby match’ and a ‘bed time story’. In Church as a ‘rugby match’ there is something at stake: we are taken on a journey of life lived with God, and continually broken open, and re-shaped by the Spirit. This is painful, and it takes courage both in Church and in ‘extensive life’ to bear the pain associated with such a transformation. As they say ‘things have to get worse before they get better.’ Stanley Hauerwas says that the job of a pastor is, like Peter with Ananias and Saphira, to bring the truth of our relationship with God to bear upon our circumstances, and to intensify this truth till it can be expressed, if it is implicit. So being in Church is not all ‘play’ but the freedom of god’s people gives me I think room to ‘play’ and the courage to change.

Sometimes too, an idea grabs me, and I think ‘Now there’s a challenge.’ If it works or not, I don’t care, because the idea sounds like ‘fun’ to me. In some ways, it does not matter what the idea is. St. Francis, once he ‘got it’ and left the confines of his rich life for the freedom of a peasant, heard a voice saying ‘Rebuild my Church’. So he went to a ruined Church building outside the village, and began putting one stone on top of another. He suffered lots of contempt, but his life, re-oriented toward God, was changed. It did not matter.

This is for me one of the ways in which the Cross plays a role for me. It is a great privilege to ‘die in the faith of Christ.’ To share in Christ’s sufferings, or humiliation. If I did not believe in the resurrection, then this would be terrible. But hoping to be raised, then trying a thing and failing: having fun and doing a great ‘fiddle’ is a part of life for me. Sometimes pride prevents me from accepting the humiliation. But in my best moments I am helped by the prayer ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me!’

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
This entry was posted in Eucharist, Living Before the Face of God, Religion and Society, Weekly Reflections at St. John's Montreux and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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