A Sensuous Curve
We no longer hunger for the abstract realities,
orderly drills, and dry data of the "educated" mind. We long,
instead, for personal encounters, secret sensations, and the
passions of experience . . .
. . . at all levels of knowing.
And we want it now! Delayed gratification dawdles
in days gone by. As new realities race ahead, we reject things that
slow us down. We don’t feel the need for the old roadblocks of
analysis, context, or retrospect. We want instant experience . . .
It satisfies in itself.
We even feel this sensuous curve in our economy.
We have moved from a system of commodities . . . to goods . . . to
services . . . and now to experiences. At our children’s early
birthday parties, my wife baked cakes from scratch. A few birthdays
later, she simply bought Betty Crocker mixes. Then, it was not long
before the local bakery did the deed. Now, of course, her children
take their children to McDonald’s for the entire party.
Both the cake and the experience have been
Today, stores sell values more than products . .
. experiences more than wares. Theme parks open all over, and
restaurants promote experience more than food. Indeed, the food is
Even spirituality looks different. The quest for
experience has bypassed those churches lacking imagination, mystery,
and awe. Believers now want to experience God rather than hearing
talking heads explain Him. While preachers preoccupy themselves with
problems of meaning, seekers preoccupy themselves with purposes of
The only church growth, in fact, explodes from
Yes, shared reason will always demand some
semblance of reason. But intuitive minds will gain new power over
reason. Yes, common sense will prove more pervasive than we predict.
But uncommon sense will prove still more pervasive. Yes, scholars
will continue their search for integrity. But their piercing
discernment will finally fall in love with love.
In short, we are rethinking thinking.
The Western world began with the story of God
bringing creation to His fulfillment. But, along the way, our story
turned to bringing our fulfillment to creation. The rise of
civilization . . . the certainty of human progress . . . the faith
in our faith became the proud beauty of our existence.
This faith . . . this truth . . . this reality
was linear, logical, and literal. Its style was removed, rigid, and
routine. And the rules of its experts legislated the resulting
protocols for others.
We have worshiped the conceptual more than the
perceptual . . . the content more than the context . . . the goal
more than the journey. We have adored points more than patterns . .
. perfection more than patience . . . distance more than dialogue.
Communication has become, in short, an
We find this erring adoration even in the church
where creeds matter more than incarnations . . . where doctrine
matters more than dialogue . . . where propositions matter more than
passions. When preachers preach from Scripture, they do so to
illustrate a point . . . then a second point . . . then a third
point. . . . Meanwhile, "(they) drain (Scripture) of its blood, skin
it, stuff it, mount it and present it as an outline of abstractions
and limp moralisms."1
The managers of the sacred filter Truth through a
But the glory of our eloquence fades rapidly.
"The great rationalist project of the Enlightenment has come adrift
so badly."2 Literal logic no longer converts anyone.
Indeed, metaphor—the language of future salvations—finds its very
meaning on the ruins of the literal sense.3 Contrary to
popular belief, believers bond together in the mystery of their
rituals, not in the canons of their creeds.4
"True eloquence is the abstention from all
The Birth of A New World
Societies change. At times the change is small,
gradual. At other times, colossal. In massive shifts, the very
structure of knowing changes—not "what" we know, but "how" we know.
Today, such an event deeply transforms our language with a whole new
syntax . . . a totally new semantics . . . an entirely new link
In his book, The End of Sanity, Martin
Gross writes that "blatantly irrational behavior is rapidly being
established as the norm in almost every area of human endeavor.
There seem to be new customs, new rules, new anti-intellectual
theories regularly foisted on us from every direction."
But is this force "irrational," or simply a
daring way of thinking? Perhaps, we can only describe these new
notions with a different, more uncharted "analysis." Perhaps we are
no longer "thinking"—in the usual sense of the word—but projecting a
Harvard’s Harvey Cox echoes this view:
Most agree that we are entering a period
in which we will see the world and ourselves less cerebrally
and more intuitively, less analytically and more
immediately, less literally and more analogically.5
Spontaneous and Interactive
The very definitions of the digital age oppose
the past. Fast-moving, quickly-changing images contradict
yesterday’s coherent, orderly ideas. Spontaneity, fluidity, and
probability negate earlier immobile methods. And open-ended,
unstable worlds refuse old, reduced, static realities.
Today’s youth, for example, love breaking the
barriers of time and space. They love the raw reality of creativity
and spontaneity. They love a jazz-like, collage-like, surreal world.
Maybe even young Socrates would have been pleased with this new
knowing "born suddenly in the soul, like a light . . . fired by a
No longer can we "manage" the future. But we can
take part! In fact, nothing will happen unless we do. For the future
is a dialogue, not a monologue. Our creativity is empathetic, not
observed from a distance.
We feel this empathy in the tactile immediacy of
the computer age. Sitting at our computers, we make things happen.
With our "mouse," we create amazing new worlds in real-time replies
to instant sensory feedbacks. And this interface with cyberspace
will only increase with time.
But it’s not a computer world we’re talking
about. It’s the whole world. The language of the future will be a
"doing," not just a listening or labeling. As in a child-friendly
world, it will be "participative, image-based, creative, interactive
and sometimes loud."7
Kaleidoscopes and Loops
It will also be a "multi-everything"
world—multisensory, multitasking, multimedia, multifaceted,
multidimensional. . . . We will have multiple viewpoints, with
multiple readings, and multiple layers of meaning. Our data will
infer endless webs of relations . . . endless contexts of habitats .
. . and endless mosaics of patterns.
A virtual kaleidoscope will inform our sober
Yet, we will stand on the verge of this chaos and
find it reviving instead of frightening. We will follow differing
ideas in differing directions and find them unifying instead of
fragmenting. And we will confront the odd pieces of paradox and find
them coexisting instead of conflicting.
We already see these changes in today’s youth.
Kids raised on video games, MTV, and similar multisensory devices
can do ten things at once. Let’s face it. They show an amazing
tolerance for splattered ambiguity. Yet, they can take in more
knowing in less time and with less confusion than their boomer
They’ve learned to experience truth rather than
talk about it.
We also see this move to multivalence reflected
in the digital age. In fact, "multitasking" is a digital-age term.
Our computers, for example, present "windows" that open endlessly
upon other "windows." They offer views that look forever upon other
We will never find the "last page" of the World
Of course, this same "infosphere" in the mass
media has become an irreversible reality with its shows about shows,
news commentary about news, movie reviews about movies, TV guides
about TV. No longer are we satisfied to simply tell tales or
announce news. We prefer, instead, a virtual hall-of-mirrors, a
vanishing point of unending reflection, where we improvise on our
stories, review our reviewers, and comment on our commentators.
In fact, we live in an endless, self-referring
loop where our footnotes to life are now larger than life itself.
And, as expected, artists lead the way. In recent
movies and videos, for example, artists purposely choose multiple
contexts that confuse and perplex, believing that cutting-edge art
always pushes the envelope . . . always risks alienation.
Chaos and Christ
Even science is getting into the act. The new
science actually embraces this chaos. "Chaos Theory," for example,
exhibits the same tolerance for ambiguity, enigma, and confusion.
These new scientists study dynamic, nonlinear worlds racked with
uncertainty and volatility. Though such chaos appears driven by
randomness, a determined order yet prevails.
It goes like this:
Any "system"—biological, natural, social, even
spiritual—will begin a struggle with internal conflicts. As these
conflicts intensify, they threaten the very existence of the system.
Then suddenly, everything shifts to a higher level of equilibrium,
only to start the cycle all over again.
This is life! We find examples of chaos theory in
traffic patterns, weather, epidemics, snowflakes, even the whirlpool
formed by cream in a cup of coffee. Indeed, chaos theory is the only
way scientists can deal with the more troubling of these events.
We’ve even named these systems. When small causes
create great effects, we call it the "butterfly effect." When things
repeat on shifting scales—from tree, branch, to twig, for example—we
refer to "fractals." When small events attract the whole system, we
see "strange attractors." And when apparent chance suddenly reveals
order, we know the "carpet effect."8
But chaos theory brings an even more profound
knowing. It is the first scientific discovery of the "Christ Event."
Or more to the point, it is the first scientific account of Christ’s
death and life in our own death and life in this lifetime. Paul
witnessed, "I die daily."9 And with all of us, the same
dying to internal hell brings the only hope for internal healing.
The appearance of a crisis can be read as
not simply noise in the system but as the signal of
emergence to the next level of historical order. (William
Back to the Future
Indeed, Scripture is more in tune with the
language of the future than the science of the past. To begin,
Scripture is about dynamic shifts in real life senses. It’s about
open-ended dramas demanding the worth of our calling. Its about
instant interaction between a Creator and those He created.
Hidden in its multilayered meanings, Scripture
often seems vague, enigmatic, cryptic. . . . For it was never
intended as content, but as context. It never reduces to a single
rational "point," but expands to awesome webs of relations. It never
moves down a one-way cul-de-sac, but flows with "rivers of living
And—in our vulnerable frailty—the crisis in its
chaos precisely proves its power.
In fact, Hebrew meditation and chaos theory share
intimate relations. This relation cannot be found in the passive and
passionless meditation of Eastern mystics. It is found, instead, in
the lively passions of the ancient Hebrews. And, like the world of
chaos theory, their meditation is a turbulent, churning, and
uncertain dialogue. It is many-voiced, multi-dimensioned, and
contradictory. It floods the knowing with a kaleidoscope of sensory
images that, at first, seem totally muddled.
And, unlike modern minds, Hebrew meditation
carried more than a catalog of ideas. Ancient believers risked
mirroring God’s presence with prophetic metaphors that often led to
works of art. In fact, the power in their meditation came from a
dialogue of multilayered metaphors. And the power in their metaphors
came from the mirrored images of multilayered passions.
Hebrew minds knew the wonders of a virtual
hall-of-mirrors. Their hearts felt the heat of a divine dialogue.
Was this knowing simply an early version of
postmodern subjectivity—the anarchy of multiple private opinions?
No. They may have prophesied "in part"—as Scripture says—but that
part was a true portion of a much larger context . . . a more
immense web of relations . . . a greater mosaic of patterns. For the
chaos in their nonlinear journey finally morphed into the beauty of
Divine oneness . . . into the harmony of unified Truth.
Is this interaction with spontaneous experience
less valid? Is this chaos of multilayered meanings less deep? The
God of Scripture is not an uptight librarian, an inflexible
engineer, or a tunnel-vision pedagogue. One way or another, history
is moving with a different way of knowing, and creative shifts of
this size will bring profound results.
The church must learn this premeditated wildness.
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Brian McLaren quoted at
2. Mary C. Grey, Prophecy and Mysticism: The
Heart of the Postmodern Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997) p
3. Lewis Edwin Hahn, Editor, The Philosophy of
Paul Ricoeur (Chicago: Open Court, 1995) p. 222.
4. Daniel Lee, in a study announced at
5. Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of
Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the
Twenty-first Century (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley
Publishing Company, 1995) p. 301.
6. Raoul Morley, From Word to Silence,
Vol. 1, The Rise and Fall of Logos (Bonn: Hanstein, 1986), p. 95.
7. Mike Riddell, Mark Pierson, Cathy Kirkpatrick,
The Prodigal Project: Journey Into the Emerging Church
(London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000) p. 131.
8. Carolina Ferrer, "The Tapestry of Creation:
Exploring Literary and Cultural Texts Through Matrix Models,"
Texas Journal, Volume 22, No. 1 Fall/Winter 1999, p. 50.
9. I Corinthians 15:31, AMP.