Dealing With Chaos

We hear it; we feel it; we want it: to bring order out of chaos. And often we can – with closets or cupboards, with schedules or desks or drawers. But with the bigger chaos – climate change, Covid, abortion and gun debate, immigration, polarization, there is a temptation to seek order in the many silos that provide quick and easy answers. Those silos – which usually become echo chambers, provide the illusion of order, because they keep pumping out messages that either deny the chaos or have a sure- fire method to fix it.

Instead of treating chaos as a threat, if not an adversary, there is a long-standing tradition to view chaos as an opportunity. “In the beginning”, the author of Genesis writes, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). It was chaos. No order. And out of that chaos came creativity. Now we can endlessly debate if and how God created the heavens and the earth, but those questions are a distraction from what is the fundamental message of this particular creation story: chaos begets creativity. Chaos can be generative. Chaos holds possibility. To my mind, that was and is God’s purpose – to foster creativity, and to impart to us the capacity to be co-creators in the unfolding of creation.

Like most, I have an ambivalent relationship with chaos. Most of the time, I avoid the chaos or try to fix it. And then feel some satisfaction when the desk is cleared and the closet is straightened out. And there are other times when I am almost addicted to chaos: when my schedule feels overwhelming or my thoughts run all over the place, or when I go down a psychic rabbit hole of disappointment and self-recrimination; and for the life of me can’t seem to bring myself out. And I just keep spinning and can’t stop. Order? Forget about it. It is psychological and chronological disorder; and those are just some of the dysfunctional ways I avoid the deeper chaos.

The first thing that God created out of the chaos was light: “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The writer of John’s Gospel maintains that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Darkness can overwhelm. Psychological or spiritual darkness can seem unrelenting and paralyzing. But light, even the tiniest amount, can destroy darkness. For the scripture writers, and for people of faith over the generations, light is the manifestation of hope. Light shines in the darkness, in the chaos. Light doesn’t necessarily lead us out of the darkness and chaos, but can guide us through it.

Advent is a season of ascending light in the annual descending (in the northern hemisphere) of light. First one candle, then two, until all the Advent wreath candles are lighted. All of which is preparation for the “true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9) That light came out of darkness, out of chaos. It brings creativity, which is a key ingredient of hope. Light shines in the darkness.

Christian author and activist Jim Wallis has written that ‘hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.’ When considering the evidence of the bigger chaos issues – it can feel like a darkness that stretches to infinity. No hope anywhere.

Light a candle. Let it become a symbol, if not a beacon, of hope. Let it expose the darkness – and the chaos. And generate some creativity. Lord knows we need it.

What Do The Risks of Aleksei Navalny and Jesus Say to Us?

When Aleksei Navalny returned to Russia from Germany in January 2021 after recovering from being poisoned, prison was certain and death was likely.   Navalny died on Friday, February 16 at the IK-3 Penal Colony, located 1200 miles northeast of Moscow in the arctic...

Aging, the Election and a Pathway Through the Chaos

Are Joe Biden and Donald Trump too old to be President?  This question is getting a lot of attention, with no end of commentary.  Assessments are being made as to each candidate’s physical stamina, mental acuity, and psychological health.  Recommendations have been...

Immigration: Moving Beyond Technical Fix to Adaptive Challenge

In 2013 I spent a couple of days at the southern border with a group of fellow bishops.  We stayed in Douglas Arizona, but several times made our way through the checkpoint into Agua Prieta, Mexico.  A small group of us helped deliver water to the several water tanks...

From a Dentist’s Chair: Musings on Vulnerability

Last week I sat for two hours in a periodontist’s office while receiving a dental implant.  My mouth was adequately and expertly numbed, and the only discomfort I felt was the anxiety I experienced when the periodontist began to drill into my jawbone.  There was not...

I Versus We

Some fifty years ago, The Episcopal Church, along with many other Christian denominations, went through a liturgical upgrade.  The Nicene Creed, which was first written in 325 during the Council of Nicea (and from which its name is derived), and which is said at most...

Ep 10 – “How We Learn to Be Brave” with Bishop Mariann Budde

We discuss the process of discernment in decisive moments in life and faith, and how God calls us to be brave in such moments.

Ep 9 – “Following the Way of Jesus” with Pastor Raymond Chang

We discuss the roots of Ray’s faith commitment, the origins and nature of his work to prevent gun violence and racialized violence, current events in Israel and Palestine, and the role of reconciliation in all of this.

Stepping Out of Fear and Into Light and Hope

It was someone else’s story, but over the years I have retold it as if it has become my own.  It was Gardner Taylor’s story, which he told at the end of a sermon during my first year of divinity school, nearly fifty years ago.  Dr. Taylor was then the pastor of...

Ep 8 – “Finding Solutions Together” with Angela Ferrell-Zabala

Our discussion touches on faith and love for our neighbors and Angela shares the powerful example and influence of her mother on her life.

Where Does Evil Come From? How Best to Deal with It?

Several years ago, while still an active bishop, I facilitated a meeting that I suspected would not go well.  It didn’t.  People, including me, came in angry or scared – or both.  Half the group resisted the agenda, and the other half resented the resisters.   Nearly...
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!