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 . . . close awareness!

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 "outsourced."

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 almost irrelevant!

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 passion.

The only church growth, in fact, explodes from experience.

Fading Eloquence

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.

Our glory!

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 engineering manual.

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 "cultured intellect."

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 eloquence." (Pascal)

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 between things.

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 new world.

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 leaping spark."6

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 stupor.

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 elders.

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 views.

We will never find the "last page" of the World Wide Web.

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 Irwin Thompson)

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 water."

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 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/abet/message/284

2. Mary C. Grey, Prophecy and Mysticism: The Heart of the Postmodern Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997) p 25.

3. Lewis Edwin Hahn, Editor, The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur (Chicago: Open Court, 1995) p. 222.

4. Daniel Lee, in a study announced at http://www.psu.edu/ur/NEWS/news/ASAreligrituals.html

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.

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