Tuesday, August 10, 2010


By Sean McDonough, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

There is no gravitational pull quite so strong as that exerted by the human imagination.
And I don’t mean that in a good way.
The sun may hold eight planets in its sway (or nine, depending on what they are saying about poor Pluto this week), but my mind can bring the entire cosmos into its orbit. The universe swirl around Me, and each thing in it grows or shrinks in significance depending on how it shapes my town and my job and my family. It’s an absurdity, of course, but it is an absurdity that plays itself out each day of our lives.
I was reminded of this recently when I made my first trip to Hong Kong. The city was a wonder, with buildings stacked upon buildings like the playroom of a Lego-mad millionaire. The biggest building in town, the recently completed International Commerce Center (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Commerce_Centre), stands at the edge of Victoria Harbour and virtually cries out, “Yes, we’re going to build. We’re going to build big buildings, and we’re going to build one after another after another and dare anybody to stop us.” As if the scope and scale were not enough, every night a dozen or so of these skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island light up with a soundtrack booming in the background. You can see it all from the Avenue of the Stars, Hong Kong’s answer to the sidewalk outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater. (I got my picture by Jackie Chan’s handprints, though the Bruce Lee statue is the more popular venue.)
But the buildings weren’t the only impressive thing about the city. The subway was clean and efficient, the streets safe, the opportunities for shopping and eating endless. More surprising was the natural beauty of the place. The crowded and touristy Peak Tram on Hong Kong island quickly gives way to a stunning walk around the Peak for the moderately adventurous, and I had the Sunset Peak trail on Lantau all to myself the last day of my trip. The volcanoes may have stopped spewing fire long ago, but they are still in the business of providing spectacular views.
As I reflected on all this, it struck me how even on my most “selfless” days, I still assume that the world essentially revolves if not around me, at least around eastern Massachusetts where I live…or at least the Eastern Corridor from Boston to DC. Yet a visitor from Hong Kong must find Boston a quaint little city, or maybe even a provincial village – a few good schools, yes; at least one very nice modern building (the Hancock Tower), a pleasant river, with some nice scenery around if you have a car and a few hours to spare. But the Hub of the Universe? Not hardly.
It was a blessing to be de-centered in this way. The practical implications for thinking about the mission of the church in the modern world are obvious: you don’t need Philip Jenkins to tell you the church is no longer a Western cultural phenomenon (if it ever really was one to begin with). A bit of vacation time and a plane ticket can open your eyes soon enough. And the theological implications are equally clear. We are not at the center of things, whatever our addled brains might tell us. The center does not lie in me, or in Boston, or even in splendid Hong Kong. The center is ever and only the throne of God: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” (Rev. 5:13).

No comments:

Post a Comment