Monday, April 8, 2019

The Moment of Unfulfilled Potential

It was one of those missed opportunities, one of those moments of probabilistic energy that came and presented itself and then...poof... you've missed it.

I saw it there, this great floating soft pitch, the kind of pitch you throw your kid when you really, really want them to hit the ball.

The pitch was a question, at conference for journalists who write on faith.  I'd been invited to speak on a panel exploring the intersection between faith and science fiction.  Because, well, that's what I do, with varying degrees of success.  There, up on the stage, a cheerfully cerebral professor, a young Muslim woman writing about science fiction from the perspective of her faith, and a justifiably famous bestselling author of some seriously great space-opera epics.

And also, through the strange workings of providence, me, the small town, small church pastor who somehow got published.

We'd done our presentations, and were fielding questions.

To the mic came a young correspondent, and he asked this:

"So, has your reading and writing of science fiction ever turned you into a heretic, or caused you to believe differently?  If so, how?"

That's how I recall the question.  And Sweet Lord Baby Jesus, did I have an answer.

I'd written a whole book about it, in fact.  It leapt up in me.  It surged and boiled.  Ooh!  Ooh!  Yes!

But then I overthought, which I can do fairly rapidly, being both Presbyterian having had fifty years to practice finding ways to justify not doing what needs to be done.  Here are the three reasons I found not to answer the question we were just asked:

1) I was aware that I'd answered the last question at some length.  You're dominating the conversation!

2) I was also aware that I was feeling chatty.  My introvert's nervous energy...hundreds of strangers!...and the large cup of coffee I'd consumed before the gathering created the potential of me going on an overstimulated monologue. Again, you're dominating the conversation!

3) I was also aware that we were late into the event, and, of course, I'd be holding things up.

I waited for another panelist to respond.  None did.  I waited a little more.  And then, before it got too awkward and we moved on, I answered.

With a brief non-answer.  I said, basically, Yes.  Absolutely.  Science fiction has shaped my theology in significant and heretical ways.

But then, in an act of predictable self-sabotage, I didn't say how.  Or mention my book at all.  I played coy about what exactly my heretical take on faith was, which got laughs, and the moment passed.

The thing I did not say was this: The best science fiction storytelling, in my eyes, is both speculative and grounded in science.  It connects us to ways of understanding the universe that we might not otherwise consider.

And if science fiction has a recurring theme these days, an understanding that rises and rises and rises again, it is that we live in a multiverse.  Not a single universe, one linear narrative with a start and a finish.  But an infinite, endless, bubbling multiverse.

Taking this as one's understanding of creation does strange, strange things to theology, the sort of wild heresies that one only gets away with out on the margins of faith.

In some other universe, or perhaps in more than I could count, I answered that question.

That's some small comfort, I suppose.