String Theory: The Message

Laity Sunday, Second Congregational Church in Newcastle

October 13, 2013 by Dr. John Price

?String Theory.?? We?ve heard a lot about it in recent years, much of it beyond our comprehension.? I am indebted to George Wilmot who has both the understanding and the patience to enable me to grasp a little of what it stands for.? To Astro-physicists and Mathematicians the String Theory is an attempt to bridge the concept of the Universe as put forward by Newton and Einstein — ?a large ?macro? concept — with the Quantum Mechanics idea of ?a Universe composed of very small, infinitely small in fact, particles, or ?strings? that hold everything together.? String Theory is another attempt to explain the existence of Everything within a single mathematical model; an attempt to discover, as Stephen Hawking has put it, ?The Mind of God.?

String Theory is quite controversial and much disputed, and no one in the Scientific Community has yet ?proved? it, which is why it remains ?a theory.? [Although recently we have learned of developments, through the Nobel Prize announcements, that indicate scientists are still in pursuit.]

Our look at String Theory is much less refined and hopefully much closer to our own experience.? I hope you learned something from the Children?s Message (it was intended to be a multi-generational presentation), and my message is essentially the same to you as it was to the younger people: we abide in a world of ?Strings.?? We pull some; some pull ?us.

The recently published second edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms lists more than fifty ?idiosyncratic? American idiomatic phrases ? that is, expressions that we commonly use in our speech and writing that do not translate well, if at all, in foreign languages. That does not count the ?spin-offs? (also an idiom) that relate to ?wires,? or ?jerking? or ?stringing-along? or other related variations in our language, not including music.

For our purpose here I?d like to consider four aspects of the theory of strings, and I will continue to use the metaphor of the Marionette; poor little dolls, they cannot function without someone ?pulling their strings.?? Nor can we.

We are subjected at an early age to a continuous barrage of ?string-pulling?? sometime it is called ?experience,? other times it may be ?discipline? We learn not to touch the hot stove, not to wander out into the street unattended and how to behave when we ?hafta go.?

We learn these physical and behavioral ?rules,? if you will, as a direct result of other people ?pulling our strings.? (they may call it ?parenting?) until the behavior is thoroughly established as a subconscious reflex. ??Pulling our strings? is an effective, and necessary, means of control.? And after all that is really what life is all about, isn?t it?? To get anywhere, to be anyone, we have to pull strings ? we must control!

A string has two ends: one in the hands of the controller, the other tied to the controlee.? Sometimes both parties get tied up together.? The most popular hymn in one of our sister congregations is Blessed Be the Tie that Binds.

This aspect of string theory, the reinforcement of standards of behavior beyond the merely physical, is what I call the string ?culture.?? We are ?taught,? the standards of acceptable behavior in the world beyond our body functions by means of string control. We learn ?deportment,? table manners, ?right and wrong,? ?etiquette,? and so on ? all the things that ?fit? us into the culture to which we belong ? and this is not just ?our? culture, it?s all cultures, world-wide.

Unfortunately this kind of string-pulling –? controlling established cultural values ? also provides opportunities for deviance ? the beginnings of ?bully-ism? in our school systems and gang behaviors in some of our streets.? All the consequence of pulling cultural strings.

A third aspect of string-theory comes from our hi-tech information-based dependence on personal media.? We are overwhelmed by the barrage of messages we receive daily and the number of messages that we create and distribute to the world.? It seems as if we need to verify that we do, in fact, exist, if only as a rounded percentage or a merchandise ?target.?

We do not recognize that our character, our values, our most personal natures are in constant jeopardy.

In many ways this aspect of string-theory is the most dangerous.? This is where public? attitudes are created and exploited.? Paul?s letter to the Galation churches, as Bill read it, tells us that, given the nature of things (today as much as fifteen hundred years ago) ?people?s desires make them live in what Paul calls ?immoral ways. …? they are hard to get along with, they become jealous, angry and selfish.? They? argue and cause trouble, and they are envious.?

Worst of all they are receptive, even compliant, with the strings by which they are increasingly pulled ? ?confirmation bias? is the technical term:? ?I read it in the New York Times,?? ?It must be true; I saw it on Fox News,? ?Our Congress is the best that money can buy!?? All current manifestations of ?confirmation bias:? ?You get an idea in your head, and then select the string, or multiple strings, that reinforce that idea ? over and over and over.

We label the victims of this media manipulation as ?biased,? ?prejudiced,? or ?ignorant,? but the truth is that we are no better.? We also express through words and deeds our displeasure of ?them,? whoever they may be ? Arabs, Mexicans, the Poor, the Wealthy, the Homeless, the Communists, the Rebels, and those less-than-one-per-centers who exert their power to build mansions and corporations without regard for our changing environment, or the necessity to alter our style of life on this planet.

Let me now speak briefly of ?string? in a different way. (Some may call this ?bearing forward.?)?? As in the Pinochio stories, and as Bill has read to us, also from Paul?s letter to the Galatian Christians, if we remain connected to God?s Spirit, and with good will and commitment, we can create our own strings ? small and incremental as they may be, they accumulate throughout our lives and bind us ever closer ?(here?s that element of Control again) to our God and Maker.

Some of us can probably still remember a wonderful children?s book by Marion Holland, A Big Ball of String, published in 1958 and long since out of print (Amazon, I learned, has sources that will sell it for nearly forty dollars a copy ? a ?Rare? book).? With wonderful illustrations, similar to the Robert McClosky style, it tells of a little boy who collects odd pieces of string, ties their ends together and wraps them into a big ball, a huge ball, an enormous ball.

One day the little boy gets a cold (or some such ailment) and his mother keeps him home from school and confined to his bedroom.? But instead of languishing in frustration, he takes his big ball of string and uses it to control all sorts of things around him; he can raise and lower the blinds, he can open and shut the door, he can stop and start his train set on the floor, he can turn the light on and off ? all by using pieces from his big ball of string.? Independent and free, as was Pinochio, to make connections, make mistakes even, exercising self-control while still being ?tied? to something larger than himself ? the big ball of string.

Paul?s letter describes some of the things we can do and be within the control of God?s spirit: we can be loving, happy, peaceful, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and, within limits, self-controlled.? And as Paul concludes: ?There are no laws against behaving in any of these ways.?

Stephen Grellet, a French missionary of the early nineteenth century said it this way:

?I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.?

?He was not the first, nor the last, to use that final phrase, but his remark illustrates the transient nature of our worldly existence and the opportunities with which we are provided as we wind our own unique ?balls of string? in this lifetime.

Let me end with a line from poet William Blake, also writing in the early part of the nineteenth century, from his epic poem Jerusalem:

?I give you the end of a golden string;

Only wind it into a ball:

It will lead you in at Heaven?s Gate,

By the Jerusalem wall.?

So be it.