As many of you know, my son-in-law’s brother wrote a play that is being performed at the Cleveland Playhouse until today, April 24. My daughter and son-in-law came from Buffalo to Cleveland the weekend of April 10 to see the play. Afterwards, they went to a cast party at a nearby restaurant. My daughter met for the first time the wife of a college friend of the playwright. She told my daughter she had lived in Pepper Pike and had gone to Orange High School. My daughter asked, “Was Joe LaGuardia your Principal, by any chance?” Indeed, he was, she said, probably followed by a few expletives… (which my daughter politely didn’t mention).
That’s only one story that has me wondering about a theory called “six degrees of separation.” I’m sure every one of you has a similar story. “Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than six intermediaries. The theory was first proposed in 1929 by a Hungarian writer (whose name I can’t pronounce) [Frigyes Karinthy] in a short story called “Chains.” But how do you PROVE such a theory?
The controversial social psychologist, Stanley Milgram devised a way to test the theory, which he called “the small-world problem.” He randomly selected people in the mid-West to send packages to someone they had never met in Massachusetts. The senders knew the recipient’s name, occupation, and general location. They were instructed to send the package to a person they knew on a first-name basis whom they thought was most likely, out of all their friends, to know the target personally. That person would do the same, and so on, until the package was personally delivered to its target recipient.
I have a difficult time believing this theory. I mean, how could I possibly be connected to a refugee from Syria who is on a raft in the Mediterranean? But then I realized I have relatives in Italy, and maybe one of them would know someone who knew someone, etc. I’m beginning to think the key to success is that first person to whom you send the package!
In 2001, Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University, recreated Milgram’s experiment on the Internet. Watts used an e-mail message as the “package” that needed to be delivered to a “target,” and surprisingly, after reviewing the data collected by 48,000 senders and 19 targets (in 157 countries), Watts found that the average number of intermediaries was indeed, six! Watts’ research, and the advent of the computer age, has encouraged researchers to apply the theory to power grid analysis, disease transmission, graph theory, corporate communication, and computer circuitry.
Isn’t this fascinating? I wonder if we Christians could apply it to that writing of Paul of Tarsus who called us all “The Body of Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:27 ff.) It’s NOT fascinating? OK.
Today is about twins. By my count, Owen and Max Osgood are one and a half weeks old and so it’s about time they had a sermon preached about them, the first of many, I’m sure, with a preacher Grandpa. Full disclosure compels me to say that I’m not a twin nor are any of my siblings twins. I’m not sure I even KNOW any twins (Bernadette has twins in her family, but I’ve never met them). But I’ve been to Twinsburg many times. Does that count?
How many of you are twins? How many of you have twins in your extended family? So you’ll quickly pick up that I don’t know anything about twins.
There are, of course, twins mentioned in the Bible. Maybe the most famous are Jacob and Esau. They had a very rocky beginning, but their relationship seemed to turn out OK, after Jacob sent all those gifts to Esau when Esau was pursuing him with an army of 400 men (Gen. 33). Siblings in the Bible usually have a lot of trouble with each other, just as siblings do today. Some of these sibling rivalries are settled with reconciliation rather than violence. In fact, you could say that is a major point in the Bible: that violence does NOT solve relationship problems.
Our latest brush with twins in worship was after Easter with the story of ‘doubting Thomas’ or Didymus, which means: the Twin. Unfortunately, the New Testament doesn’t say who the twin WAS.
Even though I don’t know much about twins, I know this much: they are born of the same parents in the same pregnancy at relatively the same time. I want to make a case about twins.
Going back to the beginning, to the two stories in the Book of Genesis that describe the creation of humans, could someone make the case that Adam and Eve were twins? No pregnancy, of course, only that they both came from the mind of God. But creation at relatively same time on the same day from the same womb (dust/earth/mind of God/rib cage? in Gen. 1:27?). No one talks about this possibility, of course, because of the unmentionable possibility: that Adam and Eve were really brother and sister. “This one,” said Adam when he woke up and saw her, “is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). A kind of proto-twin?
Okay, that’s too much, even I admit. I mention it because of our belief that we all came from the mind of God. Some married people try for years to have a child, but no child is ever conceived. Those who DO have children, often attribute them to the loving power of God. Besides, there’s this passage in Jeremiah 1:5, right? “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you?”
Recently, I went to a program at Ursuline College presented by a Catholic Priest and a Jewish Rabbi. their task was to give the Catholic and the Jewish interpretation of some of the themes of Pope Francis’s encyclical letter called “Laudato Si,” a document cautioning us all to take care of the earth. One of the big issues in the Pope’s letter is that if we continue to feel we are at the center of the universe instead of being a part of the universe, we may be tempted to think we have 1 to 6 degrees of separation from it, and that we are in charge and can do whatever we want to satisfy our needs like some sort of autocratic dictator.
Rabbi Klein made the point that man was NOT created in some sort of priority, but was created along with land animals. He said this was fitting, since we share many characteristics with animals. AND he reminded everyone that in addition to being part human and part animal, humans were created on the sixth day. The seventh day was God’s. So we share something of the divine in us and something of the animal in us. We are “Zwischenmenschen” as the Germans would say. Rabbi Klein made the point that we are told in Genesis 1:28 to subdue the earth and dominate it and so to participate in God’s creative nature. We are to use our intelligence to make things better. But then in Genesis 2:15 , we are told to take care of the earth and cultivate it. And so we have both Adams within us.
–Twins, if you will. We struggle within ourselves just as siblings do. We struggle with each other just as siblings do. There are people I don’t WANT to be connected to, even by six degrees of separation. During this summer’s election campaign, I might prefer 60 degrees of separation. In addition, we struggle with nature, with the earth, with living in a sustainable way without polluting or over fishing or strip mining or fracking.
We struggle, forgetting perhaps that we are twins. We are God’s twins. Back to Didymus. His twin is never mentioned. But one now discounted tradition (discounted because of belief in the Virgin Birth) has it [no offense, please] that he was Jesus’ twin. In other words, that he was God’s twin. Does it mean anything that God put his hand into Adam’s side and Thomas put his hand into the side of Jesus, and both Adam and Thomas ended up with an undying faith, an unbending trust that there was no separation between God and them.
What do you think? Can we be God’s twin? We are made in His/Her image. According to Paul of Tarsus, there are NO degrees of separation. “In him, we live and move and have our being.” In Romans 8:18 we read: “I am certain that neither death nor life,, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to separate us…” “I pray,” said Jesus in that famous chapter in John’s gospel: “…that all may be one, even as you Father are in me and I in you, I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” [Jn. 17:21].
Here’s the amazing thing: no separation means that God isn’t separate from us. He isn’t out there somewhere or up there. We don’t have to lift anything. We can think, act and be within the divine embrace. We are praying always because we are entirely in and with God.
And so this summer when we’re pulling our hair out and hoping to test this theory because we can’t IMAGINE there are only six degrees of separation between us and one of the candidates for President, it will be very important that Jesus be the first one to receive our package of doubts and frustration and prayer. Because of Jesus’ example, we look to our ever-present God in trust and hope and love, just as we look at those wonderful pictures of OUR twins, Max and Owen Osgood.
Twins all of us. No separation. Children of God. Conflicts resolvable. Truly Amazing! Amen.