21 July, 2007

Carbon Copies

Self-organizing systems are cool.

Picture a flock of starlings. If you start with a couple hundred starlings on the ground and startle them, you are quickly going to have a single flock of starlings in the air, moving as one. They naturally organize themselves and as a group they do the right thing for everyone's survival.

The same is true of lots of stuff in creation.

Salt forms beautiful crystals when the water around it dissolves. Ant colonies find food brilliantly, even though not one ant is smart enough to feed itself. There's even clay that causes certain compounds to self-organize into something that could support life.

It occurs to me that the church is a God ordained, self-organizing system for creating the most perfect image of God ever.

When you put two or three Christians together, they connect in a God-revealing way. And when you put enough of them together, they flock into something brilliantly capable of proclaiming the character and nature of God. And as much as He did with the ants and the starlings, God made us that way for His own glory. It is to His praise that we naturally gather together, support each other, and look like God in flesh.

This is not new, if you hang around here, but I was mentally riffing on it, when I noticed something new.

Carbon is self-organizing.

Any individual carbon atom will combine with nearby carbon atoms every chance it gets. But what kind of chance it is really, really matters. If the chance happens under the dark pressure of miles of rock, it gathers itself into diamond. Elsewhere, it is graphite. Or in a laboratory, with every condition controlled, it is buckyballs, or carbon fiber. Carbon can even form something as all together useful as charcoal. To quote from Wikipedia:

+ Diamond is the hardest mineral known to man, while graphite is one of the softest.
+ Diamond is the ultimate abrasive, while graphite is a very good lubricant.
+ Diamond is an excellent electrical insulator, while graphite is a conductor of electricity.
+ Diamond is an excellent thermal conductor, while some forms of graphite are used for thermal insulation (i.e. firebreaks and heatshields)
+ Diamond is usually transparent, while graphite is opaque.
+ Diamond crystallizes in the cubic system while graphite crystallizes in the hexagonal system.

Being self-organizing does not mean that we will always organize into the same thing!!!

You probably cannot imagine how unbelievably, gargantuanly, hugely huge that sentence is to me.

I am amazed at how I worship the Lord with His saints in my current traditional church, and equally amazed how I could worship the Lord equally with His saints in my old home church. I am amazed those two churches are oil and water (or maybe oil and matches.) But, if carbon can be both diamond and graphite, then the church can be right both in a building and without one. Even though the traditional church will call the home church cultlike eventually, and the home church will call the traditional church a whitewashed sepulchre.

Of course, I immediately want to figure out how to make the buckyball church, but that's always going to be me. :-)

Eph 3:10 takes on mega-cool new layers for me with this thought in mind:
To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,

It is not just that God delivers the church, but that He creates a beautiful variety of churches from one element - Christians. And each manifestation of the wisdom of God does something very different from all the others, and does it perfectly.

I have no clue what to do with this. Rom 14 just begs to be looked at again. I have always taken that chapter to mean that we all need to be in a single church per neighborhood, but maybe not?

Flashes of insight are always unsettling and exciting. And sometimes dead wrong. But this one just seems too obvious to be wrong.

So, now what to do with the title of this blog, I wonder.



Milly said...

You could keep the title and change the philosophy.

karen said...

great post! Love the bird imagery.

Lynne said...

I love the carbon analogy, it makes really good sense to me. I had reached a similar conclusion after a variety of church experiences -- there is no one right way to do church though I suspect there are some really wrong ones out there -- but then just because a particular approach (such as eg strongly hierarchical)seems awful to me doesn't mean it's not right for someone else. I have been thinking about the parable of the wheat and the tares recently, and how this impacts on every church ever ..

codepoke said...


Yeah, I think I'm still wired for FHC, as opposed to Episcopal. I have one more thought on the subject, but Lynne beat me to it. :-)

codepoke said...

Thanks, Karen. Good to see you out and about again.

codepoke said...


> I have been thinking about the parable of the wheat and the tares recently, and how this impacts on every church ever ..

Me too!

The field is the world, as opposed to the hierarchical church, but surely the point is still valid. I don't buy into the Plymouth Brethren assumption that all the verses about yeast and birds of the air refer to sin in the church, but we know the churches are burdened with people who don't know God.

My post about the day of small things was leading to this conclusion. We need to find out how to be the church within Christianity. How do we connect with each other and support each other within the context of a church that lives as diluted diamond or gritty graphite.

Barth's point that this is the natural way of things is powerful, but I cannot buy into his surrender. I never see Paul surrendering. But I'm no Paul. I think my place is to connect with the living in my church, support the needy there, and love. If I water a couple tares along the way, then praise God, I'm walking in my Father's footsteps.

This almost seems like a good answer to anything to me.

DugALug said...


Great post. I know, I haven't been around for a while. Your posts still bless and challenge me. I like the carbon analogy a lot.

Your Blog title is still aptly named. Think macro- versus micro- and even your philosophy holds true.

God Bless

codepoke said...

Great to hear from you again, Doug!

I'm not sure about the whole macro-family thing. I'll consider it.