Turtlelog No. 7, www.TheGreatStory.org

Evolving The Great Story

Michael at Sangre de Christo Church of San Luis, Colorado,
using colorful nesting dolls to illustrate a new understanding
of the Universe as "nested creativity"

Commentary by Michael Dowd

Over the last year I have been developing a number of useful charts and other visuals to support my oral presentations. These also reflect what I'm most passionate about these days and where much of my creative energy and thinking, writing, and speaking have been focused.

Perhaps the most widely useful (and information packed!) document I've written of late is a two-page handout (in PDF) entitled "Seven Great Post-Biblical Revelations", which could also have been titled "Seven Fundamental Great Story Insights."

About a year ago, in Christian contexts I began using a new title for oral presentations, which has proven to be a favorite: "Giving God Glory in Evolution: How Science Will Usher the Church Into its Greatness." (The same could be said for the other major religions of the world too.) I also wrote an article for the Benedictine Bridge using this title and have received lots of positive feedback.

Just over a year ago I trained for a week with Don Beck, co-founder of Spiral Dynamics. I have found Beck and Christopher Cohen's Spiral Dynamics model, furthering the seminal work of Clare Graves, to be an enormously useful tool for working as a change agent within the realities of human diversity and cultural complexity. The vast majority of people I've had the privilege of introducing to this model also report it to be extremely helpful in supporting them in their evolutionary process, as well as supporting others. Combined with the work of Ken Wilber (see my own graphic adaptation of Wilber's 4 Quadrants map), an "Integral Spiral Dynamics" model rings true to my understanding of human history and pychology.

Audiences have been responding very positively to this new understanding opened up by Spiral Dynamics. My first visual aid to support oral presentations was a set of Russian nesting dolls, which I had been using since we launched our itinerant ministry to support my description of the Universe as "nested creativity." I retired those original dolls and purchased over the Internet an 8-doll, unpainted set — which I then painted with the spiral dynamics colors (see the dolls in the photograph above). Presto! a visual aid that now serves two purposes. In one segment of a talk, one doll might represent atoms, another molecules, another cells, and so on. In another segment, the same dolls depict the stages of human and cultural evolution.

Two of the best books I've read in recent years are Robert Wright's Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny and John Stewart's Evolution's Arrow: The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity. Both are fabulous and I cannot recommended them too highly. The basic thesis of each is that evolution has consistently been moving in the direction of greater cooperation and interdependence at wider and larger levels, and can be counted on to continue in this direction. Our future as a species is integrally tied to our relationship to this process.

A beautiful thing about these two authors (as different as they are from one another and as different as their writing styles are) is that each has been generous beyond measure when they discovered that we so deeply admired their books and wanted to sell them as we travel the continent. Robert Wright gave us 125 copies of his book to support our traveling ministry. And John Stewart gave us the rights to print 1,000 copies (his book is published in Australia) and to keep all the profits from those U.S. sales, also to support our ministry. Talk about cooperation and mutual benefit — wow, these guys sure practice what they write!

I developed a chart which attempts to integrate the Evolution's Arrow concept with Spiral Dynamics colors. You can view it by clicking here: Evolution's Arrow chart.

Finally, just a few days ago I made a chart designed to support my presentations that focus on the future. For nearly two years I've been using a Parallels in Time chart, based on the work of Michael David Schacker, which audiences have been responding to very favorably. The one I just made, which complements Schacker's work is entitled "The Next Minute on the Cosmic Century Timeline". It's an overview of the major challenges, wild cards, trends, and likely good news that I believe humanity can expect over the next 250 years. Audiences have expressed deep gratitude for this take on things, because it is the kind of realistically hopeful and inspiring perspective that is so often lacking, especially among peace and justice activists and environmental activists.

All in all, I am truly having the time of my life! (And I delight in staying mindful of the fact that it's my smart, sexy, and oh-so-passionately-committed-to-this-mission beloved, Connie, who makes this joyous and fulfilling life of mine possible!)


Commentary by Connie Barlow

"Deep Time Eyes" is a topic that has been growing within me during this past year. Ever since I became an avid reader of books on the evolutionary sciences (the mid 1980s), and then began to write books of my own, I have adopted a practice of imagining landscapes and life communities as they would have appeared thousands and even millions of years ago. But how to communicate this practice to others?

An immensely practical gift of deep time awareness is a new understanding of how to help some endangered organisms that are experiencing other-than-human difficulties in their "native" habitats. An example is my work with the Torreya tree (an evergreen, related to yew) in northern Florida. Only with deep time eyes do we notice that the "native" range of Torreya today is truly native for that tree only during the peak of a glacial period, such as occured some 18,000 years ago. Native range at this warm stage of an interglacial would have Torreya living in the southern Appalachians. Probably owing to human extirpations of squirrels and tortoises (which would have dispersed Torreya's large seed), and possibly to fires set by paleoIndians, Torreya has been unable to return to its more northerly habitat. Hence my work to bring about "assisted migration" for this highly endangered tree.

Evolutionary convergence continues to be an interest of mine, but I have not yet worked up a program or the illustrative materials to add this understanding of trends in Earth evolution to other topics I regularly present at public and religious gatherings. Thus far, I have posted a data-rich document from which stories and interpretations can be made, but my own storytelling (parable?) awaits future attention.

A year ago I devoted a good bit of effort toward teaching myself the science of how chemical elements were formed inside ancestral stars who lived and died before our sun was born. "We Are Made of Stardust!" is the popular expression of this revelatory gift of science, and I have translated that knowledge into meaningful lessons and experiential processes. Within the past few months, I have been taking the understanding down new paths, pulling together a variety of historical achievements that, if taken to heart, could free us from limited and fearful understandings of the nature of death. Consider: no culture before our own could have known that death is not only intrinsic to earthly processes but also pervades the heavens — and that without the death of stars and recycling of their atomic creations, there could have been no planets and no life in this universe.

On Palm Sunday, 4 April 2004, I was privileged to deliver the Sunday sermon at Neshoba Unitarian Universalist Church east of Memphis, Tennessee. My topic, "Death in the Heavens for Life on Earth," was intended to echo in reverse a common Easter theme: that of the death of Jesus on Earth for eternal life in heaven. It was there that I first spoke on how achievements in our understanding of ecology, geology, paleontology, and astronomy during the past 300 years have set the stage for a profound freeing of our constricted notions of death. Consider: Only since 1796 has western civilization been aware of and accepted that species have in fact gone extinct. Prior to that time, it was assumed that God / Nature would not have created forms only to have them perish.

I look forward to building in opportunities this coming year for retreat time to further develop these ideas, to translate them into oral and pictorial form suitable for presentations, and to entertain more, exhilarating understandings that can add to the awe and usefulness of The Great Story.

Together in the Great Work,


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