February 26, 2016
Matthew 17:1-9
2 Peter 1:16-21
Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2

Cloud Theology
Transfiguration Sunday

Click here for the full installment.

Chris Keating
In this week’s lectionary gospel reading, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain -- and what ensues is a scene with special effects worthy of a state-of-the-art Hollywood blockbuster. As a cloud descends over them Jesus’ appearance is transformed and he begins conversing with Moses and Elijah, only for the voice of God to chime in. It must have felt like a science fiction spectacular -- especially to the first-century hearers of the gospel account.

In our own day, science fiction is a popular genre of fictional entertainment -- but it also is a window into how we see amazing technological advances interacting with and changing human consciousness. And that certainly extends to our spiritual lives -- particularly with the spread of robotics and artificial intelligence. In the next installment of The Immediate Word, team member Chris Keating observes that the fundamental underlying reality of the transfiguration speaks every bit as much to the science fiction aspects of our lives as it did to those in Jesus’ day. Chris notes that God is truly operating in the “cloud,” functioning as a prototypical cloud server whose glory is revealed in unimaginable ways, and whose intent is to establish relationship with us. God reaches through the cloud and calls us to trust in the actions, words, and ministry of Jesus. And that, Chris notes, is the essential point of the transfiguration: Jesus is transfigured so that God can draw closer to humans, and despite the dazzling visual effects, God calls us to trust and to listen faithfully to Christ as he endures the coming passion. Here’s a preview:

Cloud Theology
by Chris Keating
Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9

Imagine Transfiguration Sunday a few decades from now. The congregation -- half of whom are robots -- gather for worship. Two ushers quip about finding signs of intelligent life.

A liturgist reads the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, while worshipers adjust virtual reality devices which place them on the summit with the disciples. Light floods their eyes, and they are overcome by the fear that also fills Peter, James, and John.

There on the mountain they see Elijah, Moses, and maybe even Watson, IBM’s supercomputer. Meanwhile, Pastor ART -- a cutting-edge cyborg who just graduated from Princeton -- begins the sermon. He’s a bit soft-spoken for some, but ART (short for Artificial Reformed Theologian) is programmed to produce quality sermons guaranteed to challenge but not offend, enthrall but never bore.

Far-fetched? Maybe not as much as you think.

While the world is not quite at the level of HBO’s Westworld, there are plenty of examples of how artificial intelligence (AI) impacts daily life: Apple iPhone’s Siri plans our day, Amazon Echo’s Alexa provides the music and does the shopping, and Google’s DeepMind is learning how to navigate hostile environments. 

As AI develops, the world will face economic, moral, and even theological questions never considered. Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly reflects on what he calls the “serious spiritual question” we may be overlooking: “If you create other things that think for themselves, a serious theological disruption will occur.”

It’s possible to consider God as the prototypical cloud server whose glory emerges in unimagined and dazzling ways. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the cloud envelopes the disciples and changes Jesus, preparing him for the passion that awaits. God draws nearer to human beings, calling them to deeper faithfulness.

We may shudder at the pace and scope of technological advances, and perhaps even shake our heads as if to say “That will never happen.” But as Peter, James, and John discover, sometimes it is better to never say never....
Click here for the full installment.

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