In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God …” (Romans 8:18-19)
And who are God’s children in the immediate context? Paul explains the “children of God” are those whose spirits cry “father” when referring to God. “For,” according to Paul, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14) If this is true, then why is creation longing for the children of God (those led by God’s Spirit) to be revealed?
In Genesis 1, the author writes, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” The Hebrew words for “very good” are mehode tobe. Mehode means “forcefully” and in the Hebrew context tobedoes not necessarily refer to the object itself. Rather it refers to the ties between things. So, when God looked around at the end of the sixth day and said, “This is very good,” God was saying the relationships between all parts of creation were “forcefully good.” The relationship between humanity and God, men and women, within families, between us and the systems that govern us, and the relationship between humanity and the rest of creation — the land, the sea, and sky and all the animals and vegetation God created to dwell in those domains—all of these relationships were forcefully good!
It's no secret that most of us find ourselves longing for chances to vacate our normal scenery and the bustle of our everyday activities. It is, of course, a luxury and blessing of the modern world — and definitely of our country — that many of us have expendable income and time, but the ability and desire to take a break is something most of us would say that we need on occasion.
I think there is a biblical tie-in here as well. One of the spiritual revelations during my seminary years was one professor's focus on the “eighth day.” You are familiar, I am sure with Genesis' seven-day creation narrative. God created the heavens, the earth, animals, and mankind in six days. Then on the seventh day, God rested. This Divine day of rest then became the basis for God's gift of the Sabbath. It was a law (or was it Gospel?) given to God’s people in the book of Exodus, commanding that they break from work on the seventh day of the week — traditionally Saturday for the Jewish people. This day of rest was given so the people could find peace in not working, but also peace in God's presence. For the Jewish nation just released from slavery in Egypt, this day revealed a stark contrast from their lives as slaves — they now lived their lives as a chosen people of God.
This Sabbath tradition continued through the Old Testament and was even adopted by other cultures. But in spite of this gift, God's people never found true peace. Trouble continued, wars waged, life was still not perfect. Then, in the New Testament something happens. The Gospels each build up to, and point us toward, the cross. We see the seven-day passion narrative unfold beginning with the triumphal entry, climaxing in the cross, and then, following the historic tradition, Saturday becoming a day of rest as Christ is in the tomb.
But something changes.
I’ve often heard that Lent is a season of slowing down. Of drawing closer to God, to others, to the wide open world around us. A time for spiritual reflection and inner examination. An opportunity to go a little deeper in trying to figure out Jesus. A time to pause. A time for simplicity.
This Lent, I decided to get back into biking to and from work (in addition to cold showers and placing a penny in the “Suck it Up or Shut Up” jar each time I catch myself complaining).
When I moved across town in June, I said I’d bike once I found a good route, but I weaseled my way out of it for reasons such as having to bike through some sketchy areas by myself, something I was a bit fearful of.
Now a few days into it, I’ve found a route and a rhythm. I got off to a rough start the first day of Lent, biking home drenched by the down-pouring rain. Two cars didn’t see me, causing me slam on the brakes, skidding in the middle of an intersection. Cars passing by splashed water up against me like a small ocean wave. It was cold. It was dark. And I kept making wrong turns, making my time in the rain even longer. I had a “shake your fist at God” moment, muttering things that warranted pennies in the jar, and then managed to put my sopping wet hand back on the handlebar. I thought about the journey that women in Africa make to and from water wells and firewood piles on a daily basis, often risking the possibility of getting raped just to gather these essentials for their families. Surely, I didn’t have it so bad.
And most of us don’t.
Lent is a time when we try to identify with our own weakness, so since we are about to start the Church’s penitent season, it was shocking to read Virgilio Elizondo’s account of how a people generally considered weak on the geopolitical stage – poor Mexicans and Chicanos – do not treat Ash Wednesday as a day of penitence at all.
“For the masses of the people, it has little to do with the beginning of Lent. Lent as a season of self-sacrifice is not really of special interest to the people: the entire year is a time of suffering and abnegation. On Ash Wednesday Mexican-Americans renew their cultic communion with mother earth. For them the earth has always been sacred and they retain a fundamental identity with it. The earth supports and regenerates life; itis life.”
What a beautiful and unexpected connection!
There’s a lot at stake here. By trying to turn the Jewish poetry of the Genesis story into a scientific-historical text that would stand against evolution, Creationism, as an ideology, serves to diminish the account of human dignity established in the Creation story that might, in fact, represent a worthy alternative to Darwinism. Says [Marilynne] Robinson: “People who insist that the sacredness of Scripture depends on belief in creation in a literal six days seem never to insist on a literal reading of ‘to him who asks, give,’ or ‘sell what you have and give the money to the poor.’ In fact, their politics and economics align themselves quite precisely with those of their adversaries, who yearn to disburden themselves of the weak, and to unshackle the great creative forces of competition. The defenders of ‘religion’ have made religion seem foolish while rendering it mute in the face of a prolonged and highly effective assault on the poor.”
For most of my life, I have been a “Christian with conjunctions.”
So I’m a Christian BUT… I’m not like that street preacher who yells about hell and damnation on the downtown corner.
I’m a Christian BUT I’m different from the televangelist who raises his fist in the air and screams about salvation.
My own priest, the Rev. Thomas Murphy, first described himself as a Christian with conjunctions in a sermon the morning before our Episcopal congregation took to the streets during a festival in downtown Asheville, N.C. Across the street from a karaoke booth, we handed out cold water to festivalgoers and offered a simple ministry with no judgment or obligation.
For most of us, it was the first time we had prayed the Eucharist in public, with our colleagues, students, and neighbors walking past. The white banner above us proclaimed: “God loves you. No exceptions.”
I have realized that the ubiquitous street preacher has something to teach me: there is virtue in being bold about my faith. Through my research on congregations and climate change, this public witness to God’s love has become easier for me as my church life now reflects my deep value of God’s good earth.
The stakes of silence are high. If we don’t speak out and act on our moral mandate to reconcile with creation, we risk destroying God’s very creation.
Editor's Note: This post is a follow-up to yesterday's Ten Ways to Live "Almost Amish.' Author Nancy Sleeth offers tips for achieving each of her principles for "almost Amish" living.
1. Homes are simple, uncluttered, and clean; the outside reflects the inside.
Almost Amish Decluttering Tips:
- Start small: Clean one shelf of a closet, once corner of the basement, or one drawer of your desk each Saturday; by the end of the year, your house (and heart) will be much lighter.
- For each item you bring into the home, give (at least) one away one.
- Limit temptation by reducing catalogs and junk mail: visit www.dmachoice.org and www.catalogchoice.org to remove your name from mailing list.
Whether churchgoers realize it or not, the trees in their churchyards have religious roots.
Those tall, thin-branched trees on the corner of this city's Episcopal Church Center of Utah, Purple Robe Black Locusts, were probably named after a biblical reference to John the Baptist eating locusts and honey.
Nearby, the crab apple tree just outside the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Mark produces a small, sour fruit used by 15th-century monks to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and gallstones.
And the flowers of a nearby dogwood tend to bloom around Easter.
“My hope,” said University of Utah biology professor Nalini Nadkarni, “is [worshippers] will realize that nature and trees are as much a part of their sacred ground and worthy of reverence as what goes on inside a cathedral or church.”
This morning I prayed naked. This exercise is part of a 50 Day Challenge I am doing. Some friends of mine created 50 Suggestions to Embrace Healthy Sexuality and one of them is strip off one’s clothes and prostrate oneself. For me it looked more like huddling under my covers to stay warm (my bedroom is in a basement and my sensitive body doesn’t much care for its constant 65 degrees).
As I sat there praying, naturally I thought about my body. At first I began to consider all of its shapes and sizes—the feel of my skin and hair and curves underneath my palms. I thought about its beauty and how uniquely it was created. There are few other things that have skin similar to us humans. And we each have our own and only attributes: fingerprints that will never have a match; the unique combination of height, hair color, facial composition, and idiosyncrasies.
I am the only me. You are the only you. Ever. Period.
The international scientific community is excited about the growing possibility of discovering the so-called “God particle,” the spark they believe is the origin of the universe.
Despite the fact the Newt Gingrich has for many years claimed this title, physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, Switzerland, apparently stopped appearing in Dan Brown novels long enough to come close to identifying this illusive particle. (Coincidentally, my college roommate’s car was called the Small Hadron Collider, a rusty Corvair with a habit of resisting the driver’s directional input at crucial moments, such as intersections.)
By the way, perhaps you’re wondering why unlocking the fundamental mysteries of the universe—such as Rick Santorum’s political career—and creating an enormous wealth of knowledge in experimental physics is not being done in the United States. It’s because President Bill Clinton chose to strip funding from the proposed collider outside Houston and instead funded the International Space Station, a rusty construction of old Corvair parts that has cost us over $150 billion and has provided little scientific discovery, unless you count the surprising effectiveness of duct tape in low gravity situations. To be fair, someday the Space Station will look really cool streaking across the sky just before it crashes onto somebody’s backyard. But I digress.
If justice is only an implication, it can easily become optional and, especially in privileged churches, non-existent. In the New Testament, conversion happens in two movements: Repentance and following. Belief and obedience. Salvation and justice. Faith and discipleship.
Atonement-only theology and its churches are in most serious jeopardy of missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. The atonement-only gospel is simply too small, too narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private.
When our ideas about nature come primarily from Sierra Club calendars or selected snippets from Thoreau, an east coast earthquake and monster hurricane (in the same week) are powerful wake-up calls.
We modern urban dwellers and suburbanites like our nature contained and manageable: a nice hike in the woods; a pretty sunset on the drive home; a lush, green lawn (chemically-induced, alas)
Sometimes we like nature so much we decide to worship it -- or to make it the medium for our worship of God or the "higher power" we think might be up there, out there, presiding over it all. We've been wounded by organized religion, perhaps, disgusted by its hierarchies and hypocrisies. "I can worship God on a mountaintop," we decide. (Or -- conveniently, happily -- on the golf course).