creation

God Loves Our Bikini Bodies

MY MOTHER-IN-LAW wears a bikini. She is 70 years old and decades of gravity have done their work. But she wears a bikini nonetheless, with a devil-may-care nonchalance to what others her age are more inclined to cover in sarongs, ruffles, and cruise-wear.

She’s my hero.

Her okay-ness with her body has a twofold source. First, she’s Finnish. Do you know any Finns? Untouched by the Puritan prudishness that is historically English and North American, they share a continental European lack of modesty concerning the body, but to the extreme. While other Europeans are going topless on the warm and sunny beaches of the French Riviera, the Finns are flinging themselves buck naked from their saunas into the snow. There’s a reason to take off your shirt in the south of France—it’s hot! But why subject your private parts to the crunch and scrape of ice in the dead of winter? I don’t have an answer, even though I live with a Finn who regularly goes in for the naked sauna/snow frolicking thing. But, the point is, Finns are profoundly okay with their bodies.

How does this relate to Christian theology? My mother-in-law is also a devout Christian, and I think her embrace of the bikini as her swimwear of choice goes beyond her Finnish heritage to her biblical understanding of creation. She understands that when it says in the Bible that Adam was formed out of the dirt (adama in Hebrew), that she too is a human formed out of humus and that humus is good. She actually believes that when it says, “God saw all that he had made and it was good,” that means her body as well. It also means mountains and trees and iguanas, but one’s body is a great place to start.

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Saving What We Love

I MET MARKKU and Leah Kostamo of A Rocha, an international Christian environmental organization, on the set of a television show in Toronto. The show was Context, hosted by the welcoming Lorna Dueck. This show explores the stories behind the news from a frankly Christian viewpoint.

I had been invited to talk with Dueck about my MaddAddam future-time book trilogy, and in particular about characters in the second book, The Year of the Flood, called the “God’s Gardeners,” a green religious group that raises vegetables and bees on flat rooftops in slums. It is headed by a man called Adam One and includes a number of ex-scientists and ex-doctors who have withdrawn from a too powerful, greedy corporate world in which they can no longer function ethically. The God’s Gardeners group represents the position—probably true—that if the physical world is going to remain possible for human life, religious movements of many kinds will be an important element. We don’t save what we don’t love, and we don’t make sacrifices unless “called” in some way to make them by what AA refers to as “a higher authority.”

Dueck and I talked a little about that, and then—surprise—right before me were two people who closely resembled the God’s Gardeners of my fiction. Leah and Markku Kostamo are walking the God’s Gardeners walk—through A Rocha, a hands-on creation-care organization. A Rocha’s origins go back to the Christian Bird Observatory (cf. St. Francis) founded on the coast of Portugal by Peter and Miranda Harris in 1983. Leah met the Harrises in 1996 when she took a class they were teaching at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and A Rocha Canada was born. It was soon augmented by Markku, an environmental scientist. A Rocha is now running 20 projects around the globe, engaged in everything from habitat restoration to organic community farming.

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Non-Guilt-Trippy Ways to Live Lightly and Consume Less

Do you really need to make all those purchases? Gpointstudio/Shutterstock
Do you really need to make all those purchases? Gpointstudio/Shutterstock

Many Christians these days are trying to consume less, and they’re doing so for a variety of reasons. For some, in the wake of the economic downturn, thrift is a simple necessity. Others, inspired by books such as Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess strive for simplicity for the sake of the health of God’s creation and for the sake of our neighbors, both local and global, who must do without even the basic necessities of life. It’s no secret Americans spend — and waste — a lot.

But how do we begin to consume less? And once we become aware of the horrific conditions under which much of our stuff is made, how do we avoid being overwhelmed by all the injustice that may lie behind our new phone or pair of jeans? And even if we simplify by paring down our wants, what do we do when we actually need to buy something?

Here are some simple strategies to help you live lightly without being overwhelmed by it all. 

Diversity Within the Divine

Diversity illustration, Cienpies Design / Shutterstock.com
Diversity illustration, Cienpies Design / Shutterstock.com

What would the world be like if we were all more alike? 

This isn’t just a philosophical question. In many ways, we live as though we wished others were more like us. We spend time with those who are similar to us and avoid those who seem to be different. We enjoy being around those who share our viewpoint and avoid those who challenge it. We accept the parts of others that make us comfortable and ignore or reject the rest.

But what about our diversity? Do we embrace it, or do we merely tolerate it?

Over time, I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of our differentness. I’ve gotten to the point where I think of this incredible diversity — within our universe, within our human family — as one of our greatest blessings. 

Debt Ceiling 101: Boundaries and Original Sin

Debt crisis illustration, mikeledray / Shutterstock.com
Debt crisis illustration, mikeledray / Shutterstock.com

The world as we know it may end on Oct. 17.

This statement seems hyperbolic. It sounds like another absurd prediction of the end times that garners far too much attention from the media. But this isn’t about the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Unless the Congress raises the debt ceiling, Oct.17 is the date that the United States government runs out of money to pay its bills.

The consequences could be catastrophic.

Defaulting on our financial obligations would shatter the global confidence in the U.S. dollar that has made it the worldwide reserve currency. U.S. Treasury bonds would no longer be perceived as safe investments, which means creditors would demand higher interest rates to purchase the bonds because of the increased investment risk. The rise in interest rates would make U.S. debt more expensive to finance, leading to more government spending and slower economic growth. The U.S. Treasury believes a default could cause another recession far worse than what we experienced in 2008.

Of course, this pending crisis is completely manufactured and entirely avoidable.

Making All Things New

Sketch of God and Adam's hands, aleisha / Shutterstock.com
Sketch of God and Adam's hands, aleisha / Shutterstock.com

The bearer of Good News, the one who carries the message of Resurrection, is not motivated by fear of punishment (either for herself or others) but by confidence in her experience of the love of God. She knows God's love is greater than anything in herself or in her hearers; that Jesus can conquer anything in them that is not controlled by holy love.

"Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love." 1 John 4:18

God's love has the final word, for Jesus has conquered the sin of the whole world and has defeated the grave. Christ's best messengers know this love by its all-consuming redemptive activity in themselves and confidently carry this love to others, without fear.

Shalom and Gender Justice

Stained glass window depicting Adam & Eve, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com
Stained glass window depicting Adam & Eve, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

Two things are clear in both creation stories: 1) both men and women are created to exercise equal dominion, and 2) according to Genesis 1:31, this relationship between men and women was “very good.” This is what right relationship between men and women looks like. It is only after the fall of humanity — when we decided not to trust God’s ways, when we decided to grab at our own way to peace and gratification — that women were subjected to men. And I see nothing in the text that says this is the way God wanted it. Rather, I see this is the natural result of choosing to exercise a human kind of dominion rather than one that reflects the image of God. Humanity grabs at its own peace at the expense of the peace of all.

Our First Divinely Appointed Vocation

Garden tools, Christopher Elwell / Shutterstock.com
Garden tools, Christopher Elwell / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Fred Bahnson's new book Soil and Sacrament: A Spirtual Memoir of Food and Faith.

The garden is our oldest metaphor. In Genesis God creates the first Adam from the adamah, and tells him to “till and keep” itthe fertile soil on which all life depends. Human from humus. That’s our first etymological clue as to the inextricable bond we share with the soil. Our ecological problems are a result of having forgotten who we are—soil people, inspired by the breath of God. “Earth’s hallowed mould,” as Milton referred to Adam in Paradise Lost. Or in Saint Augustine’s phrase, terra animata—animated earth.

The command to care for soil is our first divinely appointed vocation, yet in our zeal to produce cheap, abundant food we have shunned it; we have tilled the adamah but we have not kept it.

Creation is Groaning

Oil spill illustration, fish1715 / Shutterstock.com
Oil spill illustration, fish1715 / Shutterstock.com

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 tobeMehode 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!

Created for the Eighth Day

Fishing, isarescheewin / Shutterstock.com
Fishing, isarescheewin / Shutterstock.com

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.

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