Archive for the 'Creation' Category

“LET’S START AT THE VERY BEGINNING,,,”

“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” Maria (always Julie Andrews for me) sings those words early in “The Sound of Music”. The failed novice nun has found work as a governess for the Von Trapp family’s children. When she begins teaching them to sing, the sound isn’t beautiful. S he can barely bring herself to call it “music”. Clearly, Maria knows, their musical education must “start at the very beginning”.

Writing regularly in this space is one of my “beginnings” in this just-beginning year. [Yes, I wrote that about a month ago!] I intend to go back to “the very beginning” (obviously hasn’t happened yet) and upgrade the blog’s appearance and content. As I began anew, I discovered that this site’s 7-year history includes nearly one hundred posts–and two year-long gaps during my service as interim pastor for an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) congregation in a community about 100 miles from our home. After that ended and I caught up with myself, I began writing about once a month. Then life got complicated and I went “off the air” again. I’m confident that life’s disruptions, diversions, and surprises will continue, even in ways I haven’t yet imagined! Abundant experience continues to teach me how “We plan, God laughs!” In spite of obstacles—or perhaps in renewed focus and collaboration with God’s timing–I intend to build a discipline of regular writing. I’ll try to laugh along with God when life’s surprises are too abundant, while doing my best not to let them derail this enterprise! [Obviously I haven’t checked this box yet!]

NOW–“Let’s start at the very beginning” It doesn’t get any more “beginning” than the Creation story in Genesis 1. Near the end of the story, God says, “Let us make human beings in our image…reflecting our nature….”(Genesis 1:26 MSG) The author affirms that “God created human beings…reflecting God’s nature…” (1:27-28) Granted, humanity’s relationship with God becomes far richer and more complex as the biblical story unfolds. But it all flows from God’s primal creative intention. Humankind—you and me and everyone else ever–reflects our Creator’s image. That divine image can be difficult or nearly impossible to see in some people (Including ourselves some days!). But we can’t choose our family. We’re kin to every human that ever has or ever will walk the earth. Every single one of the billions of us is made in the divine image, “…reflecting God’s nature…” No exceptions. No weasel clauses. No what-if’s, and’s, or but…but…buts. Every human being reflects the image of our Creator. Every human being belongs to the “world” God loved so much that he gave his only Son (John 3:16).

But humankind is far from being one big happy family. Very early in the Genesis story, some folks began trying to excommunicate other members of our human family. We’re still at it! From prehistory to this very moment, we have built social, cultural, emotional, spiritual, and physical “borders” to keep “us” safely protected and “them” a safe distance away. We deny our neighbors’ infinite worth in God’s sight while insisting on our own. We choose to view our neighbors through a very narrowly focused lens. That focus may be religious, political, cultural, ethnic, perhaps a physical or emotional characteristic. We choose that lens because we’ve decided—and/or been toxically taught—that a particular belief or characteristic makes someone less than human. Our spiritual “tunnel vision” leads us to label some people “Other” and therefore “less than”. That label makes our neighbor fair game for all who rule ourselves “in” and those neighbors “out”.

Last December 29 Keith Thomas Kinnunen shot and killed two people during the morning worship service at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. Immediately Jack Wilson, head of the church’s security team, drew his gun and killed Kinnunen. Wilson was well-qualified to take that action. He owned a gun range, was experienced with guns and target shooting, and served as a reserve deputy sheriff. A reporter later asked Wilson how he was coping with the shooting and also losing two close friends. Wilson expressed his sorrow and concern for the families involved and for all in the congregation. Then he said, “I don’t feel like I killed a human. I killed an evil. That’s how I’m coping with the situation.” This may be a valid initial coping mechanism. But I hope and pray that over time Jack Wilson’s pastor helps him, and the West Freeway Church of Christ congregation to move beyond that initial reaction.

Today I’m writing (hopefully publishing!) on the day after President Trump’s impeachment acquittal. The night before the vote, we saw him and Speaker Pelosi display their mutual animosity during the State of the Union Address. Subsequent press briefings, tweets, and statements have filled the air with partisan poison and seem to be generating far more heat than light. I believe that our nation is in great danger of slipping further down the slippery slope of seeing  as opponents as “an evil”, not as persons; as less-than-human, rather than as those created (like ourselves) “…in God’s image…reflecting God’s nature.”

People of faith are on various sides of many political issues. I have some very strong views. So do many equally faithful people I know who hold very different views. I believe that we who follow Jesus can play a unique role in this political season. Let us transcend  our hyper-polarized divisions. Let us enter into genuine dialog with folks whose views and beliefs don’t mirror our own–with minimal yelling! Let us discuss and debate without demonizing. Let us listen more than we speak. Let our life together and our lives alongside our neighbors reflect our maturity in Christ. Let us invite God’s Spirit to express through us the joy and wonder of being human beings created in God’s image and reflecting God’s nature.

What does that look like? In Jesus’ words: “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5:48 The Message) Imagine if millions of Jesus’ followers dared to “live out our God-created identity…generously and graciously…the way God lives toward [us].” I can’t think of a more powerful witness–dozens, hundreds, even thousands of faith communities “living out our God-created identity” alongside our neighbors day after day after day.

“MINE!” or “OURS”?

Rufus the Wonder Dog recently welcomed (OK, tolerated) his “cousin” Callie (our daughter’s dog) for a weekend sleepover. They got along pretty well until Callie started playing with Rufus’s toys. When Rufus came to live with us last January, we got him four stuffed squeaky toys. He’s grown to love them all. He often gathers his “treasure” around himself wherever he hangs out during the day. Rufus’s vast collection of toys—three of which still squeak after months of enthusiastic use–makes him (in his opinion) a very wealtRufusToyhy dog indeed.

Oh yes, the sleepover. All went well until Callie started playing with Rufus’s toys. Rufus grumbled a bit, but didn’t mount an attack. His 12 pounds are no match for Callie’s 50+ pounds! Rufus has learned to pick his battles. He uses his wits and quickness to level the playing field. He watched closely (jealously?) as Callie played with one of his toys. At the first opportunity, Rufus snatch it back and reasserted his ownership. If you listened carefully, you could hear his inner dog say, “MINE!” He maintained constant vigilance as he reclined amidst his “wealth”. No, he would not share. All those toys were his. The snatching and sneaking-around went both ways, of course. Then both dogs began bringing toys for us to toss for them to retrieve. We knew better than to send two dogs after one toy. So my young grandchildren and I developed a strategy. We counted down and then “launched” the toys in opposite directions at the same moment. Nevertheles, we still had some canine confrontations over “simultaneous possession”. No-one got hurt, but both dogs displayed great fluency in language their mothers taught them never to use!

I don’t pretend to speak fluent Dog, but I understood clearly the most frequently-used expletive in their Toy Wars—“MINE!” Granted, their possessiveness was rooted in primitive survival instincts. We humans have similar primal instincts. But we’ve learned to discipline those instincts–sometimes. We’ve also discovered through painful experience that life together is better when we share power and resources, even when I don’t always get My Way. [Please don’t let my wife read this!] People of faith believe that life is lived best cooperatively with others following God’s guidance as we discern it.

But MINE!’s seismic shocks still shake our common life:

  • “This car and my driving are MINE!’ says the “remarkable” driver you just barely avoided. “I’ll drive my way regardless of others on the road.”
  • “This lush landscape is MINE!” say rich Californians who flaunt their wealth as they ignore drought-related water restrictions. “I’ll use all the water I want. I can afford it.”
  • “This nation is MINE!” say the leaders of nations refusing to participate in global climate-change solutions. “I’ll do what I want. I don’t care how our actions affect the rest of the planet.”
  • “Truth is MINE!” assert dogmatic political and religious leaders across the ideological spectrum. “Truth and Right are on my side . It’s my way or no way.”
  • “Victory is MINE!” cry athletes, coaches, and team owners. “We’ll do whatever it takes, spend whatever it takes, and follow the only rule that matters–‘Don’t get caught’.”
  • “My comfortable lifestyle is MINE!” say millions of affluent folks like us in the developed world, “and I really don’t care who or what gets harmed in the maintaining of my pampered existence.”
  • “Absolute unrestricted gun rights are MINE!” asserts the gun lobby every time another senseless mass shooting hits the headlines.

People of faith believe that God’s intent for Creation is not “MINE!” but “OURS”. The story in Genesis 1 describes the creation of life on earth with the intent that humans will “…have dominion…” (Genesis 1:26, 28) over other forms of life. One common interpretation of “dominion” concludes that natural resources are “MINE!” for humans to exploit freely, often with disastrous long-term results. But deeper study suggests that the concept includes a sense of stewardship and care for creation. “Dominion” describes a king’s rule, which includes care for the poor and vulnerable in his kingdom. So one popular translation says, “God created human beings… reflecting God’s nature…God blessed them: “’Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible…for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 MSG) God created and trusted humans, whose nature “…[reflects] God’s nature…” with responsibility to care for Creation as the Creator intended.

“MINE!” poisoned human life when Adam and Eve sampled the one tree in the Garden that had been declared off-limits. (Genesis 3). “MINE!” continued to poison relationships between individuals, between nations, and between humans and God. We could read the whole Old Testament as the story of “MINE!” versus “OURS”.

Fast-forward now to Jesus. He embodied the way of “OURS” with striking clarity—so clear that the powerful forces of “MINE!” engineered his execution. Jesus’ followers set out to finish what he’d started. Jesus had shown them a generous, giving God; a welcoming, bringing-together God. Following him meant eliminating that greedy growling “MINE!” from their vocabulary–and ultimately from our human vocabulary. One early witness says of those early Jesus-Followers, “The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, ‘That’s mine; you can’t have it.’ They shared everything…not a person among them was needy.”—Acts 4:32-35 MSG

The evidence mounts daily that “MINE!” is a toxic lifestyle. It poisons every nation, every culture, every institution, every human relationship. We fight over the toys and growl “MINE!”. Unless we change, the poison will finally destroy life as we’ve known it on this beautiful planet. But how can we achieve massive global change? So It was hard enough in earlier, simpler times. It’s exponentially more complicated now with 7 billion people sharing our planet.

How do we get from “MINE!” to “OURS”?The same way the early Jesus Movement did. Eat the elephant one bite at a time! Start where we are, with those who share our lives. Share this vision in families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, communities, and especially our churches. Turn gradually but consistently away from “MINE!” toward OURS. Let your family and/or faith community become a live demonstration of OURS—what Jesus calls “The Kingdom of God.” Learn together to stop growling at other dogs and start sharing your “toys”. Let the Spirit of our generous, giving, welcoming God create that unity in which “…not a person among them was needy.” (Acts 4:32-35 MSG)


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