Jan 25 2021

Models of Dominion

“We will not fight to save what we do not love.” –Barbara Brown Taylor

Throughout January I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new collection of sermons called Always a Guest.  Early on in this compilation there is a sermon called “The Dominion of Love.”  In this inspiring homily Barbara explores what God might mean in the Genesis 1:26 command for humans to “have dominion” over Creation.  She notes that for many years the predominant view was “despotism.”  Humans had the right to do with Creation whatever they chose.  In this view, everything was put here for human benefit and disposal.  Eventually many people of faith came to see this dominion to imply they are “stewards” of Creation or “divine servants” who have been entrusted with the care of the earth and all its inhabitants.  The idea of being stewards means the earth does not belong to you or I but is rather on loan to us.

Many people of faith have grown quite comfortable with the idea of humans maintaining the role of stewards of the earth.  Barbara, however, suggests there may be other models to consider, ones that bring us closer to the real meaning of dominion.  She says the idea of “stewards” is “awfully utilitarian” and claims that when we are stewards we “act from duty, not love, which may not be enough for this warming world of ours.”   An alternative model she presents for our consideration is that of “priest.’  A priest is someone who sees in the world “an altar laid with God’s good gifts, just waiting for someone to bless them and hold them up to heaven again.”  You and I have the privilege and honor of being “priests” when it comes to Creation.  This gives the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer a whole new meaning.

Next Barbara offers the model of “neighbor,” noting that Jesus taught us we are to love and care for our neighbor.  At this point in the sermon she raises a series of questions: “Do only two-legged ones qualify, or do my neighbors include the four-legged ones, the winged ones, the ones with fins and fur?  Does God’s compassion stop with human suffering, or does it extend to every creature in need of mercy, especially those with no voice of their own to cry out for help?”  It should be clear that we are to be caring neighbors not only to humans but to all God has made.

The next model Barbara suggests is that of “kin.” She points here to the interconnectedness of all of Creation as revealed in the Genesis 1 narrative.  There is, in fact, a commonality in all created things.  The web of life is undeniable.  This commonality should motivate us to be more considerate of the rest of Creation when it comes to having dominion.

The final model offered in this amazing sermon is that of “lovers.”  Barbara Brown Taylor says “We are made in the image of the First Lover, the divine one, who brought this whole shebang into being.  If it is true that we have been put here to live in that image, then the only dominion we can possibly exercise is the dominion of love—without condition, without distinction, without self-interest or secret devotion to any other dominion, including the one in which the value of all things is reduced to their price.”  In the end she concludes, “We are here because God made us, and if God made us, we live by love.  We are here to preside over the dominion of love in God’s name.”

It will likely be hard for a lot of us to get away from the use of the word  “stewards” but the models of  “priests,” “neighbors,” “kin,” and “lovers” should certainly be incorporated into the concept.  Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I think “lovers” is probably the best way to understand our role as those who have been given dominion over the earth.  God created the world in love.  God created us in love.  Now God expects us to serve and care for the world in love.  Anything short of love will not do.

–Chuck


Dec 28 2020

A Scrooge Experience

In the days leading up to Christmas I reread Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and watched five film adaptations of this classic work.  I simply love this story of redemption and change.  There are so many timeless truths contained within its pages.  Through visits by the ghost of Marley and the ghosts of Christmas’ past, present and future, Ebenezer Scrooge was forced to examine the purpose of his life.  He came to recognize the error of his ways and before it is over becomes a changed man.  The one who previously declared Christmas a “humbug” says “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.  I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.  The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”  Dickens concludes by saying “Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more…”

The tale of Scrooge’s conversion has delighted people for over 150 years. It offers the hope that even the cruelest and greediest of souls might be changed.  It permits one to believe that there are no hopeless causes.  If Scrooge can change, anyone can.  Including you and me.

I have a feeling that there are lots of people who need a Scrooge experience today.  There are lots of areas where people need to change their behavior or attitudes.  One often neglected area concerns our attitude toward caring for the earth.  Despite the biblical mandate to be good stewards of the earth, many people fail to honor, care for and protect God’s Creation.  Unfortunately, the same greed that caused Scrooge to fail to see that “mankind” was his business, keeps a lot of us from seeing that Creation Care is our business too.

Perhaps we need a ghost from Earth’s past to appear to us and remind us that when God created the earth God declared that it was all “good.”  God created a perfect home for us where all of our needs might be met.  This ghost might show us where this same earth came to be mistreated by the very creatures it was meant to sustain.  We would likely be shown factories polluting both the air and water, rainforests being set ablaze, and litter being scattered all across the globe.  We would be shown countless examples of ways we have done harm to God’s good earth.

We may also need a visit from a ghost from Earth’s present.  This ghost would no doubt show us many ways the earth continues to be ravished and abused.  It might reveal to us how our carelessness has led to increased sickness, the elimination or decline of numerous species, and an unhealthy warming of the earth due to human-induced climate change.  This particular ghost would likely show us how it is the poor who are most affected by our failure to be good stewards of the earth.   This ghost might also point us toward people who are striving to practice Creation Care but are growing weary in the process.

And then, we may also need a visit from a ghost representing Earth’s future.  Scrooge said he feared the ghost of Christmas future most.  I think this is the ghost we would fear most.  It would show us where we are heading if things don’t change, if we don’t change.  It might reveal a world where clean water is fought over, a world that sees weather patterns radically altered, a world where the very existence of civilization is threatened.  I cannot help but believe that this ghost would reveal a frightening picture of our planet, one that is a far cry from God’s original intention.

I would like to think that if we were visited by these three ghosts that we would have our own “Scrooge experience.”  I want to believe that we, too, would want to change our ways–that we would change our ways.   Actually, we don’t need to be visited by such ghosts at all.  The Scriptures and scientists have already shown us what we need to see to make the needed change.  May God help us to make those changes before it is too late. 

And as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless Us, Every One!”

-Chuck


Nov 25 2020

The First Day of Creation

John Muir once wrote, “We live in ‘creation’s dawn.’ The morning stars still sing together, and the world, though made, is still being made and becomes more beautiful every day.”  I have long loved this quote.  Recently I ran across a hymn that echoes Muir’s thoughts.  It’s called “The First Day of Creation” and was written by Thomas H. Troeger.  Here are the words: “The first day of creation is dawning in the soul, upon the deep God hovers where fear and chaos roll. The inward dark is parting. The seas make room for land. Great shorelines are emerging a new world is at hand!  Yet God is recreating more than our inner world: look up beyond the planets where galaxies are swirled. Look out and see how often surprising love is shown. Christ is at work reshaping both stars and hearts of stone.  All life in Christ is compassed by that transforming grace which spins new worlds and wonders in every time and place. O Twirler of the stardust, O Light no darkness rims, your new creation pulses with worship, praise and hymns.”

I find comfort in the thought that each new day the Creator is at work both in the world and in our hearts.  Every sunrise is a reminder that God remains active in our lives.  Every day the Maker of heaven and earth is creating, preserving and sustaining the world and all who dwell therein.  God did not create the world and then back away. No, God continues the work of creation to this very day.

I suspect this is a message many need to hear today.  2020 has been a wild and rocky ride for most of us.  So much in our lives has been turned upside down.  The deadly pandemic caused by Covid-19 has resulted in a great deal of fear, anxiety, and stress.  Some may wonder if God has forsaken us.  The good news is that our Maker is still very much with us and makes this known with the gift of each new day. Lamentations 3:22-23 says “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

This Thanksgiving I will give thanks for God’s faithfulness—a faithfulness revealed each day in God’s ongoing work of Creation and in God’s work in the lives of people like you and me.  I will likewise give thanks that “God hovers where fear and chaos roll” and that “Christ is at work reshaping both stars and hearts of stone.”  Even in 2020 we still have so very much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

–Chuck

 


Oct 31 2020

Walk in Beauty

I have a friend who in all his correspondence with me concludes with the words “walk in beauty.”  I’ve read enough Tony Hillerman novels to know that this is an important phrase in Navajo life.  The words come from a Navajo ceremony called Beautyway.  To walk in beauty means to walk in harmony with all living things, to live in harmony with God, with nature, with others and with self.  There is a lovely Navajo prayer that includes these words: “With beauty before me, may I walk.  With beauty behind me, may I walk.  With beauty below me, may I walk.  With beauty above me, may I walk.  With beauty all around me, may I walk.”  I find these words to be both powerful and instructive.  I happen to believe that we are all challenged to walk in beauty.  It is, however, easier said than done.

Why is living in harmony with all living things so difficult?  Perhaps the Scriptures give us some clues.  If you go back to the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 you see that the introduction of sin in Eden destroyed the harmony God intended for Creation.  That sin was basically humanity’s decision to put the will of self before the will of God.  In one word that sin was pride.  That same pride displayed in the Garden of Eden continues to be manifested in each of our lives.  We all have a tendency to put our will above that of God or that of others.  That pride results in discord.  Where pride raises its ugly head beauty and harmony are always found lacking.

Today many see nature as something to be used, not cherished and preserved.  Sad to say, the same thing can be said for our relationships with others.  Far worse, the same thing can be said for our relationship with our Creator.

I am convinced that until we find harmony with God we will not find harmony with self, others, or nature.  There must be peace in the center before there can be peace beyond.  Unfortunately, a lot of people leave God out of the equation.  To walk in beauty surely we should start with our Maker.

In Psalm 27:4 David says “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…”   When we focus on the beauty of the Lord everything else falls into place.  We begin to see the true beauty in ourselves.  We begin to see the true beauty in others.  We begin to see the true beauty in nature.  This vision is what enables us to “walk in beauty” and to live our lives in peace and harmony.

I realize that I may not be doing justice to the Navajo concept of walking in beauty but this is how I understand the concept.   It is my prayer that I and everyone else may come to walk in beauty.  If we did, what a wonderful world it would be.

–Chuck

I took the images shown above on a trip earlier this week to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway.


Sep 28 2020

Heaven on Earth

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…”  Revelation 21:1

Recently I read N. T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  It was a challenging read in more ways than one.  Wright, one of the world’s top biblical scholars, calls into question many longstanding beliefs about life after death.  He argues that not enough attention has been given to the New Testament teaching that there will be a new earth one day and that believers will reside there.  Heaven and earth are joined together when believers experience their bodily resurrection.

Wright’s beliefs cause him to give the earth a greater role in eschatology (the doctrine of last things) than you typically find.  They also help make a strong case for environmental responsibility.  Pointing to Paul’s words in Romans 8 where it says the whole creation is waiting with “eager longing” not just for its own redemption, its liberation from corruption and decay, but for God’s children to be revealed, Wright says this includes “the unveiling of those redeemed humans through whose stewardship creation will at last be brought back into that wise order for which it was made.  And since Paul makes it quite clear that those who believe in Jesus Christ…are already God’s children, are already themselves saved, this stewardship cannot be something to be postponed for the ultimate future.  It must begin here and now.”  This, he says elsewhere, is in part implied when Christians pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Wright adds, “God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.  It will last all the way into God’s new world.  In fact, it will be enhanced there.”

If we accept the fact that the earth plays a vital role in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, it reminds us that the world we live in is very important to God and should be important to us.  This affects how we live in and treat the world.  Wright says “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”  It would seem that we may well play a role in God ushering in the “new earth.”  Wright goes on to say, “If it is true, as I have argued, that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced.  This is not an extra to the church’s mission.  It is central.”

I have long believed that environmental stewardship is a responsibility to be shared by all people of faith.  I found biblical basis for this primarily in the Book of Genesis.  It was not until reading N. T. Wright’s book that I saw God’s plan for the earth at the end of things as an additional source of motivation for caring for this planet.  One day we will reside on a “new earth.”  God will transform the earth so that we might abide here forever.  If Wright is correct, God’s plan for that transformation may well include us here and now.  Although it is hard for me to wrap my mind around this concept, I find it truly exciting.  What do you think?

–Chuck


Aug 24 2020

God’s Other Sanctuary

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all of us.  For many people of faith it has affected their ability to gather for worship.  Early on our government authorities were urging us not to congregate.  Those requests have largely passed and many churches are now meeting again.  But it’s not the same.  We’re encouraged to continue to practice social distancing and wear masks while in the sanctuary.  We have been asked not to sing.  We worship but it doesn’t feel quite right.  Even with places of worship resuming services a lot of people have elected to stay home and experience church on television or Facebook Live services.  I think all of us long for the day things will return to some sense of normalcy.  In the meantime, Covid-19 will continue to hinder our corporate gatherings of worship.

The pandemic need not, however, hinder our private expressions of worship.  We may worship God anytime and anyplace we choose.  We may or may not be able to go to church but there is another “church” that is always accessible—nature.  I was reminded of this recently when I read a selection from one of William Barclay’s books.  In it he writes: “To Jesus the whole world was full of signs, the corn in the field, the leaven in the loaf, the scarlet anemones on the hillside all spoke to him of God.  He did not think that God had to break in from outside the world; he knew that God was already in the world for anyone who had eyes to see.  The sign of truly religion persons is not that they come to Church to find God but that they find God everywhere; not that they make a great deal of sacred places but that they sanctify common places.”

John Muir once told his readers that “No wilderness in the world is so desolate as to be without divine ministers.  God’s love covers all the earth as the sky covers it, and also fills it in every pore.  And this love has voices heard by all who have ears to hear.”  These words remind us that by stepping outside, or perhaps just looking out the window, we can find ourselves at church.

The Bible makes it clear that God is revealed through Creation.  In nature we find a vast sanctuary where we can commune with God and offer our Creator our heartfelt worship.  I walk outdoors every day and use this time to pray and worship God.  I don’t have to worry about social distancing or wearing a mask.  I can even sing out loud if I want.  Each day when I return from my walk I feel like I’ve been to church and there is a sense in which I have.

I hope you’ll take advantage of God’s other sanctuary and use it to bring you closer to the Holy One.  The restrictions that have come with the current pandemic cannot prevent us from sanctifying common places.  Not now.  Not ever.

–Chuck