Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Creation (Earth Day 4/21/13)

New Creation
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

April 21, 2013
Earth Day

Is. 65:17                           
For I am about to create new heavens
   and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
   or come to mind.

 2 Cor. 5:17
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

In the Spring we honor the via transformativa, the way of transformation, compassion, and justice.   Of the four spiritual paths in Creation Spirituality, this path demands movement.  The way to God, to the Sacred, to depth of meaning, to an authentic and abundant life is through doing.   We walk the talk.  This is the path of putting our beliefs and commitments to action.  

We feed the hungry. 
Clothe the naked. 
Visit those imprisoned. 
Make the music. 
Heal the hurting.
Speak our truths to power. 
Save the planet. 


This is the path in which you find your inner superhero and engage in derring-do for the sake of Earth and of Earthlings.   The time for meditation and prayer is over. Now it is time to do something.   

The Christian religion took some funny turns along the way.  One of the popular notions is that we are not saved by works but by faith.   Protestants got ahold of this one.   What is important is believing the right things as opposed to doing good things.  You can do good works but not be saved, it is said. 

The back story to all of this is fear.  Saved from what?  Saved from Hell.  The story is that after you die at the great resurrection before the throne of God everyone will be judged.   Following the judgment some will go to heaven and others to hell.  The deciding factor will be based on what?    

If you were raised in my Baptist tradition, the deciding factor is whether or not you received Jesus Christ as your personal savior.  Other traditions, such as our collective parent, Roman Catholicism, required a state of grace conferred by the sacraments.     Hardcore Presbyterians said it is all fixed beforehand and you are predestined to one fate or another.    Other non-Christian traditions such as Hinduism and its offspring deal with the judgment thing through karma and reincarnation.  

All of these arguments about faith and works have to do with your fate after you are dead.  It is all about whether or not you are either going to heaven or hell or whether or not you are going to get a better incarnation the next time around.   All of this is about doing whatever you need to do or believing whatever you need to believe to get a good score. 

It is living for the test.   

What if there is no test? 

What if all these religious beliefs are products of human imagination?  What if it was all made up?  What then?

What if instead of judgment seats and heaven and hell and all the rest of it, instead at your death, your consciousness ceases to exist along with your brain function?   You enter a state I call The Great Peace, a state of unconscious bliss, like before you were born.    There is no test.  Everyone goes there.    

I choose to believe in The Great Peace.  If it sounds better (and I think it does) by symbolizing The Great Peace as a banquet table or the new Jerusalem or the communion of saints or the resurrection to eternal life or the union of Atman and Brahman or universal consciousness, that is all the same to me.   Those are symbols for cessation of self-consciousness.  Michael Dowd calls these symbols, night language.  That is the language of poetry and dream.

The Great Peace is immediate.  No waiting.  No lights to follow or spirit guides to chase.  No judgment thrones to face.  No karma to set right.  No sin that requires payment. The evil and righteous alike enter it upon their deaths.   That is ultimate justification by grace through faith. 

Here is the faith part.  I trust The Great Peace is true.  I can't know for sure because I haven't died.   I also have faith that the Universe, or God, if you prefer, isn’t out to punish us.   It is an amazing adventure.  We get life then we get peace.

I know this view isn’t appealing to everyone.  I don’t insist.  I just believe it. 

Why bother you with my beliefs?   I think it is good for a preacher’s soul to come clean every now and again and admit what I think.   I certainly don’t mind what anyone else believes about these speculative matters.   Nor can I imagine that anyone cares what I believe.  No one can know.   Those who claim to know are, well, not persuasive to me.    I don’t think it is important to worry about what happens when we die.    In fact, I think it is distracting.   I think living for the test is a waste of time.   I choose to live for life. 

Some may argue that they want something more.   I agree.  Here is my attempt at something more.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett said that the way to happiness is to findsomething more important than you and then devote your life to it.    

If you want to be happy, find God, live authentically, and live a meaningful life, then find something more important than you, and live for it.   

A great theologian, Paul Tillich, said that faith in God is really language for putting your trust and your life toward your ultimate concern.   

When I began interviewing for positions over eight years ago that eventually found me in Elizabethton, I needed to fill out a Personal Information Form. On the form was a question.  It asked,

“What is your most important theological question?” 

In other words, what is your ultimate concern?   I answered by saying,

“I am 42, my nephew, Hunter is one.  The most important theological question is what will Earth be like when Hunter is 42.”  

Both Hunter and I are a bit older now.    But that is still my ultimate concern.    Not only Hunter, but all my other nieces and nephews born before Hunter, Olivia and Brett, and since Hunter:   Sophie, Olivia (another one), William, David, Emaline, Luke, Taryn, Angelica, Gavin, and Cooper.   What will Earth be like, what will their home be like, when they are my age?

My most important theological question is becoming even more pressing as more and more humans are looking for a home in which to play, eat, and live.   Beyond my kin, seven billion of us are here on Earth.   When my father was born in 1918, Earth’s human population was 1.8 billion.    3.5 billion when I was ten.   Seven billion today. 

We are hitting our limits regarding energy and the effect of this energy use on our home’s ecosystems.   We are in for some changes.   There are many things we cannot change.   We can’t even know what we can and cannot change.  Faced with this, it is good to start each day with the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference

Our future is a future of energy and economic contraction.   That does not mean that our humanity, our meaning, our relationships, our dignity, and our happiness needs to contract.   In fact, the opposite is possible.  We can become more human with less stuff.   We can become happier without all of this consuming.   Yet we cannot be in denial about what we are facing.   We live in a time of denial.   We need to be the voice, the parable, the irritant, that wakes people up. 

Another theologian, Sallie McFague, has just published an important book in which she talks about three saints, John Woolman, Dorothy Day, and Simone Weil, whose lives were parables.    Sallie McFague’s book is entitled, Blessed Are the Consumers:  Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint.    She invites us to look to these saints as a possible way of moving beyond our cynicism and inertia.   Maybe we can catch some of their spirit.

We need to look to the saints like John Woolman, the 18th century Quaker who travelled on foot, refusing to ride horses because of the way those who kept the horses were treated.  He wore white because colored dye was the product of slave labor.   His life itself was a parable.  He sought to do everything he could to live his values.   His love for God meant for him to care concretely for all of Earth’s creatures.   

Simone Weil limited her diet to that of which those who were occupied by the Nazis ate.   She was strange, eccentric, and perhaps holy.   She saw her life and her body to be used for the needy.  

Dorothy Day gave up a middle-class life to live in the streets of New York among the homeless and the most destitute.  Her motto is that there is always room for one more at the table.  The rest of us will just eat less.

Kenosis is the theological word.  Self-emptying.  Pulling back so others can live.   That is the practice for the industrialized world.   That is so hard to do. Because it is hard we tend to ignore it or to chase after supernatural or otherworldly speculations, or simply zone out.   It is too important to give up.

Issues of war and peace, equality, ecology and economic justice are issues that we dare not hand over to the corporate lobbyists and to the politicians who are controlled by them.   We need to use our voices and act.   We need a spirituality for the task at hand.  We need a religion that is Earth-based and human-focused as opposed to other-worldly based and corporation-focused.

It is time for radical communities to emerge.  These are communities that are beyond creed, beyond belief, and beyond outdated notions of God.  We need artists and prophets, community organizers and philosophers, musicians and poets, healers and counselors, gardeners and engineers.  We are going to be facing the most difficult challenges humanity has ever faced and we need to be up for it. 

We need to treat this challenge as an adventure.  We need to find our inner superhero.   We need to find and celebrate the Sacred in the moment and the Sacred in the movement for sustainability, equality, and joy.  Old-fashioned values such as compassion and sharing, courage and self-sacrifice will be paramount.

The language of the scripture texts for today, speak of this by saying that we are a new creation.   The new heavens and a new Earth are not new planets to which we can escape.   It is heaven on Earth.  The new is us and how we live on it.

The via transformativa is being transformed personally as we become aware and then act, even if carefully, in regards to the task at hand.    We are in the process of relating in a totally new way to Earth.  We will no longer treat it as resource to use up and abandon.    We will no longer seek economic growth for the few at the expense of the many as a good.  We will no longer take what we cannot renew.   We will no longer pollute what we cannot refresh.   We will not throw anything “away” because there is no “away.” 

“Those former things shall not be remembered or come to mind,” says the prophet, Isaiah.      

This new creation is a new way of responding to life.    We will be transformed and our children and grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews will live in this transformed Earth.   It is the same planet, but we will live on it with renewed respect. 

The via transformativa is a spiritual path.  It is something certainly more important than us.  It is something worth giving our lives to.   

On this Earth Day, may we renew our commitment to Earth and all Earthlings by living into this New Creation now.


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