Sunday, January 25, 2015

Imago Dei (1/25/15)

Imago Dei
John Shuck

Southminster Presbyterian Church
Beaverton, Oregon

January 25, 2015

Genesis 1:26-27
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

It was with great sadness that we said farewell to Marcus Borg this week.  He died Wednesday at the age of 72.  Marcus Borg had become the leading figure in progressive Christianity.   His book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time in the words of one friend of mine was a “game changer.”   He helped thousands of people discover a Christian faith that satisfied mind and heart.  

He was of course, an Oregonian, having taught at Oregon State.   I learned that he had visited Southminster.   His memorial service will be March 22nd at two p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church in Portland.

He creatively reinterpreted traditional Christian language for a modern age.   He helped us see with new eyes, to discover again as if for the first time, Jesus, the Bible, and God.  I used his 2003 book, The Heart of Christianity in several study groups and have given it away and purchased it several times to show seekers what Christianity can look like beyond the traditional formulations.     

His last book, Convictions:  How I Learned What Matters Most is a summary of his own journey.  I was fortunate to be able to talk with him about it a few months ago on my radio show.  He was a gracious person, always the compassionate and patient teacher.   

Just by looking at the chapter titles you can get an idea of what he contributed:
Faith Is a Journey…
Salvation is More About this Life than an Afterlife
The Bible Can Be True Without Being Literally True
The Bible Is Political
God Is Passionate About Justice and the Poor
To Love God is To Love Like God

As a sign of his influence when he was first with the Jesus Seminar and writing his first books on the historical Jesus he was considered radical and heretical.  By the time of his death he had become mainstream and perhaps even conservative within progressive circles.   He hadn’t changed.  That simply shows that he was on the right track.   Mainline Christianity was catching up with him.  

One of his passions was the revitalization of mainline churches.    He thought the key to this was by having solid adult education programs.   Learning how to read the Bible critically, that is historically and metaphorically, learning about Jesus, both the man and the myth, and reflecting on theological symbols such as “god” and what it means to be a human being were of critical importance to the vitality and survival of the church.  Mainline churches were the logical place for this learning to happen.    Mainline churches have historically been centers for learning. 

As Marcus Borg pointed out in our interview, evangelicalism has become the voice of Christianity over the past half century.   Mainline churches have been overwhelmed by the success of evangelicalism have not been assertive about what we have to offer to the conversation.   We have a great deal to offer.  The subtitle of Marcus's book is How I Learned What Matters Most.    To be a place in which a conversation about what matters most happens is a great gift to the larger community.  

What matters most about ecology, about social justice, about war and peace, about economics, about personal well-being, about interpersonal relations, about cosmology, evolution, psychology.  What matters most about being alive!    Why not be the place where we ask the most important questions?   

That is what Marcus Borg thought the mainline church could be.   That was his passion, not so much the university but the church.    That is why his writing was clear and accessible to lay people and why he spent so much time visiting churches and speaking with small market radio talk show hosts. 

I think his overarching question wasn’t about Jesus, the Bible, or God, but the human being.  What does it mean to be a human being?  Who are we and how do we live?    There is no simple answer to that.   It is a question we keep before us as we face life’s mysteries and contingencies, joys and sorrows.   Who am I?  What matters most? 

We don’t ask those questions in isolation or from ivory towers but in a community of fellow travelers.  We are all in this together.  We learn from each other, encourage each other, question, challenge, engage in spats and forgive each other because there really is no step by step manual about how to live life.  

Thirty years ago, when Beverly and I came home from the Boise, Idaho hospital with our new baby, Katy, there was no manual.   There was not even an on-line help center where I could go to troubleshoot problems.   The second baby, Zach, had no manual either.   In both cases, the hospital said, “Here is your new baby.  Good luck!”

We learn by living.  But we aren’t alone.   While there may not be answers as to how to live the perfect life, there are lives.  We look to one another.   We also look to the saints as our tradition calls them, to our ancestors who also had to bring home babies without manuals.   They also tried to work out what mattered most. 

Some of this ancestral wisdom made it into books we call scripture.  One of the metaphors for the human being that has endured was created around 500 BCE.    The ancient Hebrews were living in exile in Babylon, having been violently removed from their home.    They observed the religion of the Babylonians.   They learned their myths.   

During this time of domination and humiliation when they had to struggle with who they were, a burst of creativity moved them to rewrite their own mythology.   In the Babylonian epic, Enuma Elish, creation is a violent act.  Marduk slays Tiamat and from her carcass creates heaven and earth.   Her blood is used to create the gods.  Later in the story the gods have a lot of work to do, so human beings are created to be their slaves.    This creation myth would be acted out at festivals to reinforce the order of things.  The people are slaves to the gods and in real life to the king who represents the god. 

The Hebrews learned this story.  But they also knew an earlier story.  They knew the story of freedom from slavery.  They knew an early version of the Exodus story and they knew of the Deuteronomic commandment to keep Sabbath holy.    This Sabbath was for everyone even the work animals.    

They reworked the Babylonian creation myth and told a seven day creation story that was not violent.   Human beings in this account were created not to be slaves of the gods but were created in the image of god.    One sign of this image was that as God rested on the seventh day, so would all creation.   

Even exiled in a foreign land you can remember who you are and keep your dignity and know what matters most by keeping Shabbat or Sabbath.   In so doing you know that you are not fundamentally a slave, but you are imago dei, the image of God.   You are not a slave to royalty, you are royalty yourself.    

The first chapter of Genesis is probably the most influential piece of literature in Western culture.  Its cosmology has been replaced by modern cosmology and evolutionary theory, but it still has some mileage left in it for speaking about the dignity of the human.    

As opposed to being a slave to the gods, a cog in a machine, a consumer, an addict, cannon fodder, a number, worthless, or whatever other indignity can be heaped upon us from the outside or by ourselves, instead we say with our ancestors who survived great indignities and held their heads up, we are imago dei, the image of God. 

This metaphor has had some unfortunate consequences.  It has been used toward selfish ends.   Dominating the rest of creation for our own desires and justifying it because human beings are the image of god as opposed to the rest of creation has put us on an unsustainable course of action.    Image of God has too often meant: "We get to be boss."

When I started at my first congregation, my children were 7 and 5. When they realized that I was the minister of the church, they thought this was cool.   The five year old said, “This means we get to be boss of the other kids!”    I had to inform him of the sad news, “No it does not mean that.”

The image of God has too often been interpreted that human beings are boss—that we are more important than birds or bonobos and that our so-called needs, our habitats are more important than theirs.    We are slowly, hopefully not too late, recognizing that we are all in this together.   We are related literally, by our genes, to the birds and bees and bonobos and what happens to them happens to all.  

That is an important discussion.  What is the imago dei?   What about that metaphor for the human?  What does that metaphor do in regards to discussion about ecology, equality, or human self-worth?  Those metaphors are out there doing work, shaping our rhetoric.  We need discussion about them to evaluate them critically. 

The late Gordon Kaufman, who taught at Harvard for many years proposed that the symbol God in our time is undergoing a shift.   Rather than think of God as creator,  he proposed that God is creativity.   He wrote a book called In the Beginning, Creativity.    Not an agent or intelligence or force, but the word we use for that which comes into being.    Creativity is also seen in evolution itself and in yet another way, it is seen in human culture.   

Imago Dei is human creativity reflecting the creativity of our 13.8 billion year-old universe.   God is not a being to believe in or not believe in, God is the creativity in which we live.    But here is the key.  Here is the take home:  

To say it theologically means that there is a moral imperative.  

Nuclear weapons are a product of human creativity as well.   Creativity can heal or destroy.  Human beings can creatively come up with many ways to kill each other and the planet.    We can come up with many ways to heal as well. 

Creativity as Imago Dei means that our creativity has an ethical and moral imperative.     In the poetic refrain of the first chapter of Genesis, we hear “God saw that it was good.”  That goodness is the goal of our creativity in God’s image.   That goodness: compassion, gratitude, justice, beauty, harmony directs or creativity, shapes it, gives it courage.
I want to go back to Marcus Borg again.   What I most admire about him is that he never gave up on the Christian tradition as being outdated or outmoded.  He found there through hard work and creativity, wisdom that can speak to us and can shape our lives for the good.   

Borg often talked about the character of God.    For him God as revealed in the tradition was about justice and compassion.  God was also a symbol for mystery, for that which we cannot know but yet can trust.  

Since this season is about the via creativa, the way of creativity and imagination, I want to close with the final two paragraphs of his last book, Convictions:  How I Learned What Matters Most.  He speaks to this act of imagination and creativity:

For Christians in particular, the imagination is the home of our images of God, the Bible, Jesus, salvation, and more.  Together, these images combine to create a vision of God’s character and dream.  They matter greatly, for they shape what we think the Christian life is about.

What’s it all about?  What’s the Christian life all about?  It’s about loving God and loving what God loves.  It’s about becoming passionate about God and participating in God’s passion for a different kind of world, here and now.  And the future, including what is beyond our lives?  We leave that up to God.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

No Greater Love (1/18/2014)

No Greater Love
John Shuck

Southminster Presbyterian Church
Beaverton, Oregon

January 18, 2015
Martin Luther King

This is my commandment to you:  you shall love each other just as I loved you.  There is no greater love than to give up your life for your friends.  John 15:12-13

“Letter From a Birmingham Jail”   Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had he survived the garbage strike in Memphis in April of 1968 and had he survived whatever other attempts might have been made on his life in the years that would have followed, and had he survived all the other things that could kill a person, he would have celebrated his 86th birthday this past week, on January 15th.  

Whenever I reflect on his life and his ministry and his activism as I did again this weekend when Beverly and I watched the film, Selma, I am amazed at how young he was.    He died at 39.   

His Letter from Birmingham Jail was written when he was only 33.   He was 34 when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the nation’s capital, 35 when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, and 36 when he marched from Selma to Montgomery.   

That is the event that is the focus of the film.  This action finally pushed President Johnson to put forth legislation to remove all barriers to voting.   Martin Luther King was 36 when he faced down the President of the United States.  

In his last speech, at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis on April 3rd, 1968 he spoke about life and longevity.  He said:

Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

He was killed the next morning outside of his motel room by an assassin’s bullet.

There is no greater love than to give up your life for your friends.

That quote created by the author of the Gospel of John was attributed to Jesus, another who died young.

King and his friends joked about death as they contemplated the dangers of the march through rural Alabama.  “It is a beautiful day.  Yes, a beautiful day to die,” and so forth.  Dark humor to keep the demons at bay.    

King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, did not joke about it.    The film pointed out the tensions, struggles, and pain this ministry placed on their personal lives.  Living under the gun, the incredible pressures from within and without the movement, the criticism, the violence, the bombing of churches, the surveillance by the FBI, the phone calls seething with crazed hatred.  Perhaps it is amazing that he lived as long as he did.  

King was not perfect.  Some of his own choices and betrayals caused great pain.  Despite his personal indiscretions and failures as a husband, Coretta Scott King stood with him.   In the midst of it all, Martin and Coretta lived with boldness, forgiveness and with love for each other and for what they both believed was a higher calling.   Coretta Scott King at least as much as her husband deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.  

I want to go back to 1963 to Birmingham, Alabama.    If I can be directive, I invite you to re-read or to read for the first time, “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” this weekend, perhaps in between football games.   It has become a defining text for civil disobedience. 

He wrote it while in his jail cell in Birmingham on scraps of paper that had been smuggled into him.   His letter was a response to a letter that had been published in a local paper that had been signed by eight white Alabama clergymen.  Their letter was called, “A Call to Unity.”   This letter criticized King and his methods. 

The reason King was in jail in the first place is because he broke the law.  He disobeyed a judge’s order and he was arrested for it.   On April 3rd of 1963 marches and sit-ins against racial segregation had been coordinated by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other civil rights groups in Birmingham.   

A week later, on April 10th circuit judge W. A. Jenkins issued an injunction against “parading, boycotting, trespassing, and picketing.”   Leaders said they would disobey.  On April 12th, Good Friday, King and other leaders and marchers were arrested and jailed.

While King was in jail, someone smuggled into him the newspaper that contained the article by the eight white clergymen entitled “A Call to Unity.”   This statement from the white clergymen including the moderator of the Synod of the Alabama Presbyterian Church,  urged quote “our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations.”   The letter said that they agreed that there were “racial problems” but that they should be handled in the court system not in the streets.   The court rulings should be obeyed. 

The letter went on to say that the demonstrations were quote “directed and led in part by outsiders” and were “unwise and untimely.”    The letter said that the  demonstrations while peaceful, nevertheless incited hatred and violence.  

King was provoked.  He had no paper so he wrote his response in the margins of the newspaper and other scraps of paper provided by a black trustee.   

In response to the accusation that the demonstrations were organized by outsiders, he wrote:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

In response to the criticism that the demonstrations are “untimely”, King wrote:

My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

In regards to breaking laws, King wrote:

In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

In regards to the peaceful protests inciting violence, King wrote:

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

King expressed his disappointment with the church:

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

King’s powerful, passionate, and articulate letter is relevant today.   Actions for social justice are often met with quote “Calls for Unity.”   That call for unity is subtle and deceptive.    It blames those who seek change as disturbers of the peace.   But what they call peace is not peace.  It is only quiet.   Authentic peace is the consequence of justice.    That authentic peace requires people to make some noise. 

How often have we heard this “call for unity” in the church.  It is sanctimonious rhetoric designed to shame and silence those who are speaking and acting on behalf of equality.    I have heard again and again from leadership in our denomination and from media outlets in our denomination and from moderate clergy in our denomination that ordination equality or marriage equality is divisive. 

It will cause people to leave the church.   It is not time yet.  You need to go slow.   

I am glad that Southminster didn’t go slow.  I am grateful that this session sent the marriage equality amendment to the presbytery and eventually to the General Assembly and because of that equality is a step closer in our denomination. 

Equality and justice do not just happen.    It isn’t magic nor is it simply a product of the natural flow history.  There is no such thing.  Change happens because people make decisions and act on them.     Those decisions may appear untimely or loud or tense or unsettling.  But that is only because too many of us have become accustomed to a status quo.   

Change requires people to use their voices and thus raise consciousness.    Change also requires people to listen.   We need to listen to the voices that unsettle us and that challenge us.    That voice may be the voice of Spirit.   

According to our own Presbyterian Brief Statement of Faith, we hear these words:

The Spirit gives us courage…
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

Throughout our scriptures, a recurring theme is Spirit coming to someone unexpectedly summoning them to act.   Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Ruth,  Deborah, Mary, Jesus.   It is a voice that at first unsettles and disturbs.   The quick knee-jerk response is

“Not me, not now.  It is untimely.  What will the neighbors think?”  

Kind of like the “Call to Unity” by the eight white Alabama clergy.   

The difference between the heroes and the sheroes on the one hand, and the ne’er-do-wells on the other in our scriptural tradition, like Pharoah and Herod and so forth, is that when Spirit speaks the heroes and the sheroes eventually listen, really listen, and then act accordingly.   

When I think of those two letters, A Call to Unity by the white clergymen who history has forgotten outside of that letter and King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail, I don’t think one can see a more clear distinction between these responses to the call for justice. 

It really doesn’t matter how old or how young you are or your place in life.   Spirit can invite us at anytime to act on behalf of justice and of love in a specific way.    Our lives have their worth when they are given for others.  

There is no greater love than to give up your life for your friends.

Where is Spirit calling us? 

And for what and to whom will we give our lives?


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Via Creativa (1/11/15)

Via Creativa
John Shuck

Southminster Presbyterian Church
Beaverton, Oregon

January 11, 2015

“We are God’s work of art.”  Ephesians 2:10
“We are fellow workers with God.”  1 Corinthians 3:9

Patient Trust   
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
--Teilhard de Chardin

 We are God’s work of art. 

That is a paraphrase of Ephesians 2:10.  The NRSV reads:

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” 

Bottom line:  We are God’s work of art.

That paraphrase of Ephesians 2:10 comes from Matthew Fox in his book, Original Blessing.    I have been influenced by Matthew Fox.  I had the opportunity to meet him in person a couple of times and interview him on my radio show.  

Matthew Fox is an Episcopal priest.  At one time he was a Roman Catholic priest.    He was kicked off the team because of the views expressed in Original Blessing and other works.   Cardinal Ratzinger who at the time was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later became Pope Benedict XVI had Fox investigated and eventually forbade him from teaching and writing.   Fox didn’t stop writing and eventually was expelled from the Dominican Order.   All of this happened between 1983 when Original Blessing was published and 1993 when he was finally expelled. 

Why was he booted from the squad and why do I admire him for that?    
  •         First of all he had positive things to say about homosexuality.
  •         He also used feminine images for God, calling God “Mother” for example.
  •         He taught a spiritual practice called creation spirituality that consisted of four paths, via positiva, via negativa, via creativa, and via transormativa. He taught these four paths as an alternative to the church’s teaching of the classical three paths:  purgation, illumination and union.   You will be hearing more about those four paths.
  •          He took seriously science, particularly cosmology and evolution and sought to integrate it into his theological vision.  
  •         The big controversy was his concept of original blessing.   He said in essence that original blessing is more original than original sin. 

We have all heard of original sin.  Because of the disobedience of the fictional characters, Adam and Eve, we all have been magically injected with original sin and are thus incapable of being good.    We know this language through hymns, prayers, sermons, and so forth. 

…we are not worthy to eat the crumbs off the Lord’s table…
…there is no good in us…
…amazing grace who saved a wretch like me…
…we are sinners in the hands of an angry god…

and so forth and so on.   

The solution to this problem is the God-Man Christ Jesus, because he is both God and man saves us from original sin and the hellfire that is our just reward.  

Fox said the obvious.  He wasn’t the first by any means, but he was quite articulate.  He said original sin makes little sense and it isn’t very helpful for our self-understanding as human beings and the work we have before us.  Nor does it even reflect the best of our tradition including the teachings of Jesus.   

Fox said rather than think of ourselves and of creation as sinful and fallen, let’s tell the truth.  It is pretty darn amazing that we exist at all.  Existence is good, in fact, a blessing.   We are blessed to exist.   

The first words in our Judeo-Christian scriptures are from Genesis chapter one beginning with verse one:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good;
The refrain throughout that first creation story is “and God saw that it was good.”  This includes the creation of humankind in God’s image.   At the end of the sixth day when humans are created, the text says:

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

Original blessing.

Even our own tradition emphasizes the goodness of creation that includes of course the goodness of human beings.  

As far as the Adam and Eve myth is concerned, it can be interpreted in many ways.  Myths open themselves to a variety of interpretations.   It can be read as a myth of awakening.   When your eyes are opened and you grow up, you cannot be contained naked in a playpen any longer, even if you want to.   Eve becomes aware of the complexity of life and exhibits moral choice.  She and Adam become grownups with weeds, childbirth, death and taxes.      The myth does not have to be interpreted as a Fall or as a failure or as the beginning of original sin.   It can be read as a myth about the sorrows and joys of being human.  

Once you challenge the notion that this myth is about original sin, then you challenge the entire theological and ecclesiastical system that perpetuates our sinfulness and the need for Jesus to save us through the grace that is administered by the church.   So of course, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can’t allow that.  That heretic, Matthew Fox, had to go.   

Protestants are the flipside of the same coin.  Instead of the authority of the church, the authority of the Bible is challenged when cherished doctrines are questioned.   You hear this today from some Presbyterian conservatives.  They want to split off from the PCUSA and take the property because from their viewpoint the rest of the church no longer believes in the authority of the scriptures. 

In a sense they are right.  I value the Bible.  I read it.  I study it.   It is the classic work of Western literature.  It is filled with important wisdom and I believe we should learn what we can from it.  But if my refusal to deny gay people equal rights despite what it says in Leviticus is denying the authority of the scriptures then so be it.    

Or if I must close my mind to science including evolution and cosmology…
or if I must deny the wisdom of other faith traditions…
or if I have to believe that human beings are sinful and bad…
…in order to uphold the “authority of the scriptures” …
…then I don’t think that doctrine of the “authority of scripture” is worth the pain it has caused. 

Now I think you can have respect for scriptures and recognize their gravitas, their authority without losing your mind but it requires some nuance.    I think that is what Matthew Fox and many, many others are bringing to the Christian conversation.   What Fox and others have done at least for me is to allow breathing space within the tradition.  When we have breathing space, we can find creative ways of engaging it so that it can speak to us in empowering ways.    

It is like a relationship.  It cannot be forced.   Both parties have to be adults.   Human beings wrote the scriptures.  Human beings are the church.  We are all adults.  We can have a conversation.  We can have questions.   We can disagree with aspects of the scriptural tradition and still have respect for the authors of the tradition.     It is the parent-child relationship with the tradition that is not healthy in my opinion. 

New Zealand theologian and Presbyterian minister, Lloyd Geering, says that we all are now theological do it yourselfers.  No longer does the tradition dictate what we must think or believe.   No longer does the tradition define for us what God is or what is our proper relationship to God.   

At my last congregation someone quipped that we were BYOG.  Bring Your Own God.   I am not sure if it was meant as a compliment but I took it as such.   I heard it as a playful way of saying that we are adults and that we can make our own spiritual decisions.   Whatever God might be, God is likely available to any of us as God is to any edifice or tradition.   It is foolish to ignore the wisdom of our ancestors.  It is equally foolish to accept their provisional wisdom as absolute. 

Recognizing that is the via creativa.   The path or way of creativity.   That is the freedom to be adults, to participate, to be co-creators.    If Ephesians 2:10 can be paraphrased to say, “We are God’s work of art,” it is also true as it says in I Corinthians 3:9, that “We are fellow workers with God.” 

I have found Matthew Fox’s four-fold Creation Spirituality path helpful in ordering worship services.   One path for each season of the year.  Winter is the path to explore the via creativa, the way of creativity and imagination.     It nicely fits with Southminster because the Art Show is near the end of Winter and thus the culmination of this path.    

A couple of things about the via creativa.

This is from another of Matthew Fox’s books.  This one is called Creativity.  Fox writes:

Creativity is who we are, creativity can redeem and save our species….All we need to do is release this creativity, get out of its way….What are we waiting for?  Let us remove the obstacles, let go of the guilt, and get moving.  We have nothing to lose but our pessimism and cynicism….Creativity is not in short supply.  There is an abundance of it, plenty to go around.  It has always been this way.  From the original fireball to the birth of the atoms, galaxies, supernovas, stars, sun, planets, earth and her marvelous creatures.  We humans are latecomers to the creative universe, but we are powerfully endowed with creativity. P. 229

Creativity it is a spiritual path for everyone.  Everyone is an artist.   You may have heard someone say or you even may have said it yourself, “I am not a very creative person.”

Nonsense.   If you are alive you are creative.  You couldn’t survive without being creative.     You are the product of creativity and you are creative.    You are God’s work of art and a fellow worker with God.

We homo sapiens can do some pretty incredible things.  We can talk.  We can think.  We can write “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, compose Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and paint Mona Lisa’s smile.   We can calculate pi to one thousand one hundred  twenty decimal digits, make fire, text our friends during the sermon with our opposable thumbs, and we can show compassion to and aid a complete stranger who is not a biological kin and who is not in a position to aid us. 

It took the universe 13.7 billion years to make you.  So you ought to see yourself as pretty darn special.  That is original blessing.   Not only that, fellow human, but you are the consciousness of the universe.   You are the universe becoming aware of itself.  There may be other places in the universe where consciousness or even self-consciousness has arisen.  We may never know.  We do know that it has arisen here on Earth.   

This consciousness has evolved and has in turn created language for itself, for God, for this amazing experience of life and how to navigate it.   Creativity is about being creative with images.  It is letting our imaginations run wild.  It is giving birth to new ideas, to new ways of living, being, and relating.  

We are facing huge challenges, not just the church, but our various communities and the planet itself.  We need to open our lives to creativity more than ever.   

Since we are God's work of art and fellow workers with God, we have a role to play at Southminster.   I look forward to learning from you how and where the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Creativity is blowing through this community.   A great adventure awaits!