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!