Monday, March 30, 2015

Living Was His Reason for Dying (3/29/15 Palm/Passion)

Living Was His Reason for Dying
John Shuck

Southminster Presbyterian Church
Beaverton, Oregon

March 29, 2015
Palm/Passion Sunday

“Jesus was not simply an unfortunate victim of a domination system’s brutality.  He was also a protagonist filled with passion.  His passion, his message, was about the kingdom of God.  He spoke to peasants as a voice of religious protest against the central economic and political institutions of his day.  He attracted a following, took his movement to Jerusalem at the season of Passover, and there challenged the authorities with public acts and public debates.  All of this was his passion, what he was passionate about—God and the kingdom of God, God and God’s passion for justice.

Jesus’s passion got him killed.”
            --Marcus Borg

The Gospel of Jesus According to the Jesus Seminar  21:1-12 
Led by one of Jesus’ disciples, the police show up at the place Jesus and the rest of his followers were gathered.  Because Jesus had often gone to the place, Jesus’ followers knew the place too.  And the police seized Jesus and held him fast.  And the disciples all deserted Jesus and ran away.

They brought Jesus before the high priest.

The ranking priests bound Jesus and turned him over to Pilate, the Roman governor.  Then Pilate had Jesus flogged and turned him over to be crucified.

And the Roman soldiers bring him to the place Golgotha (which means “Place of the skull”).  And the soldiers crucify him.

Now some women were observing this from a distance, among whom were Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome.  These women had regularly followed and assisted him when he was in Galilee, along with many other women who had come up to Jerusalem in his company.

Then Jesus breathed his last.
Today is the beginning of Christianity’s big week, called Holy Week.  It begins with a parade and it ends with a resurrection.   It is often called passion week alluding to the passion of the Christ, meaning his suffering.   The common way of putting it is that Jesus died for your sins.   Not only did he die, but he suffered for your sins.   The degree of his suffering is directly proportional to how bad you are. 

Ten years ago or so Mel Gibson directed a movie called The Passion of the Christ.   Mel Gibson must have seen himself as really bad because it is the bloodiest most violent film I have ever seen about Jesus.   The special effects were most impressive. 

The caption on the film’s promotional material alluded to the film’s theological vision:  “Dying was his reason for Living.”   It is substitutionary atonement.   This vision was invented in the middle ages by a theologian named, Anselm.  This vision has been read back into the Bible and it has become the dominant theory for most Christians. 

In this vision God is holy and certainly a supernatural being.  Human beings because of the sin of Adam and Eve are infected with original sin.  Their very existence offends the righteousness of God.  Something must be done to satisfy God’s honor.   God can’t just forgive it.  A judge can’t just forgive the crimes of a convicted criminal.  Someone has to pay.  Humans have to pay the punishment for this crime of sin but they cannot because they are mere humans.   They couldn’t do enough to satisfy this debt.  The crime is too big.   Only God can pay it.  Humans must.  Something must be done.  There must be blood.   God sends Jesus the God-Man to do both jobs, forgive and pay.   The amount of his suffering demonstrates the price he paid for us.   All we have to do is believe to get our "get out of hell free" card. 

Dying was his reason for living.

That is 11th century theology.  Perhaps it is time for an upgrade. 

When I was a little kid, I was good at religion.  I memorized Bible verses, memorized all the books of the Bible in order, and tried many times to read the Bible straight through.  It was a tough slog.  I usually gave up around Leviticus.   Then I felt bad because I was a sinner. 

I went forward when I was eight during a revival.  

"With your heads bowed and your eyes closed raise your hand if you don’t want to go to hell."

I didn’t want that action and I went forward and accepted Jesus into my heart.  He’s still there.   I know that sounds funny coming from me.  That is part of my experience and I don’t disown all of it.  I don’t know one thing about God.  But I do have a heart for Jesus.   Jesus meant different things when I was eight than he does now.   Jesus is still my connection to the holy.  

That feeling of going forward felt good, so I did it a lot.   I thought I backslid.  I was a heavy duty sinner when I was eight.   I had to keep going forward making sure that Jesus would stay in my heart where I put him. 

A friend told me a similar thing.  He grew up Catholic.  He remembers sitting in church and being scolded by his grandmother.  He was complaining that church was boring or something.  She said, “I’ll bet Jesus wasn’t bored when he died on the cross for you.” 

I use that, by the way.  When people complain that it is too hot or too cold or that they don’t like the hymns.  Yeah, well you know, Jesus didn’t whine when he suffered and died on the cross for you.  He never said a mumbalin’ word. 

Jokes aside, this theology of Jesus suffering and dying for our sins is less than complete.  It is one way to look at it but not by any means the only way or the best way.       I don’t think dying was his reason for living.    I don’t think a supernatural being, God, who demands blood and suffering to appease his honor is worth believing in.  I don’t think that god exists. 

I have spent a lifetime, including my career as a minister, trying to understand this Jesus who is in my heart.     The journey continues.   

I am grateful to teachers in my life who opened my mind to new ways of understanding my heart.  Teachers in seminary like Stephen Kraftchick and Mark Taylor and all the people they told me to read like Sallie McFague and Rosemary Radford Reuther.    Teachers in the Jesus Seminar like Robert Funk, Marcus Borg, and Dominic Crossan.  Teachers who disagreed with the seminar like Bart Ehrman and Paula Fredricksen and others.  

They introduced me to a Jesus who was a rabble rouser.   They introduced me to a Jesus who cared about life and the people forgotten and left aside.   They introduced me to a Jesus who called out the emperor and all the religious authorities and was a threat to them because he announced a different way.  They introduced me to a Jesus who loved his enemies.  Not the saccharine “bless your heart, I love you and I’ll pray for you” kind of love, but the love that seeks to understand the other as a human being with dignity and worth and a love that seeks to transform relationships from enmity to friendship, cooperation, shared interest, and mutuality.   They introduced me to a Jesus who had a passion, not for dying, but for living.   

They introduced me to a Jesus who resisted the powers of this world with integrity and who paid the price for it.   He didn’t pay the price for our sins.   He paid the price for announcing and living a vision of what could be in the face of what was.  

He wasn’t alone.  Thousands were executed by Rome’s brutality and bullying.   We wear crosses like jewelry.  But they were instruments of imperial justice or imperial injustice.  It would be like wearing a replica of an electric chair or a syringe or a noose around our necks. 

I wear this cross around my neck to remind of what side I need to be on.   Jesus was executed by established authority in order to keep the peace, to keep Rome’s peace, to keep religious peace, and to the keep the coffers full, the land grabs operational, and the protesters silent.  

I wrote that last line about the protesters before our own protesters arrived.  That irony has not escaped me!  They have their own truth to tell us.  One of the signs said, "You still need Jesus."  Well maybe that is true.

(It is fitting to have demonstrators on Palm Sunday.  We did have protestors visiting us.  Likely in response to our the news about our role in marriage equality and the media response to my post in the Friendly Atheist).  

The cross reminds me what it means to have Jesus in my heart, to have a heart for Jesus.  I need to be passionate as he was passionate and to act and speak for those for whom he spoke and acted. 

Followers of Jesus began to understand this and declared Jesus as lord as part of their confession, as part of what it meant to have Jesus alive in their hearts, which is the meaning of resurrection.   They said Jesus is lord as opposed to Caesar is lord to announce what side they needed to be on.  Were they to be on the side of Caesar’s peace through violence or on Jesus’s vision of peace through justice? 

Then the church married the empire and Jesus became Caesar.  I think the church still today wastes so much time professing to believe fantastical claims about Jesus because it simply is too hard to follow him.    I get it.  It is hard to follow him. 

Maybe I should have an altar call and go forward and repent for not caring and acting as I should on behalf of the poor, the homeless, those trapped by our unjust judicial system, and the victims of our military-industrial complex around the globe.   It is hard to follow Jesus.

Maybe I don’t want him in my heart.  He is too dangerous.

The book that changed my faith was Dominic Crossan’s, Jesus:  A Revolutionary Biography.    Crossan is the standard for historical Jesus studies.  In his prologue he imagines a conversation with Jesus about his book.  It is in the form of a dialogue.  Jesus speaks first:

“I’ve read your book, Dominic, and it’s quite good.  So now you’re ready to live by my vision and join me in my program?”

“I don’t think I have the courage, Jesus, but I did describe it quite well, didn’t I, and the method was especially good, wasn’t it?”

“Thank you, Dominic, for not falsifying the message to suit your own incapacity.  That at least is something.”

“Is it enough, Jesus?”

“No, Dominic, it is not.”

The passion of the Christ is not the victimhood of Jesus alone, certainly not at the hands of a supernatural being.   He was a victim.  He was a victim among thousands of others in his time and place.     He is also a symbol for those who are victims of brutality, violence, and oppression today.   Jesus is crucified with the dying.   

The passion of Jesus also refers to his passion, to his passionate engagement with the world on behalf of a vision he articulated in his parables and aphorisms.   He was passionate about what he called the kingdom of God.   This is a kingdom that comes with our participation.   Nothing magical, nothing supernatural about it.  We can glimpse it.  We can see it, now and then.  

The kingdom of God is a metaphor, yes, but it is a metaphor for the possibility of a new creation where human beings have turned swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.   It is the possibility and the enactment of peace-building rather than war-making.     The work we do as a congregation for healing, for reaching out into our community, and for taking unpopular stands for justice is all a part of that. 

May this Holy Week, this Passion week stir our hearts and make us passionate for what Jesus was passionate.


Friday, March 27, 2015

New Creation (3/22/15)

New Creation
John Shuck

Southminster Presbyterian Church
Beaverton, Oregon

March 22, 2015

Awakening people to newness is the baptismal experience of rebirth.  It is metanoia, waking up.  What is newest about our times is the global demand on our consciousness.  The global pain, the global interconnections of beauty and pain.  The invitation to create a global civilization of love/justice and ecological harmony is a new invitation.  And so too are the global means to carry out this New Creation.

Clearly we have our work cut out for us.  The kingdom/queendom of God is among us; and it is a kingdom not just of words but of power.  The New Creation will be God’s work and our work.  We will truly be co-creators in this process of transformation. 
--Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 255-6.

                                                   2 Corinthians 5:17-19 (Scholars’ Version)
From now on, therefore, we don’t look at anyone from a worldly point of view.  Even though we thought of God’s Anointed in that way, we think of him in that way no longer.  Consequently, for anyone in solidarity with God’s Anointed, it is as if there is a new world order.  The old order is gone, look—the new order has arrived!  All of this comes from God who changes our relationship with the divine through the Anointed and has made us agents of this change.

Welcome to Spring.   What can I say about Spring? 

The great thing about the Bible is that contains wonderful arresting images.   Great one-liners.   Here is a welcome to Spring.  Second Samuel Chapter 11, verse 1:

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go to war…

Isn’t that a great line?  Then King David goes with his army to ravage the Ammonites.   It is Spring.  Cherry blossoms and daisies.  Puts me in the mood to pillage the neighbors.   

That is one way human beings us their creativity.   We have created incredibly impressive ways to blow up stuff.  And people.   Creativity is not enough in and of itself to bring in a New Creation.   It must be directed toward compassion and justice.    

That is the fourth spiritual path that we explore during Spring, the via transformativa.    It is a path of action.   It is action directed at wholeness, healing, justice, and sustainability.    It is the Book of James in the New Testament:

·      Faith without works is dead. 

·      Be doers of the word and not merely hearers.

·      If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

It is Martin Luther King, Jr. saying:

Any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that can scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.

He didn’t pull any punches with that one, did he?  

It is my colleague and friend Aric Clark who preached at my installation and the book he wrote with his two buddies called Never Pray Again.  The subtitle:  “Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands, and Get to Work!”

This season of Spring is a season to explore the action part of faith.  

We are agents of a New Creation.    Agents of wholeness and healing.

On the bulletin cover for today you will find the Presbyterian symbol in rainbow colors.    I have no idea why this rainbow cross is on the bulletin cover.  Could someone please enlighten me?

(cue music)

Jeff: First off the longer you are here, [John]  , you’ll know to just come to me for answers.  Hi! I’m Jeff Tefelske ….  

Sue: Toot!!! WooHoo!!!

Jeff:  Ah…Sue—WHAT are you doing??? Can’t you see I have important church news to share?

Sue: Jeff, Ammendment 14F has been ratified! That is important church news!

Jeff: OK…right…14F—the amendment to the PCUSA Book of Order that states marriage is between “two people” instead of “a man and a woman”.
Well what’s that got to do with Southminster?

Sue: As you know, Southminster has a long history of taking a stand for LGBT rights,  for full inclusion, and to work for a church that reflects the awesome love of God for all people.

Jeff: Yeah, yeah I know… we’ve supported ordination of LGBT people for decades…since the 80s! What’s the big deal!

Sue: Taking that stand at that time was courageous…it was unpopular .We and a few other fearless congregations were seen as troublemakers, rabble rousers, even unfaithful --within the PCUSA.

Jeff: Yeah but…Big Deal! –37 states now have legal marriage for same gendered couples…and the Federal Government recognizes those marriages….So aren’t we kinda just jumping on the band wagon here?

Sue: It is a Big Deal, Jeff! We want a church where all loving couples and all committed relationships are honored and fully embraced. And the amendment started with an overture right here at Southminster in a little class called Sunday Starters.

Jeff: Sunday Starters…Isn’t that the group that puts up with…I mean meets with some charming, good looking , funny and terrificly smart  guy before Worship each Sunday?

Sue: Ok…I’ll give you that one…yeah that’s the guy and group!… with Pieter, Greta, Matt, Val, Sharon, Wally, Sandy, Marylou, Greg, Pam, Ron, Ellie, Peg, Doug, Patty, Pat, Kirsti, Curt, Mark, Joseph, Marci Sue, Sue and Sue, …

Jeff:  and Kathy,Damon…BillyBob, Jim Bob, MaryEllen and John Boy!

Sue:  So what compelled this group of folks to want to work for change?

Jeff:  Ah…ah….because we’re followers of Jesus?

Sue: Right… and Jesus taught that….

Jeff: Jesus taught that…. (help me out here !!!)
—We should love each other
—All are welcome at the Table

Sue: and what sort of people did he associate with?

Jeff: the poor, the sick, tax collectors, women, children…I guess his life was one of Radical Inclusion for his day.

Sue: Jesus was unpopular -- a trouble maker and rabble rouser—you might say . But he worked to change the world around him, even though it angered the powerful establishment that was invested in keeping the status quo. And he commissioned us to do great things, as well!

Jeff: So if you think about it…the work that the Sunday Starters did, and then our delegates June and Laura at General Assembly, were just one part of a long history of Southminster and other churches and folks working for change.

Sue: And sometimes we don’t even get to live long enough to see the fruit of that work…but here, today, we have a wonderful moment to celebrate that long list of people and moments, disapointments and triumphs in bringing about and a more loving and just church …and world!

Jeff: Maybe Martin Luther King Jr was right when he said: “Although… change doesn’t come overnight, we must work as if is possible in the morning.”

Sue: And the beloved community said: “Amen!”

Jeff: So that’s my minute for mission today…and we hope you will join us in celebrating the passage of 14F with cake in the gallery after worship.
Oh Kenn…a little music please!

(music Going to the Chapel Chorus!)

We are celebrating the passage of an amendment to the Book of Order.   The Book of Order is a constitutional document of the church.    It isn’t easy to change the Book of Order.  The General Assembly that meets once every two years must pass the amendment.  That amendment must then go before each presbytery and 51% of the presbyteries must approve.   Of the 171 presbyteries in the United States, 86 needed to vote yes.  The 86th yes happened on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Book of Order now defines marriage instead of a man and a woman as between two people.   Here is the text of the first paragraph:

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.

That change, that New Creation in our Book of Order is the result of a long struggle.   This struggle in the church has paralleled the struggle in civil society.   It is a struggle for equal rights and for human dignity.     By having this change in the Book of Order the PCUSA is saying that these marriages are blessed, sacred, and holy.   

What a change from a few years ago, as recently as 2008, when an authoritative interpretation of our constitution said this:

“…the New Testament declares that all homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian faith and life.”

The toxic, misinformed language is gone. 

What a change from a time not long ago at all when ministers were brought up on charges for officiating at marriages or holy unions for same-sex couples.  

I think of my colleagues who acted up and officiated at weddings and holy unions as a matter of conscience.   Rev. Janie Spahr was brought up on charges so many times she probably spent more time in church court than she did in church.    Always gracious.  Always engaging.  She would send out invitations to her trials.   It is a party.  It is an opportunity to bear witness.    

I don’t think change happens automatically.  It feels like a wave of change sweeps over us.  But I think it happens because individuals acted up.

Individuals like David Sindt.  In 1973 David and a few gay and lesbian friends held up a sign at the 1973 General Assembly that read: 

Is anyone else out there gay?

That started the movement for full inclusion of LGBT people in the Presbyterian Church.    For four decades the struggle in the church was over ordination.    The Shower of Stoles project is a collection of thousands of stoles that signify ordination in the ministry that signify the thousands of lgbt people denied ordination or removed from ordination in many denominations. 

The fight for equality and dignity has been a battle. 

I remember working with a PFLAG group, PFLAG stands for Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays when I was serving a church in Billings, Montana.   This was back around 2002.   A high school student was telling his story.   Rejected by his family.   He said, “Well, you know, they are Christian.”   Everyone groaned and nodded.    I was reminded full force that that is what Christianity meant.  It meant exclusion and rejection and condemnation. 

I thought how crazy this was.   What have we done in the name our founder?

It matters what religious groups say. 

It matters that religious groups say it. 

It matters that religious groups act it. 

Yes we welcome and celebrate and provide sanctuary and bless and hold big gay weddings in the church because it is the right thing to do.  And if Jesus were here in the flesh he would probably turn water into wine for the occasion.

Every time acts of justice and compassion are done, no matter how small, it hastens New Creation.   Every time we tell our story or we create a space for another to tell her story or his story, every time we act to make the world safer, we make the world safer.  Because people follow examples.   

Southminster was in the news this week on television, radio, and newspaper about this congregation’s role in this historic decision.   We are in the news not because we are so great but because we are bearing witness to New Creation.    The more people see justice happening, the more people act on behalf of justice.   

Oh, I thought churches were against us gays.  I guess not all of them. 
Oh that is what churches do?  Maybe my church will too.

It is the spring of the year, the time when people act with compassion and justice.
Thank you for acting up.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Coming Dawn (3/15/15)

The Coming Dawn
John Shuck

Southminster Presbyterian Church
Beaverton, Oregon

Sri Aurobindo            
It is in effect a larger cosmic vision, a realizing of the godhead in the world and in man, of his divine possibilities as well of the greatness of the power that manifests in what he is, a spiritualized uplifting of his thought and feeling and sense and action, a more developed psychic mind and heart, a truer and a deeper insight into his nature and the meaning of the world, a calling of diviner potentialities and more spiritual values in the intention and structure of this life that is the call upon humanity, the prospect offered to it by the slowly unfolding and now more clearly disclosed Self of the universe.  The nations that most include and make real these things in their life and culture are the nations of the coming dawn and the poets of whatever tongue and race who most completely see with this vision and speak with the inspiration of its utterance are those who shall be the creators of the poetry of the future.

Psalm 30:4-5
 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
   and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
   his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
   but joy comes with the morning.

This week we say goodbye to Old Man Winter.  A new season is upon us.   The shadowy greys are giving way to vibrant colors of Spring.    We are also saying goodbye to our reflection on the spiritual path of the via creativa, the way of creativity and imagination.    I want to take some time with the four paths.

Creation Spirituality describes a four-fold spiritual path.  There is nothing spooky or weird about it despite the odd Latin phrases.   Via simply means path and the four paths reflect our engagement with this life.  

The first path is the via positiva.  This path calls us to be attentive to the blessedness of creation.   We wake in the morning and the alarm goes off.  We grumble and turn over in our bed and feel the pain in our lower back.   We hear the garbage truck and realize we forgot to take out the trash.   Then our minds begin to fill with other things we forgot and we need to do and the day begins. 

The via positiva reminds us to marvel at the fact that alarms, beds, backs, garbage trucks and to do lists exist at all.  It is simply wildly amazing that we are here.   What is this that we feel, smell, see, hear, and taste?  What are these things that are thoughts?   What am I to be conscious about it?   Cherry blossoms really are beautiful, aren’t they?   The via positiva is the invitation, yes, even the discipline, the practice of being amazed that Life Is.   It is being attentive to Being in all of its splendor and detail.

Emily Dickenson said the only commandment of Jesus that she could be sure to keep was this one:  Consider the birds.”   She could do that.  She could be attentive, amazed and enthralled by birds.    The via positiva.     

If we are going to do any good for our species and for Earth, we must have a healthy, active and practicing via positiva.     Spend a few moments each day and be amazed.    Fyodor Doestoyevsky, for whom we named one of our dogs penned this in his novel, The Brothers Karamazov:

“Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.”

The via positiva is an exuberant love for life, for others, for self.  One of my favorite hymns is in the Unitarian hymnal.   It expresses the via positiva:

Just as long as I have breath, I must answer “Yes” to life. 

Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, wanted to imagine the first self-conscious thought.  When did self-consciousness arise?  I don’t know.   Maybe hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps even a million years ago, at some time deep in our past, one of our ancestors had the first self-conscious thought.   Campbell imagined it to be this:

I am. 

It was an awareness of existence, of a self of an “I.”   The via positiva.  Wow!  I am! 

Then quickly following the first self-conscious thought was the second:

One day I will not be.

That second self-conscious thought was painful.  It was accompanied by anxiety, despair, and frantic clinging and grasping.   Campbell suggests that religion with its various theories of afterlife was an attempt to keep the “I am” going forever.    I used to think that, but I think now that religion is much more complex.   While aspects of it are attempts to avoid the via negativa by filling people with fantasies, religion also helps us come to terms with the pain of loss by being attentive to it. 

The recognition that I will not be and the recognition that all that we have loved through the via positiva will one day be gone is the via negativa.    The via negativa does not necessarily lead to clinging and grasping.   It does need a healthy attentiveness.   We pay attention to the grief and to the pain of loss.   That grief and pain is proportional to the love we have for what is lost.  

To avoid pain, we may try not to love or we may try to distract our pain by engaging in all kinds of busy-ness.  That is understandable.   There is no need to judge ourselves or others by trying to mitigate the pain of loss.   

But a healthy via negativa invites us to be present to this pain of loss.    The via negativa is the acceptance that nothing is permanent.    The via negativa is the practice of letting go and letting be.     We know better than to think that is easy, smooth, or dignified.  It is messy, emotional and rough.  It is as real as rain. 

If we follow Doystoevsky’s advice to “love all creation, both the whole and every grain of sand,” if we “Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing,” then we will know pain when those things we love are no more.   

The choice we have as individuals, as communities, and as a species is whether to love or not.   Maybe we should detach and not care so much.  Less pain that way.    That is certainly an option.  But Creation Spirituality says, “Be all in.”    In the words of my favorite Unitarian hymn:

Just as long as I have breath,
I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
Though with pain I made my way,
still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well,
Tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.

Be all in.  Be all in with creation.  Be present with the loss.  

But there are two more paths.  

When a star dies, its nuclear reactions come to an end quickly.   The gravitational forces collapse the star in on itself and it explodes sending its energy and matter throughout space.   It goes supernova. 

A supernova is a stellar explosion that briefly outshines an entire galaxy, radiating as much energy as the Sun or any ordinary star is expected to emit over its entire life span, before fading from view over several weeks or months.

From the dust of the exploding stars new stars and new planets are formed.    This is how our own sun and Earth were formed.   A star gave its life that we might be born.    

The Gospel of John quotes Jesus:

“I swear to God, unless the kernel of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains a single seed; but if it dies, it produces a great harvest.” 12:24

Creativity is the very nature of the universe or theologically speaking, the very nature of God.    Creativity is response to loss. 

I, like many of you, feel the despair of our situation on this planet.   Everyday we learn more and more about these perilous times.

I was despairing about this several years ago.  Deeply despairing when I felt the impact of industrial civilization’s coming descent.   Peak Oil, climate change, water shortages, population overshoot, acidity in the oceans, you name it.   Things look grim.   Our fossil fuel party has entered the downslope of the bell curve and all of our institutions are feeling it.   It is via negativa on a big scale.  

I wrote about it a lot on my blog over the years, trying to come to terms with it.   I was filled with anxiety.  What should I do?  What could I do?   What should we do?  What could we do?  But it is too big.  Too overwhelming. 

Then I was reminded of creativity.    I found this quote from Matthew Fox that I found comforting.  Fox wrote:

Some of my hope comes from the realization, growing daily, of how perilous our situation is on this planet.  As more and more people get out of denial and the addictions denial puts us in and come to realize the danger that our unsustainable species is in, there will be action and there will be grounds for hope.  This sounds paradoxical, and it is:  Our very despair is a cause for hope, for despair often results in breakdown and breakdown results in breakthrough.

That is Matthew Fox from his book, Creativity:  Where the Divine and Human Meet.   As I thought about that quote, I realized that I, too, am hopeful.    Hopeful and curious.  I wonder how creativity will respond to this situation.  

Life will be very different in 100 years, even 50 years, maybe less than that.   Part of me wants to hang around for another 200 years to see how humanity makes it through this cliffhanger.   

Stars explode.  From the dust new stars.

Plants die and their seeds sprout new plants.

Civilizations collapse and new civilizations emerge from their ruins.

Everything dies but from its remains are the materials and energy for new life.

Things change but creativity continues.    The via creativa, is not just being creative.  It is that.  It is tapping into, nurturing, tending our own creativity.  It is also being present to creativity, trusting it, noticing it, celebrating it, hoping in it.  

The via creativa is the spiritual path that pays attention to creativity, to our own, to that of others, and to that of Earth and creation itself.   Creativity is possibility beyond our predicting and beyond our expectation and beyond our calculation.   Creativity cannot be forced.  It appears.   We are more likely to see it when we pay attention.

The via creativa is trusting that we have no idea what is to come, yet we trust anyway.  It is dark but we walk anyway.    We don’t know what to do, but we show up anyway.  99% of life is suiting up and showing up.  I don’t know what the other 1% is.  

It is in response to the death of my son that I think that way now.  I realized that for me, the most I could do and be was to be present for whatever is or will be.    And to feel it.  The joy of creation and the pain of its loss.   And then, just show up and see what creativity does.    

I found that the via creativa helped me realize that I am more resilient than I thought I was or thought I could be.    The human species is resilient and we are nothing if not creative.   

The fourth path that we will begin to explore next week is the via tranformativa, the New Creation.   This is the path of action and of directing our creativity toward compassion, justice, and sustainability.  

It is the promise of “the coming dawn” as Sri Aurobindo writes in his book, The Future of Poetry.    The psalmist calls it “joy in the morning.”    We are participating in this New Creation even now. 

This path of New Creation, of creativity in service of compassion requires heart.  In Latin, cor means heart.  From it we get the word courage.   Courage and compassion are from the heart.     Big heart.   Available heart.    It is not being fearless.  It is feeling the fear and showing up anyway. 

Just as long as I have breath,
I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
Though with pain I made my way,
still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well,
Tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.

OK.  A poem.   By Edna St. Vincent Millay.  It is called

The courage that my mother had

The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.

The golden brooch my mother wore
She left behind for me to wear;
I have no thing  I treasure more:
Yet, it is something I could spare.

Oh, if instead she’d left to me
The thing she took into the grave!—
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.

Well, maybe we do. 
Maybe we do have that courage our mothers and grandmothers possessed after all. 
We might be surprised.