Stay Tuned

We are not done. No, not even close. At the turn of the new year, we’ll dive back into the Creation narrative. And there really is no “done” in sight. The Creation story is our framework, and I cannot wait to see what we discover as we continue building together.

~ May you find peace and extend the blessing ~

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The Earth Offers and the Earth Requires

And God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living breathing beings and let the birds fly over the earth, against the face of the firmament of heaven.” And God created the great sea monsters and every living breathing being that creeps, with which the waters swarmed according the their kinds, and every winged bird according to their kinds. God saw that it was surely good. And God blessed them saying, “Branch off and become many, and fill the waters in the seas. Let the birds become many on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, Day 5.

Genesis 1:20-23

plankton2
Plankton

A headline from National Geographic reads “Source of Half Earth’s Oxygen Gets Little Credit,” explaining that plant respiration is only responsible for half of the oxygen we breathe. The other half comes from the tiny ocean dwellers called phytoplankton who also metabolize carbon dioxide into oxygen.¹ The ocean is teeming with swarms of things that give us oxygen to breathe.

birds
http://www.authentic-distribution.com

Audubon Magazine asked it’s readers, Why do birds matter? Melanie Driscoll, director of bird conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Flyway, answered in this way:

Birds are important because they keep systems in balance: they pollinate plants, disperse seeds, scavenge carcasses and recycle nutrients back into the earth. But they also feed our spirits, marking for us the passage of the seasons, moving us to create art and poetry, inspiring us to flight and reminding us that we are not only on, but of, this earth.²

Over our heads are winged creatures who spread life and poetry against the backdrop of the firmament.

And God blessed them saying, “Branch off and become many, and fill the waters in the seas. Let the birds become many on the earth.” This blessing carries with it the creatures that make life sustainable on earth. We experience this blessing every time we breathe.

I can’t speak thoroughly to the science of our ecosystem, but I know that it’s both perfectly tuned for life and delicate. Since the beginning of industrialization, carbon emissions have caused a steady decrease in the acidity of our oceans. This altered environment threatens the stability of life for the swarms of teeming things, and thus threatens the stability of the environment as a whole.

“We do not understand the earth in terms of what it offers us or what it requires of us, and I think it is the rule that people inevitably destroy what they do not understand.”
-Wendell Berry³

If you are seeking to not destroy the earth, there are somethings you already understand about it.  1) Creation is to be loved because God made it and it is absolutely lovely, scientifically and otherwise. 2) We are irrevocably interconnected.

As yourself today, what is the earth offering? Start with your breath. Ask yourself next, what is it requiring of me? Start with gratitude.

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
    the world, and those who live in it;
 for he has founded it on the seas,
    and established it on the rivers.”
Psalm 24

 

¹ http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/06/0607_040607_phytoplankton.html

² http://www.audubon.org/magazine/march-april-2013/why-do-birds-matter

³ Wendell Berry, “Think Little” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Berkley: Counterpoint, 2002), 85.

Intersection: Science and the Church

_66945195_galileo_getty624
di·chot·o·my
dīˈkädəmē/
noun
  1. a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.

Science and religion form what is called a false dichotomy. They are represented as being opposed to one another by our own choices, not by their own attributes.  Did you notice in my last post (Day 4) that the astronomer I referenced is a vatican astronomer? We sit in a place now where the church embraces and commissions its own scientific endeavors. But we also find ourselves still believing that science and faith are irreconcilable. After centuries of religion and science being in fruitful conversation with one another, we are still painting these two things as opposing forces.

Few people can understand this false dichotomy better than Galileo (link to his Wikipedia page below).¹ He was both devoutly catholic and devoutly curious. His work put him in the center of controversy. An astronomer, physicist, mathematician, philosopher, and engineer, Galileo Galilei disrupted the cherished tenants of both academia and the Roman Catholic Church.

His discoveries and subsequent publications began pulling at the threads of a tightly woven understanding of how the world (and the universe) worked. These threads, woven into the fabric of all scholarship, were adopted philosophies of Ptolemy and Aristotle and so engrained that their origins and flaws were indistinguishable. Galileo began questioning things that scholars inside and outside the church never thought questionable.

There are a few dimensions of early interpretation of the cosmos that Galileo’s work challenged. First, there is what was understood about “the heavens.” If the place where all of these objects are “the heavens,” then these objects are “heavenly bodies,” and therefore must be both perfect and immutable. The heavens can’t change, so it was thought, and the heavenly, spherical bodies could only possibly be perfectly spherical and unblemished. “And it is like the face of the Earth itself,” Galileo wrote, “which is marked here and there with chains of mountains and depths of valleys.”[1] His observations were seen as blasphemy.

Galileo also observed what was then called a “nova” in 1604, a new star. According to Aristotelian order, the elements on the earth underwent constant change, but not so with the heavens. The heavens themselves were the unchangeable “fifth element,” incorruptible.[2] This birth of a new star directly challenged the idea that the heavens were unchangeable.

The church’s interpretation of the Cosmos also hinged on the earth itself. Our place in the universe is at its center. This seemed a necessary position if we are to understand ourselves as the crown of God’s creation. We can hardly blame anyone for coming to this conclusion prior to telescopic observation (the exception being Copernicus). Standing on the earth and observing the motion of the “heavenly bodies” gives one the impression that the earth is static while constant motion is taking place “out there.” Galileo’s work posited that the universe was not geocentric after all, but heliocentric. You can imagine the backlash of being one of the first people to claim that humans are not the center of the universe!

One can sympathize with the immediate resistance to some of Galileo’s work. The revelations did violence to doctrinal construction held almost worldwide, by academia and the Church. These discoveries required a complete paradigm shift, a reimagining of who we are and where we are. These beliefs are wrapped up in identity, tradition, and God.

It is good to consider how far we’ve come: we once thought the earth was the center of the universe and completely unique in creative character and purpose. Now we know that the infinite number of galaxies probably contain another planet much like ours, carrying with it the possibility of intelligent life. But it also would do us well to consider how little we’ve learned from the conflict between Galileo and the Church. Galileo did not see any disparity between Scripture and scientific discovery at all. What Galileo and those who came after (and some even before) proved was not that Scripture was wrong, but that the purpose and function of Scripture was not scientific exposition.

The story of Galileo and the church has been handed down to us as a story about an epic battle between science and the Church. But it is not that at all. As I said before, Galileo was both Catholic and curious. This is the story of a man who did not find these things mutually exclusive, thus changing the way we read Scripture and changing the way humans will forever view the world.

As with all dichotomies, there is always more to the story. If you are interested in exploring the long and storied history of the “debate” between science and the church, I would highly recommend the book, Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel.²  Human lives are behind these big ideological concepts that we pit against one another, and human lives are intricate and complex. Sobel helps us rescue the debate from dichotomy and generalization by inviting us into the story of the person Galileo.

 

[1] Dava Sobel, Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love (New York: Bloomsbury, 1999), 31.

[2] Sobel, 52.

 

 

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei

² https://www.amazon.com/Galileos-Daughter-Historical-Memoir-Science/dp/0802779654

Day 4: A Call to Wonder

“And God said, “Let there be light in the firmament of heaven to separate between the day and the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years. And let those light be in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater to rule the day and the lesser and the stars to rule the night. And God placed them in the firmament of the heavens to shine on the earth, and to rule the day and the night, and to separate between the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, day 4.”

Genesis 1:14-19

Day 4 is a little embarrassing, don’t you think?  The sequence is all off – how did all of the vegetation created on Day 3 come to be and continue to live without sunlight? Those who desire for the 7 days of creation to speak to scientific realities are left blushing, those who use science to question the integrity of Scripture are left celebrating.

But to say such things is to believe that the first tellers of the story either paid no attention to detail or had no idea how the earth worked. The Hebrew people lived and died by the land and these greater and lesser lights. They paid attention; their lives depended on it. They knew that plants depended on the light from the sun to grow. And based on this Day 4 passage, they even used the sun, moon, and stars to mark time. We need clocks and calendars for that now.

The first tellers of the story and all of the generations who passed it along in this form were not ignorant.  They knew that this was “out of sequence.” So the question for us should be Why are they telling it this way?  This hiccup in sequence is a call to wonder, it’s a call to look up.

In an OnBeing interview with Krista Tippet¹, Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno describes his time with the Peace Corps in Kenya teaching astronomy to graduate students. His lectures drew out entire villages. Everyone wanted to hear about astronomy, everyone wanted to look through the telescope.  He was struck by the reality that the people of Kenya were just as fascinated by the night sky as the people of Michigan. “And it suddenly dawned on me, well, of course. It’s only human beings that have this curiosity to understand: What’s that up in the sky? How do we fit into that? Who are we? Where do we come from? And this is a hunger that is as deep and as important as a hunger for food…”

What’s up in the sky?
How do we fit into that?
Who are we?
Where do we come from?
These were questions that the Hebrew people were asking, too.

Tonight, put on a sweater, grab a blanket and a pillow, and go where you can see the sky. Ask the questions that people for all of human history have been asking, wonder about what the answers might be. Imagine the Hebrew people doing the same; laying themselves out on the ground attending to the part of creation that hangs above them, asking the same questions we ask. I wonder if Genesis 1:14-19, Day 4, is their answer to these questions. I wonder.

Why did they choose to tell it this way?

May we wonder.

¹ http://www.onbeing.org/program/guy-consolmagno-and-george-coyne-asteroids-stars-and-the-love-of-god/transcript/7956#main_content

Intersections: Feminism

“Both [women and earth] are assigned instrumental value, with little or no intrinsic worth apart from their potential to serve the needs and desires of men. Women whose bodies mediate physical existence to humanity thus become symbolically the oldest archetype of the connection between social domination and the domination of nature.”
Elizabeth A. Johnson¹

In the previous blog post, I brought out the idea that part of God’s act of creation on Day 3 was imbuing the created stuff of the earth power to continue the creative process itself. Plants and trees and other vegetation are given the power to carry on in this work; they are given the power to participate in creation by being creators themselves.

We have not yet come to the creation of humankind in our Genesis study, but as a preview: humans are created and then told “be fruitful and multiply”; they are given the power to participate in creation by  being creators themselves. We hold this in common with the seed-bearing plants, the fruit-bearing trees – the stuff of the earth and the earth itself. This is our first hint – and there will be many more – that people and earth are interrelated to a point beyond hierarchy. We are kin.

To understand the earth (with the life it holds) and humankind as kin is to call into question our typical avenues for understanding our relationship to the rest of creation. In her book Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit, Elizabeth A. Johnson posits that there are (at least) three possibilities of how we conceive of our relationship to the earth and only one appropriately understands the connection between human beings and earth. She explains three models:

The Absolute Kingship Model: “It is based on hierarchical dualism that sees humanity separated from the earth and placed in a position of absolute dominion over all other creatures who are made for us…This is a patriarchal pyramid, resulting in a top-down domination of nature by man” (29).

The Stewardship Model: “This model keeps the structure of hierarchical dualism but calls for human beings to be responsible caretakers or guardians of the earth and all its creatures…humanity is still at the top of the pyramid of being but has a duty to protect and preserve what seems weaker and more vulnerable” (30).

The Kinship Model: “It sees human beings and the earth with all its creatures intrinsically related as companions in a community of life. Because we are all mutually interconnected, the flourishing or damaging of one ultimately affects all. This kinship attitude does not measure differences on a scale of higher or lower ontological dignity but appreciates them as integral elements in the robust thriving of the whole” (30).

Johnson suggests that the reality of our connection with the world is not one of hierarchy, but one of mutual dependence and unquestionable interrelatedness. When the way in which we understand our basic connection to the world is not based in hierarchy and separation, the arguments for subjugation of creation or for the subjugations of other human beings cannot be found in creation theology. When we operate out of a model of kinship, there is no one “at the top” who assigns only instrumental value to those “below,” ignoring intrinsic worth as part of creation. When the way in which we understand our basic connection to the world is based in mutual dependence and interconnectedness, we have every reason to see the inherent value of all things created. Our relationship with the earth is something greater than dominion, it is kinship.

This little book  (a collected lecture series at only 68 pages) is an absolute gold mine. In it, she explores the interrelated subjugation of women, the earth, and the Holy Spirit. It has been a constant companion since it was assigned for a class a few years ago, and I would highly recommend it to anyone studying feminism, ecology, trinitarian theology, or even liberation theology. She explains her thesis: “The exploitation of the earth, which as reached crisis proportions in our day, is intimately linked to the marginalization of women, and that both of these predicaments are intrinsically relate to forgetting the Creator Spirit who pervades the world in the dance of life” (2).

The Amazon listing: https://www.amazon.com/Creator-Spirit-Madeleva-Lecture-Spirituality/dp/0809134152/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1478090866&sr=1-1&keywords=women+earth+and+creator+spirit

¹Johnson, Elizabeth A. Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit. New York: Paulist press, 1993.

Day 3: Power of Earth and Grammar

And God said, “Let the waters be gathered below the heavens into one place and let the dry land be seen,” and it was so. God called the dry land earth and the collected waters God called seas. God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout young vegetation, plants that scatter seed, and fruit trees making fruit according to its kind together with the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth the vegetation, plants that scatter seed according to their kind, and trees making fruit according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, day 3.

Genesis 1:9-13

The creation narrative has been reduced to, in my opinion, two main functions to the average reader: A philosophical proof of the uncreated God creating all things and/or a scientific argument of what and how quickly God created. Both of these readings make the content of each day of creation into unnecessary fodder at worst and a tedious inventory list at best.

But if we slow down, we begin to notice the sights and the sounds. We begin to notice the sound of the wind through the trees and the difference between the sound of the whip-poor-will and the chickadee. When we slow down, we begin to notice the things that have always been there, but have never been aware of.

The biblical languages have called me to slow down. I wonder a lot more as I read. I’m more attentive to word choice and to verb tense. I’m more curious. But ancient Hebrew and Greek is not required of you in order to slow down. To be clear, I would recommend these classes to anyone and everyone. What I mean is that being attentive to the text does not require specialized training. All you need is to slow down. If you need something to call you into that slow-down, consider this your call. Begin to wonder. Begin to wander. Read it like you’re reading poetry – poetry rarely gives up its thesis without a little wrestling.

So what could we notice about Day 3? What has been there all along that we perhaps have never observed? Would you believe me if I said that there is theology in grammar? A shift occurs that is a bit harder to see in english than it is in hebrew, but you can see it. It’s a shift from passive action to active action. What are the waters doing in verse 9? They are being gathered by something else. The waters are not doing the action, they are being acted upon by God. This is passive. But look to verse 11. What is the earth doing in verse 11? The earth is sprouting. The earth is not being acted upon, it is being called into action! There is an active verb form here.

There is theology in this grammar. Up until this point, God in power has crafted and created and made. But now? God has empowered creation to craft and create and make. God has imbued the earth with the power to continue the creative process.  What might this mean for our conversation with the sciences? Is evolution unbiblical after all?  How might this alter our perception of the natural processes all around us? Might we begin to see God’s abundant blessing and power spilling out of every fruit-bearing tree and seed-bearing plant? That, my friends, will preach.

Slow down with the text, and let the text slow you down. Reflect today on the earth beneath your feet. Wonder at its aliveness, expressed through the trees and the air you breathe. Wonder what it is longing to create even there under the concrete.

 

In A Country Once Forested
by Wendell Berry

The young woodland remembers
the old, a dreamer dreaming

of an old holy book,
an old set of instructions,

and the soil under the grass
is dreaming of a young forest,

and under the pavement the soil
is dreaming of grass.

The Firmament And The Way That Leads To Life

CW: Abuse, bodily harm, torture

And God said, “Let there be firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate between waters from waters.” God made the firmament and it separated between the waters which were below the firmament from the waters above the firmament, and it was so. And God called the firmament “heavens.” It was evening and and it was morning, day 2.

Genesis 1:6-8

Many, many Hebrew words do not have an adequate single-word english translation. Once you study the word shalom, the word “peace” just doesn’t cut it. Once you look at what’s behind the word rachum, the word “compassionate” needs more explanation. The same is true for the Hebrew word raqia, often translated as “expanse” or “firmament.” Because if it’s “expanse,” is this really saying anything at all? And seriously, what is a firmament?

My Hebrew lexicon doesn’t usually disappoint me, but this time it did. I looked up raqia, and it defined it simply as “firmament.” So I turned to Merriam-Webster. “What is firmament?” I asked. “The sky,” it said. And then it sent me back to Genesis 1. I went full circle while learning nothing.

This verse is highly descriptive of a thing that we don’t even venture to define. We file it under “quaint” and dismiss it as the old belief that the sky was blue because there is water up there. We pat day 2 on the head and send it to bed.

I am not an expert in Hebrew cosmology, but I am a student of one who loves to think and wonder and ruminate on such things. We call him Tehom. Tehom had this to say about firmament: The question at hand is the question of how the Hebrew people thought that the world held together. The firmament is a crucial part of answering that question. To begin imagining the creation of and subsequent function of the firmament, imagine someone blowing a bubble. A bubble is this tension-filled, delicate barrier that creates separation between what is within and what is outside.

This is not unlike the raqia of the earth. The firmament created during day 2 is more than just “sky”; firmament is boundary and living space, holding back the chaos that presses in. It is an expanse made to sustain and protect that which it holds. William Brown, author of The Seven Pillars of Creation, explains, “That expanse is what we now call atmosphere, the blanket of air that shields the earth’s surface from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (by means of the ozone layer) and from the onslaught of extraterrestrial material such as comets and meteors.”² The atmosphere, the earth’s raqia, preserves the earth and ensures the flourishing of life. Our existence hinges on raqia, and the earth would just be “planet” without it.

In 1985, it was discovered that the ozone layer was damaged – it had a giant hole that was caused by our use of modern chemicals for modern convenience. Without the ozone layer, we have no protection against ultra-violet rays. A damage ozone means disease and death for all of life on earth. Could there be a more literal way to understand what is meant by “the way that leads death” (Proverbs 16:25) than the destruction of the very thing that protects the life of creation? My favorite news of the day is that due to a world-wide effort to ban the chemicals associated with ozone damage, the hole is gradually being healed.³ The way of life, it seems, is to live in a way that does not damage or destroy the firmament.

Raqia is barier, filled with the life-breath of God and tasked with withholding the chaos that threatens that life. Our bodies are raqia.  Our bodies are firmament, boundary and living space, an expanse made to sustain and protect that which it holds. Our bodies are fragile, but perfectly suited to sustain life. Consider your skin. Consider the womb. Delicate, yet tenacious in its intricate and brilliant design – raqia. To know this is to know what is at stake: Racism justifies the destruction of the body firmament. Abuse cracks the raqia. Suddenly the idea of sexual assault is theologically reprehensible. Torture consumes the integrity of the bodily raqia until it is not longer able to protect the life-breath within. To take a life is to massacre the firmament that God perfectly crafted and indwells.

There is a way that leads to life, and it seems to be living in a way that does not damage or destroy the firmament.

The Ongoing Holy War Against Evil
by Wendell Berry

Stop the killing, or
I’ll kill you, you
God-damned murderer!

  1. Tom “Tehom” Boogaart is Dennis and Betty Voskuil Professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.
  2. Brown, William P. The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. Oxford: Oxford Press, 2010.
  3. http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/01/health/antarctic-ozone-layer-healing/