It Depends

then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.Genesis 2:7, RSV

Taken literally, Genesis 2 is about how the original human was hand-crafted from clay by the Guy in the Sky. In light of historical criticism, one may say this is a perfectly dismissable near eastern myth about the origins of people. Luckily, there is a middle ground.

For me, “truth” goes beyond the coldly factual approach taken by the extremes of interpretation. Even if a story doesn’t appear to be recounting a historical event as we define it, I believe it can still be used by Spirit to impart some truth to us about ourselves and our place in this life. With that in mind, what does Genesis 2 teach me?

Well, a lot.

Today, though, I am struck by the reminder of our (humanity’s) natural connection and dependence. Further, I’m disturbed to look up from the story and see what our world has become.

We exploit, pollute, and devalue all of nature, including other people. All forms of life are viewed in terms of their usefulness. Our planet has been trampled underfoot and bled dry by our constant self-centeredness as a species.

It needs to stop.

The story of Genesis paints humanity as one with the “created world.” We are formed from the same earth as other animals and vegetation. The same “breath of life” fills all lungs, yet we act as though we operate independently of the rest of the planet. Particularly in “the West,” we value our autonomy.

The problem is there really is no such thing.

We were designed with dependence in mind. We depend on earth, air, fire, and water for our sustenance, our very existence. We depend on each other to be born, taught, supported, loved, and remembered. No person is self-made, for we all owe a debt to someone. When we forget that, we end with the society we have now.

So what does this truth of dependence do for us?

Hopefully, we are reminded to care for our earth. We can reduce, reuse. recycle, and be grateful for what this earth provides for us. We can give to wildlife conservation efforts, and spread awareness about this miraculous planet. We can eat meat and animal products from creatures who are properly cared for, and remember to honor the life that fed ours. We can purchase products that won’t take away more of our precious forests.

We can remember that no matter how different someone is from us, no matter what they choose to do with their life, we are of the same “dust.” Every person is sacred by virtue of existing, and so they should be treated even if they aren’t choosing to reciprocate. When our religion, doctrine, politics, or preconceived notions would have us do differently. we ought to set those aside rather than the person in front of us.

So there you have it. Remember that we are all each other has. This earth, this life, and each other are all we can sure of, and we are all interconnected and interdependent. With that in mind, I hope we can start acting like it.

Peace be with you!

Guided By The Spirit

Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the lawLuke 2:27, NRSV

We live in a world that is entrenched in its ways. Everyone has their political party, their religion or philosophy, their opinion, their tribe. Humans tend to like a fixed way of thinking that informs all the other aspects of their lives; a “home base” if you will.

The problem with this is that inevitably, our tribe becomes our idol. We close ourselves off to new ways of thinking or being because those novel opportunities scare the part of us that needs “home base.” As a result, we miss the chance to be a part of what God is actively doing in the world today.

This is where Simeon from Luke 2 comes into play. Simeon was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him” (2:25). Simeon’s connection to God’s Spirit enabled him to be guided by it, allowing him to see God’s salvation (2:30) when so many after him would be too blinded by their own expectations to experience God’s movement in the world.

For us today, Simeon’s lesson is all the more revalent. Our religious, political, or social “certainties” might make us feel safe and “right,” but they also narrow our sphere of influence and understanding. This in turn prevents us from loving our neighbor as Christ commanded, because the love of Christ defied the boundaries of the world in the first century and continues to do so today.

Jesus is the path of salvation no one saw coming (and by “salvation,” I mean unity with God). A poor carpenter’s son of no real worldly value or standing is actually the embodiment of the love of God and perfect unity with His will. To follow this Jesus is not to stake one’s self to a singular understanding of God.

Instead, discipleship is the acceptance that God is the One who said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). As such, we must be ever on the lookout for God’s teachings and activities, dismissing nothing (and no one) out of hand, for we don’t know where He may appear. This is what it means to be “guided by the Spirit,” and it’s the only way we can break our narrow-minded bonds and experience firsthand the unity with God that Jesus exemplifies.

Let us free ourselves from “certainty” and open our minds and hearts to each other. In doing so, we allow God’s Spirit to do its work and guide us to the places we need to be in order to do what we need to do. Is it scary? Yes. Uncertain? Of course. Worth it? Without a doubt.

Peace be with you!

Being the Church When It Hurts

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. — 1 Corinthians 12:14, RSV

Believe it or not… most people disagree with their church home of choice in one way or another. I know it’s hard to believe that an institution made up of humans could ever fail to spiritually deliver, but I’m afraid it’s true. Many Roman Catholics I know disagree with the Vatican’s take on sexuality and birth control. As an Episcopalian, I know many in my denomination disagree with the unstoppable “progressive” train powering through the national church at the moment. Recently, many United Methodists were crushed by the General Conference decision to maintain and “shore up” restrictions on LGBTQ+ inclusion in marriage and ordination rites.

Anyone familiar with church history knows that there have been many times when the faithful were (or should have been) at odds with the institutional church. The Christian religion has been complicit in many less-than-stellar historical events. We were silent in the face of German fascism, and we resisted the American Civil Rights Movement. We hunted and tortured “witches,” force-converted numerous groups of people, and participated in the violence of colonization. We persecuted Jews and participated in the mutual disaster of the crusades.

Thankfully, that’s not the whole story, as we also resisted and fought for righteous change in the midst of all those dark moments.

As an institution, we have failed quite a bit. But it’s also true that when the people of God are filled with and guided by His Spirit, we actually become the Church we were intended to be, even if it means resisting the establishment. God’s Church is not limited to the Pope, cardinals, bishops, deacons, priests, or pastors. It is not limited to the conferences or conventions. God’s Church is made up of all God’s people, and that includes you.

We’ve gotten in the habit of confusing institutional decisions with the extent of the Church’s reach. When the authorities decide something, that must be it, right? Wrong! You represent the Church! If God is calling you and those like you to move, then move!

Let’s say you are a lay United Methodist who was put off by the General Conference decision last week. The UMC will not bless same-sex unions or ordain members of the LGBTQ+ community, so what can you do? Well, you and those like you could make it a spiritual practice to attend and participate in same-sex weddings for those you know and love. You could also host small groups that enable LGBTQ+ members to explore their calling to preach and teach the Word of God. What if you’re a Pro-Choice/Pro-Life Roman Catholic? You could advocate for honest, accurate, and realistic sexual education resources that will help reduce unwanted pregnancies. Are you a conservative Episcopalian? Make your voice heard as you lovingly defend traditional language and practice, advocating for a more cautious approach to ecclesiastical change.

The point is this: You are not without power, especially when you are guided by the love of God and neighbor!

When we are faced with the evils of this world, we often ask where God is. We wonder why the Church doesn’t seem to be making a difference. The answer is God is where He needs to be, and the Church will make a difference when you and I decide to be where we are supposed to be. The Church is not a building, conference, or institution. It is a people. If we can remember this and put it into practice, we can shine the light of Christ in any darkness, and it will not be overcome (John 1:5).

I’m not saying you should leave your organized religion and go rogue. We’ve had enough “Jim Jones” activity in this crazy world, I think. What I am saying is that you can still follow the path God has set before you, filtered through the love of Christ, even when the “powers that be” set off in a different direction. In fact, doing so can lead to all kinds of positive, Spirit-filled change beyond anything you initially thought possible.

Now, take heart, child of God. You are not alone, and we are nowhere near the finish line. As long as the people of God actively and earnestly strive to follow in the footsteps of Christ, the best is yet to come.

Peace be with you!