Monday, April 19, 2010

Story "Footnote 1": On Science and Faith

Truly, it's time!

This blog has suffered enough from neglect. (Oh, the "tryanny of the urgent" in life which can keep us from the things we enjoy most!)

And then, there was a most frustrating start to our Story campaign (our 31-week walk through the Biblical narrative): I know it was not as bad as I think it was... Still, there was so much I wanted to say and couldn't.

Using this blog as a file for weekly "footnotes" to my messages stands to help me get over some of my frustrations... and to revive my engagement of this blog.

And so, we resume and proceed with "footnote #1" (re: yesterday's "Creation/Genesis" message)... and continuation of the conversation between Science and Faith.

As I suggested yesterday, there need not be a conflict between the two. (Note the quotes in yesterday's handout from highly respected [and faithful] scientists!) It's a position furthered by the recognition that the "agenda" of Genesis may not sync with some modern agendas. I'm strongly inclined to agree with Andy Stanley and Adam Hamilton:

In writing, there are many different genres. Poetry is different from history, just as an editorial is different than prophecy. Interestingly, the Bible contains all of the above. So, when it comes to its account of miraculous events such as the creation, how should we interpret it? Did the author intend it as a literal account? Or, was it just a metaphorical representation of the event. After all, we weren't there..

As you might imagine, many views have been presented over the years. Some scholar note that the creation story is more concerned with the, "who" and "why" than the "what" and "how." Following this line of thought, they suggest that the account is a poetic summary of an elaborate series of scientific developments. Literalists, on the other hand, would disagree. They argue that events took place exactly as the text describes. In between, there are those who point out that God could use evolution as his method of creation. And finally, secular evolutionists leave God out of the picture altogether.

There are two challenges to this whole discussion. First, the human mind wasn’t made to fathom an event of such magnitude. So for starters, we're playing out of our league (see Romans 11:33-36). Second, there's just not enough scientific evidence to bring everyone's convictions into alignment. Until we come across additional information, the various sides will continue to argue their case.

At any rate, certain facts are unmistakable in Genesis. Humans are the pinnacle of God's handiwork, created to reflect his image. What's more, creation didn't happen by itself. Many prominent scientists have eventually come around to this conclusion. So, while we may not know precisely how our world came into being, Genesis tells us who brought it about (Genesis 1:1). And the marvels of our solar system point to a creative mind bigger than any human intelligence. The focus of our faith is the Maker of all creation, not the method of creation.

—from Andy Stanley, North Point Ministries, “Is the Creation Account Literal?”
in Starting Point, pp. 37-38.

[Acknowledging the various camps which vie for a position on the question of how Science and Genesis relate to one another (i.e., something we see in the quote from North Point Ministries), Methodist Pastor Adam Hamilton hones in on what he calls the “biblical-scientific synthesis” approach...]

This is the approach held by man scientists and biblical scholars and the one that nearly every mainline Protestant denomination, as well as the Roman Catholic Church and even many evangelical churches, take. This view begins by recognizing what Genesis 1-3 is meant to teach and what it is not meant to teach. These verses are clearly meant to lay claim to the fact that God is the creator of everything. Nothing exists apart from God's creative word, will, and power. The Genesis account teaches us God is the rightful ruler of all things, owner of all things, and that all things are a reflection of the Creator. These verses are meant to teach that everything God designed is good, that God created everything out of love for us and a desire to give God's own self to us. The Genesis creation poem was intended to make clear to the ancient Israelites, living in the midst of peoples who worshiped the sun, moon, stars, animals, and inanimate objects that none of these things are gods. Israel's God, in fact, created them all!

But listen carefully: These verses were not meant to teach us the how and the when of creation, only the Who and the why! This section of Genesis is set in poetic language, the language of faith, not science. This does not mean that the poetry of Genesis stands counter to scientific discoveries but that it serves a higher purpose, leading us to the truth about God our Creator and our relationship to God. The creation poem is meant to communicate the purposes of life. It is meant to describe in epic fashion the most marvelous theological truth of all: that Israel's God was not merely another regional god like the other nations served but is, in fact, the LORD God who, by God's very words, called forth light from darkness and life from nothing at all…

Those who hold this view are not threatened by science exploring the "how" of creation. At every stage we step back and evaluate the scientists' theories and discoveries, and they only serve to heighten the sense of awe at a God who designed all creation!

—Rev. Adam Hamilton,
“Creation and Evolution in the Public Schools”
in Confronting the Controversies, pp. 36ff.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Would Jesus Buy?

Sermon prep a few weeks ago (re: "Unplugging the Christmas Machine"... you know, disconnecting from that which deludes and distracts) had me coming across a video -- a trailer to a movie about Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.

Was all prepared, in fact, to run the trailer as a video clip in support of my sermon. Technical difficulties precluded it ever being seen by the masses.

Some considered the breakdown an act of God -- sparing me an embarrassing moment in worship! I'll leave that for you to decide here, now...

Monday, December 07, 2009

I Wish You a Mary Christmas!

Video I made for "Faces at the Manger" Series at Strawbridge... and, more particularly, focus a few weeks ago on Mary.

Brian Bate's song is so meaningful.

Admittedly, I felt a certain pull to the Judy Garland clip at the beginning. Of course, there was/is her singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Beyond that, though, there's the reminder of a tragic life that looked so "merry" on the outside but, oh, so hollow and pained at deeper levels -- the kind of soul that Jesus came to rescue.

May God bless us all with a Mary Christmas -- even as we are mindful of the brokenhearted and downtrodden!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Psalms (R & R Reflections #4)

Again, the tyranny of the urgent has displaced me from my journaling.

Not lacking, though, are the ways I continue to feed off of my Summer Benedictine Experience.

The Psalms, for example, continue to be a most important part and center of my prayer life. It’s a center grounded in Benedict’s Rule and the daily rhythm of Benedictine devotion.

“But, why the Psalms? Why should this mixed bag of emotions – some very base and ungodly… Why, should these form a nucleus for our prayer life? Maybe they could dance at the periphery, but why these prayers at the center of our devotional life?” (Benedictines, you see, will engage all 150 Psalms in the course of a week. Some Coptic communities in Egypt engage all 150 every day!) The question of why the Psalms are given such primacy was a real question before us during my Summer Experience.

While I have only begun to really dance with the Psalms (and, even then, it’s an erratic dance), I can nonetheless affirm their value and importance…

1) On a general level, there’s the way that the Psalms turn my mind toward a God who is over all creation… and a creation that contains a radical mix of beauty and corruption. (Especially is this needful, when so many of our prayers are about “me” and “my” little world.)

2) And then there’s the mix of Psalms and the breadth of emotions and realities they represent:

  • “Cursing” Psalms which help me identify with the poor and oppressed (and even have me asking myself, “Am I a part of the oppression?”… or, more precisely, “In what ways am I a part of the oppression?”)

  • Psalms of Confession, Lament and Contrition help me to bow before the Eternal and acknowledge that it’s not about me and that God’s holiness demands that I not get overly nonchalant or complacent in His presence.

  • Psalms extolling Zion and Jerusalem make me homesick for the “New Jerusalem” to come.

  • Psalms of Deliverance have me affirming the “spiritual warfare” embedded in this earthy existence… even as they have me affirming my total dependence on God and Grace for “victory.”

  • Psalms of “Coronation” invite me to enthrone God as Lord of life and living.

Father Richard Rohr has a book entitled, Everything Belongs. It’s an affirmation of the contemplative spirit: that all things in life, when given enough attention, “preach.” It’s a title that conveys much of my feelings and reverence for the Psalms. “Everything belongs”: the praise and confession, the curse and the praise,… God accepts all our prayer-feelings… and all these feelings can point us to God and His life.

“Why the Psalms at the center of devotion?” In light of my own experience, the question or questions that emerge are: “Why not the Psalms?” and “What else, if not the Psalms?”

Sunday, August 09, 2009

"Stop, Look, and Listen!" (R&R Reflection #3)

Among the things that came easiest to me during my "Benedictine Experience" (in spite of what a lot of folks thought when they heard about it) was taking and keeping a vow of silence.

Part of it’s ease comes from my being an introvert. Yes, I know, it’s hard for many to believe. “You get up there every Sunday and preach!,” they’ll tell – something, I guess, that puts me up there with dancing with a lamp shade on my head. My understanding of introversion and extroversion is informed, though, not by what I do in public but by how I “recharge” when I am done. Extroverts, I was taught in seminary, recharge their drained batteries by being with people… while introverts recharge their batteries by being alone. At the end of a long, hard week, you see, I find myself enjoying silence and solitude.

Used to be I felt guilty about this: I mean, a pastor should just want to be with people, shouldn’t he (or she)? Then, I remembered that Jesus often found a lonely place apart. It’s helped me to accept the way I am wired.

Of course, opposites attract. Kathy, you see, in an extrovert. Not so surprisingly, we can go to the same family reunion and Kathy can say “boy, when can we do that again!” while I am sighing under my breath, “I sure am glad we got that over with!” It’s something I have to be mindful of as Friday approaches. What’s good for the goose is not necessary what the gander needs!

Anyway, back to the vow of silence…

Yes, in some ways it came naturally to this introvert. In still other ways, it was refreshing – freeing me to look and listen to “life”… and helping me to form thoughts that really might be sharing. I’m mindful of Henri Nouwen, analyzing the downside of what he calls “our wordy world”:

"There was a time not too long ago without radios and televisions, stop signs, yield signs, merge signs, bumper stickers, and the ever-present announcements indicating price increases or special sales. There was a time without the advertisements which now cover whole cities with words. Recently I was driving through Los Angeles, and suddenly I had the strange sensation of driving through a huge dictionary. Wherever I looked there were words trying to take my eyes from the road. They said, ‘Use me, take me, buy me, drink me, smell me, touch me, kiss me, sleep with me.’ In such a world who can maintain respect for words?" (The Way of the Heart)

I’m mindful, as well, of what Dad used to say: “God’s given us two eyes, two ears, and one mouth… maybe it’s His way of saying we ought to look and listen twice as much as we talk!”

Of course, the “vow” does not eliminate all talk. There was “spiritual direction” and time for “sacred readings” during mealtime and points at which we could ask questions as we engage topics related to “Benedictine Spirituality.” Far from being a call to complete silence, then, the “vow” was a commitment to meaningful words.

And, as I moved forward (even until today), I find myself wanting to talk less… and listen and look better.

St. Benedict and his followers remind us that there’s plenty of wisdom in the old words at the railroad crossing – wisdom that goes well beyond our physical being, wisdom that penetrates to our best as spiritual and social beings: “Stop, look, and listen!”

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Gospel According to Chocolat

In our current "Power of Holy Habits" sermon series (on the "Means of Grace" as "Means of Intimacy with God"), I struggled for a handle which would help us to get in touch with the spirit (or Spirit?) of Holy Communion. There was a handout with all sort of heady guides and instructions, but now, as we approached the table, I wanted our hearts engaged.

Of course, my heart and mind were drawn to the movies -- my "art" of choice. First to mind was "Babbett's Feast," a beautiful and powerful foriegn film about a woman who cashes it all in to spread a feast in the midst of a community of religious legalists. The meal is liberating for all!

Subtitles a burden... and other things hard to condense into a timely video, my mind turned to a kindred (and more recent... and more managable) film in Chocolat:

It's the story of a fresh wind blowing in a stagnant village.

It's the story of a new spirit coming to a villaged seeped and trapped in legalism -- a spirit who seeks their freedom.

In the face of defiance, this liberator throws a feast -- eating with sinners and seeking their release from captivity.

And, on the other side? There's dancing and rejoicing and hugging and reconciliation.

I took liberty to make the legalist scenes and characters black and white, I admitted to the 11 o'clock crowd. It was my way of making a point about legalistic existence. Don't know if I tampered too much or not. However, if you'll allow me that freedom, I'd ask you to ride with the "poetry": namely, the Gospel at the heart of Holy Communion seeks to free us from our black and white existence... and release us in to a full color existence!

I hope you enjoy this montage video as much as I enjoy my attempts at being an artist through video media...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Bowing to Icons???!!!!" (R & R Reflections, 2)

In my last post, I shared my appreciation for the bows we brought to God and each other in our prayers throughout the day – with our “bows to God” being especially focused toward the icon at the front of the oratory (or worship center). Understanding the nature and symbolism of icons (especially from, say, a Greek Orthodox background) helped me tremendously to see and appreciate what, exactly, we were bowing to in the icon above.

  • John the Baptist (standing to the right): understood as the last “Old Testament” figure, with words of the prophet on his lips and expectations of the Messiah (foretold and foreshadowed in the Old) in his heart

  • Mary (standing to the left): the first person to accept Christ into her life and, therefore, the first of Christian believers

  • Note that both John and Mary face Christ – conveying and emphasizing that is in Christ that the Old and New meet.

  • The enthroned Christ (a throne, not so surprisingly, like Emperor Constantine’s arched throne) rests his feet on footstool – its corners reflecting the four corners of the universe… Jesus is Lord of all. (Note how Christ, even when seated, is as big as John and Mary. Clearly, he’s not only central but bigger than them both!)

  • Note the significance of colors and the message of colors in the icon. Blue is the color of divinity, red humanity, gold and white the glory and the light of God. The white areas or lines on the flesh and clothing represent the transfigured light of Christ. Accordingly: Christ is part and emerges out of the glory and light of God, Christ is divine and puts on humanity, Mary (representing all of us) is human and takes on divinity,…

  • In Christ’s halo are the Greek letters which comprise the word “ego” or “I am.” That it is in the circle of the halo speaks of repetition. Reminiscent of God’s words to Moses: Christ is the eternal “I am”: “I am what I am” and “I will be what I will be.”

  • Christ holds the Bible, the Word open with his left hand. Not so surprisingly, the text is from John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” His right hand is held up in blessing. Hard to see in the icon above (but clear in the inset from another icon) are two fingers held up (conveying the two natures of Christ, human and divine) and the other three fingers coming together (signifying the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

It was clear to me… and it should be clear, I believe, to the open-minded and open-hearted among us and around us: that our bowing in front of the icon on our way into the worship was not any king of idolatry but a real gesture of reverence for the Lord of all Creation (to which the icon points, to which the icon is a window). In much the same way, when I put my cross necklace on in the morning, I do not see my kissing it as a worship of the metal or even the cross as much as a way of kissing Christ.

The story was told, in fact, during our time apart of a woman who could not understand why her father would kiss a bedside picture of her departed mother each night before he went to sleep. Upon hearing and unpacking some of the meanings of the icon and the real grounds for bowing, it became clear: the old man was not kissing a picture as much as he was kissing his beloved goodnight.

My Jesus, my Saviour

Lord there is none like You

All of my days, I want to praise

The wonders of Your mighty love

My comfort, my shelter

Tower of refuge and strength

Let every breath, all that I am

Never cease to worship You

Shout to the Lord

All the earth let us sing

Power and majesty

Praise to the King

Mountains bow down

And the seas will roar

At the sound of Your name

I sing for joy

At the work of Your hands

Forever I’ll love You

Forever I’ll stand

Nothing compares to the promise

I have in You