Archive for April, 2013

The Image of God

Posted in Uncategorized on April 15, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

Last week, I noted that Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, completed his wanderings through and reflections on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel, allocating the remainder of his book to some general thoughts on the life of discipleship.  Following his lead, a week ago, I offered a short piece of my own on a topic Bonhoeffer, also, considered in that closing section, i.e., the body of Christ.  This week, I take up another topic Bonhoeffer considers in his closing section, i.e., the image of God. 

Over the coming week, we will address the image of God from a variety of angles.  During chapel, we will collaborate with a range of groups on campus to address mental health and its intersection with the image of God.  And, later in the week, we will turn to thoughts on the image of God as related to Earth Day and our need to become vigilant participants in the care of creation.  Given this latter, ecological turn, I offer this excerpt from a reflection I crafted a few years ago, navigating the intersection between the image of God and creation.  Enjoy.

Have a great week.  See you along the way. 

Seeing Creation Anew: 

A Theology of Ecology

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’  So God created humankindin his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 

–Genesis 1:26-27

In Christian theology, we regularly turn to biblical texts as the first stop in the long, creative process of articulating doctrine.  Often, we turn and return to particular texts, as those particular texts seem a rich resource, abundant in insights, informing divergent yet indispensable theological positions.  Many analyses of these texts and the positions they underscore are ancient, supplying the foundational claims for many central doctrines.  And, on those occasions when a tangential or new issue arises on which the church has less frequently or never definitively spoken, theologians will, again, turn to these seminal passages, extrapolating a new doctrine from ancient doctrines emergent from these primary interpretations. 

The above text from Genesis is just such a text.  Poured over and sifted through for the germ of such pivotal and ancient doctrines as the Trinity and the imago dei (i.e., our being created in the image of God), in more recent years theologians have turned to this text as a means to imagine how we might speak to issues of ecology.  Frequently at question is how to deal with our being conferred “dominion” over creation. 

Does having dominion mean domination?  Does having dominion mean humanity is justified in exploiting the environment for whatever (short-term) benefit might be gained?  Unfortunately, more times than can be recounted, the answer to these questions has been “yes.”  Yet, such a reading of the text is only a partial interpretation of the text.  The text, it seems, provides a balancing, additional source for theological guidance. 

Returning to those two pivotal and ancient doctrines possibly alluded to within the text (i.e., the Trinity and the imago dei), we find the governing concepts for what it might mean to have dominion.  If (1) the concept of the Trinity speaks to the character of God and (2) if the concept of the imago dei speaks to the derivative character of humanity relative to that character of God, then transitive logic suggests an indelible, essential correspondence between who God is as Trinity and who we are as persons created in that God’s image.

If, as many have understood the doctrine of the Trinity to suggest, God’s unique character is to be simultaneously both uniquely one while corporately many, then God is an essentially and intimately intertwined sociality.  In technical language, God’s character is expressed perichoretically.  In more accessible language, God is one while, also, many.  Moreover, if we are created in that image, then quite possibly, we, too, exist fundamentally as corporate individuals.  

Such a doctrinal notion places a great deal of significance on our sociality and the social systems generative of and created by our sociality.  Additionally, the care for those systems becomes paramount because those systems must exist in order that we exist.  Said more positively, such care seems a natural outgrowth of our own recognition that systems are essential to all life and that having dominion is more about responsibility for those systems and sustaining those systems than it is the exploitation of those systems.  Such exploitation would be out of character for a people who understand their very essence to be wrapped up in the sustained presence of systems. 

Because of this possible essentiality of systems within Christian doctrine, I have entitled this piece a “theology of ecology.”  Ecology is the study of systems; the study of the interrelatedness of various things.  Interestingly, if not purposefully, the word “ecology” derives from the same Greek root for our word “church,” oikos.  The church is understood to be a vibrant, diverse, dynamic yet singularly interconnected entity.  (The church is one body with many members, as Paul reminds us.)  In other words, while we discover the very essence for what it means to be church, we, also, discover what it means to be ecological.  This means that Christian theology’s interest in and passion about the environment should be a natural and inevitable outcome. 

All people, regardless of our faith commitments, would benefit from such a shift in emphasis away from dominion as domination toward an ecology of care.  If the excerpt from the creation story cited above narrates anything, it is the realty that we are, literally, in this together.  Our brothers and sisters in the Hindu tradition share an equally compelling and foundational description of this created connectivity.  The Ishavasya Upanishad reads:

This universe is the creation of Supreme Power meant for the benefit of all;
Individual species must therefore learn to enjoy its benefits by forming a part of the system in close relationship with other species;
let not the other species encroach upon the other’s right.

Creation care is our common concern.

If the church and institutions of the church like Young Harris College are to be faithful to our created imaginings, then we must be environmentally responsible, engaging proactively in social and political systems seeking to care for creation. 

 

 

Advertisements

The Body of Christ

Posted in Uncategorized on April 8, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 

John 20:19-23

 

Having completed his wanderings through and reflections on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel, Bonhoeffer allocates the remainder of his book to some general thoughts on the life of discipleship.  Following his lead, here, I offer a short piece of my own “wonderings” on a topic Bonhoeffer, also, considers in that closing section, i.e., The Body of Christ.

 

This week, many read the story sometimes called the Johannine Pentecost, the recounting from John’s gospel of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples following the resurrection and Jesus’ giving of the Holy Spirit.  This Pentecost story and the more familiar story of Pentecost from Acts have several differences and similarities.  Unlike the account told in Acts, here, Jesus personally gives the Spirit to his disciples and that gift is not delayed but offered immediately after the resurrection. While those and other differences are interesting, what are most useful, on this occasion, are those parts of the story that overlap with the Pentecost story from Acts.  In both accounts, the disciples are gathered in an upper room, locked behind closed-doors, and waiting for something, anything that might turn tragedy into joy.  

 

In that moment of trepidation, the Spirit comes, whether delivered by a mighty wind or through the words of precious friend.  And, that gift of the Spirit has transforming effect.  Captured in the words describing the inherited authority gifted to the disciples, the effect simultaneously both boldly asserts and subtly implies.  As a bold assertion, the disciples receive the authority to forgive and retain sin, a powerful capacity granted a group just moments before found cowering in a locked room.  Importantly, it is in this grant of authority that the subtly implied effect appears. 

 

Prior to this moment, only God was assumed to possess the capacity to forgive sins.  Recall the condemnation of Jesus following his efforts to forgive sins in Mark’s gospel:  “‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”  (Mark 2:7)  Jesus was reject, in that story of forgiving, precisely because he asserted an authority to forgive sins, an authority assumed to be God’s alone.  In other words, by forgiving sins, Jesus is claiming something about himself and his proximity to divinity.  (Hence, the charge of blasphemy!) 

 

Yet in this passage from John’s gospel, the disciples receive the very capacity that before was believed to be reserved only for God.  So, in a subtle way, Jesus moves the disciples to a position he held while on earth.  The disciples are now standing in the same proximity to God as Jesus understood himself to occupy.  Said another way, the disciples become significantly more than what was implied in the sending narrative at the end of Matthew’s story of the Sermon on the Mount.  In that story from Matthew, the disciples come to represent Jesus and the kingdom.  In this pentecostal moment, the disciples cease simply to represent God but to become God’s embodied presence on earth, a presence previously embodied by the incarnate Word named Jesus. 

 

Both the Pentecost stories from John and Acts suggest this transformation.  Remember the formulaic patter established in scripture for the suggestion of divine presence.  Think of the creation story, where stuff of the earth and Spirit of God unite to make the embodied presence of God called humanity or God’s own image.  Consider the story of the incarnation, where the stuff of the earth, Mary, and the Spirit of God unite to make the embodied presence of God called Jesus.  In both instances, stuff plus Spirit unites to mark the Divine’s incarnate, real presence.  Therefore, it is no surprise, that in each Pentecost story, the disciples transform from the hidden to the empowered, from the fearful to the embodied presence of God.  In a new moment yet in a repeated way, those disciples are the stuff of the earth that unites with the Spirit of God to make the embodied presence of God called the Body of Christ.

 

The story of Pentecost, whether told here or in Acts, is the story that reminds us that the faithful are not simply God’s representatives but God’s actual embodiment.  Divinity is not distant and reserved—the story reminds us—but present and active.  It is because of this embodied character that I regularly mind those who will listen that we are God’s hands and feet, eyes and ears, heart and head in the world.  Our challenge, our responsibility is never to forget to hold and to help those in need, to go to those who struggle and suffer, to see injustice and to hear the cries of oppressed, to care and to love with God’s compassion, and to imagine new solutions and new possibilities when and where previous attempts have failed. 

 

Recently I learned of a Haitian proverb.  That proverb states that God only gives but does not share.  On the surface, such a declaration seems, at best, contradictory and, at worst, potentially offensive.  Why would someone claim that God gives yet simultaneously does not share?  That seems internally inconsistent and incongruous.  Alternatively, why would anyone want to claim that God selfishly hoards?  Such a claim seems cruel in a world with so much and such poor distribution.  Yet, upon deeper reflection, the proverb seems as if it could have directly emerged from this passage of scripture from John’s gospel. 

 

What the proverb suggests is that God, out of generosity and love, gives everything.   However, God leaves the sharing of those gifts to us, the hands and feet and eyes and ears and heart and head of the divine.  It is our responsibility as God’s continuing presence on earth to complete the work entrusted to humanity. 

 

What a gift.  What a challenge.  What an opportunity.  We have a busy day ahead of us.  Let’s get to work.  See you along the way.

(New) Life Together

Posted in Uncategorized on April 1, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

Welcome back to another week of work, study, and transformation at Young Harris College.  This week, having just returned from our protracted weekend of rest and celebrations, I turn to an Irish-born writer, Katharine Tynan, to supply a poetic beginning our time together. 

 

Enjoy her lyrical rhythms and join us in chapel this week as we induct another class into our College’s honor society, Alpha Chi.

 

Everyone is welcome to attend.

 

Have a wonderful week and see you along the way.

 

“Easter”

Bring flowers to strew His way,

Yea, sing, make holiday;

Bid young lambs leap,

And earth laugh after sleep.

For now He cometh forth

Winter flies to the north,

Folds wings and cries

Amid the bergs and ice.

Yea, Death, great Death is dead,

And Life reigns in his stead;

Cometh the Athlete

New from dead Death’s defeat.

Cometh the Wrestler,

But Death he makes no stir,

Utterly spent and done,

And all his kingdom gone.