Clad in Peace I will Sing the Songs

Creation cries. It is a full throated, snotty nose cry. It is a deep groaning cry. Nature longs to be free from its decay, death and entropy. The Apostle Paul wrote that, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22) awaiting its redemption, its restoration and its being made whole. 

When we talk of our hopes for peace, we most often mean the cessation of war and reconciliation between rivals. Sometimes we describe a hope for inner peace—freedom from anxious thoughts that plague our heart. If we are really spiritual and/or evangelical we might speak of the possibility of  peace with God—forgiveness of sins and our personal salvation.

But Creation cries too, and hopes for shalom. It groans under our violence and dominance. Our weapons of war scar the Earth’s crust. Our pragmatic utilitarianism and economic shortsightedness damage the planet, as we deplete her resources. Creation cries and longs. Anyone with ears, listen!

Maya Angelou helps me to hear. Famous for her memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and her Civil Rights activism, her poetry is a hopeful shout against human oppression. In, The Rock Cries Out Today, she gives voice to the rock, the river and the tree—witnesses to the long history of human violence and victims of our un-shalom:

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Mark the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spelling words
Armed for slaughter.
The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A river sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more.
Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow
And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.
The river sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing river and the wise rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the tree.
Today, the first and last of every tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the river.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.
Each of you, descendant of some passed on
Traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name,
You Pawnee, Apache and Seneca,
You Cherokee Nation, who rested with me,
Then forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of other seekers–
Desperate for gain, starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot…
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,
Bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the tree planted by the river,
Which will not be moved.
I, the rock, I the river, I the tree
I am yours–your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes,
Into your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

The rock cries out to us, we who have crouched too long in bruising darkness and spelled words armed for slaughter. The river sings to us. We hear her song from behind our walls. She invites us to rest by the river banks and give up our armed struggles for profits which slash her shore. Come, she sings, and study war no more:

Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.

The river exhorts us to listen to the singing river and wise rock. The Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew, the African and Native American, the Sioux,
the Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek, the Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh, the Gay, the Straight, the Preacher, the privileged, the homeless, the teacher hear and yearn for the peace the river and rock have seen. The first and last of every tree, the tree with deep roots, that will not be moved invites us to plant ourselves with her, there by the river, and  to dream. 

The rock, the river,  the tree invite us to life our face toward the coming dawn:

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.


Creation cries its plaintive cry, bearing the scars of our battles and our preference for profits over prophets. Isaiah long ago had warned us what our lack of shalom was doing to the earth:

The earth dries up and withers,
    the world languishes and withers;
    the heavens languish together with the earth.
5The earth lies polluted
    under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
    violated the statutes,
    broken the everlasting covenant.

Isa. 24:4-5

We can’t go back. Eden is lost to us. It disappeared in a cloud of exhaust. All our winters are nuclear. Wildfires ravage our forests. The Earth quakes. There is war and rumors of yet more war.

What would it take for us to lay down our cynicism and the bloody sear on our brow, and hear the wise rock, the river song and the tree that will not be moved? When will creation’s cry be heard? When will it be renewed?

The Old Woman Waits: Advent Week 1

Paula Gunn Allen’s poem C’Koy’u Old, Woman describes waiting:

old woman there in the earth/ outside you we wait/ do you dream of birth, bring/ what is outside, inside? old/ woman inside/ old/ woman outside/old woman there in the sky/ we are waiting inside you/ dreaming your dream of birthing/ get what is inside/outside” (Skins and Bones: Poems 1979-87, West  End Press, 1988). 

Allen had in mind the sacred feminine, which underpinned her Native American, and feminist spirituality. Highly critical of colonial Christendom much of Allen’s work was aimed at recovering the place of the feminine in Native American Traditions, believing that western beliefs in patriarchy blinded them to significance of women in Native religion and culture. But the waiting and longing in her words bring me to Advent. I am reminded of Elizabeth, the old woman who had given up dreaming of birth, finding herself pregnant in her old age. She would give birth to John, the forerunner who would prepare the way for the coming of the promised Messiah

And I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (Romans 8:19–24, NRSV)

Advent is the season of waiting, not just for a boy wrapped in swaddling clothes who was laid in a manger, but for this Old Woman Creation who groans and longs for the Kingdom of God to come to fruition in our midst, who longs to be free from bondage and decay but fulfill her divine purposes.

  Jesus’ advent is not just a backwards glance at a historic event  but a cosmic hope that all that is wrong with the world will one day be put right.

The Gospel reading for today  (Advent 1C) hints at this cosmic scope:

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

(Luke 22:25-29).

Today begins a season of hope, of  longing, and of waiting. Waiting not just for us, but for this old woman who dreams of birth and longs for the day: New Creation. 

Born (Again) to Rewild: a book review

Environmentalism and Jesus both call us to oppose the dominant cultural mode of consumption and affluenza. However most of us Christians  are not all that radically different from our neighbors in what or how much we consume. Some of us deny our world is in an ecological crisis where most of us respond to the inconvenient truth of global warming, the destruction of ecosystems, and rising tides with just a little bit of green washing. We care. So we recycle our plastic bottles, drive electric cars, buy organic food™ but our consumption rages on.

9948Todd Wynward is both a Christian and an environmentalist. He is a wilderness guide, founder of a wilderness-based charter school, a member of an intentional community and a leader in the Mennonite denomination. In Rewilding the WayWynward borrows the concept of ‘rewilding’ from conservation biology (the idea of turning land back to nature, to allow the ecosystem to be restored). Rewilding the Jesus Way means bringing the Christian faith back into connection with the earth and allowing vitality come back to a faith that has been tamed by technology and corporate industrial culture (11). Wynward hopes to steer the way between total reunification of the world and conspicuous consumption and paint a picture of watershed discipleship (discipleship that responds to this watershed moment in history, cares for our watershed, and treats our watersheds as Rabbi).

Rewilding the Way unfolds in three parts. Part I describes our current predicament of affluenza, distance from nature, and the lack of outrage for the current cultural malaise. Part II describes seven paths to wild your way: (1) steer by inner authority, (2) rely upon radical grace, (3) embody enoughness (4) lead through meekness, (5) cultivate a divine insecurity, (6)embrace the unraveling and (7) trust in the service. Part III outlines the work ahead and highlights some of the initiatives that are bringing together faith, radical discipleship  and creation care.

Wynward points to church initiatives and ecological activism to unfold these practices. The book teems with stories from both spheres, as well as drawing lessons from the Bible. I found a lot to chew on in this volume. Wynward simultaneously calls us towards a holy discontent with where we are, and trust in God and contentedness with what we are given (embodying enoughness). I am in a moment of in-between-ness wondering what God has next for me an my family and Wynward’s words and practices touch  something in me and make me hunger for more of God’s Kingdom and the redemption of all of creation.

I really liked the way Wynward re-imagines the words of the Lord’s Prayer, taking them from a passive voice to this:

Father of Everything,

Your presence fills all of Creation.

Again today, your kingdom has come.

Again today, I join my will to your will to make earth as in heaven.

Again today, you’ll give us the bread we need for your daily work,

and you’ll show mercy to us just as much as we show mercy to others.

Again today, as we face times of testing, you’ll be with us in our trials. (63).

He doesn’t offer these as a scholarly, literal translation, but as meditation of the meaning of Jesus’ prayer for us as we pray this and follow him. The book is full of other fresh reads of scripture and insights (Wynward regards Ched Meyers and Richard Rohr as mentors in the way, and their insights can be seen throughout). I give this book four stars and recommend it for anyone frustrated by where the Christian faith fails to intersect with care for the physical world. Wynward is one of the good guys who sees the intimate connection between the Jesus way and the rocks and trees, and skies and seas of this, our Father’s World.

Note: I received this book from the author or publisher through SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Beginning Again: a book review

We all experience times we are overwhelmed by life circumstance when the Spirit hovers over the very chaos of our lives.  Steve Wiens, pastor of Genesis Covenant Church in Maple Grove points us to a resource for beginning (and beginning again)–Genesis 1.  The seven days of creation tell more than how the world was created; these days are a resource through times of transition and difficult circumstance. In BeginningsWiens inhabits the text and offers it up as Midrashim. The creation account re-stories us, plays midwife to us, and invites us into the process of becoming (xxii-xxv).

978-1-63146-400-3Each of the seven days  speak of God’s work in our lives. On Day One, God’s Spirit hovers over the chaos and darkness we experience, bringing light and hope. On Day two, an expanse (space) is created between the waters above and below. This symbolically speaks of how God creates space in our life to grow something new. Day Three we experience the growth of seeds in freshly broken ground. Day Four (the seperation of day and night, Sun, Moon and Stars) we are able to see seasons. On Day Five we confront the monsters in the waters which threaten to strike down our new beginning. Day Six we press into God’s creative work in fashioning us, healing our past and propelling us into the future. Day Seven we learn the power of stopping and nurturing ceasing.

This is a unique book in that Wiens doesn’t address any of the creationist/evolutionist debates, and instead focuses on what the seven days of creation tell us about our life. Writers like John Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One, IVP ACademic 2009) tell us that ancient near east cosmologies are more concerned about how the universe is ordered than they are about origins. If this is true (and I believe it is), a book like this which focuses on what Genesis 1 tells us about our life and God’s creative and redemptive work are truer to the message of scripture than many literal readings of the creation account. The focus  here is less on what happened, so much of what it means.

Wiens also brings the message of Genesis down to a personal level. He share of difficult seasons in his own life (vocational struggles, infertility, problems with physical health, etc) and names the way God was at work in his life. His discussion of the seven days invites us to reflect on God’s work in our own life. I read this book in the midst of my own difficult season of life. Wiens’s words give me hope and a vision of where God may be at work in this stage of my journey. I give this four-and-a-half stars.

Note: I received this book from NavPress through the Tyndale Bloggers Network in exchange for my honest review.

Drawing On Creation, Getting Drawn In: a book review

I confess that I am a better buyer of books on creativity than I am a reader of them. My shelf is loaded with books on the creative process, on writing, on drawing and painting, on making beautiful things. I tend to see these books and dream. I rescue interesting books from bargain tables and bring them home with best intentions. Often I puruse the introduction and the first several pages. Invariably, these books collect dust on my shelf. Often I wish to get back to a book, but time and busyness keep me from my goals.

Drawn In: A Creative Process For Artists, Activists and Jesus Followers by Troy Bronsink

Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists and Jesus Followers was a book that I read cover to cover. I found more here than interesting exercises to explore (though yes, there are some). Troy Bronsink lays out a theological foundation for the creative process which can be applied to whatever medium we work in. Hence the insights of this book are applicable to both artists and activists. Bronsink seeks to ‘sketch out the correlations between “the creative life and the life of faith by tracing how God creatively draws all things into one vision of a new creation (2)” Artists and activists in their own way participate in ‘new creation.’ So does every follower of Jesus.  Bronsink has plenty of personal examples of each. He is an artist (and musician), an activist, and of all things a Presbyterian pastor.

While Bronsink writes as a Christian and with an explicitly Christian, theological vision of the arts, his method is broad enough to accomodate artists and creatives from other faith perspectives. This book is evangelistic in the best sense–it gives a Christian vision of creativity and the arts without manipulating and demeaning the creative vision of those outside the fold. Anyone interested in Creativity or art will find much in this book which is instructive and helpful.

Bronsink develops his vision of creativity in two parts. Part one looks at God’s relationship with creation while part two examines our relationship with creation.  There is a self conscious patterning here. Bronsink believes that as artists (and activists) create, they are ‘imaging God’ and participating in God’s New-Creation. God’s creation of the world recorded in Genesis provides the basis  for his vision of the creative process.  Bronsink proposes a cycle of six waves (which reflect God’s role in the creation account):

  • Dreaming– God dreamed our future into existence, likewise our creative projects all begin with dreaming, meditating and brainstorming.
  • Hovering– The Spirit of God hovered over the chaos before the creation.  Our own creative process includes a period of incubation where we wait patiently for our dreams to bear fruit.
  • Risking–God created the heavens and the earth and we must risk creating if our artistic vision is to become reality.
  • Listening–God listened to his creation and heard its voice. We too must listen and hear from the stuff and material we are creating. This step is dialogical. Creator and creation listen to one another through the creative process.
  • Reintegration–God (re)integrated everything with the rest of creation.  Our own creating as ‘God’s comissioned artists’ involves are sharing generously our ‘art’ with the world: no strings attached.
  • Resting– As God rested at the end of His creation so we too must end creating and surrender our creation to its fate.

These six waves are repeated twice in the book. The opening chapter in section one presents God’s creation and the “Lost Arts” of creativity. The final chapter, “Make Your Life a Monastery,” presents our human appropriation of the process. Between these two  poles, Bronsik reflects on the medium of God’s work, materiality, space, time, working with others, our senses, how work relates to our vision and how we are ‘drawn in’  to participating in God’s creation.

I appreciate the richness of the theological reflection that went into this book as Bronsink reflects on the creative process.  He was a student of Anna Carter Florence (preaching), Darrell Guder (Missiology) and Walter Brueggemann (Old Testament). The stamp of each is evident in his theological vision, but he is unique in the manner that he appropriated their insights.

Bronsink is a good companion in the creative process. I liked this book a lot. I have yet to complete the thirty two creative exercises included in the book but they offer a chance to cement the lessons in these pages. I give this book five stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

Back to Genesis (with Science): a book review

Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story by Karl W. Giberson

The ecclesial tribe which has most contributed to my spiritual formation (American evangelicalism) has been suspicious and dismissive of Evolution and fearful of  the way science  has banished the Creator. We’ve worried that if  we accepted the scientific explanation of our origin, we would be turning our back on God and the Biblical worldview (i.e. ” if Genesis 1-2 is not literally true, how can you trust the rest of the Bible?”).

The interpretation of the Creation story is complicated. While I affirm the truth that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, I find some of the scientific explanations compelling. This doesn’t mean I rend Genesis 1-2 from my Bible, but I do read them differently. Genesis 1 doesn’t seem to be a literal account of Creation as it happened but a poem. There is evidence of Hebrew parallelism in the first three days describing the creation of realms while the next three days seem to be the filling of those realms:

Creation of Realms Filling of Realms
 Day 1: Creation of light and darkness Day 4: Creation of the sun, moon & stars
Day 2: Creation of sea and sky (separation of

the waters above from the waters below)

Day 5: Creation of birds and fish
Day 3: Creation of dry land (and vegetation Day 6: Creation of land animals and humanity

 

Beyond the obvious literary crafting in the Creation accounts, they also appear to include elements of other ancient creation myths and telling the tale in this way subvert the gods of the nations (every created thing mentioned in Genesis 1 was an object of worship in the Ancient Near East).

And so I absolutely love the opening chapters of Genesis, not because I read there a scientific account of creation, but because the pages drip with the Glory of God who creates, sustains and speaks worlds into being.  It testifies to the creativity of God and the sacredness of the created order. It vividly portrays the goodness of all that is.

In Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story, author Karl W. Giberson re-presents the Genesis 1 narrative in light of the best scientific explanations of our origins. Thus the seven days are re-written to explore elements of creation through the lens of contemporary cosmogony, astronomy, quantum physics and biology.  Giberson  teaches Science and Religion at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts,  a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), a regular contributor to various journals and periodicals and has written extensively on the relationship between science and faith. He is also popular lecturer and author, he has been a presenter (and vice president) of the BioLogos Foundation and the editor of Science and Spirit for the Templeton Foundation.  In this book, Giberson brings together his skill as a scientist and his literary skill as a lay Christian theologian.

The result is a popular level book which culls together the best of human inquiry into Creation and presents it in a warm engaging way. The chief value of this book is not apologetic–I doubt that the young earth creationists or ardent atheists would be convinced by Giberson’s prose; however for those with eyes to see and ears to hear (and other powers of observation) this book is a hymn of praise and wonder to God for our fine tuned universe.   The topics which Giberson covers range from the Big Bang (neither big nor a bang),  the formation of matter at an atomic level, the existence of supernovas and their contribution to the development of the elements in the periodic table, the precise conditions and various factors which conspired to make life possible, and the mysteries of human development. So while his ‘rewriting  of Genesis 1’ is a radical departure from the biblical narrative, he covers significant ground and I found it fascinating. This is not a book which explores in depth the biblical account for its theological import. It’s aim is much more modest: to show how our scientific knowledge bears witness to our Creator.

I liked this book a lot. One of the joys of reading this book is that Giberson does more than present a God friendly cosmogony; he also tells a little of the history of science and the way in which our current scientific knowledge testifies of the remarkable world we live in.  This is a beautiful, worshipful book and well worth reading.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Yes We Should: A Book Review

Often Christians lag behind the wider cultural when it comes to social change. This is felt most acutely in the realm of the environment. Suspicions about secularism and New Age spirituality have caused many conservative Christians to dismiss the environmental movement. Advancing a controversial claim among some environmentalists, Dan Story argues that Christianity and the Bible provide the best framework for environmental stewardship.

Dan Story wrote Should Christians Be Environmentalists? with three purposes in mind.  First, he wanted to encourage environmental stewardship among Christians by providing a bible-based theological framework for creation care (11). Second, he wanted to provide an apologetic for Christian environmentalism against claims that Christianity is the ‘root cause’  of environmental problems (a thesis famously argued by Lynn White in 1967 but also several others) (11).  Lastly he wanted to encourage Christians to use their concern for creation as a point of contact for evangelism(12). Story succeeds in each of these objectives. Along the way he manages to reference a good deal of  academic literature regarding theology and the environment yet remain accessible.

The book divides into three parts. In part one, Story assesses where we are as a culture in our approach to environmental concerns. He argues that the materialist underpinnings of secular culture provides no real basis for long term environmental stewardship, he challenges the notion that Christians are responsible for environmental crisis and the notion that other religions are ‘more in tune’ with the environment. But he also makes clear that humans have made a significant impact on the earth and that we are all responsible for  mismanaging natural resources and causing damage to our world. In  part 2 he provides a Bible-based theology of nature (through the framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Stewardship. Story describes the trajectory of the Biblical story (from Eden to (re)New(ed) Earth), the way human ‘dominion’ has been misunderstood to mean exploitation rather than stewardship and how the ‘fall’ has caused us to use and abuse the earth selfishly and greedily. In part three he focuses he advocates Christian concern for the environment (from the biblical framework he just sketched).

My only  major critique of this book is the title. Certainly Story is cognizant of the fact that many Christians have been wary of the environmental movement, but this is not really a book which explores if Christians should be environmentalists. Instead it is a book which advocates strongly for creation care and stewardship of the environment from a Christian perspective, provides an apologetic for Christian involvement because of anti-Christian environmentalism and discusses the evangelistic opportunities we Christians will have if we care for the earth. Exploring whether or not a Christian should be involved in environmentalism is not an open question in this book. Story is emphatic, you should. Part of me wonders if Should Environmentalists Be Christian? would have be a more apt and provocative title.

Titles aside this is a good introduction to environmental stewardship Christian style and I happily recommend it. Because Story does write out of conservative Christian conviction, he is able to make a compelling case for Creation care to a segment of Evangelicalism which still regards environmentalism with suspicion.  This might be a good book for a book group or a church small group.

Thank you to Kregel Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.