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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: CreationCare

From Nature

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[vimeo width="400" height="300"]http://vimeo.com/26400227[/vimeo] I've been reading the book Beautiful Outlaw over the last week by John Eldredge. Maybe you've seen some of my tweets. This book is a fabulous read and ranks up there in my library of books that should be read for basic spirituality. Why? Several reasons, but here's one. The book is about the personality of Jesus and his real, tangible relationship with us. Eldredge does an awesome job of helping us to recover a vision of Jesus is that is stripped of religious coverings. It's deconstructive in the best senses of the word.  In an early chapter called, "Is Jesus Really Playful?" John makes something of a profound door opening for me. It's not something I haven't thought about before, but someone it brought me deeper in my thinking not just theologically, but more personally. I've always known that God's qualities can be seen clearly in and through creation - that the Creator is imaged somehow through the things he creates... that his creations "reveal" him. This is clearly written in Paul's letter to the Romans in chapter 1. I've read that a million times, and I've thought about the heart and mind of the artist, and the fact that we are God's poetry (Ephesians). But this is so simple and profound that I've missed it all my life, and am so sad that I have because the richness and beauty of it is overwhelming. Listen how Eldredge puts it:

I was sitting out back yesterday morning sipping coffee, watching the young chipmunks chase one another at breakneck speeds across the deck. One clever daredevil, hoping to get the advantage, jumped up on the fence rail and continued to chase from above, leaping at the last moment upon his littermate like a Hollywood stuntman. This morning one of them adopted a new strategy. The little rascal found an ambush spot, clinging from the side of the house, where he waited for his playmate to wander by unawares; he then pounced, and the two somersaulted off the deck and into the grass, squealing. Only to dash off and do it again. And again. Now - what does this tell us about the personality of Jesus, who created these little dynamos with striped masks and boundless enthusiasm? - John Eldredge, Beautiful Outlaw, p. 19

Throughout the book, John asks simple questions like these about everything from the actions of polar bears, to the soft and sometimes powerful crashing of the waves. What does the gentle whispering of the Aspen, the thundering power of the storm - what do these say about the personality of Jesus? These "qualities" in the created world are qualities that come from our God.

"For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." -Romans 1:20

There is something profoundly personal and engaging in our relationship with God - in our understanding of him, in our experience of his personality that comes blazing through in every detail of the world around us. How have I missed this deep truth all of these years? This is the power that I feel and sense of God's presence when I read Wordsworth - and now I understand why. He is responding to the personality of God in and through the world he encounters - not to mention every other great poet who ever lived. This is so much better than the "contorted interpretations based upon religiously bizarre images [that] only serve to push Christ further off into the ethosphere." (Eldredge, Ibid, p. 24) No wonder I find myself communing with God so deeply while standing waste deep in the cool water of a small stream in northern Michigan. No wonder my heart leaps when I hear the call of the Loon or the soft covering of a much-needed rainfall while the world is sleeping in a summer of drought. No wonder so many people in so many cultures for so many millenium have been drawn astray to earth-sun-or moon worship. No wonder they say to "Stop and smell the roses." It's not just to enjoy nature, it's to hear God speaking through his most prevalent and present art form given freely and generously to all people everywhere in all times.


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More in Cizik

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I finally watched the video last night between Cizik and Jacques Berlinblau on Faith Complex in the Washington Post.  A couple of follow up comments:

  • It appears that Cizik does view homosexuality as a sin, but is not against political anti-civil unions.  Many people would say that's a clear contradiction, but there is a big question that bears discussion on this and many other issues about the fact that the US is a political democracy founded on political liberalism (different than "liberal").  Since we are not a theocracy, what can be and should be expectedand/ or demanded from the government according to our values is naturally limited by the type of liberal democracy we have.  The big questions are probably these:  What are those limits for Christians?  At what point are we unable to live in such a democracy without strong resistance (and I don't mean violent resistance, cf. 1 Peter 2&3)?  How do we respond faithfully and biblicall to government laws and programs that we cannot agree to, or that may contradict our beliefs?  At what point do we violate political democracy by forcing our own values and beliefs up others, and is it ok for us to do that through political leveraging or rule of the majority, but not for others we may disagree with?  I've not heard enough conversation among Christians on those issues, which would be a great help to clarify where we stand on such important clarifications  (maybe some time would be helpful with William Wilberforce, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and of course Paul and Peter in their time in Rome and Jesus in Jerusalem).  It's simply more complicated than saying, "We are a Christian nation" or "We were f0unded on Christian principles."  Even if that were true (and it is and it is not, depending what you mean), these questions are still important.
  • Cizik spoke well about environmentalism.  The church in many quarters does seem to be waking up to these realities at a higher level, for which I'm very glad.  There are some great minds in this area within the Christian Church, great voices that need more air time, people like Stephen Bouma-Predegar and Wendell Berry and one of my favorites, Joseph Sittler.
  • Cizik spoke of the Republican Party as the part of denial.  I thought this was interesting.  He was basically saying that if you deny something (that global warming exists, that millions are without healthcare, that poverty is epidemic) then you don't have to do anything about it.  I found this a fascinating idea.

I was actually impressed with Cizik.  Whether you agree with him or not, this is an interesting video.  As I've said a million times, and Berlinblau gets at it at the beginning of the video, the future of evangelicalism, and particularly the leadership of evangelicalism is up in the air.  I'm fascinated and interested in how this will play out in the next 20-50 years of my lifetime and wonder if and how I might be involved in that dialogue and development.


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Interdependence Day

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The Englewood Review of Books is a blog of Englewood Church in Indianapolis.  This church has a rich history and continues to be involved in missional activity in the city.  My wife's family has deep roots in this church, and one of her cousins is involved with the Englewood Review and the publishing house Doulos Christou Books, publisher of Shane Claiborne's Iraq Journal 2003. The recent post, "Interdependence Day" reminds us of our interdependence as human beings with each other and with world in which God has placed us in his good creation.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Shop only at locally-owned merchants or restaurants.
  • Write a note of appreciation to a mother; thank her for raising a child.
  • Spend the 4th of July baking cookies or bread.  Give your baked goods to the person who delivers your mail or picks up your trash the next time you see them.
  • Spend the day hiking in the woods.  Think about how God cares for the sparrows and lilies of the field.
  • Host a neighborhood yard sale, except require that participants barter things/services for things they want.  Donate any unwanted items at the end of the day to a locally-owned thrift store.
  • Climb a tree and sit there for a long period of time, observing and documenting – in photographs, drawings, paintings, writings, etc. – the forms of life that you see from that vantage point.
  • Sit down and handwrite a letter to an old friend or family member.  Tell them one of your favorite memories of them.
  • Call a meeting in your neighborhood to plan a large-scale fall tree planting throughout your neighborhood.
  • Plan a neighborhood cleanup day – picking up and recycling litter, sweeping sidewalks, etc.
  • Plan a workday in your community garden, or if you don’t have a community garden gather neighbors to brainstorm how you might start one.
  • Host a neighborhood potluck, and encourage neighbors to use local foods in the dishes they contribute.
  • Look for everything you have two of and give one away.
  • Host a neighborhood conversation about the practicalities and details of using alternative forms of energy (solar, wind, etc.).
  • If there are abandoned/foreclosed homes in your neighborhood, gather neighbors to clean up and/or beautify these properties.
  • Track down old teachers and mentors.  Let them know the influence they have played in your life.
  • Visit an elderly neighbor or family member.  Have them tell you the story of their life.
  • Pray the Lord’s Prayer and commit to one concrete action to live out each part.
  • Babysit someone else’s children.
  • Go to a place where people are gathered and offer free hugs to all.

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Future Communication of the Gospel 6

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One of the things that's happening, now, in response to this shift we're going through in the church that I've been trying to describe, is that there are some - mostly younger - Christians who are trying to make sense of their faith rather than walking away from it.  They have experienced a Christian faith that is simplistic, overly-rule and lifestyle oriented, dualistic (separating spiritual and physical, sunday from the rest of the week), subculturized and removed from world engagement, and seemingly unable to answer many tough questions that have arisen in the world they experience.  But, the good news is that they are not willing to abandon their faith.  Here's what has happened. Many young Christians have instead sought to deconstruct the current framing story in which Christianity is embedded.  Many have talked about the move away from Christendom and into this emerging world that is post-Christian culturally.  They've sought to personally discover, I think, at least five things: 

  1. A biblical understanding of the heart and soul of the gospel.
  2. A biblical understanding of the heart and soul of true community.
  3. A biblical understanding of how to engage and transform culture.
  4. A biblical understanding of God's heart for the world as understood through the message and actions of Jesus.
  5. Biblical and historical practices of experiencing the presence of God.

That's an awesome thing.  Think about it: instead of abandoning a faith they've experienced (remember, experience is a person's felt truth, whether it is true or not) as irrelevant, they've sought to discover God for themselves and try to redesign or remodel the contemporary church with two important things in mind:

  1. Biblical faithfulness
  2. Cultural relevance and influence

That's what I think a lot of so-called "emergents" are trying to do.  (Oh, and I should, just for full disclosure, put myself into this category whether I take personally the label emergent or not.  Label me however you want.)  In any case, as we've watched new and different iterations of this desire to rediscover the heart of faith, the gospel, and the church, we've seen some real messes.  We've seen some people misinterpret the Bible, misunderstand spiritual practices, and walk on the edge of some pretty scary and dangerous beliefs.  However, we've also seen a resurgence in "straight to the bible" seeking, an increase in concern for justice, a new heart for the poor and the marginalized, a higher challenge towards peace instead of violence, a new appreciation for the arts and beauty, and a powerful movement for the stewardship of creation.  So, sure, this new adventure of discovery of a new generation who is seeking to understand and appropriate the faith of their fathers has made some great correctives to areas we've gotten off course while also opening some theological and/ or moral doors that we're not so comfortable with, and probably shouldn't be.  But remember, this is a generation seeking God and seeking truth, not rebelling against it.  

And that is exactly where we have gotten it most wrong.  Rather than walking the road of discovery with this new generation, rather than praising them for wanting it to be real and make sense in their lives and matter for their neighbors and make a difference in the world, we've offered not help, wisdom, and humility, but instead rebuke, correction, frustration, name-calling, and even derision.  The church should value those pursuing God and humbly walk with them.  Could it even be that God is doing a new thing (he's done that before) or that God is correcting his people (he's done that before) and that he's using a new generation to dream dreams and see visions? (he's done that before, too.)  So before we get too far down the road of being critical of the emerging generation seeking to rediscover the biblical church, biblical community, biblical impact, biblical passions, and biblical spirituality, it might be good for us to listen to what's going on and hear if the Spirit has anything to say to the church.


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Future Communication of the Gospel 3

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Years ago, when I was going through my own personal crisis of whether or not the Christian world-view could be "true" and more than just a deconstructed narrative of my particular culture, a thought came into my mind.   If it was going to be possible for the gospel to inform my life, I needed it to be more than a simple framing story (as McLaren now calls it, a kind of layman's phrase for meta-narrative) of my life.  I needed it to be something that was really some sort of meta-narrative of history, science, culture, math, language, art, politics, etc.  This may not have been your personal story, but postmodern philosophy actually helped me to find my faith and be more solid in my faith, partly because it first shook my faith to the core.  I found at some point that Jesus was making a claim about himself and about his Father.  He was making the claim that his story was the ultimate framing-story.  His story was the meta-narrative that gave meaning to all other stories, and it was in his story that all other stories find their meaning.  And not just stories - but creation, beauty, pain, love, and life all found their origin and meaning in the midst of his story.  That's a pretty big claim, particularly in a world that is increasingly saying that there is no ultimate framing story, no prime meta-narrative.  So, I believe that.  I believe that "in Christ all things hold together."  It was, in fact, this passage from Colossians that brought me back to Jesus particularly because of its underlying message that the seeming fragmentation of the world is actually held together in the unity of the one who started the whole thing through the creation, and that we know him through the person of Jesus Christ.  Here's the passage:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:15-20]

So, note these phrases: all creation, all things (with his clarification... which pretty much includes all things), all things, all things, all things, in everything, to reconcile to himself all things (again with clarification which pretty much includes all things). 

So... is the gospel confined to a few things?  Or to all things?  Just asking.


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Future Communication of the Gospel 2

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As you think about the responses in UnChristian to Christians today, they mostly revolve around our inability to express the gospel well, to express the gospel without hypocrisy, to show love more than judgment, etc.  What seems to sometimes be happening is that we are expressing some of the content of Christianity, but without the substance - or a slice of the pie, but not the whole thing.  There were some really good comments in Chapter 6 that deals with the perceptions that Christians are sheltered, subcultured, boring, old-fashioned, unintelligent, and out of touch with reality. Again, though this is a study of young outsiders, which I'm not - I'm an insider, and a little older than their study group - I often find myself agreeing with the analysis.  I feel this way about us a lot of to the time.  In fact (and I'll have to tell this story later - someone remind me), these very issues have a lot to do with my conversion experience and my first full-time ministry experience, which is probably why they hit me so hard.  Anyway, here are a couple more quotes:

Only one-fifth of young outsiders believe that an active faith helps people live a better, more fulfilling life. [p. 122]

...part of the sheltered perception is that Christians are not thinkers. [p. 123]

And then this very insightful paragraph:

Another reason sheltered faith is unappealing is that young adults resist simplistic answers.  Mosaic and Busters relish mystery, uncertainty, and ambiguity.  They are not bothered by contradictions or incongruities.  I was amazed in our research to see how comfortable young people are with nuance and subtlety, expressing awareness of context in complicated and intricate issues.  A majority of Busters, including most born-again Christian young people, believe that the spiritual world is too complex and mysterious for humans to understand.  Millions of young people admit that life itself is too complicated to really grasp.  These ideas are twice as common among Mosaics and Busters as they were in their parents' generation.  [p. 125, emphasis mine]

Now, if that paragraph bothers you and your immediate tendency is to go on the defensive against young people for being ambiguous and for appreciating mystery, before you harp on objectivity and the certainty of our faith, you need to stop for a moment and listen to this.  There is a gem of insight here.  We Christians have too often over-simplified the gospel, our faith, the world in which we live, people's problems, solutions, hard issues like homosexuality, environmentalism, divorce, politics, gender issues, war, poverty, sexuality, and many more.  That doesn't mean the gospel is not true, that the gospel cannot address these things, or that God isn't the amazing God he is who meets people in truth and love and reorders the world for his glory.  Seriously.  God is up to the challenge, truth is deep enough to have serious, nuanced, sometimes complicated answers, and the gospel is deep and wide and long and high enough to transform the world and everything in it.  So why are so always so drawn to oversimplify the gospel?  Because often when we do, we sell people a product that is not the gospel, but a watered-down imitation and when they confront a) the real world or b) the real gospel, they are ill-equipped to handle either and especially their inter-relation.

The church hasn't really talked about world-view much in the last decade.  A world-view is a comprehensive way of looking at the world that addresses both large and small issues in our lives.  (non-technical, off the top of my head definition.)  It is the way we view the world, make sense of the world, engage the world, and provides the foundational rules by which we live in the world.  The Christian world and life view is something that can really handle the big and the small issues of life, and yet Christians tend to not want to, or are incapable often of doing so.

One of the reasons - and a good reason - is that we often simplify the gospel message in order not to scare people away or overcomplicate it for new believers.  I get that.  It's why churches run seeker-services, to get to the "core" message of God's love in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins offered through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and our submission to his Lordship.  That is the core of the Gospel.  But it is the seed, the starting point, the entry-way to something that is large, expansive, and engagingly beautiful.  Jesus said that a seed must die for it to grow and bloom.  The kingdom of God, he said, is like a small bit of yeast that affects the whole loaf.  A small bit of salt brings flavor to the whole meal.  We are right to help people to understand the seed/ yeast/ salt because it is essential in transformational growth and restoration.  But we tend to stop with that message, and we miss out on the kingdom expansiveness that comes as a result.


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Future Communication of the Gospel

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I heard this recently in a video short from The Fermi Project called "Sacred Spaces" with Clint Kemp, a pastor and environmentalist from the Bahamas.   It rung some bells for me.  During the interview, this question came up:

Is it possible that social justice and environmental justice are the ways that the gospel will be communicated in a coming age? 

The idea here is not that the Gospel itself is less important, or that helping people to come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ is unimportant or less important, but that what and how we communicate to the world either helps or hinders in that communication.  They didn't get into this kind of thinking in the interview, but it's something I've thought about for awhile, and it gets to a previous post I made on the UnChristian which is dealing with whether or not the Gospel or our faith is being rejected, or whether it is us ourselves that are being rejected. 

For me, at the heart of what is being communicated in the UnChristian, and even in this interview with Kemp is that the Gospel is really supposed to be utterly transformative of our lives.  We know it, and so do others.  We communicate that pretty well - God wants to transform you.  God wants to do a new thing.  God wants to bring resurrecdtion, blessing, goodness, justice, peace, harmony, and beauty.  But what we don't seem to do all that well is display that  Why?  Maybe because we ourselves have not been significantly enough transformed to show it?  Or maybe we have, but we don't show it.  Or maybe we really haven't understand that depth, width, height, and breadth of the transformation of the gospel renewal and we have limited it to some pretty tight boundaries.  I have a lot more to write on this idea, and I'll spend a couple of posts talking about it, including some more from the UnChristian book as as McLaren's book (which I know I haven't talked much about).  His book is really about a frustration with this whole idea as well. 


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Stewardship of Creation

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creationSo, a guy I know asked me to comment on my thoughts on creation, stewardship, and Christians on facebook.  I did, a little, but here are some good thoughts from Wendell Berry:

The certified Christian seems just as likely as anyone else to join the military-industrial conspiracy to murder creation…The discrepencies I see are between biblical instruction and alledgedly respectable Christian behavior.

If we read the Bible, keeping in mind the desirability of those two survivals - of Christianity and the Creation - we are apt to discover several things…

1) …that we humans do not own the world or any part of it… the landowner is the guest and steward of God.

2) …that God made not only the parts of Creation that we humans understand and approve but all of it…

3) …that God found the world, as He made it, to be good, that He made if for His pleasure, and that He continues to love it and to find it worthy, despite its reduction and corruption by us…

4) …that the Creation is not in any sense independent of the Creator, the result of a primal creative act long over and done with, but is the continuous, constant participation of all creatures in the being of God…

5) …that for these reasons our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility; it is the most horrid blasphemy.  It is flinging God’s gifts into his face… a violence against God.

How can modern Christianity have so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God was and is being destroyed?

I do worry a little about Berry’s language, particularly in point #4 and some things I didn’t quote that he comes quite close to the deification of nature, or a kind of indwelling of God into the natural that can’t be supported very well biblically.  However, I do think that we have pushed the value of creation so low as Christians as to have committed a similary sin - that of not valuing God’s artistic creation as a precious treasure and gift and have instead used, abused, and ruined her.  I do agree with point #5 and think that a holistic understanding of the Scripture (Berry makes apoint I didn’t quote about Gods’ love the world in John 3:16, and interprets that as being wider than humanity) requires a holistic approach to creation, fall, and redemption that includes the created order.

The interesting thing to me about the denegration or devaluing of the importance of the created world by so many of us Christians is that when we do so, and when we raise a personal spirituality devoid of an earthiness and connection to Creation (Eugene Peterson has helped me here) we are more like gnostic dualists that followers of a God who is wide, deep, long, rich, wonderful, diverse, and unified.

(Quotes from Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation, “1992-1992, Pantheon books, pp. 94-99)


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