exploring our beliefs, living our values, changing our world

Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Deus Ex Machina and the Ghost in the Shell

This sermon is the completion of a trilogy (I suppose I could call it a three-part series but the former sounds better) Around James Luther Adams concept of the Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion. I preached this sermon on the first Sunday In December 2016. Upon  rehearing the sermon (during editing) I had to admit that I was having a lot of fun but wasn’t sure where I was going, but then my goal is not to arrive before I get there. If you find yourself wondering where I am going throughout this sermon just let yourself go and experience the path, but don’t think about it as a conclusion, maybe more of a resolution.

Before preaching the sermon I posted this summation:

I wish you could have been along for the ride while I debated back and forth about this title through inner dialogue. Deus Ex Machina is Latin for God out of the Machine a common narrative trope found in stage and screen also in books and even theology. Ghost in a Shell is a story about a marionette created by an old man named Gepeddo, that came to life after wishing on a star… wait no… that’s Pinocchio. Either way, I want to talk about something that binds us together, I will be continuing through James Luther Adams’ Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Region. Today’s topic, hope.

Revelation and Inspiration: The Art of Not Knowing in an Interdependent World

This sermon is the first of three built around James Luther Adams’ 5 Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion.

To set the mood I read from Revelation 1:4-15 and listened to Son House play John the Revelator.

Synopsis:

My oldest questions revolved around one simple idea “How do we know?” Over time I became more and more dissatisfied with the answer. Being a parent didn’t help me find an answer. Over time, I learned responsibility happened even in the absence of preparation, making me question John the Revelator…even while trying to embrace the breath of God. The old Gospel/Blues song asked the question, “Who’s that writing?” That’s one of many questions I’ll be asking on Sunday.

Spiritual Themes in Earth Day

A few years ago I watched a youtube video especially dedicated to Earth Day. The man in the video started a gas blower and set it down, then he started a gas weed eater and set it down, then he started a push mower (remember all these things are still running) then a ride-on mower, then his car, and his truck. At the bottom of the screen flashed the words “Happy Earth Day.” The creator of the video was making an obvious statement. He did not support the ideals of Earth Day, and obviously didn’t accept the concept of climate change. This offended my sensibilities. I remember driving an old car with no air conditioner on I-240 in Memphis, Tennessee, reading signs that said, “Smog Warning: Leave Your Windows Up.”

As Unitarian Universalists, we articulate very clearly our ideals through our principles, specifically the 7th principle:

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

This principle reminds us that that we are part of this world and this world is a part of us. We should, therefore, care for the world so it can care for us. However, even before coming to the Unitarian Universalist Church, taking care of the planet was a spiritual issue for me. Every year around Earth Day when I had the chance to preach a sermon I showed pictures of the great Pacific garbage patch, smog warnings, and oil-covered ducks. Of course, I didn’t start there–I started with the Hebrew Bible.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”-Genesis 1:28

Coming near the end of the creation narrative, this statement defines the roll of man in the new creation. Upon a simple read, it doesn’t say much, the only thing that really ever stuck out to me is the word “subdue.” The word in Hebrew is generally used during war–in referencing the control of something hostile. In this case, there is nothing hostile working against Adam and Eve. They are working in congruence. Quite simply put, “you are in charge.” The next word that sticks out is “rule” (or to have dominion over). This is not being used in a violent context. In essence, humanity is set up as steward of creation. There is nothing violent here. Humanity is never asked to fight against creation but to care for it. In fact, it is one of the oldest commands in the Hebrew Bible. In this context, the world will be shaped by humans and it will reflect their own nature. Later, as we move through Genesis into Noah’s narrative, we find that reflection to be found wanting.

Some Unitarian Universalists, however, don’t really give much precedence to a biblical or Christian argument. We have been presented with scientific studies that inform our cultural milieu in regard to environmentally sound solutions and that is fine. However, I still think it is important to know. I think it is important because as we study the political landscape we often find that those who oppose earth friendly solutions are often aligned with the political/religious right, and in that context, it often means Christians. If we look upon the recent history of our planet, we clearly see that human beings, since their rise to power, have shaped this earth.

Even more importantly it creates a spiritual alignment that connects most religious belief systems; that is, we are connected (or maybe interconnected) spiritually to the world around us and all things dwelling above and below it. Spiritually, we are part of the whole, we are interdependent, which means we are individual and corporate at the same time. In fact, whether one believes they are created in God’s image or not, the responsibility to our home is the same. If in fact one believes this world was created “good,” wouldn’t that mean we should try to keep it that way? Sometimes I struggle working with people with that worldview as they ignored smog and pollution. They ignored species after species becoming extinct and the destruction of the forests necessary to provide us oxygen. I always struggled to understand how any person, religious or not, could look upon the earth we created and call it good.

n6qw9BI

What We Lose in the Debate

I would assume many of you who follow or read this blog know about the debate that took place Tuesday night between Bill Nye and Ken Ham at the Museum for Creation Science in Petersburg, Kentucky. The event was well attended and live-streamed on the Internet. Bill Nye represented a side that said the earth came into being through a multi-billion year process, whereas Ken Ham argued that the earth came into being through a six-day creative process invoked by the God of “The Bible.” Both sides outlined their viewpoint, articulated their evidence (as they saw it), and probably didn’t convince anyone listening of anything new. I would guess that most people watching were already set on how they felt.

I suspect most Unitarian Universalists went to bed feeling that Bill Nye articulated well the right view and probably won the debate, as I suspect evangelical Christians went to bed feeling the same thing toward Ken Ham.

That doesn’t mean the debate was fruitless. Both debaters acted civilly toward one another and articulated clearly their views. It is necessary to model communication without name-calling and fighting.

But I got something else out of the debate. My questions for Ham would have come from the realm of theology not science, in fact it didn’t sound as if Ham was conversant with the Hebrew text, and when converting theology to science you might as well start with the original text. But the problem is when anyone tries to fit theological text into a scientific mold, we lose something very important–soul. In fact turning Genesis into a scientific text waters down the great theology that can be derived.

Genesis 1 and 2 is a piece of beautifully crafted literature. The words were not chosen simply or quickly. There was redaction and obvious work done to weave the beauty of humanity, ethics, and morality into the world. Humanity is created in this story and placed into an important role–that of steward. We were made, planted onto this earth to care for it, the world was good, we were good, and when we are good, good things happen. But the flood teaches us that the world will reflect our work–even when the work is not so good.

The first chapter of the creation story actually tells a wonderful story about the conversion of chaos into beauty. When I first read the story in Hebrew, it reminded me of something Michelangelo had said about sculpting marble. He didn’t add things, he just removed the parts that weren’t supposed to be there. In the creation story, life is art. I will never forget the first time I read the creation story in Hebrew–it completely changed my understanding.

It wasn’t about days, it was about hearts; it wasn’t about structures, it was about majesty; it wasn’t about science, it was about soul. I can theologically argue why I think this text is being misused, but I fear if I do that I become part of the problem.

In Genesis, God breathes into our nostrils, into our souls, makes us special, pointing out that the spirit of life is our spirit, and the poetry of our days remind us that all good things require work. That is just fine for someone like me.

-Justin

Fear of God

When I was new to Unitarian Universalism I learned a new “Fear of God,” not the fear to believe, or the fear of God’s glory, but the fear to mention his name, the fear to appear too theistic to those who are not. I was shocked then when I read “Our Chosen Faith,” the book given me during the celebration of my membership, that God was all throughout the book.

After doing research into the matter I found that Unitarian Universalism was working toward reclaiming religious language including God. So I sat down today in my office to write a few words about this reclamation. I started with a simple Google search, and was taken down a rabbit hole of history that I found very educational.

In 2003 Rev William G Sinkford, self-proclaimed atheist and President of the UUA, made the national news as he declared that Unitarian Universalism would begin reclaiming religious language. He said in 2003 that it would be his goal to reclaim the “language of reverence, in the association,” citing his issue with the lack of spiritual language anywhere in our principles or traditions.

In a sermon in January of 2003 preached to First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church he said, “I believe that Unitarian Universalism is growing up. Growing out of a cranky and contentious adolescence into a more confident maturity. A maturity in which we can not only claim our Good News, the value we have found in this free faith, but also begin to offer that Good News to the world outside these beautiful sanctuary walls.” Later in that sermon he points to one of the problems he sees with our refusal to claim religious language “Our resistance to religious language gets reflected, I think, in the struggle that so many us have in trying to find ways to say who we are, to define Unitarian Universalism.”

But he was very clear that Unitarian Universalism was not going to adopt the picture of God in the Christian Sense. In his 2009 book, The Cathedral of the World, Forest Church defines God this way “’God’ is our name for that which is greater than all and yet present in each.” These two men are very clear to define God differently than modern Christianity.

Living in the American South this idea takes on a completely different flavor. In Jackson, Mississippi, public atheists still work against prejudice. Mississippi is not in a world clearly enveloped in humanism or atheism. Many schools still begin their days with Christian prayer and becoming politically active is difficult if not backed by Judeo-Christian identification.

And for this reason I think it is important to reclaim religious language as a whole, but respectful to all parties willing to join the meeting: to understand conversation of faith, belief, and salvation–not in the popular sense but an even more traditional sense. It is important to talk about sin, but sin as the negative action against each other not divine judgment against the self in regard to things we cannot control. It is important to talk about salvation from the prison we build around ourselves that doesn’t involve changing the core of who we are. Most of all it is important to talk about God–whether we mean the deity that teaches us to become better or the Spirit of Life that drives us, let us talk of God, without fear but with love. As we reclaim the language of our UU forbearers we may find that we really aren’t that polarized after all–even in Mississippi.