Inspire, Nurture, Embrace: A Theological Proposal
You may not believe me when I say this, but it is possibly the only belief I have held in my entire life that has always turned up to be true: Our theology shapes our lives. Theology is the study of God, or how we talk about God. Our lives are shaped—automatically, sometimes imperceptibly—by our understanding of the One we worship, the One center of all things. So if we take this “thought experiment” from this month’s blog posts and we put it into theological terms…how will this understanding shape our lives?
God created everything that is, and humans were created to bear the image of God. The word “human” is derived from the word for “dirt” or “earth.” To be more fully human is to understand that we are part of the earth—as natural a part of Creation as plants, animals, rocks and elements—AND we possess a part of the Divine within us. We are God’s dirty children with whom God is always well pleased. Interestingly, being made in the image of God seems to mean that humans get to decide for ourselves how we will live our lives. Will we choose to live within the boundaries that God created…or will we choose to make our own?
Scripture teaches us that God’s relationship with humans is a primary concern for God. A lot of people make a very big deal about the story in which humans “sinned” and got kicked out of the Garden of Eden paradise. People who focus on that part of the story too much tend to overlook the part where God continues to care for humans, even as they face the consequences of their choices. God clothes them…God’s presence goes with them…God never stops inspiring, nurturing and embracing the humans from the day they are created all the way up to the present age.
Eventually, God humbled himself/herself by sending the Christ into being as a human in the man of Jesus of Nazareth. Christ is the animating power of God, present from the dawn of creation. In human form, God demonstrated for us what is possible in the course of human life. We do not have to be ruled by the political or economic powers and structures of our world. We can choose to use every moment we are alive to love and serve others as ourselves…we can choose to see everything in existence as part of God’s One Being, and live into relationship with all of it. This is the way of life that leads to what Jesus referred to as “God’s Kingdom” or “God’s Realm on Earth.” The first instruction Jesus gives in the book of Mark is exactly that, “God’s presence is all around you, the Kingdom is at hand. Turn from life as you have known it and believe this Good News.” To become more human is to acknowledge that nothing—NOTHING—is a better use of our limited time here on Earth than deepening and strengthening relationships and connections with other parts of God’s One Being.
Christ demonstrated for us that the powers of the world do not value this work, and when threatened they will seek to crucify…to destroy those who have the audacity to spend their lives in service of others. The Way of Christ will always lead us to Eternal Life…and that way will always lead to the cross and the tomb…but then it will lead far beyond the limitations of human violence and death. To follow Christ is to be willing to venture into the life that has no end…which means facing certain uncertainty, darkness, torment, and possibly even death itself…all for the sake of intentionally entering into God’s realm on earth “as it is in heaven.”
In our moment in history, Christ’s body is crucified again as Creation itself is undone every day by human economic and political systems. Rather than discover God’s Realm on earth…we are actively destroying earth itself. What does it mean that we people who are made up of dirty earth and Divine Spirit are avoiding entering God’s Realm while also destroying the only planet we will ever call home?
To me…it says that we have lost our way. To me it says that we have forgotten who we are…we have forgotten who made us…we have allowed ourselves to value human systems and power over God’s gift of Created Life.
We should be able to note this…in the stories of Christ’s crucifixion in Jerusalem…sure, there are some crowds that show up to pressure Pilate to put Jesus to death…but the vast majority of humanity alive at the time never even knew Jesus of Nazareth existed…and they certainly didn’t care if he lived or died. They had “better” things to do with their time. And how often do we experience that same pattern in our own lives? There is so much suffering, heartbreak, violence, pollution, needless loss of life and disrespect of beloved humans…and because we are convinced we can’t fix it all…we find “better” things to do with our time than sit and worry. Meanwhile…Christ is crucified again and again.
It seems to me that the project of God’s People in this time and place is to Remember and Preserve our Humanity. We must turn from the projects and practices that rob us of our humanity and begin once more investing in the projects and practices that will Restore us to health. Many of us have noted that we feel most connected to the spirit in the outdoors, soaking in nature. This is a step in the right direction…but it is not enough for us to visit God’s natural creation…we must start exploring our relationship with Creation…we must remember what it means to live as part of the earth from which we were born.
Here’s one more interesting theological tidbit from the Bible for today: As far as we can tell, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written by the same author. It was recently pointed out to me that in Luke, we read Jesus was crucified on the “cross,” but in Acts, it says Christ was crucified on a “tree.” Why the different word choices? “Because,” my colleague pointed out, “RESURRECTION!”
If all things are made as One in God’s Realm, then all things have something spiritual to teach us. Perhaps this is the moment for us to learn from the trees that inspire, nurture, and embrace us every day of our lives. How do they serve others while preserving themselves? How do they spend their time during this one precious life on earth? How do they manage to tackle a billion different tasks on a daily basis while remaining connected to the rest of Creation?
I’m told that there is enough space on the planet to plant 1.2 Trillion trees…right now. Investing in that project would transform the globe, our natural systems, and our understanding of what it is to be human. Just a few weeks back, many of us gathered with others from the wider community to plant 600 trees right here in Kittery. It was transformational for me….a vision of a different world…a glimpse of God’s Realm that is right here among us…and it’s a small step toward healing and resurrecting our planet.