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Worshipping God the Creator: Bill’s Story

Wednesday July 27 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: Bill’s Story

 Bill, 35, is an urban planner who works for an architectural firm.

I am fundamentally at home in nature. I grew up spear-fishing for flounder with my dad, riding bikes a lot, hiking in the mountains with my Boy Scout troop. From an early age, looking at the stars, when I would let myself experience it fully, it felt overwhelming. You just can’t take it all in.

I enjoy the seasons. I’m just starting to get a sense of age and cycle and process in my life, and seeing it in nature is comforting somehow.

There were a lot of difficult parts about my life growing up. I was sort of a mournful kid. Fall was my favorite season because it felt mournful, so I was comforted by fall. Fall helped me tune into my own nature.

As I’ve gotten older, the meaning of spring has become more real. I’m crazy about spring. I like the freshness, everything budding out. It’s exciting to me, and it connects me to my emotions somehow, where it didn’t in the past.

I’ve started gardening. I love the rhythm of it, seeing stuff come out of the garden. It’s a non-verbal thing, a connection with nature. It’s ordinary and yet not ordinary.

Nature has always been pretty important to me, but I’m experiencing it now in a way that’s somehow more present. In gardening, the sense of planning, designing, bringing it along -- there’s something very rooted about that. It’s not directly about God, but it feels like I’m tuning in with spirituality and my home and where I live.

The universe is huge. I see God in the hugeness. Our smallness is both spacial and temporal – we’re   such a small piece of the puzzle.

The creation also speaks to me about the co-creativity of humanity. We’re created in God’s image and God fundamentally is creative. In many ways, that’s an exciting frontier of faith for me. Creativity is a huge gift to us. You can see God’s creativity in people, but one of the most accessible ways to experience God’s creativity is in creation.

I’m an urban planner, and I’ve loved maps all my life. Now I’m thinking about what goes onto maps. My firm is designing a large project, and I’m thinking about the wetlands and the topography, how best to develop it. How do we turn this landscape into a place for humans in a way that is respectful of the way God made it?

Urban design ties into environmental policy and the political process in caring for God’s creation, trying to be responsive to God’s creativity. It’s such a profound change in how we look at the world. So many pieces can come into play as we try to care for the environment. We Christians have focused our theology and our attention on humans and on God. We haven’t taken the creation into account as we should have.

 

This is the seventh post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         
     Voluntary simplicity           
     Voluntary simplicity in action         

(Next week: "Co-creators with God?" This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity in action

Wednesday July 20 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity in action

Some years ago we offered at class at our church on the book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Ronald Sider. In the 1997 revision of the book, Sider makes many connections between world poverty and environmental degradation, because it is usually the poor who suffer the most ill effects from the impact of pollution. About six months after the class, one woman who had attended told me about the great impact the class had on her.

Before reading the book, she had no idea of the extent of world poverty or its connection to pollution. After the class, she prayed a lot about how to respond. God led her very clearly to take the bus to work two days a week instead of driving, as she had been doing. She figured out that by taking the bus she saved 2500 miles a year of wear and tear on her car, which reduces both pollution and the carbon emissions that cause global warming. She had to change busses in downtown Seattle, and she found that she often bought birthday cards and other small items downtown as she waited for her next bus. This saved her additional miles she would have driven on her car. She could read and pray on the bus, which proved to be a big bonus.

What struck me the most about my conversation with her was her joy. She had learned about God’s care for the poor and for the earth, she had prayed about it, and God had led her to do something that reduced pollution and freed up money, which can be given away. Riding the bus wasn’t something she felt she ought to do. It was something she wanted to do because God led her to do it. It was an act of devotion to God, a way to embrace God’s priorities in the world. It had meaning to her because it connected her to God’s priorities and her own values.

So many people in recent years have talked to me about the movement in their lives towards experiencing each moment as a gift from God, truly being present to the grace in the small things of life. This involves appreciating the people we are with, paying attention to what we are doing, and noticing the blessings of warmth, beauty, and tenderness when they occur in people or in nature. Many people call this attitude “mindfulness.”

To the extent that we embrace consumerism, we are forced to speed up the pace of our lives in order to earn more money to support our lifestyle. We also have to take the time to care for all our possessions. Voluntary simplicity enables us to slow down and experience spaciousness of time and place. Simplicity can help us live more mindfully.

A best-selling writer on simplicity, Cecile Andrews, talks about the fact that our sense of scarcity makes it hard for us to be mindful. We are anxious about time and money; we worry that we won’t have enough of either. Our fear of scarcity impacts our whole life and makes us move quickly and frantically. She writes:

To live mindfully, to appreciate your time, you have to move slowly. There’s nothing more difficult for Americans, and we have gotten worse in the last twenty years. Court reporters find that we talk faster. We walk faster, our movies are faster. MTV is the perfect example. Just when you start to focus on an image, the camera moves on.[1]

Those words were written 17 years ago, when MTV was fairly new. Just think how much faster images move today. Andrews advocates saying the words, “slow down,” almost as a mantra, and she believes that slowing down and practicing mindfulness is a prerequisite for developing an attitude of thankfulness.

This is the seventh post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         
     Voluntary simplicity           

(Next week: "Bill's story." This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration: Winter day in Queenstown by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] Cecile Andrews, “The Spirituality of Everyday Life,” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, ed. Michael Schut (Denver: Living the Good News, 1999), p. 38, 39.

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity

Thursday July 14 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity

As we slow down to experience the joy of this moment in this particular place in God’s creation, we understand more deeply God’s call to be careful stewards of all that God made. Part of that stewardship needs to be a reevaluation of the way we live in our consumer society.

Day and night the beauty of nature speaks to us of God’s greatness and calls us to praise and prayer. Day and night our consumer culture is also speaking to us, but the message is very different.

“More is better.” “If you are feeling sad, discouraged, or sexually unattractive, you will feel much, much better if you buy something.” “Shop ’till you drop.” These messages are pervasive. We encounter these voices in advertisements, TV sitcoms and talk shows, movies, magazines, newspapers, shop displays and throughout the online world.

Our consumer culture seriously gets in the way of faithful stewardship of creation in a variety of ways. Possessions cost money, and many of us have to work harder to pay for our many things. The extra time spent working makes us hurried and scattered, much less able to be intentional about the way we live. Possessions have to be shopped for, maintained, repaired, and housed, which requires time and effort that might have been spent doing something more restful and spiritually restoring. Everything we buy had to be made somewhere and then transported to us. The factories that make things and the trucks that transport things are often serious polluters.

Richard Foster is very blunt in describing the seriousness of the consumer messages from our culture: “Our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy.” Foster believes we get sucked into consumerism because “we lack a divine Center.”[1]

One Christian response to consumerism is voluntary simplicity, choosing to live below the level of affluence that we can afford, for the purpose of slowing down consumption, living more intentionally, and striving to be more connected to what God desires for us. Many people who choose voluntary simplicity have a strong commitment to honoring God as creator, because living more simply serves both the earth and the poor of the world. Voluntary simplicity has a particular appeal at midlife as we desire to strip away the extraneous possessions, commitments and values in our lives and embrace what really matters to us.

Voluntary simplicity is not another “should” or “ought.” People who practice simplicity express enthusiasm for the joy they have experienced in embracing a different set of values than the ones promoted by our culture. They talk about the beauty in the words “less can be more.” To understand the joy of simplicity, think for a moment about the difference between a huge bouquet of flowers and a single rose. Sometimes the huge bouquet is appropriate, but sometimes the single rose is the best option because it is more restful, and its beauty is not obscured by a lot of other flowers.

Our culture tells us that huge bouquets, composed of a wide variety of different flowers, are always best. We live, in effect, so surrounded by huge bouquets that we are overwhelmed by them. Simplicity offers a kind of beauty that is spare, clean, pure, and straightforward.

As we begin to see more clearly the sickness of living by consumer values, the beauty of nature can be a source of soothing balm. If I go shopping, I am constantly faced with my desire to possess, and I have to fight against the lust for things that lies just below the surface of my soul. If I walk in some upscale neighborhoods not far from my home, I find myself lusting after huge homes and beautifully manicured gardens. If I go for a walk in a park, however, I can focus on the ducks on the lake, the clouds in the sky, and the wind on my face. There is no way I can possess those things, so I am briefly free from all the seductive desires that sweep across my mind.

Simplicity and looking for God’s hand in creation can reinforce each other in a life-giving ebb and flow. Embracing simplicity can help us slow down enough to hear the voice of creation calling us to draw near to the Creator. At the same time, slowing down enough to appreciate nature can help us desire to simplify our lives and focus on what is really important to us. These complimentary forces can be very helpful and encouraging.

This is the seventh post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         

(Next week: a wonderful example of the joy of voluntary simplicity. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] Richard Foster, “The Discipline of Simplicity” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, p. 182.

Worshipping God the Creator: Creation care

Tuesday July 5 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: Creation care

I majored in biology in college. Some of my most intense worship experiences occurred in biology lab looking through a microscope at algae’s glowing green complex structures or the diverse shapes of bacteria. For my last two years of college, I worked as a lab assistant for an astronomy professor, and I loved learning about the vastness of interstellar space. The hugeness of the universe and the smallness of tiny biological structures spoke to me of the greatness of God the Creator. I had then, and I still have today, a deep reverence for the creation as God’s handiwork. It seemed obvious to me then and it seems obvious to me today that caring for the environment is part of Christian discipleship.

When I graduated from college in the mid-seventies, no one else seemed to share that conviction. I have been delighted in recent years to watch an increasing commitment among Christians to care for the environment. A Christian college in Seattle sponsors a seminar for freshman on Christians and the environment. Many of the quotations in this series of blog posts come from a book of sermons on caring for creation, The Best Preaching on Earth: Sermons on Caring for Creation. Another book, Cherish the Gift: A Congregational Guide to Earth Stewardship, by Cindy Ubben Causey, provides practical suggestions for Christian congregations that would like to be more faithful in their stewardship of the earth, and that is only one of many books on that topic. All of these are signs to me that Christians are increasingly engaged in the issues of caring for the earth.

Most of us have also experienced sadness at the way nature has been damaged by human carelessness and greed. This abundant earth that God created no longer feeds all its inhabitants because humans have selfishly divided up its riches in inequitable way. Natural disasters and droughts have stunned us by their impact on people we care about.

For many, all the evil we have glimpsed makes the beauty of creation even more precious. It is a mystery how our awe and wonder at God’s creation can coexist with so much sadness because of the evil that pervades nature and human nature. Yet the creation keeps speaking to us, telling us how awesome God is.

In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul talks about the fact that the whole creation was subjected to futility because of human sin. In fact, Paul writes, the creation itself groans, just as we do, waiting for the time of final redemption. The earth is not in its normal state, the way God created it. Human sin has marred human life; our sin has also had a disastrous impact on the creation.

In Hosea 4:1-3, the prophet describes human sin: faithlessness, lack of loyalty, lying, cursing, stealing, murder, adultery, and bloodshed. Because of this, Hosea says, “The land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.” This passage could have been written today.

Howard Snyder writes that the Biblical picture is not just a story of God and his people. “It is the story of God, the people, and the land. . . . Thus the Bible shows us that mistreating the earth is one of the clearest evidences of human sinfulness. We continue to sin against the earth – God’s creation – when we pollute the earth, waste the earth’s resources, or fail to practice good stewardship of the land entrusted to our care.” [1]

As the preciousness of God’s good creation becomes more real and more vivid, we realize the fragility of the beautiful earth. Many become more motivated to work for the protection of the environment as a part of their Christian commitment.

This movement towards creation stewardship by Christians coincides nicely with an increased interest these days in mindfulness and in thankfulness prayers, which help us experience an increased awareness of the wonder of creation.

This is the sixth post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation             

(Next week: the spiritual practice of simplicity as a form of caring for Creation. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration: Field National Park, Tasmania, by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] Howard Snyder, “This World is Not My Home,” in The Best Preaching on Earth, Stan L. LeQuire, ed. (Valley Forge, Penn.: Judson Press, 1996), p. 46.

Worshipping God the Creator: The good creation

Wednesday June 29 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: The good creation

The heavens and the earth were created by God. At the end of each day of creation, God looked at what he had made and declared it “good.” The description of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis is one of the most beautiful pieces of literature ever written, emphasizing God’s power to create and the wonder and beauty of his work in creation.

Ron Sider, in a sermon entitled “Tending the Garden without Worshipping It,” argues that the Bible teaches that the "material world is so good that the one who created all things and pronounced them very good actually became flesh. The material world is so good that Jesus rose bodily from the tomb. The material world is so good that all believers will be resurrected bodily to dance and revel in a renewed creation when the Lord returns. That’s how good the material world is. Consequently, God wants you and me to rejoice now in the good earth’s bounty." [1]

Sider goes on to call us to a passionate commitment to Jesus Christ that manifests the truth that nothing in life is more important than our love of Jesus. This kind of love, he believes, will result in care for the poor as well as care for the environment.

Soon after God created humans, he gave them the task of “tilling and tending” the garden (Gen. 2:15). For those of us who live in an urban setting, it may be hard to imagine what those commands imply for us. At times I have grown vegetables in my back yard. Is that what is meant by God’s command to “till and tend” the garden?

Calvin DeWitt, a theologian and professor of environmental studies, points out the range of meaning of these words. The Hebrew word translated “till” can also mean dress, work, or serve. The word translated “tend” can also be translated as keep, take care of, guard, or look after. The root word that lies behind “tend” indicates a loving, caring, sustaining kind of keeping. DeWitt asks, “How on earth can we serve creation? Shouldn’t creation serve us instead?” [2]

DeWitt, like Sider, believes that the first call is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and out of that discipleship will come concern for the care and sustaining of creation. Serving and taking care of the garden, which he takes to mean the whole created world, will mean careful use of resources, striving to find our contentment in God rather than in things, and enjoyment of creation without destroying it. DeWitt also argues that as a part of caring for creation, we need to give animals and plants the kind of Sabbath rests that are proscribed in the Old Testament. All of this is necessary because of the human propensity to use things up, rather than use things carefully in a way that protects the earth for future generations.

In a sermon entitled “This World is Not My Home?” Howard Snyder lays out some helpful principles to guide our thinking about the earth.

So we see, then, these four great truths in the Bible concerning our earthly home:
1. The earth is good, not bad.
2. The earth is diseased and disordered because of sin.
3. The earth is our responsibility as God’s stewards.
4. The earth will be judged and restored.

How should this make a difference in the way we, as Christians, live?
1. We may enjoy God’s good creation and praise God for it.
2. We may live before the world as good stewards of the earth. Christians should be at the forefront of modeling good stewardship principles, including care of creation. Minimally, this certainly includes recycling, healthy eating, and supporting sound environmental policies in government and business.
3. We may honor and support those Christian whom God calls to a ministry to the earth.
4. We can teach and model earth stewardship to our children.
5. We can continue to study Scripture to learn what it says about the earth. For too long, many vital texts have been overlooked by the church. We can correct this blind spot by searching out God’s vision for the earth.[3]

These straightforward principles can stimulate a great deal of pondering and discussion.

This is the fifth post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
             
(Next week: more on earth stewardsip. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration: Coromandel sunrise by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] Ron Sider, “Tending the Garden without Worshipping It,” The Best Preaching on Earth, Stan L. LeQuire, ed. (Valley Forge, Penn.: Judson Press, 1996), p. 37.

[2] Calvin DeWitt, “Creation’s Care and Keeping,” Simpler Living, Compassionate Life, ed. Michael Schut (Denver: Living the Good News, 1999), p. 176.

[3] Howard Snyder, “This World is Not My Home,” The Best Preaching on Earth: Sermons on Caring for Creation, p. 52, 53.

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