Monday, January 28, 2013

How Do You Interpret the Adam and Eve story?

There is more than one way to interpret the importance of the Adam and Eve story in understanding our human condition and our need for God's grace.

After years of pastoral experience among sisters and brothers in the faith searching the heart of God, I am learning that part of our holy struggle is to overcome cultural conditioning. We are wired to be people of success, achievement, accumulation, security, and people-pleasing, and this has disconnected us from ourselves and from our roots. We are also the most mobile generation in the history of the planet, exacerbating our sense of being far away from home. Our world of consumerism and functionalism and has imposed itself on us, when the essence of our identity is that we are beloved children of God. I've been taking a new look at our most ancient story in light of this human dilemma.

The creation saga is of course primordial and foundational for our faith. It may be an oversimplification, but my understanding of the Western interpretation is that this story is about the sin of disobedience. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, and yet they disobeyed God's command. Their decision to eat of the forbidden fruit set forth our human condition as fundamentally one of being sinners in need of grace. This is resolved by repentance and forgiveness, and Christ came to pay the price for our sin and offer the forgiveness we need.

In contrast, the Eastern interpretation, as I understand it, is that we are created in the image of God, yet this image became stained and tarnished. The emphasis is not so much on hereditary guilt but on our fallenness, for we lost the luster of our original glory but are not in a state of total depravity. So the essence of the Christian journey is one of "deification", or glorification, finding that original glory restored from one degree to another through a lifelong pilgrimage. So Christianity is less about making a decision and more about God's ongoing beckon to draw closer to our original relationship. It is more about original blessing than original sin.

There is of course nothing wrong with either of these classic interpretations. But I offer my own twist in light of my life's spirituality and the struggles of Christians I have served for years. I believe humanity was designed to be rooted in the garden of God's love. Yet we have a tendency to take matters into our own hands, to depend less on the garden God gives us to live, work, and play in and depend more on aspiring to know more, have more, or control more of our life. So we find ourselves uprooted and cast from the garden. The essence of the human condition is that we have become rootless. The Christian journey, then, is one of finding our roots again, coming home to the garden like the Prodigal's son, welcomed by the embracing love of the Father. When our spirits are awakened, and we immerse ourselves in the centuries of spiritual flow that came before us in the body of Christ, it is like becoming firmly rooted again in the fertile soil. We come back to our original presence.

It is no accident that the first psalm in scripture is one that longs to be like a tree, planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in its season.

How do you interpret the Adam and Eve story?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Trust in an Age of Distrust

Peter was born as Simon. When Jesus affirmed Simon and renamed him Peter, a name resembling PETROS, the Greek word for rock, he said “on this rock I will build my church.” It is as if Jesus named him “Rocky”! Peter would still be human, and quite human at that. No man or woman is infallible even when led by the Holy Spirit. But it is the rock of his faith in Christ, boldly stated in answer to Jesus's question, “Who do you say that I am,” which the church is built on.

Our trust in church leadership is not built on how perfect our leaders are, because we’re far from perfect. It’s grounded in our faith in the church itself and its centering on Christ. The recent horror experienced in the family of the pastor at a church in Birmingham is a reminder of how broken and human church leaders, including pastors, really are.

We don’t trust in the system because people will be perfect. We trust in the system because people will not.

There are many churches that struggle mightily with the issue of trust. They have trouble trusting that their pastor’s intentions or good or that the decisions of a committee are for the best. The main reason for this distrust is because we live in an age of rampant distrust, and this has unfortunately rubbed off on the church. I invite us to do better, trusting in the presence of God in the body of Christ.

If you are a part of a church who elects leaders and have begun a journey with them this year, I invite you to join me in supporting them, praying for them, encouraging them, offering feedback to them, and perhaps most of all trusting them.

We are the Body of Christ together. The church is best seen as the scriptures see us, as an organism, not just an organization. We are called to work together smoothly, with unity of spirit even when we have diversity of thought. This is where the importance of trust comes in, for we trust the process to guide us because we are practicing the presence of God.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

From the Hand that Held the Hand that Held the Light

A few years ago, I wrote a meditation on Ruby Falls after visiting the site near Chattanooga. I explored the way Christ's light illuminates the inner caverns of the soul, making dark places a thing of beauty. And I noted how, like the man who discovered Ruby Falls, sometimes you stumble into this dark place that God wants to bless.

I deeply value two letters from the folks of Ruby Falls that I received after I found out it was going to be published and sent them a copy. The first was from one of the managers, who included a quote from Leo Lambert:

"Thank you for sending your blog entry concerning our cave. It was great to read how you felt as you toured our cave. We commonly receive questions about the origin of the cave and field questions concerning the creation of the formations and falls. I as a Christian just enjoy the beauty of the falls and the incredible creation of the cave. Below I have copied the quote by Leo Lambert written after he discovered Ruby Falls. We plan on posting this at our entrance at a ceremony December 30th which will be the 80th anniversary of him finding the cave. Thank you for the inspiring message and hope to see you return some day.

"Discovering Ruby Falls was like discovering God. At first it is very dark, scary and uncertain. You don't know what lies ahead. You bump into things you didn't even realize were there and you suffer injuries bumps and bruises. You fall down into sticky, sticky mud and mire and feel like you cannot go on. But you get up with a feeling that somewhere ahead lies something more wonderful than you could ever imagine. As you add light to what you discovered you find that the things that caused you suffering and injury were wonderful God made things, put there for you to witness and give you joy. It is all and more than you ever imagined you could witness. It is God, and Ruby Falls & the Lookout Mountain Cave are God's creations, made for man to enjoy. I am just a little proud that he used me."

Shortly after that, I got a personal letter from Lambert's granddaughter. I presume the journal entry she refers to is the above quote. I simply love the way she signed it at the end:

“Steve, I just received your Meditation on Ruby Falls. I am Leo Lambert's granddaughter. Last spring I found my grandfather's journal entry on discovering Ruby Falls. It probably wasn't meant to be published. How incredible that your piece was so similar to what he felt discovering Ruby Falls. Banks foreclosed on ‘His Jewel’ during the Great Depression time. Never was he bitter, because God had chosen him to discover a piece HIS Handiwork! He had something that could never be taken from him. He would always tell me ‘Just look at the cave and waterfall God gave to us’ …

“Thank you for expressing again what joys God gives us on our journey! Yesterday, Dec 30, 2008 was the dedication of Grandpa Leo's inscription along with his likeness. He and my grandmother would have been rejoicing, there were grandchildren, great grand children and great great grand children who carry within their hearts love for a man and woman who loved God and lived it!

From the hand that held the hand that held the light that discovered Ruby Falls,

(her name)

To see my original meditation, see Meditation on Ruby Falls.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Last Holdout in My Neighborhood

I must be the last holdout in my neighborhood. As usual, we are the only ones with a lit Christmas tree left standing.

Today is January 3, and this morning I enjoyed some morning quiet time in the dark, gazing into the Christmas tree with my coffee cup in hand. I remembered the fun things we did with my family, the holiness of the services we held at church, the cheer and food we shared with friends, the thoughtfulness of the book I read, and the needed rest that came as a result of having a cold. I remembered my mom who loved Christmas and the fact that I have entered the year of the 100th anniversary of the family piano, an heirloom she passed on to me. I remembered all sort of random memories related to the ornaments I was gazing at. I chuckled at my new "investment," as I called it with my family, the Romulan Warbird ornament with the green glow of its warp engines. Perhaps it is a poor theological statement for a Christmas tree, but it is most definitely a reflection of the fun we have as a family.

As I remembered all these things, I was gazing into the light.

Christmas is not a birthday party for Jesus that's over on December 26. For one thing, no one knows the date of his birth. In the eastern church, many Christians won't celebrate Christmas until this coming Tuesday, because they use a different calendar than we do. That's yet another reason to remember that Christmas is not a birthday party.

From ancient times, it is a twelve day feast of the incarnation. We are still in the Christmas season, which is not over until this coming Sunday. At my house, we are still opening a few presents and enjoying some quiet together, all with a joyful and humorous refusal to turn off the lights. Not yet.

This weekend, I invite you to behold the light. Spend some time with a candle or a tree. The scriptures call the Messiah, our Lord Jesus, a light that has come into the world so that the darkness shall never overcome it. He is the light of the world that compels us to see and be radiant.

What joys could enlightenment bring you this year?