One thing I’ve noticed about many who reject Faith without thoroughly exploring the subject to begin with (“It just doesn’t make sense to me.”) – is that they envision faith as being focused on The Creation and The Afterlife – on narratives of The Beginning and of The End. They see these narratives – which most or all faiths have – as factually and fatally flawed, if not downright foolish; and so not worthy of serious consideration. Therefore, in their eyes, the faith as a whole must be flawed.
Now, there are many people who have adopted the label “Atheist” because they see the evil and pain in this world and cannot believe that a loving God would allow such things. (And perhaps even blame faith as responsible for much of the world’s pain – which, sadly, is true). Therefore, they say, there is no God. But, that’s an entirely different topic that I have referred-to in some of my past posts here on this site.)
When talking about the Creation or the End Times, the problem – at least in my view – is that focusing on a factual interpretation of a Faith’s narratives of The Beginning and The End completely misses the point. (Biblical interpretation Literalists, please take note.)
As I was preparing for this coming Sunday’s service (Sunday, Dec 18), it seemed to me that it would be appropriate to set aside the standard Lectionary readings and theme for the day, and focus instead on the message of Christmas. (This is, in part because my Congregation has decided to not have a service on Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec 25th: when Christmas falls on a Sunday, most churches have a very small attendance. So, why have me drive all the way out there on Christmas Day, just to minister to a much smaller than normal congregation? Better to use my skills and talents elsewhere. They are right, and I am grateful, as it is a long drive.)
As I reflected on this, I thought of how Christmas reminds us that God (who is omniscient, omnipresent, and – most importantly – nonhuman) was so moved by love and compassion for their Creation that they decided to set aside their divine existence and walk with us as a human being. This meant being born as a human being, growing up as a human being, experiencing all the joys, victories, pains and sorrows of humanity, and finally dying – as a human being.
The message of our faith centers on the reality of the Christ Child, who is also known as Emmanuel, “God with us. And, as I see it, God IS with us a very tangible, real sense. Our Creator is not some amorphous and invisible spirit inhabiting an ethereal realm far beyond our understanding. Instead, the life of Jesus shows that God walks with us, eats with us, suffers with us, laughs with us, and cares deeply about us: always has, and always will.
And yet, our entire world is just a tiny speck in the vastness of Creation. Just how little of a speck we are is made more apparent with each and every new revelation of science; especially through Astronomy and Space Exploration, which are (after all) endeavors that reach out into the vastness of space to see what is there. In so doing, we realize that we are not, and cannot be, at the center of all that is; even though our most ancient myths place us in such a position.
So, I’ve created this little video for you. It reflects upon several aspects of the expansion of our knowledge of God’s Creation and our place within it, and attempts to illustrate that growth while retaining some perspective on just how small “human scale” is in comparison.
And besides, through this I am indulging my inner “Space and Astronomy” geek!
Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)
In this morning’s reading from Amos, we find that Amos uses the concept of a Plumb Line as a metaphor for how God interacts with his people – and all of Creation for that matter.
What is a Plumb Line?
A Plumb line is simply a string with a weight on the end. As shown in the photo here. It is used to determine if something is perfectly vertical, or not. Without a Plumb Line, or something to do the same sort of job, you cannot build a structure of any size, because you will have no way of determining if your walls and pillars or columns are perfectly straight, or leaning. If they are not perfectly vertical, the structure will be weak and likely to fall down. The Sumerians, Egyptians and Jews all used Plumb Lines in the construction of buildings of all types, including their temples. Without them, structures of any size would not be possible.
The thing about a plumb line is that you don’t use it just once. Measuring a wall once it is complete doesn’t do much good because if the wall is “out of plumb,” then you’d need to tear it down and start over. Instead, you constantly use the Plumb Line throughout your construction project, to ensure that the wall is “plumb” as you build it.
Likewise, God is constantly beside us, guiding us, measuring our progress, speaking to us, so that we are “plumb” in our own lives. In Amos’ metaphor, God isn’t a distant, uninvolved god, but a god that is right beside us: involved in our lives at every moment.
Bonus question: So, we know that the Plumb Line is used to make sure walls are built perfectly vertically; but how did the ancients make sure that their foundations, such as the foundation for a temple or pyramid, were perfectly level? (Because if they weren’t, you’d be in trouble even before the first brick or stone was put in place!)
Belief is not dependent upon conformance to the Law. Belief is the process needed to make God’s command to Love a reality in our lives.
Believe what? That there are angels? That Jesus died on the Cross for our sins? That all the miracles in the Bible actually happened? That the tribulation is coming? That abortion is a mortal sin? That marriage must be a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman? That only men shall be ordained into the ministry? That God somehow anoints the beliefs or agendas of one person or group over those of another? That our particular understanding of our faith excludes all other understandings, especially those we don’t understand?
We all are constantly confronted with the choice of what to believe, and how. Do we believe literally all that the Bible says? And, what does “Literal” mean? Literalism presents us with many challenges and contradictions that are impossible to resolve; so, do we instead believe the scriptures through viewing them as metaphor and allegory? Do we ignore the passages that we see as outmoded, focusing on those that seem more relevant? Or, should we go even farther, perhaps picking and choosing what seems nice from the smorgasbord of other beliefs, traditions, and wisdom that we encounter everywhere in today’s world?
I love what the Author of Hebrews has to say about all of this in this morning’s reading. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.” So, it seems plain that there has never been a single voice deciding what is or is not to be believed as part of our faith. The Author of Hebrews is acknowledging that the prophets don’t all agree with each other, often speaking in ways that seem contradictory, or at least are hard to reconcile with other sacred writings, especially when taken literally. And this is in fact deliberate; since the goal of the prophets was to disrupt conventional wisdom and accepted practice, the very purpose of their words was to challenge our understanding.
Every author of the 66 books in the Protestant Bible see and portray God’s word in different ways, and then there are the 73 books in the Catholic Bible, and the 81 books in the Ethiopian Bible. So, not only is there disagreement between various scriptures within our Protestant Bible, but disagreement between various branches of Christianity as to what scriptures are part of the Bible at all – not to mention the tens of thousands of variations found within the most ancient scriptural texts we have at our disposal. There is no single “right” Bible, and never has been. So, how can there be a single “right” reading of scripture? Therefore, there is no single universal scriptural standard by which we can judge what is “right” to believe, or not.
But that’s OK, because belief is not about believing the right thing! We will not be condemned to hell for believing the wrong thing. Belief is not a certainty that there is a perfect, eternal and unchanging truth upon which all knowledge and all reality depend. (In fact, that belief is a teaching of ancient Greek philosophy, not Judaism.)
For this particular Children’s Message, I bring a “Megalodon” tooth, which is the tooth of the largest predator that ever lived – a giant shark (possibly the direct ancestor of the modern Great White Shark) that could grow to almost 60 feet in length, and which swam the seas of this world from about 28 million years ago until around 1.5 million years ago.
If you don’t have one, you can easily find photos of them online. You can also buy them on eBay: depending on size and condition, they go from under $10 to several hundred dollars in price. You can also find online photos of reconstructions of the Megalodon’s jaws, which are stunningly huge!
Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11(The Revised Common Lectionary readings for The Ascension, focusing particularly on how these two readings are written by the same author, were both addressed to the same audience, and are about the same event, but differ greatly in their portrayal of the Ascension of Christ.)
We sometimes think of our beliefs as facts; but in reality, facts, and our beliefs about those facts, are not the same thing. Sometimes, looking at the facts in a new way will change our beliefs, and in doing so open up new vistas of revelation and wonder.
For thousands of years, and even up until the time of the Pilgrims here in America, people would find the bones of weird animals eroding out of rocks and cliffs. [Did you know that?]
We know them as “fossils;” but back then, they didn’t know what they were. Since these things were always found embedded in rock, they figured that they were the bones of creatures that grew in rock. Some of these skeletons had wings, and many of them looked lizard-like, and so it was from these that we get our legends about “dragons.”
My concerns with Creationism are threefold: one scientific and two theological in nature.
The scientific one is simply that Creationism flies in the face of established science, science with a very deep and well supported history of research behind it. To choose Creationism over Evolution requires rejecting a multitude of well established and well defended facts that are highly supportive of each other, and have shown a massive amount of predictive value in terms of where to look for new revelations of the nature of Creation. Creationism cannot do this, and also (in effect) requires rejecting the majority of scientific theory and research made over the last 500 years or so, along with the advances that have been made as a result of those theories and research.
For me, Faith is of paramount importance (which is probably obvious, given that I am a minister). However, Faith must pass the “sniff test” – meaning that it is relevant and meaningful in this world that we live in and know. Creationism fails that test. This leads to my two theological concerns, where Creationism fails even more egregiously than it does when portrayed as a scientific theory.