Tag Archives: Bible study

Genesis 1 and the hope of beginnings

It hit me today out of the blue — a moment of hope. There has been tremendous change recently where I work and it might be a year nearly before the old is fully out and the new is in, but a moment of hope. Of the possibility of peace and, therefore, of a greater wholeness in my life. Not just relentless work and worry — of which even in the midst of that and even if it had never changed I was still richly blessed. I absolutely know it, especially with the health scares and hard-won improvements.

It was a glorious moment of hope.

And it was such a peaceful moment, and a grateful moment.

At the moment when the beginning is in play, that is a great moment. You can see that it is good. Even very good, abundantly good.

Sure as the sun is going to rise, things aren’t going to stay good.

Even if life stayed good for me, well, we still live in a broken and sad world where people suffer in so many ways, where children die, where wars are fought, where the biomass is dying and…. in a broken world it would be impossible to have more than a moment of feeling like everything is working out.

But it is a great moment.

God must have felt like that after creating light, day and night, oceans, sky, sun, moon, stars, plants, fish, birds, animals — us. God saw that it was very good.

For a moment.

I cannot let the sorrow of the world dim my joy in what is righteously joyful. Nor can I let joy blind me to the sorrows of the world that at the least demand prayer and witness.

Fear entered back into my heart by the end of the day. “What if….?” “What if….” Of course it could all go wrong. But it could perhaps work out even more abundantly than I could have imagined.

So, dear Gracious God, wrap me in your love, fill my heart with your love, help me walk in faith, eyes wide open, but heart wide open too. It is a part of beginnings to feel joy and hope. It is a part of beginnings that inevitably the beginning is fleeting.

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Genesis 1 (and a smidge) and God-as-Creator and a bit more of my story

Genesis 1 is a story of creation, yes? For some folk, this an essential quality of God and sort of proof of God. A God who can’t create a world, what good is that? H’mm? If this is the case, then science and evolution are threatening. But that is not me, mostly (more on that below). For one thing, “truth” can be found as much in fiction as in fact — heart-truth, sorrow-truth, joyful-truth, bitter-truth. Exploring scripture — God’s living Word — as a conversation with God that has lasted millennia and changed over time is a way to search and sort and sift for truth. And the bible is full of poetry, myth, soap opera, fables, battles, love, rules, etc. — as an English major you take a genre for what it is and go with it and poke at it and think about it. But you don’t twist it to be something it isn’t.

But I honestly do absolutely sympathize with those who feel threatened. Raised a good Unitarian Universalist girl who loves science fiction, I was eager to take my science requirement classes in college. And I took an anthropology class thinking it would be good and interesting — which it was. But I had never truly studied evolution before, never in a getting-it-in-my-brain-to-pass-a-test sort of way.

I was suddenly in a quandary. I was maybe 19 or 20? And I had lived mostly in books, to be honest; I was an English lit and creative writing major. So I had not truly thought about evolution. I had little knowledge of scripture so that wasn’t the issue. I was only vaguely aware that “evolution” was a topic that could rile people up. I was only sort of aware that some religious folks didn’t believe in it. I wasn’t worried about the science of it at all.

But suddenly I was in a bit of a quandary, which took me several weeks to put into words. And then I went to see the TA (teaching assistant). I was too shy to visit the professor and I figured I was just being stupid somehow.

So I popped into the poor TA’s office. “Hey,” I said. “I’m in the class? And I’m confused about this one part of evolution from the book? I can’t find the answer?”

You just have to picture me, basically cheerful and un-aware and absolutely clueless.

The poor TA goes, “So what is confusing you?”

And I go, “What makes us humans different from animals?”

And he goes, “Umm?” And his face looks like Where-do-I-hide?

And I go (as best I remember), “You know, if we humans have souls, how does that work with evolution? Or do animals have souls too? Or maybe it has something to do with the brain, with the number of neurons or something?”

And he is really absolutely horrified now. He goes, “Umm.”

And I just smile at him and sit back and I’m waiting for wisdom.

Which the poor TA obviously could not supply. As best I recall he said something like, “That won’t be any part of any test, so it’s okay that there is no answer to those sorts of questions. Maybe in philosophy? But not here.”

I realize now, looking back, that the poor guy was terrified. Was I some sort of religious person? Was he going to get the university in trouble? And I realize (now) that he honestly may never have had these questions before. Maybe he had only a very practical brain.

I had thought all answers could be found somewhere, some way, by someone. But, of course, that just isn’t so. There are questions that just have mysteries for answers.

 

I was as shaken by the TA not having an answer as I was at the thought that humans might just be another sort of animal and not fundamentally different in some way. I was genuinely upset that semester trying to figure out what makes humans different from animals. I think I don’t have a very existential brain and the quandary sort of faded. And I think I also, mostly unconsciously, decided that humans-tell-stories and that works for me. At any rate, one way to look at Day 6 is that it explores this very question about animals and humans, but it has taken me more than thirty years to realize that.

So I guess pretty soon I’ll have to actually move on to Day 6. Yikes!

Genesis 1-2:3 and the Dome

God says “Let there be a dome that separates the waters from the waters.” And God calls the dome Sky.

I love the Sky. I love big wide open sweeping panorama’s of sky over field or ocean. I love the clouds and the ever changing clouds. I love the rich night sky when you can see it all spangled with stars and the moon sweeping open above you, arc to arc. I love even just the bit of sky I can see out my back windows, which look out to a small woods. The tops of the trees swaying in a breeze. The peace of it. At night the dance of the fireflies, little sparks of little everywhere this summer, in the trees and bushes and grass, creating sparkling patterns of light.

I love the peaceful feeling of being a small part of an immense world.

Already when I practice Day 2, I try to bring some of this immensity to it by looking up, moving my eyes and head in an arc. I smile — of course I smile — with the beauty of Sky welling inside my mind’s eye.

The mystery to me in verses 6 through 8 — why does God not see that the dome and the Sky are good? Are they too foundational, too fundamental? Did the ancient tellers of the story just forget to say that for Day 2? Does my bible have a typo?

Is there something about “separating the waters above the dome from the waters under the dome” that is too destructive — even if it leads to life — to be good? Or too frightening — the wild danger waters covered with darkness are meant to be frightening to the listener. Is it not called good because it is empty?

Hooray for Sky, is what I say. I love the Sky!

 

Genesis 1-2:3 and more on order

I picked up Jordan B. Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (2018; Random House Canada), at the library completely by random. I’d never heard of him. Well, this is a very interesting book. He’s much smarter than me and I’m sure that many smart people have written all sorts of commentary about this book. Although I’m only about halfway through I would recommend it. I don’t even know what I think about his rules. What I love is how he uses scripture — this is basically a secular book, a philosophy book. And he weaves in writing and wisdom from other faith traditions and literature and so on. It’s really an amazing work. But he uses scripture respectfully and interestingly and well, maybe brilliantly isn’t too far to go. I really don’t know enough to evaluate this book!

Page 33 he explicitly starts his discussion of Genesis 1-2 and order and chaos. On page 44, “Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much. You can’t long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you still need to know.”

While my focus is far more on Genesis 1, he goes into Genesis 2 and for me — and I have heard quite a number of lectures and explications — this was really interesting stuff.

And here on page 57: “The entire Bible is structured so that everything after the Fall — the history of Israel, the prophets, the coming of Christ — is presented as a remedy for that Fall, a way out of evil. … And this is an amazing thing: the answer is already implicit in Genesis I: to embody the Image of God — to speak out of chaos the Being that is Good — but to do so consciously, of our own free choice.”

In my poor words: to trust (despite serpents and poison ivy and endless war and horror) that there is an order, that things are fundamentally supposed to be good, that we can care for ourselves (not in a let’s-eat-cake way, in a truly healthy way), that we can truly care for others, that the tension between order and chaos can be bridged in a beautiful, affirming, and generative, and creative way; in some small way even by each of us.

In many ways, because Dr. Peterson is a psychologist and a professor and so on, while this is written for a lay audience like me it is also clearly academic and …for lack of better words … deep and rich. His writing is so clear and yet the thoughts evoked inside me later sort of exploded like thought-bombs. It is completely possible that someone who truly has studied this book and these thoughts will be smacking their head going oh-my-she-does-not-understand!

Maybe in a way it is an echo from the TV show “Angel” — when the brooding vampire with a soul, Angel, says something like “If nothing you do matters [world is still going to have evil to fight, still going to be full of death, still going to be suffering], then all that matters is what you do.”

Show up and join in for building the Kingdom of God, in purely Christian language, eh? Which is “already and not yet” here.

So eat something healthy. Get a good night’s sleep. Take your medicines. Exercise.

Love your neighbor.

 

 

 

Genesis 1-2:3

Until I start working on writing Genesis 1-2:3 out (I’m up through day 4), I did not realize how much repetition that is in this. Beautiful, wonderful repetition. But still — I don’t like the vegetation day! All the plants with seeds and all the fruit trees with fruit with seeds … and it repeats. Of course what is wonderful is that hearing it, at least me, I had not noticed the repetition in a boring way, but in the way that a phrase of music is repeated or repeated and tweaked.

And somehow that makes it even more beautiful — because the earth, the dome, the sky, the seas, the vegetation — everything is created by God speaking. God verbs the world alive.

Perhaps God sings the world alive!

 

 

Genesis 1:1-31 and time

I am back home from the Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers and I am fired up about Genesis 1. A surprising amount of the Festival went over Genesis 1 this year. I learned some great stuff and heard and saw the very best storytellers do this passage. So I have a bit of a start.

Yet, of course, as always, my first reaction is “Oh I couldn’t possibly learn that.” And my second reaction is “But when would I need it? I don’t need to learn that one.” But after all these years, I need to tackle something from the Hebrew scriptures. And I need a challenge. And I need my brain to have something to chew on so that I will worry less about other stuff. But already my brain is going, “but this is a busy time, this isn’t the time….”

So I am boldly pushing pass all that. And I just have this feeling that I will need it.  Sometimes I ignore or squash the inner negative voice. Sometimes I treat it tenderly — “it is okay,” I say. “There will still be other stuff as well. And you have already forgotten, this is fun.”

One of the things that struck me, hearing it at the FG, was the rhythm of time in this section. Time is creating a structure right from the start, although God does not create time, in our sense of days and nights, until the 4th day — “And God said, Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years…” (verse 14). I even asked about this. The answer boils down to “it’s a mystery.” Or that the editor/author of Genesis wove a structure with built-in memory aids, for example, “And there was evening and there was morning….” Or that God’s time is different from our time. I really have found this interesting to think about.

Although, “In the beginning when God created ….” seems uncontroversial, it actually is and once again because of time. I like the way Everett Fox in his translation (“The Five Books of Moses”) puts it:

“At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth…” This puts “time” in the present tense. It puts creation into a continuing project. God did not just wind a clock and set it ticking. Nor does God need a starting point — God is creating — then, now, and to come in our words. Maybe this whole thing — creation — is timeless and continuous actually. Maybe there is for God that “flow”, that wonderful feeling when you are just in the moment and the process? Language can barely capture that!

Well, we’ll see where this goes!

(Welcome any new readers — likes and comments are very welcome!)

FTGOG!

 

 

Thoughts on “God” and the Bible’s tension

I do not think of the bible as a some sort of children’s book – or as some sort of instruction manual or rule book for life – I think by and large that is missing the point. The Bible seems to me to be a story of God’s relationship with humans and the world and vice versa, told in sagas, histories, poetry, songs, Gospels, letters, all sorts of styles of writing. So the character known as “God” can be very different in different places. Whereas the “real God” is whole and loving and … cannot be put in words, really, cannot be put in a box. We have clues and beauty and thoughts and history and the Bible. We see the sweep of it! I have felt the Love envelop me. But we cannot actually know God.

That is one of the mysteries.

I wanted it to be all much easier and clearer when I was a “baby” Christian. But most of all I wanted the character of “God” to be fair.

Here’s where I am with that – we have to hold on fast, with faith and trust, that God revealed in the Bible’s character of God, and God revealed in Jesus, are one and the same and the biggest huge thing about God is love defined richly and with textures: Mercy, charity, grace, trust, peace, well-being, joy… God delights in us. We are to delight in Him/Her. So when it doesn’t seem that way, there is a tension.

For example:

The story of Abraham and Issac cannot be – to me – a story about obedience. “Because Abraham obeyed God, even unto being willing to sacrifice his only son, God had mercy for him and provided a ram.” That’s the general theology that I have heard. That I have been mulling over for decades now.

You can run with that powerful story of Abraham and Issac in a million directions. But a God of love deeper than anything we can imagine would not demand that a man kill his son and certainly not just to prove some point of loyalty or obedience. The traditional interpretation satisfies many people, and if that is you – great! I am not here to take that away. But I will say that I think there are small children who find that God unfair and unjust and immoral and wrong.

So…

For me holding this tension is part of the fun of studying the Bible. The tension of having unshakable faith that God is love and caring and so on. The tension of a story about the character named “God” demanding obedience in such a cruel and horror-filled manner (in other stories too) that seems to fundamentally violate everything I trust and know. This tension isn’t necessarily mine to solve, like a puzzle. I am not sure we are supposed to solve it.

I think we are just to allow the tension to be. To say from the depths of our being, our inner most self, that story is not fair. That is not moral behavior by a person therefore it cannot be moral behavior by a God. We cannot wish away the story, but we can wrestle with the story. We can honor the limits of our knowledge. We can honor what we know is right and good and proper. We can trust that real God, as opposed to the character of God, is as much robust love as we are able to conceive of and then add some more. We can press on the story and go deeper and see what other possible things there are to learn. We can not turn away just because we don’t like it. But we don’t have make it pretty or claim that something that is wrong is right.

God is…A love so rich and full and complete that God sent God’s beloved Child down to us…..Sent in some fashion Godself down… to walk our walk and die our death.

FTGOG

Trinity and Holy Spirit and Pentecost

When I was a baby Christian and Pentecost came up for the first time I was completely baffled; the children’s sermon went into how it is the “birthday of the church”. The promised power that Jesus said was coming arrived and in this dramatic fashion the church was born. While that is a viewpoint, I think it misses the point of a lot of things.

It really might be only this year that I truly got that this is about the Holy Spirit descending upon those gathered together. And that the Holy Spirit is in the world, with us, a connection between human and God, living, breathing. Somehow!

Acts 2:1-13 is so mysterious and the Holy Spirit is so mysterious.

I don’t know where I have read this, but it isn’t me inventing this image for the mystery: it is a dance, a relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and that they open, with love, the dance up to us is breath-taking and amazing. Why would Godself open Godself’s perfect dance and perfect relationship up to us? Love us that much? That is breath-taking. That is humbling. That is grace.

I don’t think it would be proper or true to say that the dance started with Pentecost — God is God and we humans walked with Godself in the first Garden. But certainly it could be true to say that sin and brokenness have interrupted our part of the dance. Pentecost was the moment when once again humanity was able to dance with God.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is even now — right now — reaching out to each one of us hoping to dance, out of a depth and richness of love that we truly cannot imagine.

But of course this makes it sound completely lovely and even, perhaps, safe. I think the imagery of Acts 2 is pretty clear that the experience was far different for Peter and the gang!

But’s let stop here for now. Close our eyes and breath and know that really we are dancing with God, or could be.

Mark 3:20-35 and the confusing part

The confusing part, of course, are the tiny “parables” — riddles really — that are in Mark 3:20-35, at least for me: Verses 24 through 28.

I’m not sure about this but I think here Jesus is saying: I’m perfectly rational. I make sense and can think. I’m reasonable and responsible for my actions. I’m teaching people and loving them and healing them with my actions; my actions are not destructive.

I’m still standing, says Jesus.

A Kingdom cannot be divided and stand.

A house cannot be divided and stand.

Even Satan cannot divide himself and stand.

Perhaps this is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – believing that the work of the Spirit is that of the demonic – is not forgivable, because that is to not see or not understand good and evil. Maybe? Once we humans understand good and evil, we were out of the Garden and into the world – the Garden could not stand against that knowledge, in a sense. So having that knowledge, that ability to know good and evil, means using it. Not mistaking those categories.

The only reason I have dragged in some of Genesis is because this passage is linked with Genesis in the lectionary. This world is a fallen world for whatever reason; the one thing we have now is understanding what is good and what is bad.

I’m sure there are other possibilities for “the sin against the holy spirit” and why it can never have forgiveness. This is, frankly, a couple very uncomfortable lines. Can’t God forgive anything? This just seems so wrong and harsh. Let’s go back to sheep.

To be fair, both the scribes and Jesus’ family are trying to understand what is good and what is bad – they are worried and maybe afraid. They just happen to not understand the category that Jesus is in as of yet. Their rules are maybe too formal. Maybe their logic is shaped by fear.

Jesus is responding to conflict essentially by saying “hey I’m still standing. I’m okay. This isn’t a demon.” Not with some a fierce superhero-ish display of power and might. Just by using his words.

FTGOG