Creative Living in a Consumer World (Week 3)

Field Guide Home Study: Week 3
Creative Living in a Consumer World
Caretakers of Creation 

Thus far on our now three week journey of Creative Living in a Consumer World, we have walked through doing the work of believing that we are made of sacred worth and named beloved, and training our eyes to see those truths in others. We also have been working into our tasks as co-creators. Because we have been created and so loved by our Creator, from our gratitude, we are invited to become co-creators of love in this world. This means that we do not prioritize or give privilege to insatiable consumption or competition to perpetually out-do others, but rather, our eyes are on creating a beloved community that functions with interconnectedness. xhW71IaFSp2NVhXf3+wDEw

To this end, theologian Sallie McFague, suggests that kenosis should be a part of our everyday living. Kenosis, she defines, is a “self-limitation so that others may have place and space to grow and flourish… [kenosis] is the way that God acts toward the world and the way people should act toward one another.”

A friend of mine taught me a South African phrase, which is Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a Xhosa word which represents a deep belief and practice of interconnectedness; it essentially means: I am only because you are. Think about who you are and who helped form you in becoming you. Whose shoulders do you stand on? It is very good to think about these things because it reminds us that we do not exist in a vacuum. We are because of so many people. So many people are because of us. We are made to be deeply interconnected with each other and with the One who created us to be so. We are also made to need and be needed by nonhuman creation. The way that we live deeply affects other parts of creation because we are so connected.

Genesis 2:15 reads: “The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it.” This is a powerful command that we must take very seriously as co-creators. In his book, Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, Fred Bahnson wrote: “Give back to the soil more than you take. An addendum to this credo might be this: goodness in people, like goodness in soil, must be preserved and nurtured. Give people more than you take. Tend not just the soil, but the soil people. Avad and shamar them.”

Sidenote: Avad and shamar are Hebrew words; they are found in God’s first command to the Adamah or “grounding”– the groundling should “avad and shamar” (Gen. 2:15) the fertile soil. It often gets translated to “till and keep” but a better translation is to serve the soil and watch/keep/preserve it.

Bahnson continues: “Give people more than you take. Tend not just the soil, but the soil people. Avad and shamar them, working and watching, serving and preserving them as if you own life depended on it. Which, of course, it does. Our role in creation is to offer everything back to God.”

Our role in creation is to offer everything back to God. May it be so.

Scripture Readings: (CEB Bible)

Psalm 8

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!   You made your glory higher than heaven! From the mouths of nursing babies, you have laid a strong foundation because of your foes, in order to stop vengeful enemies. When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made– the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place—what are human being that you think about them; what are human being that you pay attention to them? You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur. You’ve let them rule over your handiwork putting everything under their feet—all sheep and all cattle, the wild animals too, the birds in the sky, the fish of the ocean, everything that travels the pathways of the sea. Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!

Genesis 1:1-5, 2:15

1 When God began to create the heavens and the earth— 2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— 3 God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. 4 God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God named the light Day and the darkness Night.

There was evening and there was morning: the first day.

2:15: The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it.

Matthew 6:26‭-‬30

26 Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Creator feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? 27 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29 But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith?

Questions to Consider:

  • How will we handle this holy assignment of God, our Creator, entrusting the planet to us?  What sort of stewards will we be? What do we owe the tigers and turtles that the Creator declares as part of a supremely good work of art and engineering? What legacy will our consumption leave for our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren?
  • What practices do you engage in which may be inconvenient but you do them for the betterment of others?
  • What does it mean to be responsible for creation? How easy could it be to pass it off, saying “someone more qualified will handle this”?
  • What does it look like in your life for you to create space for others to live?
  • How does living kenotically (self-emptying) change you? Does it detract from your life negatively or does it add beauty to your life?

Spiritual Practices:

+Center this thought in prayer, and post it on the fridge, phone or mirror:

Created and known,
invited to co-create with our Maker
Creation cries out for our attention,
we have work to do.

+At the dinner table with your family or with a friend, consider the food that you are eating. Do you know where it came from? Think about the farmers who farmed what you are eating for dinner. Consider their livelihoods and stories. You may not know them, but if they are growing the food you are eating, you are connected to them.

+If you can, make time to watch a sunrise or sunset this week. Soak it in. Consider how deeply you are connected to the earth and how much the creation is connected to you because we share the same Creator.

+Consider practices that you can add or eliminate from your life because of your responsibility to care for creation. Dedicate these practices as holy practices for they honor God in doing them and help you put feet to your faith. Consider how the community of Belmont UMC can encourage each other in these practices. Are you part of a small group at Belmont who could share these holy commitments together?

Prayer for the Week:*

Creator God, we thank you for the beauty of your Creation, and for giving us the privilege of caring for it. We confess that we have not cared for the earth with the self-sacrificing and nurturing love that you require of us. We mourn the broken relationships in creation. We repent for our part in causing the current environmental crisis that has led to climate change.

Faithful God, show us how to be faithful with the creation you gave us. Help us get creative in caring for it. Change us for the better, O God, as we seek to be faithful in this way.

Loving God, help us to turn our lives around to be people of restoration. Help us build just relationships among human beings and with the rest of creation. Help us to live sustainably, rejecting consumerism and the exploitation of creation.

God of justice, give us courage and persistence to work for justice for those most affected by environmental degradation and climate change.

God of mercy, hear the cry of the poor who are already suffering and will continue to suffer water and food shortages and who will be displaced by climate change.

Creator God, give us Your Spirit to work together to restore Your creation and to pass on a safe environment and climate to our children and grandchildren. Let our care for creation be our act of worship and obedience to You. Your kingdom come, and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

*Adapted from Pray Act 8 Days posted on the Micah Challenge website.

 

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Creative Living in a Consumer World (Week 2)

Creative Living in a Consumer World (Week 2)

New Creations

 If you missed week one, check it out here!

We have heard the Good news:

God loves us. We have deep, sacred worth. We have been named “beloved.”

Sometimes these truths are very hard to believe. In her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott writes: “You have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t. You take the action, and the insight follows: You don’t think your way into becoming yourself.”1 Sometimes in order to come to believing we are beloved, we just have to start living into it. The “living into” part takes some faithfulness because it isn’t easy, but eventually, it becomes more of a rhythm. Over and over and over and over, we live as new creations, beloved of God.

So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

If we are new creations in Christ, then we cannot hoard God’s love, grace or forgiveness; we are compelled to be conduits of divine love in the world. We have a call to create rather than consume, to slow and see beauty rather than speed by it, and to be persons who choose to forgive those who have harmed us because we know that holding onto the pain becomes toxic bitterness.

The creative process of becoming a new creation never ends. The old stuff is always passing away because we have so many complex layers as humans; we are always being transformed, sanctified. Thanks be to God for this wonderful gift and may it be so as we live as new creations of Christ!

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Scripture Readings: (CEB Bible)

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! 18 All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. Christ has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.

20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through Christ we could become the righteousness of God. So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know Christ now.

Genesis 1:1-5 & 31

When God began to create the heavens and the earth— 2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— 3 God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. 4 God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God named the light Day and the darkness Night.

There was evening and there was morning: the first day.

31 God saw everything God had made: it was supremely good. There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.

Questions to Consider:

  • What does it mean to live as a new creation? Where do you need reconciliation in your own life? Who do you need to seek reconciliation with? What shame is keeping you from doing this? Who might help with this and what simple steps might it take?
  • What burden do you hold that is no longer yours to hold? What are you counting against people. Is that fair? Do you know enough to make that call?
  • In the most literal and practical way, what does your life look like this week as a new creation?
  • On a larger level, what is your life mission as a new creation in Christ?  What do you long to create with your life? What is it that makes you come alive?
  • If we are new creations because of God’s forgiveness and grace, then how are you extending forgiveness and grace into the world that others may come to know it?

Spiritual Practices:

+Center this thought in prayer, and post it on the fridge, phone or mirror:

The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

Reconciled and given the ministry of reconciliation,

We go as ambassadors of reconciliation who represent Christ to ourselves, each other, and our world.

+At the dinner table with your family or with a friend, share a story about a way in which you have grown emotionally or spiritually. For example, how has your life story changed in the last 10 years? What, in you, is new?

+As autumn slowly comes, take a walk outside and notice the old leaves passing away. Consider the seasonality of life and wonder how living seasonally can help you let go of the things which are no longer yours to hold.

+Consider what heavy burdens you have. Write it/them on a sheet of paper. Center yourself in prayer as you work to give those to God. You may consider having a fire and burning these pieces of paper as a symbolic way of releasing these burdens (Safety first!).

+As new creations, we are still responsible for the harm that we have done and part of being a new creation is seeking reconciliation. What reconciliation do you need to seek this week? Maybe it is reconciliation with God, or with yourself, or with another human being?

Prayer for the Week:

Reconciling Christ, bless my efforts to bring about reconciliation.

Give me the strength to persevere without counting the hurts,

and to find within myself the capacity to keep on loving.

Give me the grace to be able to stand in the middle of situations,

and to be a conduit for the deep listening

which can lead to healing and forgiveness.

Help me to conduct myself with dignity,

giving and expecting respect, moving from prayer to action,

and from action back again into prayer.

Grant that I may be so grounded in Your love,

that my security is not threatened if You show me a

better way to live as a new creation.

Reconciling Christ, bless me and bless all who engage

in the sacred work of envisioning new wholeness,

and bringing people and nations together.  Amen.2

Footnote citations:

1. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor Publishing, 1995), pg. 9.

2. Adapted from a prayer written by Ann Siddall, in Lent to Easter liturgies: Year C. Posted on the website of the Stillpoint Spirituality Centre.  http://stillpoint.unitingchurchsa.org.au/

 

Autumn Dusk

A southern autumn finally makes its way into the hickory, maple, and oak forests,

we’ve been waiting. Longing for it.

Yet, it has been lingering — barely ready to descend – – – until now.

It brings a soft glow that feels like a warm blanket when you’re cold,

you know how it feels, and you need it.

 

It calls to us softly – – – slow down, slow down – – – winter is coming.

It holds us after a deep and wide year,

A year that has torn our hearts open,

until we come face to face with love,

Are we going to love or are we just going to say we’re going to love?

There’s no time for false faces in autumn. (Except for maybe Halloween)

 

Is love alive or isn’t it?

Love is too big, too pervasive, too good to fake.

you know how it feels and you need it.

Is love alive or isn’t it?

 

 

Blue Hill Prayer

Here in the blue hills of Asheville,

I was anointed this morning by the needles of the White Pine,

falling upon the crest of my head.

The smell of Rosemary Geranium filled me.

The wind flowing through the trees, kissing them,

created a symphony of sound,

drawing me into its mountainous song.

My heart swelled with love for these connections with creation.

They are family to me.

Thanks be to You, God, the Creator of all.

 

The Art of Mindfulness

Have you ever had the experience wherein you were driving home from a busy day of work/ school/ or other draining activity and you realize that you arrived at home, but don’t remember getting there? It’s as if the body went into auto pilot mode. This most frequently happens for me when I’m conducting my morning routine. Did I actually brush my teeth? I can’t remember. What did I wear yesterday? No idea.

I realize that this is likely a coping mechanism to allow the mind to rest, but I also have experienced this “auto pilot” to be detrimental to my everyday life. A problem arises when I start going on autopilot and actually miss living.

Last summer was an eye-opening experience for me of realizing that I was dealing with an incredible amount of stress and was anxious and generally unhealthy as a result. After some time reflecting on that experience, I realize that there were several things in my life which did not resonate with who I am, what makes me come alive, and how I live my ethics/ core values. During the summer, I knew I needed to take some serious reflection time. I need to examine all the “yes'” that I had committed to without much thought. I had just finished a biology degree and was headed into seminary, so I figured it was as good a time as any to examine myself.

So I enrolled in a mindfulness group. At first, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and wondered what I had just gotten myself into. It turned out to be an incredibly enlightening experience. I realized that a great deal of my time was spent worrying about unrealistic worries; I learned to name these thoughts as “frequent flyer” thoughts. Part of the harm of these frequent flyer thoughts is that they took away from me actually living in the moment and enjoying it for everything that it was. By “living in the moment,” I mean actually tasting the food that I ate, feeling the joy of a hug, committing myself to a conversation without a totally unrelated running narrative going through my head, listening to the crickets singing, stopping to bathe in a sunset, giving attention to so many beautiful and good things that I have in my life.

When I first started trying to be mindful last summer, I literally challenged myself to pay attention to how it feels for a toothbrush to go over my teeth, how a hot shower feels, what summer squash & onions smell like cooking, to say a prayer and really mean it, and how a field of lightning bugs takes me back to childhood. Just like training muscles to lift weights, it took practice and continual attention. But it paid off for me.

For starters, I realized that I did not enjoy Captain Crunch at all.

And I really, really don’t fancy sugar in my coffee. No, thanks.

This is important.

Secondly, I began realizing that my energy shifted from being anxious to grateful. And I was able to gain much more perspective on things. I analyzed where I spent my time and was my time given to life-giving or energy-draining opportunities.

I think it also helped that I surrounded myself with folks who supported me in this mission and who also did this work themselves.

I still experience the “frequent flyer” thoughts and autopilot moments, but when I do, I am able to name them as such and give them way less time and weight. I feel more and I don’t let autopilot guide my relationships. This may seem small, but for me, it has been life-changing.

************

Have you experienced “auto pilot” mode? If so, what have you found helpful?

 

 

Fully Alive

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive”
― Saint Irenaeus

In a culture where we are all trying to figure this life out… trying to figure out how to live presently, to feel everything we need to feel in this moment, what does St. Irenaeus mean in saying “be fully alive?” Is it reaching a goal? Is it being completely present, in mind, body, and spirit, with the moment you are in? Does it mean that you are doing and living things that fully resonate with you? Does it mean that you are finding beauty even when your circumstances say there is none to be found? Does it mean you are living a life of consciousness and subsequently, activism? Or does it mean a little something different to everyone?

I wonder if God is most glorified when God’s creation is living passionately, with purpose and meaning. Navigating this world of pain, loss, scarcity, and betrayal, it seems like living fully alive is a miracle. Surviving is a miracle. Love is a miracle.

It takes courage to live fully alive. It takes vulnerability to show up. It takes gumption to go into a profession because you love it, not because it brings in sizable paychecks. To live simply when those surrounding you aren’t. To get off of your phone and give someone your full attention. To go down a path that no one else understands, but you know it is the path which resonates with you. It’s the way your intuition is guiding.

How do you care about your brother and sister when it’s all you can do to look out for yourself and your family? When it’s all you can do to survive?

Maybe fully alive means this. That when certainty is evasive and you aren’t promised that you’ll be taken care of… you aren’t promised your health… you aren’t promised your finances… you show up anyway. You show up and you bring a glass of water to your neighbor. You keep painting, keep writing, keep studying, keep singing. You go into ministry even when the church is declining. You say “I love you” first even when you don’t know if the one you are in love with will say it in return. You advocate for equality even though you know people see your actions as heretical. You call your kid who has broken your heart, just to tell her how much you love her. You choose to believe you can do the thing others have said you can’t.

In the ambiguous fear, in the uncertainty, and most of all, in the skepticism,

You show up.

And you breathe the breath of being fully alive. Glory be to God.

Tell me a story of how you showed up.

Our Emptying Yesteryear Church

Welcome back to the Our Emptying Church blog series!
I’d first like to thank the great and very tech-savvy Abbie Culbertson for the new look on the blog!

For the past five months, we have been exploring why Millennials (ages 18-30) have left or will leave the church. We’ve had several blog posts, some significant interviews with Millennials, and enlightening guest posters.

We are specifically addressing the six most common reasons why the number of religious unaffiliated Millennials is on the rise (in order, they are: antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, too involved in politics, old-fashioned, out of touch with reality). So far we have covered: too involved in politics and antihomosexual, and now let’s jump into old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

Now before we begin, I would like to freely admit that I may not be the best source on all things pop culture, the latest trends from Vogue, or even who the Beibs is shacked up with. Born in the wrong decade, folk music is the beat that I dance to and I don’t really have a clue as to what iPhones are capable of. BUT, for whatever it’s worth, I am a hippyish Millennial who still dearly loves our emptying, old fashioned, out of touch with reality church.

In his book, UnChristian, Christian researcher, David Kinnamen, writes:

“[Non-Christians] think Christianity is out of tune with the real-world choices, challenges, and lifestyles they face. Only one-fifth of young [non-Christians] believe that an active faith helps people live a better, more fulfilling life. … Christianity is perceived as separated from real spiritual vitality and mystery. It seems like a religion of rules and standards.”

It is sadly ironic that some Millennials see Christianity as lacking spirituality, but I understand this as religion and spirituality are two very different entities. Millennials value their spiritual identities and are willing to find these outside of their upbringing. In an ever expanding technological realm, they have more access than any other generation to various philosophies about life and existence. They are willing to break away from the protective religious institutions that they may have been raised in to explore new alternatives that tend to include people rather than exclude them based upon an identifying feature. Millennials also tend to embrace mystery and shy away from dogma that claims to have all the answers about the complexities of life. Simplistic solutions and answers to life’s complexities are viewed as old fashioned and out of date. Educating the mind with dogma instead of engaging the lives of Millennials will not sustain this generation’s commitment.

According to Kinnamen’s research, 78% of non-Christian affiliated Millennials polled (n=440) perceived Christianity to be old fashioned. Remember these young adults polled probably do not go to a Christian church and so they are basing their perceptions on experiences with Christians, the media, etc. Perhaps they have read some of the Old Testament which was written during a primarily agrarian society as compared to a very technologically heavy modern day society and have trouble reconciling the commands from an older time. Additionally, some sects of Christianity still deny certain church and familial positions to women, which is a taboo protocol in today’s culture.

In addition to seeing the church as yesteryear and old-fashioned, the data suggested that Millennials also don’t believe the church has a deep sense of reality and ability to meet the needs of a young generation (72%, n=440). Such examples would include the heightened emphasis on virginity until wedlock and the assertions that one is less than whole if one falls off the bandwagon. Teaching such a stringent moral code leaves one choice for followers and that is celibacy; however, many do not live in such a black and white environment. The church has left teenagers utterly unprepared to live in a culture where promiscuity is becoming a norm (as the 1950s ended, 30% of young adults approved sex before marriage, whereas now 75% do).

Substance abuse, eating disorders, addictions to pornography, unwanted pregnancy, spousal abuse, struggles with self-worth, these things greet us in the morning and a religious do/don’t list doesn’t help cope.

The church has been responding to the fact that she is losing Millennials. Different sects have responded differently. Pastors like Joel Olsteen have downplayed theology into what has become known as the “prosperity gospel.” Give money, pray, have faith and you’ll be blessed with wealth and prosperity. A far cry from the teachings of Jesus. But I assert the same may be true for some conservative evangelical theology as well. Some mega-churches have poured thousands of tithing funds into creating spectacular light and sound shows which even have smoke machines. Southern Baptists recently voted to change their name to: “Great Commission Baptists,” as a way of separating themselves from the association that they once had with supporting the institution of slavery in the south. I wonder how much a name change will do. Is it enough to attract Millennials who didn’t have a problem with the name, but with the theology or exclusivity?

Smoke machines and a name change mean little to me.

Fancying up a service with frills to prevent boredom does not engage me, instead, I want to know if you accept me, do I belong in this place, what are you doing to fight trafficking, how do you love people, do you know the most recent data on suicides and depression, do you completely ostracize me as a scientist, can you find holiness in coffeehouses and bars, do you welcome my doubts, do you encourage my critical thought, will you let me partake of communion if I am not a member of your church?

You may be thinking, with all this criticism, does the church do anything right? And how can the church love Millennials in an authentic way?

I wonder if we all need a little denominational humility. Especially the absolutists among us. That we would admit and embrace that we can learn from folks that believe a little bit differently than we believe. What if we were partners and not competitors?

Perhaps a move away from the country club mega church is in order too. How much does it cost to maintain the church light bill? How about the water bill? Do the bar-b-ques and potlucks outnumber the soup kitchen meals? Do members know more than 20% of other members in the church? I don’t mean just names, I mean their stories. We know Millennials need authentic community. How can the body have an authentic community of 3,000+ people who have trouble remembering the names of the couple that sits two pews behind them?

I may have offended you with the post. I willingly take that risk. It will take honest dialogue to try to understand this generation of Millennials. Be encouraged by dialogue, for it means we care. It will take the willingness to admit we don’t know everything and that we may be wrong about some of our interpretations of scripture. But in our inability, we keep loving.

Because in all of our uncertainty, this we know, the greatest command of us is loving God our neighbor.

 

Do you perceive the church as old fashioned or out of touch with reality? Do you know Christians who have perpetuated or eliminated this perception?

This post is the twelfth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church, Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5, Good Church Folk: OEC Interview #6, OEC Guest Post: Mark and Tammy Edwards, Spirituality v. Religion: OEC Interview #7, When John Speaks: OEC Guestpost #2