Isaiah and Climate Change

Tomorrow we are looking at Isaiah 45:9-13,15-19 at our church service. We will be focusing on the call of the community to live with a purpose, but as usual, church is only so long and there is more in the passage that is worthy of our time.

In particular, I wanted to take a moment to look at the last two verses. In the NRSV, the Isaiah 45:18-19 calls out for attention given our world’s modern challenges.

For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it a chaos,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
“Seek me in chaos.”
I the Lord speak the truth,
I declare what is right.

Isaiah 45:18-19, NRSV

God does not create the world to be a jumble of chaos in the scriptures. God created a world that was meant and is meant to be inhabited. The world is very carefully crafted. Indeed, we live in a beautiful world filled with majestic creatures.

To be blunt, a lot of those beautiful creatures are going extinct and huge swaths of the earth are struggling to cope with human induced climate change. For the entirety of our existence, humans have had an impact on the world. We systematically hunted certain animals to extinction over the course of our existence. Now our behaviors are bringing extinction to creatures not through the use of a bullet or arrow but by changing the chemicals in streams, filling oceans with plastic, and removing habitats through intentional deforestation.

To me, this is an outrage and an offense to both the gift we have been granted and the world which we received. This world was meant to be inhabited just as the hotel has rooms that are meant to be rented. We are invited to this world like someone invited to stay at a friend’s house for a season. If we were to treat a hotel room like we have treated our world, we would be charged to repair the damage. If we were to destroy our friend’s house, we would likely lose that friendship. Why is the way we treat this world seen differently?

I would invite you to consider whether we are called to treat our world better. More information about climate challenges can be found here.

The Value of Scripture

So, yesterday I posted a reflection on a verse from Psalm 57. I posted the reflection as my day had been improved by the time I spent in that psalm. I had been nervous and found comfort in that verse.

I found that verse within my morning prayers. On most days of the week, I listen to both the Morning and Evening Prayers broadcast through the internet from The Trinity Mission. I pray along with that podcast on a regular basis because it is a way I can enter into my devotions without using a set of eyes that can often become dry, irritated, and frustrating. I enjoy the time I spend listening to the scriptures and often find those prayers to be a wonderful way to start my day and a wonderful source of comfort as I rock my infant daughter to sleep in the midst of a cloud of prayer.

I often wonder if I am not clear enough in my ministry on the incredible value of regular immersion within the scriptures. On Sunday morning we do not have time to dive deeply into the scriptures and I often wonder if people think I believe that spending time in a passage or two each week is enough. Sometimes I wonder if they think those two or three small passages are all I spend my time studying each week. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I spend a lot of time in the scriptures. I do not share every passage I study, every chapter I read, or every thoughtful verse that I ponder. Like an iceberg, only a certain bit of what I spend my time studying, pondering, praying, ruminating, and reading comes to the surface. I often wonder if the analogy of a milk-cow might be fitting. The scriptures inform my ministry like the grass of a field fuels the milk that comes from the udders. Both are chewed over, digested, chewed over, digested, chewed over, digested, chewed over, and digested before coming to fruition in something to offer others.

Some of you might ask “Why go through all of that effort?” Would it be easier to just read a commentary or quote a blog? It would be easier, but the effort itself blessed others in my ministry and those who come across a person who is made better by his exposure to the wisdom of the scriptures. The scriptures and my time in them are a blessing.

Scripture is one of the primary means of revelation for the Living Word which we worship. The “Word of God” is often interpreted to be the scriptures, but the Bible is a revelation of THE WORD OF GOD revealed in Jesus Christ. It is incredibly important to spend time in the scriptures as they are one way that we have of coming to know the God of love. The more we expose ourselves prayerfully to the scriptures the more we can come to know God is ways that can affect our lives in powerfully wonderful ways. `

To be clear: The scripture is not God, but the scripture reveals God in the same way that the reflection in a mirror is not the thing itself, but a revelation of what it reflects. The scripture is an incredible tool and a wonderful means to know more about God, but the scripture is not the end goal of worship.

I found blessing and solace in Psalm 57 yesterday because I spend time in the scriptures regularly. Just as the power of the community of God grows through regular participation in the worship, service, and the rest of the life of the church, regular exposure to the scripture helps us to grow in faith, to find solace in times of need, and encouragement in times of blessing.

I recommend regularly engaging in Bible study, both together with others in community and in the lives of individuals as a wonderful and powerful means of grace! Times of study can be wonderful means to grow both personally and communally.

Let us Ramble: Tall Curbs and God

The other day I sat in a Dunkin Donuts outside Syracuse looking out the window. I was in the city for Annual Conference and was beginning the day with a cup of coffee before heading to the OnCenter for the day’s events. I noticed a table outside the window. It was a beautiful table in a very pragmatic sense. It had three benches and a fourth side open for a wheelchair for folks with accessibility needs. I was really excited to see the table!

accessible-table.jpg

The table in question…

Unfortunately, the table was in the middle of a grassy section surrounded by a mulched landscaping filled with shrubs and over an 8” curb. The only section without mulch was in the middle of a very busy driveway with very fast traffic, For anyone with a wheelchair to get to the table it would require either a very capable individual or a significant amount of help. It made me shake my head. I am assuming that the person who purchased this table had wonderful intentions, but that those intentions were blocked by poor planning. I imagined it would drive me nuts if I wanted to sit there on a nice and sunny day but could not make my way to the table.

I was reminded of this moment in the past two weeks while reading through a book for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I was reading through “Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God” by Macrina Wiederkehr when the following quote came to my attention: (pg. 12)

“On some days we struggle to feel anything—certainly not some magnetic mystery tugging us toward intimacy. The most important question is, are we accessible? Can God get in? Or, is our need for certainty so overpowering that it become a prison walling out even the divine? Whatever our inclination, God is always calling us beyond what we can see with the naked eye.”

Reading these words on the nature of approaching the scriptures reminded me of that table outside Dunkin Donuts. I want God to be active in my life. I want to hear the Word ringing throughout my heart and my soul, but let’s be honest. The Word of God is not always a safe word. As Hebrews 4:12 says “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Sister Wiederkehr even points out: (11)

“The Hebrew people believed that one could not see the face of God and live…When I am confronted by God’s Word, I am sometimes able to recognize that some change is needed in my life. Ordinarily I name this piece of growth, transformation. Of Course, the other side of transformation is that until I am able to integrate the change into my life, with a certain acceptance it feels more like death.”

I want God to be in my life but the Word of God is a dangerous word that can transform my life in ways that I cannot always anticipate. As much as I love Micah 6:8, sometimes it softens the reality of the spiritual life. I can often convince myself that I can enact justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God in ways that are comfortable for my soul. The Word of God sometimes calls me to a humility that can be difficult to bear. Enacting justice sometimes means letting go of my own privilege and that is neither easy nor comfortable.

So, am I accessible to God’s movement in my life? Have I grown beautiful shrubs that are less ornamental hedgerows around my heart and effectively more like a maze or labyrinth? Have I created places where God’s word can easily reach my core or do I have the tallest of curbs creating a subtle barrier? Am I willing to allow God into my heart and soul if God might bring discomfort, challenge, or even death to some bogarted piece of my soul or being that I would keep from God?

These are difficult questions for me to answer, but I believe that they are questions all Christians must be willing to consider. Do we love God enough to ask these kinds of tough questions? Here are a few questions I could have asked myself in years past (which I personally struggled with for many years and still have my moments of struggle—I imagine you have your own difficult questions):

  • God created both my wife and me. We were blessed into a partnership in this life together. We are compatriots and companions on this journey through life. Culturally, the world does not always agree with that viewpoint. Does my place in the family as the father mean that I have some kind of special privilege when it comes to who changes the baby when the diaper is dirty in a restaurant? Am I willing to support restaurants with changing tables in one bathroom and not another?
  • Does my view of human sexuality keep me from sharing God’s love with someone because they disagree with me? Does my comfortable place of inclusion within my culture keep me from asking tough questions about how my view affects others?
  • I tend to see God’s love in my life as a source of blessing which sometimes spills into the physical world. Is it right to get angry at a member of the Seneca Nation because they would like restitution for events of the past? Is it right to get upset because my father [owned] a piece of property within disputed territory? As a person who is a member of the most affluent ethnicity within one of the most affluent nations in the world, can I ethically believe that I know what a member of the Seneca nation believes or feels?
  • God created the earth in wonderful ways! It is full of good creatures and good people. So, where’d that meat come from in that cheeseburger I just ate? Did the hen who laid the eggs I ate for breakfast ever experience an open field? Who grew and picked the coffee beans that I used to brew my coffee? Did they have the capacity to eat as well as I did this morning?
  • God created the world and the people who live upon it. God has created and blessed the people who comprise many nations. Can I truly believe an America first view of the world when we’re just living here? If we’re theologically tenants and temporally just passing through, is that kind of viewpoint just, fair, or righteous?

The Word of God is sharp! It can lead to very difficult places when we allow it into our hearts. So, is my heart accessible or not? Do I want that kind of accessibility when it could change who I am in a heartbeat? If I say that i do, what am I willing to put before God to make that a reality? Will I look on God if it might mean personal sacrifice?