Tag Archives: Doing Theology

The Sanchi, ice sheets, the Bible: Reasons to notice the crisis in Creation

Sanchi leaking all over Creation

This picture is the Iranian oil tanker Sanchi engulfed in fire in the East China Sea. On January 6 it collided with a Hong Kong-based tanker carrying grain and eventually sank eight days later. It was carrying 122,000 tons of condensate, a highly toxic and flammable mix of gas and oil products that is nearly impossible to clean up after a spill. The collision caused an explosion that sent thousands of tons of oil spilling into the ocean — at one point the spill was larger than the footprint of the Paris metro. The explosion killed all 32 crew members. It is still unclear what the impact on marine life will be. Globules of oil are washing up on the shores of Japan already. The substance can last in water for months and cause cancer and other complications at low concentrations. This spill is the world’s largest since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. [See Reuters great graphics].

The day the Sanchi sank, the Trump administration was finding out that only one percent of the millions of acres newly opened up for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve were finding interested lessees. It was the first day Trump’s porn star affair became public. It was the day he attacked Democrats over DACA. And it was the day when it was revealed that Russian hackers were attacking the Senate. The U.S. newscasters were almost uniformly uninterested in the Sanchi, distracted by Trump’s skillful manipulation of the media for his ongoing reality TV show. This might be one of those huge disasters you never heard about because you live in the United States.

Creation is changing

Meanwhile, last month evidence came in about the thin Arctic icecap and never-before-recorded high temperatures there. The extended warmth staggered scientists. In February, Arctic sea ice covered 5.4 million square miles, about 62,000 square miles less than last year’s record low — the difference is an area about the size of the state of Georgia. Sea ice coverage in February also was 521,000 square miles below the 30-year normal — an area nearly twice the size of Texas. Sea ice is still growing, but whatever grows now is going to be thin and easily melted in the summer. The new heat released by the open, warming water impacts the jet stream which researchers think accounts for the weird winter storms in the U.S. and Europe.

Despite the alarming evidence, last year Trump backed out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, looking for a better deal. Mr Trump has called climate change a “hoax” in the past – one perpetrated by the Chinese. The President said in his June 2016 withdrawal announcement that the agreement put American workers,  particularly in the coal industry, at an “economic disadvantage.” The Paris Accord “as drawn and as we signed was very unfair to the US,” he said. But on January 10 he said the U.S. might get back in if he could correct the bad deal. He dithers while we needed to get serious twenty years ago.

It is all very bad news for the world, as I am sure you already think.

97% of publishing climate scientists agree that human activity, mainly greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change, only 28%-51% of evangelicals (depending on the survey) agree.  We might want to excuse their skepticism to some degree. It is true that some in the  environmentalist movement are so religious about “Mother Earth” that they scare away traditional people. And it is also true that some people promote climate change arguments because they want to make a buck on “green” technologies — they also promote skepticism. And then there is the Trump affect.

Artists call us to care for creation
The Caring Hand — Glarus, Switzerland

Christians don’t uniformly know whether they should care for the creation, for some reason. I think we, of all people, need to be at the front line. If you need help with your conviction, here are some Bible verses that reinforce the point.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

As the creation story goes, God gave humankind a command to tend, or keep the Garden. The Hebrew word for “tend” or “keep” means more than just keep it neat and tidy; it means “to guard” or “to watch and protect.” The other word in this verse that’s very important is “work” or as some translations more accurately say “to cultivate.” It is from a Hebrew word meaning “to serve.” So this verse could read: “The Lord God put them in the garden to serve it and to protect it.” Even if we did not have that verse, anyone feeling the earth with their toes instinctively knows its truth. Even if you don’t love the Creator, you know bad things will happen if you don’t take care of creation.

The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth. (Revelation 11:18)

God cares about the creation. Some say he is going to destroy it all and give a new heavens and new earth to his followers. Since it is all going to burn up, why worry what happens to it? Others (like me) say that God intends to restore the earth and reconcile all creation to its rightful place in relationship with its Creator. We are either part of the restoration or the destruction.

Anyone who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and anyone who takes care of a master will be honored. (Proverbs 27:18)

This is a double proverb. If you tend the tree you’ll receive fruit. Are you tending a tree or just pillaging fruit? What’s more, the one who tends a fig tree will probably tend after other things as well. A master is looking out for people who can tend their own business well. That kind of person could oversee a master’s business. We might not be able to tend the world but we can tend our own little corner of it and do what we can where we live. We have a master looking for partners in redemption and our reputations begin in our own backyards.

You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. (Numbers 35:33)

God clearly commanded Israel to not pollute the land. The command here is to never pollute it with the blood of vengeance — sanctuary cities are being established! But even if this is not a direct word about never polluting the earth with carbon emissions and plastics, the principle can’t be ignored. The land must be stewarded and protected from what pollutes it.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it. (Psalm 24:1)

In capitalist parlance, God holds the title on Earth and will hold us responsible for how we care for it. We are here by invitation. As we previously read in Revelation 11:18, those who abuse and destroy the earth will get justice. Knowing that the earth is not really ours, we should treat the earth with the respect of knowing it is God’s. The Lord is more than willing to share it with his beloved children.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:49)

Jesus sums it all up with love. We are not excused from caring about what happens to our neighbor because of principle, profit or preference. If you suspect Jesus is just talking about caring for members of the Body of Christ, remember they are severely endangered all across the world due to everything from sinking cities to disappearing polar bears. Not caring is not an option.

One final verse: Psalm 46:2-3, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Bad things are happening, but our salvation is not secured by undoing climate change. Undoing climate change springs from our love and our connection to our Creator in Jesus Christ, through whom everything was made. Redeemed people redeem the earth — or die trying, their destiny secure.

Are we visible enough?

Mike Brown vigil

We are embodying something beautiful. It is sensible – one can sense us.

But are we “visible” enough? Are we a “contrast society” like we aspire to be? Perhaps the most visible we were last year was during our Mike Brown vigil outside the future police headquarters.  It made some of us feel like, “Finally! We made ourselves known in some way.” Others are still talking about the relational damage they experienced when we appeared to be anti-police and declared some extreme versions of a political stance.  Some of us are eager to be visible. Others seem opposed to it or experience being visible as being exposed, even shameful.

Visible as radicals

These are thoughts we considered when we did some theology last week around the question, “What is radical?” We had John Wesley for our example of someone who fits the criteria for being such a person. Part of what made him so radical was his willingness to be visible, and often in striking contrast to both church and society. For instance, Curtis Book quoted him saying, “Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way to my heart.” That certainly contrasts with common sense in the U.S.!

Wesley’s sincere convictions made him notorious. But there is a much more common form of being visible that we want to avoid. A contrast society is not visible in the way the world vies to be more notorious than someone else.  Take Justin Bieber and Adele for example. They  have been competing for #1 on the charts with songs about being forgiven, of all things! We are all for forgiveness to get on someone’s screen, right? But we hardly want to make the forgiveness of Jesus visible like a pop artist gets famous, do we? There are certain kinds of visible we just don’t want to practice: publicity-seeking, or political theatrics, or “show,” in general

Matt 6:3-4: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

We think seeking notoriety or fame is a temptation, not an aspiration. A contrast society built by Jesus needs to rely on its radicality becoming visible, not rely on visibility to make it seem radical.

The little way

We agreed that the “little way” is better. It is the way of not trying to be visible. If you are trying to be visible, you probably have nothing from Jesus to show. The kind of contrast that makes us visible is: our palpable authenticity — you know it, you see it, there are no deceptive frills, it is frank. Our radicality says, “Do you want to? I do!” It is sincere. We need to let that smallness become visible, something like the widow’s worship became visible to one with eyes to see it.

Mark 12 :41-44:  “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’”

We build the visible people of God. That's our lead.When we tried to figure out what, if any, balance there was in all of this, we decided that being visible is a matter of what we lead with. We could lead with techniques that make us visible. Or we could rely on the revelation to push us to make it known. Our lead is very rooted, practical and, by nature, visible. We build the people of God – that’s the lead. Other things might follow or coincide, but being “the together,” the anti-polarization – that’s contrast. This thought matches 1 Peter 4 10-11 in that it shows how the outward (people who yearn to be visible) and the inward (people who fear the attention is contaminating) connect:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks [an outwardly visible act], they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves [a small way to be called], they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

Some people will be, by nature and gifting, more “visible” (like Gandalf) and others will be, by nature and gifting, “smaller” (like Frodo).  We are all both, in that we share in one body and seek one end.

Visible and small together

Leading by building the church is always going to be radical, and so prone to temptation and danger. When it comes to building the church with new disciples, the “visible” people may be prone to wanting instant results in response to a speech, or an ad, or an action. The “small” people are more likely to be content with the more common reality that conversion is, more times than not, about “Chinese water torture” evangelism – drip by drip. We do not change quickly. We may have to drag many people along the way until they can walk. When it comes to keeping the church built, the “visible” people may want to show the sword and induce a miracle to solve problems. Sometimes they should. The  “smaller” might try to diminish our polarized environment, in which every problem becomes a me-centered social justice issue. Sometimes conflict should be avoided, too.

We did not come to every conclusion needed. But we were glad for our ability to do some theology. We are embodying something beautiful. It is sensible – one can sense us. So we were glad that we could conclude where Wesley did, even when he was content to work among the smallest and yet became so notorious. He was fond of quoting Paul in the middle of temptation and danger: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).


What about justice? A few answers and one-liners.

When we met to do some theology at the end of last month, The U.S. Social Forum was still winding down. It calls itself a “convergence driven by the understanding that people’s movements are what create social change….The goal is to map out action plans for a cohesive movement and organize to be on the offense against all forms of oppression.” We felt some solidarity, since our “doing theology” time  had the feeling of convergence, too; and being on the offense against oppression sounds like Jesus.


What’s more, we have been reignited, since last August, about the racism in the country and the ongoing injustice it causes. The Black Lives Matter movement has energized a lot of us. Several of us have been involved with the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice (racial, economic and legal) who demand justice through “policy work, direct action and community education.” It feels like a new environment these days and we want to think about it with Jesus. What about justice? What does God think about it and are we practically following the Lord’s lead?


So we did some theology about it. You can see some of our study on the previous blog post. When we say we “do theology” we mean we are mentalizing with God and his people. It is all about listening, but it is not social construction of reality; it is listening for the reality behind what we think we know, hearing the voice of God. In that we honor the Bible as the trusted basis for hearing God’s voice and we respect people who have done the work to understand the Bible. But we are not just parsing words, making laws, or arguing over theories. We are trying to figure out what to do and who to be. Doing theology is thinking and feeling along with God and letting my thinking and feeling conform to my truest, God-given self.

Knowing what to do often feels like an emergency. Right when we were advertising our meeting, the aftermath of a divorce caused some deep feelings of injustice among us! How should Circle of Hope respond to injustice? That is, how should we apply scripture and corporate wisdom, not just cobble together stray political philosophies? We had a few answers to that question:

  • We need to make reconciliation happen. We can start by laying down any sense of moral superiority when we begin.
  • We want to keep in mind that Jesus faced and faces the ultimate injustice. People laced with empire thinking and demands might find the Lord hard to identify with, but they need to do it.
  • Worship is a tangible way to make justice. As different movements have shown, the songs of justice give a place for the Spirit of God to move. So worship while making justice.
  • We need to remember who is the author of justice. The government, or whoever seizes the reins of power, will try to be god giving us justice. But Jesus is author. He is executed again in the body of Christ and creating what is right with us.
  • We need to stay inclusive and insert ourselves even where were are not normally welcome. Bring people in to the presence of God and prophecy and take the presence with us when we prophesy. Jesus will rise after wrestling with the root of injustice. We reflect that miracle.
  • It would be great to get everyone together to do something so notable that it was a sign of resurrection to the powers that deal death. We’ll keep trying and not be fatalistic. At the same time, a lot of little stuff, like we normally do, is also effective. When we need to all show up we do. But incrementally is also a way to work justice.
  • [Check out “generating justice…” in our proverbs]

We sometimes try to come up with one-liners to help us remember what we discovered. Here are a few that arose during our time together:

  • We need the Holy Spirit to act justly.
  • Cling to what is good as your center, your anchor.
  • When we create space for healing we loosen the oppressor’s grip.
  • Use power to lift others up.
  • The way we do justice might be more effective than accomplishing a goal.
  • There are levels of justice, but restorative justice is the goal. We’ll need empathy to go there.
  • Justice and mercy kiss. Love and compassion are bedrock for justice.
  • Develop empathy, not aggression.

Our times together are not meant to come up with the last word. But no doubt there are some first and last words in what we hear. How about adding some discernment of your own?



Practical thinking about drugs

The wisdom or rightness of whatever we are doing depends primarily upon our motivation or purpose for doing it. “Why?” and “what for?” make a difference. Jesus followers know why they are alive and what to live for.

The Apostle Paul masterfully helps us with our decision making about activities that could “go either way” in several of his letters — “Is this action wise or right?” For instance, in his day there was a debate about what to do with food that comes from the temple “store” after having been sacrificed to idols. He writes:

The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. (Romans 14:3-9)

We may not have a similar circumstance in our own time (although some people think eating genetically modified foods might be something sacrificed to a corporation). But lately we have had the debate about ingesting drugs of various kinds; there is a parallel. This is the second half [previous post] of some thoughts we explored in our last “Doing Theology” time; Paul is a good guide to questions we have to keep asking.

This might be a question more suitable to what we are discerning:

Is it right or wrong to drink and glass of wine or smoke a joint?

The Bible seems to teach it depends — who is doing it, where and when? For myself, I rarely drink any alcohol in public and usually don’t serve it  because I am aware that some people should never drink any alcohol and I am in solidarity with them. In his argument about eating temple meat, Paul, likewise, says that even though he feels free to eat whatever he chooses, he abstains when he is around people who are against eating such things because he doesn’t need to do anything — especially if it causes someone to stumble over a debatable matter. He has enough confidence in his freedom not to need to exercise it just to prove he has it. His argument (above) easily applies to most ampliative drugs, since they are unnecessary.

More important to most of us is this question:

Are you using drugs to enjoy the gifts of God to the glory of God and to edify the body? Or are you trying to escape or numb pain? Is your drug use about God and others or just about you?

An ampliative or therapeutic drug is just a substance. It can (at least many drugs can) be used for good or it can be used sinfully or ignorantly. Instead of its potential good impact, it could have unintended or sin-ridden consequences. Like anything, it can take on meanings beyond what it is and have undue influence. Whether you use a drug or not, if Jesus is Lord and extending his kingdom motivates you, then you will be able to work things out – God has accepted you even if you have an alternative approach to someone else’s, or you interpret your needs differently, or even if you are just plain wrong at this moment.

You could use a drug and think “nothing can touch me. I am free and strong!” Or you could use a drug in fear, to escape what you should be facing. You could use a drug and feel holier than everyone else. Or you could not use a drug you need and be a big detriment to everyone who has to make up for how badly you behave. You could use a drug ignorantly or rebelliously and become addicted.

We’ll have to work it out.

How does one decide about using therapeutic drugs or attempting to use ampliative drugs therapeutically?

Here are some important questions to ask on the way to answering that question:

  1. Are you avoiding the hard questions that the drugs might help you avoid?
  2. Will the drug/medication aid your maturity or will it numb the process or even blind you to it?
  3. Are you praying things through or is the drug your refuge?
  4. Do you have friends and therapists to talk to or does the drug help you avoid scary relationships?
  5. Is taking the drug/medication an expression of faith and service or is it running and numbing? Conversely is refusing to take it relying on yourself instead of humbly admitting your need?
  6. Will not using the drug/medication build up or tear down the body?

Questions that help do theology from where you are starting:

How are you presently using drugs of all kinds?

Have you or your loved ones (friends or family) ever been prescribed or used drugs to their detriment? What happened?

What are the most important parts of this dialogue so far for your future health and the future health of Circle of Hope?

What is God telling you about using ampliative or therapeutic drugs?

Here are some “one-liners” we collected at the end of our Doing Theology time. These are not ‘last words,” just the wisdom some people were willing to offer:

  • Talking about drug use more lets everything that might be suppressed get out into the light. Not talking can leave us lost in feeling defective.
  • As a church, it is better to be known as a fertile ground for recovery than as a place where one is free to party.
  • Peer pressure is a big thing in a community. It runs things. We need to remember that what we do influences others.
  • Drinking wine could be joyful if Jesus is behind it. He obviously thought so.
  • We should handle substances relationally, not legally. Our sin addiction keeps us isolated and prone to cutting people off.
  • Avoidance is part of humanity. The Zoloft user could easily tell the alcoholic to get the speck of sawdust out of his eye while she has a plank of dependency in her own.
  • Jesus can transcend the space of our deepest suffering, dependent on a drug or not. We yearn for transformation.
  • Suspicion of one’s personal capacity is warranted. None of us is all that self aware. None of us is capable of competing with the billions  of dollars spent to get us to use unnecessary drugs.
  • The body  of Christ is useful in all healing processes. Just learning how to be the body is healing. The therapeutic dyad central to psychotherapy amplifies this truth.
  • Where does my necessary suffering end and unnecessary begin? I cause a lot of my own suffering. We all need the mirror.
  • Getting connected to something beautiful usually starts before sobriety.
  • How do we get to the place where we can ask the question: “Show me how I work so I can be healed?”
  • Rationalization and spiritualization are enemies of transformation.