Liberal Christians Want You to Pray to Plants?

In Christian news lately, Union Theological Seminary (UTS), a seminary in New York, recently posted a picture of a group of people seated near plants. The caption that went along with the picture read:

Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor. What do you confess to the plants in your life?

Christian social media went nuts, with many people calling Union’s practice strange, odd, or even pagan. I also found the photo and the caption to be quite amusing, and my brain easily was coming up with quips that mocked the worship experience. With such a huge backlash from Christian social media, UTS put out a follow-up statement, a very lengthy defense of their practice. Without making jokes about the plant liturgy, allow me to take their defense bit by bit and address why I have a genuine problem with offering our grief, joy, hope, guilt, and sorrow in prayer “to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.”

The defense from UTS is in red, my response is in black.

We’ve had many questions about yesterday’s chapel, conducted as part of @ccarvalhaes‘ class, “Extractivism: A Ritual/Liturgical Response.” In worship, our community confessed the harm we’ve done to plants, speaking directly in repentance. This is a beautiful ritual.

At the outset, I have no issue with Union’s defense. Taking a look at the world around us, I see easily that humanity has done harm to the environment and ecosystem which God has tasked us to oversee. Bible-believing Christians must admit that creation is a gift from God, and God’s gift he declared good.

“And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1:11-13)

When God makes humanity, he gives us a task:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth…. And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:26, 29)

There you have it, our God-given appointment to care for the earth BUT ALSO to utilize the plants and fruit for our food. When we confess that we haven’t done a great job caring for God’s creation, though, our confession shouldn’t be to the food but to the ONE who created the earth and set us to task. Union has a point in the confession and repentance, but they fail in their understanding of to whom they repent and confess.

Their defense continues:

We are in the throes of a climate emergency, a crisis created by humanity’s arrogance, our disregard for Creation. Far too often, we see the natural world only as resources to be extracted for our use, not divinely created in their own right—worthy of honor, thanks and care.

Union is close, but they aren’t there. The climate emergency created by human disregard for creation is a serious issue, and I agree that Christians OUGHT to lead the charge in caring for the planet – it is our God-given role! I disagree, however, with the idea that plants are worthy of thanks. They are merely plants, and plants have no being or essence that makes them special. Yes, yes, I know this defies the teaching of Master Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi, who tell Luke that the Force flows through all things. From a Christian perspective, however, plants are designed by God as food. If anyone is worthy of thanks, thank the God who created the earth and gave us the food, but don’t thank the bushes!

But their defense goes on:

We need to unlearn habits of sin and death. And part of that work must be building new bridges to the natural world. And that means creating new spiritual and intellectual frameworks by which we understand and relate to the plants and animals with whom we share the planet. Churches have a huge role to play in this endeavor. Theologies that encourage humans to dominate and master the Earth have played a deplorable role in degrading God’s creation. We must birth new theology, new liturgy to heal and sow, replacing ones that reap and destroy. When Robin Wall Kimmerer spoke at Union last year, she concluded her lecture by tasking us—and all faith communities—to develop new liturgies by which to mourn, grieve, heal and change in response to our climate emergency. We couldn’t be prouder to participate in this work.

To these points, Union and I are in total agreement. Churches SHOULD play a huge role in taking care of the creation God left in our care, a role that means we strive to cease destroying species of animal and plant life, actively seeking to protect and nurture God’s creative activity.

Please go on, Union:

And here’s the thing: At first, this work will seem weird. It won’t feel normal. It won’t look like how we’re used to worship looking and sounding. And that’s exactly the point. We don’t just need new wine, we need new wineskins. But it’s also important to note that this isn’t, really, that radical a break from tradition. Many faiths and denoms have liturgy through which we express and atone for the harm we’ve caused. No one would have blinked if our chapel featured students apologizing to each other. What’s different (and the source of so much derision) is that we’re treating plants as fully created beings, divine Creation in its own right—not just something to be consumed. Because plants aren’t capable of verbal response, does that mean we shouldn’t engage with them?

Aaaand they are off the rails again. Treating plants as fully created beings? No. Nope. No way. They’re plants. Out of all of God’s creative work, only humanity bears the divine image.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it….’” (Genesis 1:27-28)

While plants are a part of God’s created order, plants do NOT bear the Imago Dei (Image of God). Humanity stands alone in this regard. We apologize when we sin against other humans because we’re apologizing to beings that are also divine image bearers. I consider myself a dog lover. I have been my entire life. As much joy as pups bring me, they are still not on the same level as other humans. Respect the creation, sure, but recognize that the Creator has made plants and animals different than the Creator made people. Scripture says that humanity is created to have dominion over every animal and to have the plants for food. They are not equal beings.

Union finishes up:

So, if you’re poking fun, we’d ask only that you also spend a couple moments asking: Do I treat plants and animals as divinely created beings? What harm do I cause without thinking? How can I enter into new relationship with the natural world? Change isn’t easy: It’s no simple business to break free from comfortable habits and thoughts. But if we do not change, we will perish. And so will plants and animals God created and called “good.” We must lean into this discomfort; God waits for us there.

On a final note, I do believe that Union’s questions are worth asking. Do we treat plants and animals as divinely created beings? No, nor should we. They were created for humanity, not as equal to humanity. It IS valid to ask how we cause harm to the created order, how our carelessness can consumerism actually works to destroy what God placed under our care. Because all of creation IS good, and because God specifically tasked us with overseeing his creation, we have a responsibility to treat well the earth and everything upon it.

And lastly, if you like to talk to tomatoes…

have I got a show for you.

Theology Gone Ape

gorilla-752875_1920I know everyone has heard the recent story about the child falling into the gorilla enclosure at the zoo. After the authorities arrived, the gorilla was shoot shot in order to rescue the child.

Of course there was an instant fight between those who supported killing the gorilla and those who would have preferred another method of getting the young boy out. “Gorilla experts” took to the airwaves to defend each position. I’m not sure how Christians ended up getting involved in the animal welfare aspects of the case, but it was hard to be on social media and not see Christian people debating the ethics of killing the gorilla.

While we ought to strive to be good caretakers of God’s creation (yes, that includes animals) it’s important that good theology lead the discussion. Quite simply, humanity occupies a special place in the world. No animal life compares to human life. From the beginning of world, we have been set apart.

Then God said, “Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life – the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals.”

So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them. God blessed them and told them, “Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the fish and the birds and all the animals.” (Genesis 2)

Indeed, it is only humanity that received the breath of God, that Spirit within us that makes us distinct from even our closest animal relatives. When it comes evaluating the worth of a life of a human over an animal, there really should be no place for debate. The human life is superior to the animal life.

No, this doesn’t give us room to be cruel to animals. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I am saying is that saving a human life is more important than saving an animal life. Of course another option that had been able to spare gorilla and child would have been great, but I have no qualms about and feel theologically justified in putting down an animal so that we might save human life.

And for those of you who saw fit to criticize the parents for “letting” their child climb into the gorilla enclosure, I leave you with this that I saw on my buddy Aaron’s Facebook page:

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How about you? Do you think they should have put the gorilla down or do you favor an alternative method for rescuing the boy?

Are You Saved Enough?!?

In the beginning

Salvation is a funny word that Christians like to throw around. Sometimes it feels like we use it so much that we’ve lost the sense of what it really means. Put simply, salvation is the idea that this world is not the end but that there is an eternal afterlife. Those who are “saved” spend eternity in the presence of God. Those who are “unsaved” spend eternity outside the presence of God.

In honor of last night’s debate on the question of the origin of the world (creation vs. evolution) here’s a little reminder:

The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The Apostle Paul also writes in Romans 10:13

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Did you catch what the Bible lists as the requirements for salvation? It’s faith. Those who call on Jesus as savior are those who are saved.

Did you catch what the Bible DOESN’T list as a requirement for salvation? Your view of how the universe began. Or your view of how the universe will end. Or your view on what church should look like, sound like, feel like, etc.

That means that even evolutionists can go to heaven. GASP! I know this is really gonna tweak some people, but the Bible is clear that salvation is offered to those who believe. There is no benchmark of belief that says, “You start at saved level ALPHA but don’t have access to heaven until you reach saved level FOXTROT.”

If we understand what the Bible is saying then we see that there will be people in heaven who disagree with some of our most dearly held ideologies.

In the big picture, we need to be okay with that. It’s all about Jesus. I happen to believe that the cosmos has a divine foundation – that YAHWEH was the creative force driving the car. If someone else who calls on the name of Jesus says he believes that God started the evolutionary ball rolling, my disagreement with that issue should not prevent me from worshipping alongside him as a fellow disciple of Jesus.

Difficult as it may be, we are called to do better. It’s time to lay down our pet issues for the sake of the kingdom. The only real issue is Jesus Christ. If you’re with him, then you’re with me.

And one day we’ll be worshipping him together for eternity.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Jesus Loves Dinosaurs

Awww!!!
Awww!!!

I’m part of a Christian bloggers group. Every week we have a “challenge” where we all take the same theme and write our own blogs based on the shared theme. Then we link each other’s posts to our own.

Our theme this week: Genesis & Creation.

So I decided to write about dinosaurs! I’ve never written on dinos before, and I thought it would make for an interesting experience. Oddly enough, one of the most frequently asked questions about the Bible is about how dinosaurs fit into the picture. This brings up a whole bevy (I’ve never actually used that word before today!) of arguments from Christians, scholars, scientists, and everyone in-between. Here’s my take on it.

I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I believe that it is how God has revealed himself and his will to humanity. I believe the Bible is supposed to draw us into a richer spiritual experience and understanding of God. Buckle your seatbelts…here’s where many Evangelicals and I part company: I do not think that the Bible was written as a scientific textbook.

God never intended for the Bible to be the end-all resource for understanding geology, astronomy, archaeology, botany…the list goes on and on. The Bible isn’t about science – it’s about faith. The Creation narratives in Genesis are not about telling us the scientific method and model of God’s activity – it’s telling us THAT GOD HAD ACTIVITY! He created. Life in the universe has a point, a purpose, a reason for being. God did it. He created us to be people in relationship with him. He created us to be people of worship. That is the overwhelming story of creation. When we look at the Bible as a textbook we lose sight of the big picture of God’s activity and design for humanity.

We get bogged down in the nitty-gritty details of the text and try to “figure out” how the text jives with empirical data. The truth is, it doesn’t matter how the empirical data lines up. Even if archaeology did not support the biblical narrative (yes, archaeology DOES support much of the biblical narrative) the science is not the point. You cannot move someone to faith through science. Science touches the head. Faith moves the heart.

The Bible is a book of faith, designed to move our hearts closer to God’s heart.

If we actually stopped to think about it, science and faith are not enemies. They are different ends of the spectrum. Science measures what is there. Faith is about what science cannot touch. It does not damage my faith to hear people talk about the earth being millions of years old. I don’t have to take the six days of creation as scientific fact in order for me to know in my heart that there is a Creator behind the Cosmos.

As Genesis 1:1 says ~

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Don’t get so consumed with scientifically proving God that you miss the bigger picture. In the end it’s not our factual recognition of God he wants. The New Testament writer James says even the demons recognize that there is one God. No, he doesn’t want your assent – he wants your heart.

So, coming full circle, did God create dinosaurs? Probably. I don’t think the bones and fossils manifested spontaneously. 😉 Does it damage faith to believe in dinosaurs? Not one bit. In fact, when we learn to let go of looking at the Bible as a science textbook we are freed to expand our faith and see the mystery of God at work everywhere. Besides, how can you look at Jesus holding velociraptor and NOT be moved? 🙂

Related Posts:

~ Absolute Authority
~ Part of His Glorious Plan
~ The Genesis Code
~ The Image of God