Bad theology

Top 20 Reads of 2019 (So Far)

2019 has been a good reading year for me so far. I’ve finished 85 books so far this year and am hoping to finish 2 more by the end of August. I assume this will slow down significantly once I have a newborn, but for now I am making the time count.

I thought I’d share my top 20 picks out of what I’ve read so far. These are in no particular order. I’m experimenting with minimalist reviews/descriptions that hopefully give you a little taste of what each book is about.  Feel free to ask for more details if you want to know more about a particular pick! You can always follow me on Goodreads for more updates on what I’m reading.

Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Swamp girl makes her own way in a world where she will never fully belong. Set in South Carolina marshland. Very atmospheric.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. A young girl is pulled from the frozen river, dead, then alive. Multiple people try to claim her. Dreamy, lush, fairy-tale-esque. Set in a fictional world strongly resembling 18thcentury England.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. The women of the Butler family band together to deal with a crisis when oldest sister and leader of the family, Althea, is sent to prison. Althea’s two sisters confront their own demons as they come together to care for Althea’s twin daughters.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Xiomara discovers slam poetry is a way to be seen and heard in a world not made for her. She grapples with her mother’s faith vs. what she believes. (Novel-in-verse. Great on audio).

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin. Pride and Prejudiceset in contemporary Canada with Muslim characters. More loosely adheres to the original storyline than other retellings, but with all of the elements that make the original great.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Orphaned twin brothers, products of an illicit union between an Indian nun and an English surgeon, grow up inseparable in Ethiopia until one day they are driven apart by war and by betrayal. Themes of identity, revolution, family, healing, relationship between doctors and patients, and the role of medicine.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. One event links two neighboring families together forever. Tragedy, hope, and forgiveness are all entwined with the complexities of ordinary families and the sweetness of ordinary life.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Reid Jenkins. Oral history of a seventies rock band. Feels so real, you will find yourself trying to look up their songs on Spotify. Also, I can’t be the only one who was picturing Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper while reading this.

The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang. Second book in the Poppy Warsseries. Chinese history plus gods, monsters, and warriors.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Short, beautiful novel about 13-year-old Connor learning to deal with grief. Also there’s a storytelling monster.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. 1990’s Columbia. Contrast between a young girl in a wealthy, privileged family, and the girl who comes from the slums to work for them as a live-in maid. Pablo Escobar. Guerilla warfare. Violence. Connection. Coming of Age.

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner. Criminal profiler helps catch serial killer. Inspired by the Ted Bundy case.  I heart serial killers. In a non-creepy way.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Gamache is the definition of noble. Three strangers, an elderly woman’s baffling will, and a dead body.

Nonfiction

Land of Lost Borders by Kate Harris. Girl bikes the great silk road, pitching her tent in ditches or staying with random Uzbeki family yurts along the way. Seeking “to find an outer landscape as wild as she felt within.”

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Basially Michelle Obama is good people.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl. Food writing is glamorous. And also not. Ruth Reichl shares her experience as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.

Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene. Man grapples with the senseless loss of his two-year-old daughter in a freak accident. Gut-wrenching expressions of raw grief, but ultimately hopeful.

Inspired by Rachel Held Owens. Deep love for Scripture plus a talent for storytelling equals a beautiful marriage of reverence for the text and earnest of exploration of what it means for us today. I had this on audio when I heard the news of her passing away and listening to her read it really made an impact.

The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah. Man buys crumbling mansion in Casablanca. Is faced with opinionated locals and angry Jinns (evil spirits of the Muslim world).

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. A therapist shares stories about therapy, from her experiences both as a professional and as a patient. Funny and fascinating. Made me briefly consider a new career in clinical psychology. Briefly.

When Two Million People Read About Your Sex Life

A year and a half ago I wrote an article for RELEVANT magazine that was published online and later in print. I was utterly unprepared for the amount of attention it got. It ended up being RELEVANT’s number one article of the year for 2014 receiving over two million hits. This article was re-promoted by RELEVANT today on their Facebook page, so I wanted to post the link to my original reaction piece here for those who may be checking out this blog for the first time.

I have written much more thoroughly and extensively about this topic in a series of guest posts on my friend Brett’s blog and also hosted a series of guest posts from other writers on this topic here on my blog.  If you have questions for me, feel free to reach out here or through my contact page. I love hearing from you!

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Pumped for Judgment Day: From Fundamentalist Fear to Extraordinary Grace

If I had to choose a least favorite hymn, it would probably be “It Is Well With My Soul.”

As a child, I would sometimes sing this song at school or at a summer camp at the Baptist church. My understanding of this song was that lots and lots of bad things will probably happen to you, but you should still be glad as long as your soul is OK. Since this song reads like a list of awful things (sorrows like sea billows, Satan buffeting, etc.) I also interpreted that last verse “the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend” as a bad thing. After all, the songwriter said, “Even so, it is well with my soul.”

Although I understand the theology of this song better now, I’ve never been able to shake to connotations of my childhood. Whenever I hear it, I am gripped with a sense of sorrow and of fear.

When I was a child I believed in Christ’s return the way I believed in the rising sun. I took for granted that it would happen. I expected it at every moment. Whenever  the sun burst through the clouds after an afternoon storm I would turn my face to the sky, heart racing, wondering, “Is this it? Is He coming now, riding on those clouds, shining like the sun?” and I would be filled with fear.

***

In elementary school chapel I sat with my classmates in my scratchy plaid jumper and white oxford shirt and listened to our principal explaining judgment day. On that day, she said, all of our worst sins, even the ones we thought no one knew about, would be displayed in front of the whole world. For people who weren’t believers, this would be a horrible day, but for Christians, this would be a great day because after the whole world had watched that movie reel of our very worst moments, Jesus would step forward and erase the tape.

These words were meant to encourage belief, but they filled me with terror. I chewed my fingernails down to the quick while I imagined everyone I knew watching a video of my sins. I wasn’t comforted by Jesus erasing the tape. I was too busy panicking about everyone knowing I peeked at my spelling book for just a minute during the last test. And even at that young age, my fear worried me. Did this mean I wasn’t really a Christian? If this was meant to be a great day for Christians, then why was I so afraid of it? Shame pounded in my temples as I sent up fervent prayers to combat those of generations of saints, “Please, Jesus, won’t you tarry just a little longer?” I pleaded.

***

When I was in jr. high and high school I encountered a new theology of judgment. Judgment, I heard, was for the wicked, not for those favored of the Lord. When Christ returned in all of his glory, he would separate the righteous from the unrighteous like grain from chaff or sheep from goats. We need only worry that we were counted among the righteous.

On the surface this was comforting since Christ was my salvation. But over time, righteousness became equated with our good works. It was Christ’s righteousness that counted, but the only evidence of that was my actions. There were a dozen interwoven reasons why I was a perfectionist, but on a spiritual level, it was because I feared judgment – first and foremost from my church community and eventually from Christ himself.

I was a model child. I had perfect grades. I helped around the house. I babysat my sisters. I didn’t listen to secular music and I didn’t watch PG-13 movies. I never smoked, I never drank, I never even held hands with a boy. I didn’t even have a curfew to break because I was never out late enough to warrant one. I served in the youth group. At sixteen I was in charge of a whole cabin of girls at church camp who were only a few years younger than me. I played violin for the worship band. I ran the school’s mission team doing local and international outreaches. I can’t remember a single time that outright disobeyed my parents.

And yet, I was wracked with guilt for all the ways I failed. When I was sarcastic, when I used a disrespectful tone with my parents, when I was impatient with my sisters, when I lied because I was afraid of getting in trouble, when I got in a car accident, when I said mean things to make people laugh, when I tried to make myself feel smarter by making others feel dumb.

With a theology of judgment where God was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and my actions would determine which character I ended up with, how could I possibly think about judgment without fear? How could I ever be good enough to feel secure in my righteousness?

***

When we say The Apostle’s Creed we affirm that, “He will come to judge the living and the dead.” For most of my life I didn’t know how to rejoice in this judgment. I didn’t understand how this could be part of the good news.

But then grace broke in. And grace came in the words of Augustine.

See, Augustine had a different idea about this. He said what if judgment isn’t about God separating the righteous people from the wicked people? After all, who of us is 100% righteous or 100% wicked? Aren’t we all a mixture of both? What if our lives are like two plants that grow up side by side – one good and the other bad – and as they grow, they intertwine so much that you couldn’t separate the bad one without damaging the good one?

When asked about their biggest regrets, many people will say something like, “I don’t regret anything because even my mistakes were things that helped me to grow.” Our lives are full of both glory and suffering and sometimes the two are so closely linked that we can’t separate them even in our own minds. Sometimes our worst mistakes or experiences ultimately lead us to some of our best moments.

Augustine says, What if God lets the good and the bad grow up together for a time and judgment is when he separates them, once and for all, at the end?

We cannot perfect our lives. We cannot expunge all the evil that exists in the world. But maybe THAT’S what judgment day is for. Maybe it is about God extracting the bad, the evil, the sin, and the brokenness that is woven into our lives, and throwing it to the fire, leaving our lives perfect and whole. Wouldn’t this be the best thing that could ever happen to us? Wouldn’t this kind of judgment be the cause of great rejoicing?

Maybe judgment isn’t about shame. Maybe it isn’t God projecting a film of all our failings on a jumbotron. And maybe judgment isn’t about God choosing to bless some and judge others. Maybe judgment has nothing to do with our works of righteousness.

Maybe judgment is our deliverance. Maybe judgment is when we can finally stop wrestling with sin, when we can stop experiencing brokenness, when we can finally be pure. Maybe judgment is the greatest grace of all.

***

This essay is a little excerpt from the book I’ve been working on writing. I hope it’s something you could connect with!

Sex Talk: New Relevant Article and Some Better Ways to Talk about Sex

A few months ago, Relevant asked me if I would do a sort of follow-up article to the article I published back in June, one that specifically dealt with overcoming shame in your sex life. I admit, I felt oddly stumped by this. I didn’t want to offer generic advice that boiled down to a bunch of clichés like, “Let go and let God.” At the same time, I didn’t want to take my experience and make it a how-to list. I didn’t want to claim that anyone can find freedom from shame by following these 5 easy steps. In the end, all I could really say is, “This is what happened to me. I hope it’s helpful or encouraging in some way.” That article was published over at Relevant today.

When I write pieces that point to the places I think purity culture got it wrong, I inevitably get comments saying, “Ok, but how should we talk about sex?” That’s a fair question and one that I hope a lot of people who are smarter and more influential than I am will put a lot of thought and time into answering. I don’t have a complete answer, but I do have a few thoughts about it.

I’ve shared some of these thoughts in different articles and guest posts over the past few months, but I decided to streamline them here. If you’re tired of reading about sex and purity culture, I will understand if you give this one a pass. I’m kind of tired of it myself. 😉

I don’t think churches are going to stop teaching abstinence. I’m not trying to make an argument that churches should stop teaching abstinence. But if churches are going to teach purity and abstinence then one thing that needs to change is the language we use to talk about sex, especially with teenagers.

What We Should Stop Saying:

Purity culture is famous for its metaphors. Growing up I heard things like, “Don’t start the engine if you aren’t ready to drive the car” used to warn teenagers that any physical contact (including holding hands and kissing) was a slippery slope straight into the jaws of fornication. I also saw and heard many illustrations that compared a person (usually a girl) who lost their virginity to a stick of gum that had already been chewed, to a rose that has had all of its petals pulled off, to a toothbrush that a lot of people have used, or to a cup of water that a bunch of people have spit into.

These kinds of metaphors equate humans and human sexuality with objects. They carry connotations that have resonance far beyond their intended effect. If you are used to thinking of human sexuality as a machine – an engine that starts if you hit the right buttons – you are ignoring the complexity of human sexuality and are isolating it from its place in the framework of our humanity.  Before marriage it looks like this; “Don’t press this button or flip that switch or you’ll cause sex to happen.” After marriage it can look like this: “I pressed all the buttons and flipped all the right switches – I am expecting sex to happen.” And if it doesn’t happen, “What did I do wrong?” or worse, “What’s wrong with my partner that they aren’t responding the way they are supposed to?”

Human sexuality is complex and it can’t be (and shouldn’t be) separated from our emotional, mental, spiritual, or otherwise physical state. This kind of language enforces the idea that our sex drive is the thing that controls us, rather than teaching a biblical, holistic view of the person where all the aspects of our humanity are equally valued.

The second set of illustrations (the chewed gum, the stripped rose) carry the message that our primary value is in our sexuality, or more specifically in our virginity. They say that our worth is tied to one part of us – our sexual status. This a terrible way to talk about a human being. It creates the image that sexual sin is the unforgiveable one because you can’t get clean once you’re dirty. It also provides a strong connotation of sex being dirty. Sure these illustrations are meant to be about pre-marital sex, but it’s pretty hard to make that distinction when the thought of sex conjures up the image of a dirty toothbrush or a communal spit cup.

What We Could Say Instead:

I think churches should focus more on teaching wholeness. Youth pastors should teach about whole and healthy relationships instead of isolating sex as though it exists in a vacuum.

I have seen and heard many Christian leaders try to produce “purity” in teenagers by building fear. The message is often something along the lines of “If you take one step down this road, you will lose control and not be able to stop yourself.”

I have to wonder if this isn’t a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy with teenagers. If you are constantly being told (directly or indirectly) that you are incapable of making good decisions, eventually you will start to believe it.

This kind of language fails to look at the person (specifically the teenager) as a holistic being. This attitude ASSUMES that teenagers must be controlled by their sex drive above all else. It teaches them to set strong boundaries out of fear that they will lose control instead of teaching them that their sexuality can exist in healthy balance with the other parts of their humanity.

I wonder if instead of teaching teenagers that they need to set these boundaries because they CAN’T make good decisions, we honored them as whole human beings who possess a sex drive, but also will and intellect and emotions and, most importantly for Christians, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which gives us the power to make right choices. Teenagers (and adults!) are still growing in their ability to handle all of these things. Even as adults we need healthy boundaries around any activities that we may go overboard with and that would cause one aspect of our humanity to be out of balance with the others. Setting boundaries is a way that we help ourselves to grow in wholeness.

So instead of looking at it through the lens of “These are the things I’m not going to do because I am afraid I’ll lose control” I think it would be far more powerful to choose what you ARE going to do and why you are going to do it. “I’m going to set boundaries that help me make wise choices so that I can grow as a WHOLE and complete person.”

With this kind of attitude, the boundaries you set are not just about controlling or suppressing sexuality. They are about engaging your mind and your will, creating opportunities to listen to the Holy Spirit and to grow in your ability to consistently make good decisions. Boundaries are not about restricting you because you are out of control. Boundaries are about creating opportunity for you to make the good decisions that you ARE capable of making.

On Prayer, Lost and Found

I once believed that ancient, corporate prayers were for those of shallow faith. I thought that written prayers were a cop-out for those too lazy or uncreative to pray on their own. At best, they were the training wheels of prayer—the “Now I lay me down to sleep,” prayers we were meant to outgrow as our faith deepened and swelled into something vibrantly alive. At worst, they were an indication of a faith that was not your own. A faith you’d borrowed from those who came before you. A faith you claimed because it was comfortable and required little of you.

In the church I grew up in, we often prayed out loud, everyone at the same time, a clamor of voices crying out to God together, but individually. It was a charismatic gathering where people prayed in tongues which we were taught to view as private prayer languages between a person’s spirit and God. Every prayer language was different, unique, a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence in that person.

While I no longer hold to the faith of my childhood, I have no wish to disparage these people or their undoubtedly earnest prayers. I simply reject the accompanying belief that prayer must be original to be sincere. As if a hundred “Father God, we just ask that you just…” ‘s were more authentic than St. Augustine’s prayer, “Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy,” simply by virtue of their spontaneity.

How can these old words spoken and written by people whose bodies withered away before you were even thought of accurately represent what you need to say to God today?  I once asked with scorn. And now, in this season, those ancient words have come to stand in the gap for me.

How strange, to turn from a faith where prayer was a private language of syllables that spoke from my heart straight to God’s ear, to a faith where prayer is grounded in the repetition of words set out for me by men and women who lived long before I, or my mother, or my grandmother or her grandmother, had taken our first breaths on this earth.

I am not alone in this. Many of my generation who were raised in evangelical traditions are turning now towards more liturgical gatherings. Anglican and Episcopalian churches are filling with those who long for a sense of rootedness they felt they lacked in the churches of their parents. Some have moved away from Protestantism altogether and have embraced the Orthodox or the Roman Catholic church.

I don’t know what I am right now. I don’t know that I’m evangelical and I don’t know that I’m not. In some ways living overseas has exempted me from making that decision. My local church community is a house church made up of people from various traditions and there is no label on our gathering.

What I know is this – at some point I lost prayer. I ran out of words or out of the will to form new ones. And it has been the prayers of the saints, past and present, that have given me the words I couldn’t find on my own. These words have an integrity that is entirely independent of me. These words are pillars that stand even when my faith feels frail and brittle.

I pray the words of St. Francis or of St. Benedict,  of Mary’s “Magnificat” or Anne Lamott’s “Help. Thanks. Wow.” and I find myself standing in the presence of God once again, on the shoulders of those who stood here before me.

 Image Credit: John E Lamper on Flickr.

Sex and the Church: Why We Need a Theology of Sex

Today I am excited to post the last piece in my guest series on Sex and the Church. I am even more excited to have my friend, Karissa Knox Sorrell, sharing her thoughts and experiences on a topic that we are both so passionate about. Karissa is an internet-friend-turning-real-life-friend which is one of the best things about being part of the blogging world. She is a beautiful and thoughtful writer whose self-described “faith wrestling” challenges and encourages me.  

If you missed the other parts of this series you can read them here, here, here, here, and here.

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The teenager stared at her reflection in the girls’ bathroom mirror, tears spilling down her cheeks. Suddenly, someone else entered the bathroom and rushed to her side. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m  – I’m – pregnant!” she choked out between sobs.

“Don’t you know you’re supposed to use a condom?” the friend asked.

The girl’s brow furrowed. “We did use a condom!” she exclaimed.

The video went on for about twenty more minutes, and then my youth pastor turned it off and talked to us about waiting until marriage to have sex. “You don’t want to find yourself in that girl’s situation,” he said. “Remember I Corinthians 6:19 and 20? Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” I underlined that verse in my Bible when I went home that night. I agreed with every word my youth pastor had said, internalizing the idea that sex had consequences and promising myself that I would wait.

I grew up in the True Love Waits era. I wore the T-shirt, signed the card, and once even wrote a newspaper article for my high school newspaper about waiting until marriage. Like a good Christian girl, I waited until my wedding night to have sex. But there was one problem: I still had an enormous amount of guilt and shame. I was afraid of my own body and its impulses. I had no idea how to embrace sex without feeling dirty. The scare tactics that had been used to get me to avoid sex had a side effect: They taught me that sex was bad, not beautiful.

I have come to believe that one of the problems with sex and the church is that we base our beliefs about romantic relationships and marriage on Bible verses that are about sex, not about romantic relationships and marriage. We need to be teaching our young people how to have healthy relationships, not simply to avoid sex.

I decided to do a little experiment and using Bible Gateway.com. I did a search of the NIV version of the Bible for the word sex. There were 77 verses about sex. The Old Testament had 42 verses and the New Testament had 35 verses.

23 of the 77 verses about sex had the words “do not” or “abstain.”

24 of the 77 verses about sex had the word “immoral” or “immorality.”

There was not one verse that had a positive connotation.

Let me say it again: Every single Bible verse about sex is negative. 

Is it any wonder that early in my marriage I was plagued with shame even though I was finally “allowed” to have sex? No. Because no one had ever told me how to have a marriage. They’d only told me how not to ruin a marriage. But unfortunately in process of trying not to ruin my future marriage, I damaged my understanding of sex, the body, and loving relationships.

Why wasn’t anyone teaching us about respect and listening and compromise? What wasn’t anyone teaching us how to express anger or disappointment or confusion in a healthy way? Why wasn’t anyone teaching us how to have a great sexual relationship? Why were we taught to hate our bodies, to cover up, to be afraid of our impulses, and to shame ourselves for any sexual feeling? I mean, six one-hour sessions of premarital counseling can not make up for years of being told that marriage is about one and only one thing: being sexually pure.

Now obviously my little internet search doesn’t make me a theologian who’s spent time on exegesis and hermeneutics. Song of Solomon is obviously a very sensuous book, and there are plenty of verses in the Bible that speak about love and speak to husbands and wives. And most of the verses about sex were encouraging believers to avoid sexual promiscuity, not sex itself.

But the fact remains that generally, sex is spoken of negatively in the Bible. When I couple that with the teachings I grew up on that always framed discussions about marriage and relationships around sex, I feel like I can confidently say that we have based our theology of romantic relationships and marriage on a handful of verses that are addressing sexual acts and that have a negative connotation.

So where does the church go from here? We can start by treating young people and singles as whole persons instead of walking hormonal messes. We can embrace a more holistic view of relationships and marriage, acknowledging the many facets of making a life with someone rather than simply focusing on sex. We can stop avoiding conversations about sex once the wedding rings go on. The church talks a lot about sex before people are married, but once they are, the topic becomes taboo. But that should be time to talk even more about sex and how to enjoy it!

It’s time for the church to do better. It’s time to rework and reframe our theology of relationships, sex, and marriage.

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Karissa's BioKarissa Knox Sorrell is a writer and poet from Nashville, Tennessee. She also works with ESOL students and teachers. Karissa writes about faith wrestling, cultural intersections, reading, writing, and family life. Read more of her work at her blog or follow her on Twitter

 

 

Featured Image Credit: Jesus1st-Anime2nd at Deviant Art 

“This World is Not My Home” and Other T-shirts I Can’t Wear Anymore

In Jr. High I had a lime green t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “This world is not my home.” It was a billboard advertising my holy longing for heaven. My pastors would say things like, “When we suffer, we find hope in knowing that this world is not our home, our true home is in heaven and one day we will join God there and everything will be perfect.” And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

I wore my t-shirt proudly, secretly hoping that carrying the words on my body would make them true. Because, try as I might, I could never seem to muster up enough hatred for the world to really feel like I was a stranger wandering in a foreign land. I knew I was supposed to pray for Christ’s swift return, but secretly I sometimes prayed that he would wait just long enough for me to go to Jessie’s pool party, or to learn to drive, or to go to college, or to fall in love. I felt an urgency to see and experience everything I could before God took it all away.

Even as a child, I saw this desperation as a moral failing. It was undeniable proof that no matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, I loved the world too much and loved God too little. “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” the pastor said and I shuddered in fear.* I worried that my hunger for life meant I wasn’t really saved. I asked Jesus into my heart again and again, hoping it would stick eventually.

As the church I grew up in grew and expanded, the focus shifted from evangelistic, fundamentalist values to more seeker-friendly messages of what God can do for you (another problem for another time), but those early impressions had taken root in my heart.

My church and school weren’t alone in these beliefs. In fact, there is a whole sector of Christian merchandise that capitalizes on the concept that this world is just a temporary annoyance that we endure without investing in until we can shake the dust from our feet and move on to the place we truly belong. (The song, “This world is not my home, I’m just passin’ through,” anyone?)

t-shirt

not my homeLike all good Christian kids, I memorized John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” but the Christianity I grew up in only seemed to care about the second part of that, the part where we needed to believe in Jesus. How could they miss what this most foundational of evangelical Scriptures spells out?

“For God so LOVED THE WORLD,” it says. God SO loved, not just individual people, you and me, but the world itself and everything in it.

But we didn’t treat the world like something God loved, much less like something we should love too. We treated the world like a place we feared, a place we wanted to separate ourselves from, or a place we wanted to escape from, bringing as many people along with us as possible.

A few weeks ago I listened to this sermon by Australian professor Ben Myers during our house church meeting. It’s part of a guest sermon series he preached on the Apostle’s Creed, specifically the phrase, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”  Myers points out that to treat the world as a place we need to escape from, a place where we are just biding our time as we wait to be delivered, is denying God as a good creator. He points to the Scriptures’ depiction of the end of time when there will be bodily resurrection and where Christ will bring his kingdom to earth and reign. “Salvation will never be an escape from this world, but God’s loving restoration of a good creation.”

St. Francis of Assissi (patron saint of hippies and vegetarians) understood this so well that he wrote about the natural world as if it were part of his family – Brother Sun and Sister Moon. He doesn’t say this in a pantheistic, God-is-in-everything way, but in a way that acknowledges himself as a part of this wildly beautiful and good creation that he is at home in for as long as he is on Earth. His mission isn’t to escape the world. It’s to bring redemption and healing and reconciliation, working to restore creation to the perfectly good thing it was created to be.

This really struck me because I’ve lived most of my life believing that I wasn’t really meant to love this world as much as I do. I’ve never longed for heaven as a relief from this world, even in moments of suffering. The world is far from perfect and it certainly isn’t divine. There are broken bits that make my heart ache. But I still believe that it can be redeemed. I believe this world can be restored. And I want to be part of that work.

Jesus didn’t just come into the world and head straight to the cross. He came and he lived. He healed the sick, he raised the dead, he showed compassion, he taught another way. If his purpose was only to rescue us from a world that is beyond hope, why waste his time with these acts of redemption?

I believe we have a responsibility to work for justice and restoration in the world precisely because this world IS our home and because the Creator has given it value. God said he is making all things new, NOT all new things.**

__________________

* John 12:25

** I didn’t come up with that pithy phrase – my friend Laura actually reminded me of it, but I can’t remember where it came from.