For The Someday Book

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Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr, Jossey-Bass, 2011, 200 pp.

Falling-UpwardIt’s difficult to write a review of this book. I was drawn to it, and the Spirit spoke to me through it in some powerful ways. At the same time, I found myself with some large disagreements with the premises and arguments it contains.

Rohr describes the spiritual life in two halves. The first half is about building the container that gives shape to your life–your persona, your career, your family, your identity. The second half of life is about the contents of that vessel, the true stuff of life that can be contained by it. However, he argues, you can only begin to address these second half of life concerns when the vessel begins to fall apart, or at least when you stop believing in the container as your true self and source of strength. He uses the example of Odysseus, who spent 20 years on his famous journey trying to get home. It was a first half of life journey, with conquest and titles and power. But The Odyssey doesn’t end there. In the final two chapters, Odysseus must undertake another journey, which involves traveling inland and letting go of his oar, the tool that delivered him safely home. This was a second half of life journey, a letting go which finally allows him to rest at home.

I connected with Rohr’s work because I am finding myself  moving into a different phase of my life. I will be 40 in less than a year. My family and career choices are fairly well settled, and I am happy with both. Yet precisely because so much is now settled, it also feels like there is a new opening in my life, and a desire to live differently and more deeply. Rohr’s book offered several helpful guideposts that pointed me in the right direction for this journey.

In his chapter on the first half of life, he identifies the importance of strong forces to push up against.

Healthily conservative people tend to grow up more naturally and more happily than those who receive only free-form, “build-it-yourself” worldviews, in my studied opinion. Here is my conviction: without law, in some form, and also without butting up against that law, we cannot move forward easily and naturally. (25)

Rohr’s construction reminded me of Freud’s superego, which holds the law for us. We must eventually move beyond it, but it is an important ingredient in our development. Given that so many people are still in the first half of life journey, it made me ponder the role I play as a pastor. Many people look to me to act as their superego or lawgiver. It is a role I am reluctant to assume, because I generally see more gray than black-and-white. However, I wonder if I need to find ways to be more strident in my nay-saying to the destructive forces around us, and give more structure and form to the faith I teach and preach. It is not an encouragement to me to be more black-and-white, but to be bolder in proclaiming right from wrong, even in the face of resistance.

As he begins to address the second half of life journey, Rohr’s various chapters gave me language to talk about many of the concerns that have been on my heart.

  • The Tragic Sense of Life: Life does not move forward in an orderly straight line of progress, but constantly wrestles with sin, failure, tragedy and hardship. 
  • Stumbling over the Stumbling Stone: We must lose something in order to find it. “There will always be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change or even understand.” (68)
  • Necessary Suffering: Incarnation leads to suffering. It is all around us, built into creation. Resurrection requires a dying.
  • Home and Homesickness: “God hides, and is found, precisely in the depths of everything, even and maybe especially in the deep fathoming of our fallings and failures. Sin is to stay on the surface of even holy things, like Bible, sacrament, or church.” (95)
  • Amnesia and the Big Picture: “Life is about practicing for heaven. We practice by choosing union (with God) freely–ahead of time–and now. Heaven is the state of union both here and later. As now, so will it be then.” (101)
  • A Second Simplicity: Similar to Ricouer’s concept of a second naivete, which I have long found insightful. “Simple meaning now suffices, and that becomes in itself a much deeper happiness.” (113)
  • A Bright Sadness: Our happiness is more sober, but our sorrow buoyed by a sense of God’s goodness.  “Your concern is not so much to have what you love anymore, but to love what you have–right now.” (124)
  • The Shadowlands: The persona we create in the first half of life comes with a shadow, that which we try to hide or dismiss. The second half of life requires us to acknowledge and confront this shadow side to ourselves, which always humbles us.

I resonated deeply with many of these realities and concerns, and recognized my own need to engage in this kind of spiritual work at this point of my life.

In spite of its helpfulness to me, I also hold some profound arguments with Rohr’s construction. First and foremost, it is very masculine in its orientation. The model of leaving home, conquering and returning is rooted in the masculine hero myth, and women’s journeys can take a very different path. Similarly, Rohr seems to insist that some crisis, failure or falling apart is required to launch the second half of life journey. While I do agree that something must be shaken or cracked in the steady persona in order to launch that journey, I do not think an earth-shattering crisis is a necessary condition for advanced spiritual development. Yes, one must integrate suffering and hardship and tragedy into a sophisticated spiritual life. Yes, one must let go of the relentless pursuit of status and certainty to reach the second stage of the journey. However, I believe that process may not be a single, shattering earthquake. It may be more like a snake shedding its skin—over and over again, as seasons change, we are required to let go of the old in order to grow into the new. It is painful and uncomfortable and ugly to look at, but in the end we are made new. Not once, but many times throughout our lives.

Rohr’s Falling Upward was not unproblematic, but it was also not unhelpful. I recommend it (with the arguments above) to anyone who feels a sense of restlessness even as they should be settling in to the life they have created, to anyone who is interested an a deeper journey, to anyone contemplating mid-life and beyond.

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Tonight, just across town, on the campus where my husband teaches, Indiana Senatorial Candidate Richard Mourdock said the following:

Life is a gift from God, and even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

My friends, Republican or Democrat, this post is not about politics, even though everything is political and I think this should impact how you think about your vote. This post is not about abortion, even though I strongly support access to safe and legal abortion as a fundamental aspect of securing women’s health and safety. This is a post about theology, and it is written from my pastoral heart, with care and concern for people hurt by misguided, dangerous theology. (Although, as always, posts here reflect my own views and do not stand for the views of my wonderfully diverse congregation.)

Hear this loud and clear:

GOD DOES NOT INTEND RAPE.
RAPE AND VIOLENCE ARE NEVER GOD’S WILL.
GOD DOES NOT DESIRE SUFFERING FOR SOME GREATER GOOD.

If you are a survivor, God did not send your rapist to hurt you or test you or teach you or punish you or improve you. God did not sacrifice your body and your safety and your security, even to bring the most wonderful child into the world. A human being acted out of violence, power, rage or some other sinful place to hurt you. God did not intend for you to be raped.

There can be no equivocation there. God does not afflict us. So where is God in suffering?

The heart of the Christian story deals with just this concern. The cross plays a central role in our faith, and it is a symbol of suffering caused by violence and power.  Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross showed us that God does not desire our pain to obtain salvation, that God does not require our blood sacrifice, that violence is not God’s way, and that God will pursue justice and peace even unto death.

Three days later, our faith proclaims that something miraculous happened—God took the tools of violence and destruction and transformed them into Easter resurrection and new life. To say that God made new life out of something horrible, whether a rape or a cross, is to proclaim that God can overcome anything. God can take the worst this world has to offer, and God can make hope and new life. God can take a murder on a cross and create resurrection. God can take a violent rape and create a beautiful child.

That does not mean that God intends murder and rape. God does not cause horrific things to happen to us in order to make miracles. That’s not sanctified, it’s sadistic.

That also does not mean that every pregnancy resulting from rape is a gift from God. Not even every non-violent conception is a gift from God. To declare that every pregnancy is intended by God conjures a cruel Master who shows only disdain for the suffering it inflicts.

  • Imagine a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Forced to carry an unwanted child to term, she is unable to begin her healing until the pregnancy is over. Even if she gives the baby up for adoption, she must live with the physical reminder of her violent trauma every day. Every kick, every contraction, every moment of labor causes her to relive the rape again in her mind. Instead of lasting for a night, her trauma lasts for nine months.
  • Imagine a woman who already has three children. Her fourth pregnancy puts her own life in danger. While her unborn child may or may not survive, she will not. Her older children will be left motherless. The children’s father will be unable to provide for them without her income, and they will likely be separated into foster care.
  • Imagine a woman trapped in a violent relationship. She has a plan to get out, but she discovers that the partner who abuses her has also conceived a child in her womb. She knows she cannot escape if she is pregnant, and that this violent man will have parental rights to the child even if she leaves him.

Some women would claim God’s new life in these pregnancies, no matter the circumstances. They will love and raise the child with joy and faithfulness. Others would claim God’s new life and possibility in the freedom to terminate a difficult pregnancy and claim the value of their own lives as God’s beloved. They will live their lives with purpose serving God in other ways. In neither case does God intend the suffering to get to the new life. In both circumstances, God can heal and redeem the suffering by bringing new life.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 says:

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! “

I believe that sometimes the choice to end a pregnancy is a way of choosing life—life for the mother, life for other children, life free from abuse. God can make new life out of terrible things, but we cannot always equate God’s new life with an unborn child. We cannot know how God will work in a woman’s heart, nor can we know the path of life in every situation. I stand firmly against the use of speculation about God’s intentions to legislate forced pregnancy.

Above all, this is clear: God does not intend violence. Rape is not part of God’s grand plan. Neither is forced pregnancy part of God’s will. God comes to us in Christ so that we “might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) The prayerful discernment about what it means to choose to “have life, and have it more abundantly” belongs to each woman, her own womb and her own conversation with God—not our legislators.

Tomorrow marks the two-year anniversary of this blog, and of my turn (return) toward writing as a spiritual practice. Last year, I reflected on why I write. This year, I am reflecting on the treasures created by the act of writing.

This week I spent a lot of time rereading old posts as I searched for appropriate writing samples to submit for a new opportunity to expand my writing work. I was amazed to discover what a memory bank this site has become, in just two short years. There are stories of ministry, motherhood, personal growth and random humor that would have ceased to exist by now, if they were solely dependent on storage space in my brain cells. Other stories would have been remembered, but without the solid detail and vibrancy that the writing created. There are also real and wonderful memories of events sparked by the blog writing itself. That Evangelism Flash Mob that I wrote about last November? It really happened—at an outdoor venue in Tampa, and on the floor of General Synod. It resulted in new friendships and one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had.

I also browsed through the “drafts” section of my dashboard, and realized that some memories I had wanted to hold on to have already flown away.  I made notes to myself about a story or event when it happened, but I never got around to writing the story more fully. Now the energy and vitality of the moment is gone. I wish I had devoted more time, or had more time to devote.

All of this brings to mind one of my favorite songs from Sweet Honey in the Rock.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
To see the beauty of the world through my own eyes.
–Y.M. Barnwell, Sweet Honey in the Rock

Writing here teaches me to see the beauty of the world through my own eyes. It creates memories of joy and delight and the presence of God in the things of everyday life, ranging from interactions with my son to strange ministry happenings to moments of transcendence and illumination. It’s addictive, and I’m only wanting more. Here’s to “more” in year three—more time, more writing, more memories, more God.

My friend Rachel Small at Occupy Wall Street.

If Jesus were here today, it seems obvious he would be sympathetic to the Occupy movement. The Gospels detail his life’s work speaking out against the unjust economic systems and unfair distribution of wealth; railing against the burden of oppressive debt, taxation and extortion from the lower classes to line the pockets of the rich; attending to healing and building a new model of community; trying to change the same old conversation with subversive tactics of protest; revealing the collusion between wealth, power and violence; and taking sides with the poor, outcast and rejected. Among my progressive clergy friends, there have been multiple postings of a graphic saying, “Jesus is with the 100%.” While Jesus loved both rich and poor, he refused to comfort or coddle those who made exorbitant profits by oppressing the poor.  As my friend Rachel’s sign points out, Jesus’ own prayer aligns itself clearly with the stated hopes of the Occupy movement.

Jesus’ life and ministry was most fundamentally about inaugurating a new way of life. It was about building the kingdom of God here, “on earth, as it is in heaven.” Early Jesus followers were simply known as “The Way,” because they lived a way of life caring for the poor, forming new community and trying to do things differently. Beyond the notion that Jesus would have supported the Occupy protesters, this idea of “The Way” is the stronger connection between the Occupy movement and the heart of Christianity.  Occupy is not a Christian movement, but it is a movement about a way of life. The daily General Assemblies, shared leadership and direct democracy, sharing of goods and managing of community needs are all about incarnating in practice the ideas and visions of the community of protesters. They do not just carry signs and march down streets to encourage people to their cause—they are embodying the community they want to build by practicing a new way of doing things and being together. That’s an awful lot like our Savior and his followers.

I spent some time at our local Occupy movement, downtown in our city bordering on the south and midwest. I discovered that the experience shared even more parallels to the church—including some of its struggles. Ours was a small group, about 20 in all. When I arrived, they were in a meeting. The small, handwritten sign at the center of the circle indicated that this was an education session, which lasted every day from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., with the General Assembly at 7:00 p.m. I stood at the edge of the circle for nearly 30 minutes, and felt completely lost. No one spoke to me, no one invited me to sit with them on a blanket (the ground was muddy), no one even acknowledged I was there. There were words I didn’t understand and strange hand gestures that left me puzzled. Everyone else clearly knew one another very well. The entire time I was there, I imagined that this is exactly the experience that many of these people would have if they walked into our churches for Sunday worship. It was humbling.

When at last someone stepped away from the circle (I couldn’t interrupt, didn’t know the proper hand gesture to be recognized to speak, and couldn’t wait five hours for a break in the action), I followed him and introduced myself. I chose not to start with my clergy title (after all, I did not come representing my congregation), but just my name and my interest in offering support—food, blankets, supplies, whatever was needed. He seemed displeased that I had bothered him, and said they had everything they needed. He did at least take my card when it was offered. I had planned to stay longer, but I felt so uncomfortable that my nerves took over and I left. I’ve been trying to renew my courage to return. Again, a humbling experience.

So, as Jesus-followers today, where do we fit in with the Occupy movement? When I first started writing this post two weeks ago (it’s taken me a long time to sort through my thoughts), there was little or no church presence at the Occupy movement, here or anywhere else. Many of the Occupy participants were (are) openly hostile to religion, especially Christianity, because they associate it with the harm of the radical, prosperity gospel, anti-sex, anti-body, anti-intellectual right wing version of our faith. In this short time, some of that has begun to change. In other cities, the progressive Christian community has rallied to organize itself in support of the Occupy movement, offering spiritual support, communion services, even processing a giant golden calf as a religious symbol of condemnation. (In the interest of full disclosure, many of these folks are my friends, and the links are from their own Facebook posts.) This clergy support work has been welcomed by Occupiers in Boston, New York, San Francisco and many other places.

The question still remains: what is our role as faith communities and Christians in the Occupy movement? I think part of our confusion stems from the fact that we are not at the center of this movement. For the last 200 years in the United States, churches have been the nurseries of movements for social change—abolition, women’s rights, civil rights, fair labor practices, temperance, education reform, on and on. Clergy have been on the front lines of shaping, inspiring and leading movements for social justice. I am a veteran of many protests, and as a clergy person I am used to being on display up front to add moral authority to the cause. Yet the Occupy Wall Street movement happened without us. This is new territory, and, like me hovering outside the Occupy meeting’s circle, we aren’t sure what to do with ourselves. We might even be dealing with a bit of a bruised ego over the whole thing—I showed up to offer my help, but no one wanted it. In order to connect, we must be willing to be outsiders instead of insiders, to be uncomfortable and take time to learn how things go.

There is an old joke about the radical French intellectual that hears the people marching in the streets and responds: “There go my people! I must find out where they are going so that I can lead them.” I am concerned that this will be the approach of the progressive church to the Occupy movement.  Many of us have years of experience in social movements, and it will be tempting to show up and offer ourselves as experts and leaders. I admit that one of my desires after my visit to the local Occupy site was to offer advice to them—about how to welcome newcomers, about how to respond to offers of assistance, about how to incorporate outsiders. I’m still not sure what to do with that impulse. I believe that wisdom might be helpful to the cause, but I also believe it is arrogant of me to step in as a newcomer and offer unsolicited advice about how to do things.

One of the great dangers facing the Occupy movement is whether or not it will be co-opted and assimilated by big money players like unions, the Democratic party, Move On, and others—or whether it can hold its own and do things a new way. One of the great successes of the movement so far has been its ability to change the conversation, to break open the dialogue in a way that those well-established players have not been able (or willing) to do.

While we aren’t as big a player as we’d like to be, I think that Christians may try to co-opt the movement in the same way. We should avoid the temptation to say to the Occupy folks, “Yes, you’re saying just what we’ve been saying all along, what Jesus has been saying for 2,000 years.” What usually swiftly follows this is an invitation to worship, or to join in something we’ve already planned that might interest them. We might even be tempted to think that this movement might be a way to connect with progressive young people and engage them in church. I’m not sure that is a bad thing—I do believe in evangelism!—but I also see an arrogance in it. It is definitely a good thing to show up and demonstrate that Jesus and his followers are not necessarily who you think they are, that Christians stand with the poor and the protesters, and that our faith motivates us to action against oppressive empire. It would definitely be a bad thing to believe that our churches are keepers of the vision protesters have been seeking all along, that going to church is a way of engaging the movement, or that we might hope to sign people up for our next progressive Christian rally.

In other words, I believe we should show up to listen far more than speak, to learn far more than teach, to support far more than guide. We can, and should, simply be one of the 99%.  What it means to be followers of Jesus is to do what’s right, without caring about whether or not we’re recognized for doing it. “The Way” we follow is about incarnating love, justice and peace—not promoting the church’s voice or even promoting  Jesus.   Brian McLaren wrote a similar thought this week in a piece entitled “Why I’m Joining the Occupation.”

I’d especially encourage Christian leaders to do so . . . not as a representative of your church or denomination, but as a human being . . . not to co-opt or control, but to contribute and to learn. As someone who’s had a lot of control (more than I realized) for a lot of years, I’m finding it a wonderful gift to simply be a participant, one voice among many, learning and listening and learning some more.

For this reason, I’ll be going back to Occupy again. Because it’s where Jesus would probably be hanging out today. Because it’s the right thing to do, not just as a Christian but as a human being. Because it’s good for me to know life as an outsider, and because I know that all human movements and institutions have their flaws. Most of all, though, I will go back because I am one of the 99%. I am also afflicted by and implicated in the unjust system the Occupiers call out, and I want this body of mine to be a part of incarnating a new way of being. My prayer remains Jesus’ prayer: “on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Our farmer's market

Sometimes, I love living in a small town. Simple things become a delight, and community is thick.

This morning, B and I headed out for a day of errands. We strolled the Farmer’s Market, chatting with the farmers and all the folks we know. We stopped at the post office to mail a package, and saw a few more familiar faces. We walked next door to the public library, where the librarian greeted B by name and showed him the new space and dinosaur books that just arrived, knowing they are his favorites. One of the local churches was having a small street fair, so we stopped to play a few games and let B jump in the bounce house for awhile. At the grocery store, we enjoyed the free samples of orange juice, apple crisp and chocolate—a Saturday treat.

This afternoon, we will bake some banana bread, put some of those farm-fresh vegetables in the freezer for the winter and read our new library books. B will probably play football or cops and robbers in the front yard with the boys who live next door.

Our Main Street

One of the band parents from the high school just called. They are having an impromptu community performance tonight on the football field. There will be hot dogs and crock pots full of chili. Would we like to come? I can’t think of a better ending for our small town Saturday.

This is one of the most frequent theological questions I get asked. If you believe in the Holy Spirit, can you also believe in spirits? If you believe in resurrection, in heaven, in hell—can you also believe in ghosts?

Moaning Myrtle, one of the ghosts in Hogwarts Castle, and sometimes friend to Harry Potter.

I usually field these questions from those who are dying and those who have recently lost loved ones, and they arise in response to a direct experience that feels like an encounter with someone beyond the veil. It’s not anything like Casper the Friendly Ghost, or Poltergeist, or even the friendly haunts from Hogwarts. Almost always, people just describe a presence that they can feel, or sometimes a voice they hear or a vision that they see.

When people are dying, they often tell friends and loved ones (and their pastor) about visits from loved ones who have already died. People will detail elaborate conversations they have had with their parents or spouses or children who are long deceased. These conversations seem as real to them as conversations with living family members. My own grandmother, in the final days of her battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, described the “red-headed angel” that came to see her, and we all thought of my aunt, her daughter, who had lost her battle with breast cancer a few years earlier.

Those who have recently lost loved ones—especially a spouse or parent—will describe feeling, hearing or seeing that loved one with them again. These encounters often come in the night, either through a sophisticated dream or a sudden awakening to the brief sight or sound of the person in the room. Other times, it just feels like the person is there, even though the bereaved person knows that they have died. I have had countless people share messages from their mother, father, wife or husband. Almost always, these visits provide a sense of love, peace, connection and healing to the grieving heart.

In the movie Ghost, Patrick Swayze returns to visit his beloved Demi Moore and help her heal from grief.

People tell me these stories to see if I think their encounters are real, to test if they are losing their minds, and to ask whether believing in the reality of these experiences is somehow incompatible belief in the reality of God and God’s promise of resurrection. As a pastor, my answer to all of the above questions is always unequivocal. Yes, I believe them when they tell me about the power of these experiences. No, I don’t think they are crazy. No, I don’t think believing you’ve seen or felt the presence of someone who has died is incompatible with Christian theology.

Are these “ghost stories”? Who is to say? We do not have sophisticated, subtle language to discuss our experiences that touch the space between this life and the next. From earth, the boundary between life and death seems impermeable, but we have no knowledge about how that boundary works from the other side.

No one knows for certain what happens when we die. It is all a matter of faith and speculation. At the heart of the Christian faith is the promise of the resurrection—that Jesus somehow was raised from the dead, which means that death does not have the last word, that there is life beyond this life, and we need not fear the grave. Does that resurrection mean that our beloved ancestors return to us at the time of our crossing over or theirs, to comfort us? Or is it all something our minds concoct in times of stress and distress? I don’t claim to know or understand. I certainly don’t find anything in Christian theology that precludes the possibility, nor anything that affirms it. Who am I to say that it is not of God?

As a pastor, I am grateful for those grieving loved ones who have these encounters with spirits, because their pain is eased and healing begins. Maybe it is all just the one Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who comes to us in many forms to bring consolation.

I have just encountered the work of Dr. Lynn Margulis for the first time. She is an evolutionary biologist with two revolutionary contributions. First, she grounds her evolutionary theory in microbiological observation rather than observation of animals or fossils. I have no theological quandary with the theory of evolution, but much of evolutionary science seems far too speculative for my tastes. Scientists seem to simply look at the world and draw inferences based on their observations. This is great for theologians and poets, but I want biologists to try to create experiments that can affirm or deny their theories. Dr. Margulis does, because she operates at the level of microbiology.

That is my prologue of opinions about evolution and evolutionary biology. It is background for what follows, but not what is most important. What captivates me is what Margulis has discovered in her experiments. Margulis argues that cooperation and interdependence—rather than violence and competition—are the founding forces of life and evolution.

Single-celled bacteria, Margulis observed, form “bacterial confederacies,” which eventually develop a boundary and begin to act like a single organism. There is a complex process by which these “bacterial confederacies” become organelles as certain bacteria start to specialize,  act as mitochondria and nucleus, and form a cell. This development of a new organism as a result of cooperation and interdependence is called symbiogenesis.

Margulis projects that the entire system of life replicates this process of symbiogenesis. Cells cooperate with one another to form organisms, plant or animal. Imagine a group of cells cooperating and sharing responsibility until they realize that they can specialize to take care of unique tasks. Some become blood cells, others brain cells, others become skin or organs. This evolution is only possible because of the interdependence and mutuality. Trust and cooperation become the foundation of life—not the competition of “survival of the fittest.”

Organisms then continue to develop and specialize with other organisms in an increasingly complex system of interdependence, developing specialized functions to support the whole. We call this an ecosystem, where plants and animals collaborate to form a unique habitat capable of supporting and sustaining each other. The extrapolation continues to humans. We evolved as a species because we cooperated with one another, forming groups to hunt large game, sharing tools and technologies, collaborating for specialized duties for childcare, food gathering and protection.

I am captivated by this concept because it speaks science to my theology. As I said before, I do not believe there is a grand conflict between understanding God as the creator of the universe and recognizing the earth as multi-billion year evolutionary project. Margulis’ scientific theory takes it a step further—her science affirms a theology of creation that mirrors the image of God.

If God created the universe imago Dei, in the image of God, then the universe should be founded on the principle of love, just as God is. Instead, the common conception of evolution as “survival of the fittest,” popularized by Herbert Spencer’s reading of Charles Darwin, paints a picture of creation as brutal competition. Various species and variations fight over limited resources and hostile environments, and only the best and strongest survive. Spencer in particular extrapolated this to human beings, positing that humankind must push ahead its elite specimens and leave behind all “lesser” examples of human being. Spencer’s theories not only affirmed racial profiling and racial prejudices about which varieties of human beings are superior, but it spawned the eugenics movement, which resulted in the neglect of people with disabilities and the sterilization of thousands of women.

I can see nothing of the image of God as love in this version of evolutionary theory. The Bible describes a God who loves and cares for each thing in creation, who knows the hairs on the head of every human being, who forms all of us in our mother’s wombs, who uses the most weak and awkward and unlikely servants to accomplish the salvation of Israel, who seeks lost sheep and lost children with a fervent passion. Jesus preached love for the outcast and the sharing of all our wealth with the poor. He fed those who could not feed themselves and healed those who could not heal themselves. He urged us to build the kingdom of God, like a banquet table where the elites refused to show up and so the banquet was open to anyone off the streets.

However, that kind of God would create the kind of world Margulis describes, where cooperation and collaboration and care for one another is the foundation of everything. In my preaching, I often emphasize our work in the world as co-creators with God, charged with helping build the kingdom of God on earth. I describe that work of building the kingdom as finding ways to unite all people in common cause, living God’s love on earth, welcoming everyone, working for justice and peace, caring for the poor and the sick, reconciling broken relationships and practicing forgiveness.  In Margulis’ universe, this is kind of work really is co-creation. Cooperation and harmony further life on this planet.

Beyond just the imago Dei that is loving and cooperative, Margulis’ theory of evolution also affirms an image of God reflected in creation that is interdependent. All life depends on other life, both for its creation and its continued existence. We Christians believe God’s own self is equally interdependent. Our metaphor for God as Trinity, three-in-one, reflects a Being that does not exist without co-existing. To be created in the image of the Trinitarian God is to exist only in relationship, to exist only interdependently. Just like the universe in Margulis’ theory. If we human beings want to get closer to God (spiritual language), to evolve (scientific language), to mature (Pauline language), to be sanctified (salvation language), we must recognize our interdependence with the earth and each other, and seek to share more fully with one another.

I am captivated by this new idea, and further conversation with science and theology. Microcosmos by Dr. Lynn Margulis is now on my reading list. Stay tuned for a review in the coming months.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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