Until the Bones Rest

Until the Bones Rest                                       Blog   September 13, 2020

Rene, the missionary priest, said to the elder, “I have lived among your people forty-six years. I have tried as hard as I can to be one with your people, to be one with this land. Why can I not do it?”

The wise elder answered, “This land is not ours until the bones of three generations of our ancestors rest here. You will not be one of our people until your bones rest with our ancestors.”

****

“You will not be one of our people until your bones rest with our ancestors.”

Jesus knew this to be true.

Jesus came to be one of us.

He would walk our paths and sail our seas.

He would break our bread and drink our wine.

He would heal our sick and raise our dead and shed our tears.

But he would not be one of us until his bones lay in our land with our ancestors.

And then…

at the appointed time…

Jesus was raised from the dead, and Jesus said, “I am one with you. My bones have rested with your ancestors.

Now, be one with me. Let me raise your bones,

so you may rest

In me.”

DMS

Listen to the Creatures as Subjects, Not Objects

This blog begins with a story. The story was first called “On the Eyes of a Cat and the Curve of His Claw.” It was first told by Matthew Eaton and published in a book entitled Encountering Earth: Thinking Theologically with a More-Than-Human-World (Eugene Oregon, Cascade Books, 2018; Trevor Bechtel, Matthew Eaton, and Timothy Harvie, editors, pp 48-61).

 
This is my telling of the story.

 
A man went into a pet store. He had no intention of buying a cat. He was just looking around. But as he passed by a particular cage, too close for his benefit, but just right for the benefit of the cat, a particular feline reached out, catching the man’s arm with a claw. He stopped. He had to. The cat had caught more than his arm; the cat had caught his attention. They looked at each other.

 
And in in instant the man knew something had happened. The cat and the man gazed at one another for more than a moment. But what happened, happened in an instant. Maybe two.

 
The man looked at the cat, looked into the eyes of the cat, and he immediately was taken back, back in time, to a time before words. A time only of feelings, emotion. And in that instant, the man was caught, not by the arm necessarily but caught by intention, attention. In that moment, he was naked, stripped of everything about himself, except his feeling. And what he felt was exposed, naked. (Eaton uses the word
“nude”) More than without clothes, the man was exposed and vulnerable.

 
When the man first glanced at the cat, he saw a cat. Nothing more. It was a glance, something someone would do with a cat. Something a Subject would do with an Object.

 
Someone with a bit more time, a bit more interest, might pick up the cat, might stroke the cat, might listen to its purr. Someone else with a bit more interest in the cat, perhaps as a potential pet, might think the cat cute and soft and cuddly. But to this man, the cat was hardly worth more than a glance, an object of curiosity, no more. Until the cat caught his arm and caught his attention.

 
In that instant, hardly a moment, not even half, the man was swept back in time to when there were no words, only feelings. And the man felt naked. And the man felt ashamed. The man felt somehow vulnerable, somehow responsible. But for what? There were no words to explain. It’s as though the cat and the man looked at each other as two Subjects. No longer a Subject and an Object, two Subjects. Face to face. They could communicate, without words. There was a relationship somehow between them. As Subjects. They were face to face with one another, and they understood one another.

 
And as quickly as the man got to this time before words, time with only feelings, he was snapped back to the present time and the pet store and the cat. But something was different now. His mind, now with the advantage of words, had to explain what he had just experienced. His mind had to justify his nakedness, his exposure. His mind had to make excuses and reclaim some sense of control, some sense of dominance. He was not naked! He was not vulnerable! And he was not responsible!

 
But the cat still had his arm and still had his attention. “I am responsible for you, aren’t I?” the man thought. “I heard your plea. I sensed your pain, your loneliness, helplessness, captivity. I knew your hunger and I knew your desire for attention. You want to come home with me.”

 
The man bought the cat.

 
For years to follow, the man would look at the cat, hold the cat, listen to the cat. A bond was forming between them. The man learned what the cat needed. When to feed. When to gather the cat up. When to leave the cat alone. The cat would come to him and rub his leg with an arched back. The cat would awaken him in the morning, stare him right in the eyes and lick his cheek. And a moment later the cat would disappear and not be seen again in the house for the rest of the day. It’s as though the cat and the man were deeply intertwined and profoundly independent at the same time.

 
One time, at a time of deep sadness and wrenching loss, the man would sit for hours and silently weep. Tears would gently roll down his cheeks. In those hours, the cat would come and go, but come more often, jump in his lap, lick his tears, and lie quietly, expecting nothing. Giving something. It was as though the cat heard some unspoken plea.

 
When the cat died, the man grieved again. But it seemed harder this time. The loneliness was deeper. The pain was harder. There was no one to lick his tears.
****

 
Someone in marketing understands this phenomenon and uses it to gain our attention. You see it often in ads for charity work.

 
We are not Objects to be manipulated, duped and mined for monthly contributions. We are Subjects. We can choose. We understand that the charity needs funds to protect this or develop that. We also know our resources, our limits, and our capabilities.

 
But marketers have this insight about finding that moment in time wherein we leap from this time to that time before words, that affective time, that time only of feelings. And in that time, we are stripped of our capacity and capability and power to choose, and we find ourselves naked, vulnerable, exposed, ashamed. We are not guilty. There are no rules to be broken in this time before words. We have done no wrong. There is no guilt. But there is shame in our exposure, in our vulnerability. We are not the Subjects we want to be. We are not the Subjects we pretend to be. But we are exposed in the presence
of Another, another Subject.

 
It only lasts a moment, half a moment, less time than the announcer in the commercial can say “For….” By the time she says, “only $25 a month, less than a dollar a day…. you can…” In that moment when we return to our words and choices and justifications, do we remember what we experienced in the time before words?

 
You’ve seen the commercials. The snow leopard is about to become extinct…

 
The elephant is losing its habitat to development and its life to poaching…

 
The whale…. You don’t even hear the pitch. But in the vision of that majestic leap, as the photographer focuses on that one eye… and you hear the song, that haunting song… you realize, beyond all your defences and rationalizations that you are responsible.

 
This leopard, this elephant, this whale are Subjects. And you have heard their plea. You understand their plight, their pain. You know their vulnerability. You and those magnificent creatures are Subjects. There is a relationship.

 
If you doubt that, come back to the moment, the present moment, and hear the announcer’s words “adopt.” They will send you every month pictures and stories. These charities nourish and tend a relationship between you and these more-than-human creatures.

 
Don’t even get me started on the children… But bless these charities for knowing the mysteries of the spirituality of the more-than-human Subjects.
****

 
Does it have something to do with the face? Is there the same moment of connection, that same possibility of relationship with creation that has no face?

 
You know there is. You’ve seen the pictures.

 
Looking down from a high perspective, you see to the left and to the right, hills with more shades of green and brown than you ever thought possible. Through the center of the valley is a winding creek, broad enough to sparkle and shimmer and catch the shadings of the clouds above in the waters below. Lush meadows on either side embrace the stream, themselves embraced by the foothills. An elk fords the stream. An eagle screeches from high above. For just a moment, half a moment, when that slide comes up on the screen you lose your breath and disappear and return again from the land before words. There are no words to describe what you feel.

 
Another scene shows a person standing on the top of a rock on the top of a mountain. This person stands above everything. Even the clouds. This Subject stands with arms outstretched. This Subject has conquered the Object, the objective, the mountain…. No, more than that, this Subject stands in wonder and worship, having touched the face of God, Subject to Subject. This Subject, in all their insignificance and vulnerability, stands in the presence of the Almighty.

 
Another scene reveals a desert. The sand is piled higher than your office building downtown. How could there be so many shades of brown and grey? And they move; they dance. And – listen; they sing! You feel the heat, like you have never experienced before. You could die here. You could become lost here. You are no longer able to protect yourself or provide for yourself or find your way home by yourself. You
are a Subject, totally dependent upon the mercy of another Subject. In the home of another Subject.

 
These scenes are not always so beautiful.

 
This same reaction, this same falling into the time before words and coming home again happens during a vision of a city immersed from street to sky in smoke and smog, caked with grime, held captive by crime… You know in that time before words that there is crime here. Helplessness, vulnerability, pain reign here because no one cares. No one can make a difference. There are no words; there are no rules; there is no guilt. Remember? Only feelings. Shock, despair, helplessness. You are naked before this scene. Who is responsible? Before you can answer, you are home among all the words.

 
One more. This time a pool of water. A ditch, a pond, a lake, you cannot tell the size. You can only see the brilliant kaleidoscope of ever-changing color as the oil slick, as wide as the eye can see, dances its dance. It is a dance of death. Every living thing beneath the slick has suffocated. Who is… ? But you are snatched home, back to the time of words, excuses, justifications, blaming, and explanations that answer nothing.

 
Who is responsible? We are responsible. We are the Subjects who have made the decisions and taken the action and refused the investment and denied responsibility. It is only in that moment, less than half a moment, when we find ourselves naked and vulnerable in that time before words and remember the pleas of the other Subjects when we return…. in that moment we really do have the choice and the capacity to be responsible.

 
We believe we live as Subjects in a world of Objects. We live among stuff. These are only rocks and trees and animals. There is nothing sacred here. Nothing divine. Nothing alive like we are alive. Nothing that pleads for us to be responsible.

 
We have the annual reports and the surveys, the charts and the graphs, the projections and the outcomes that show we have made the right decisions, taken the right actions and returned better than projected dividends to our investing Subjects.

 
Haven’t we done well?

 
But at a feeling level, at that point where the pictures come up and the claws catch our attention… when we see the valleys and hear the eagles… when our eyes tear over because of the smog and smoke… when we hear the pleas of those who cannot speak… when we remember, because we stood there in the presence of the other Subjects, naked, helpless, vulnerable, terrified and tired of being terrified… then we know. We remember. We dream.

 
And maybe we act. Maybe it’s not too late to be responsible. Maybe it’s not too late to be able to respond?

 
Listen to the world as Subjects. Listen to their pleas. Listen to their songs. Join their pleas. Join their songs. And we will be responsible for the survival of the generations to come, not their extinction.

God as Friend– McFague – Part 7

The following blog, the seventh in a series, is based on the writings of Sallie McFague in her book The Body of God: An Ecological Theology, (Fortress Press: Minneapolis), 1993. This series draws as well from another of Sallie McFague’s books, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis) 1987.

 
The first three blogs in the series described more traditional models of God and their limitations as fading bases for responding to care of creation. A transitional blog introduced the “Organic” model. The next three blogs are sketching Sallie McFague’s Organic model in more detail and their advantages in promoting redemptive responses to the climate crisis.

 
These “organic’ models are meant to describe God’s relationship with the world in ways that reach beyond traditional imaginations. Some of those traditional models have been less than helpful in enabling faithful responses to this climate crisis we are facing. If God lives “out there;” if God is so distinct from creation as to be disengaged or disinterested; if God acts in ways more consistent with masculine gender expectations of dominating, conquering, and judging; if God is really interested in saving souls and rescuing a chosen few from the suffering of life on earth…. then where is the commitment to respond to saving this planet and all its life forms? If, on the other hand, God my be understood in other ways, might we find a different Spirit for the care of creation?

 
Proposing the image of God as Friend, whose love is Philia, whose activity is Sustaining, and whose ethic is Companionship.

 
McFague begins with, and rejects, an Aristotelian understanding of friendship. “Where the partners must be equal, there is no possibility of friendship between human beings and God.” (Models, p. 158). Examples from Jesus would prove otherwise. Matthew 11:19 describes Jesus as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” John 15: 12-15 cites Jesus saying that his disciples are “no longer servants but friends.”

 

How then does the model of God as Friend work?

 
Whose love is Philia…

 
“A case must be made that the model is sufficiently important, sufficiently basic, to human existence to qualify as a potential candidate for imaging the God-world relationship.” (Models, 159).

 
She notes that “of all the human relationships [friendship] is the most free.” (Models, 159). That is, friendship is outside the bounds of duty, functioning or office. Friends choose to be together. There may be one-sided, utilitarian friendships that meet a need or provide a service but are not reciprocated. However true friendships begin because someone likes the person, allows that person to be themselves. There is a form of affection and respect. A friend is fun to be with, someone that is trusted. Friends are
referred to as “soul-mates” or “kindred spirits.” Friendship is simply delight in the presence of each other. (Models, 160). While close to eros, philia lacks the sexual dimension to the relationship.

 
God as friend appears in the descriptions by the mystics as great joy to be in the presence of God. Mystics practiced devotional exercises to achieve such closeness. This relationship is described as “the dance of the saved circling God in mutual attraction and joy.” (Dante, quoted in Models, 160)

 
C.S. Lewis was reluctant to use the image of God as Friend because it could be confusing because of its spiritual power. One would never believe God was truly their father. “Only a lunatic” would believe God was truly one’s lover. However, the symbol of Friend is so powerful that one could confuse the symbol for what it symbolized. (Lewis quoted in Models, in a footnote to p. 160).

 
Others criticize God’s love as philia because God has no favorites. More about that shortly.

 
“Friendship is the bonding of two by free choice in a reciprocal relationship… The basis of friendship is freedom. (Models, 162). The bonds of friendship are “freedom without duty or utility or desire”. There is the bond of trust, a bond of commitment. To sin against the relationship is betrayal, treason. “The betrayer is one who ‘acts the friend’ but opens the door from within to the enemy.” (Models 160).

 
“Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other, friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” (Models, 161) Acquaintances become friends by a common interest that is inward. They see things the same way; this is truth. They care about the truth the same way. This vision, more than a common activity, opens the friendship to the world. (Models, 163).

 
“Friendship between God and human beings in our time can be seen as focused on a common project: the salvation, the well-being, of the world.” (Models, 163).

 
Remember earlier, the criticism that God has no favorites. Remember too that in this evolutionary, ecological model the love of God is universal, not individual. So, God and the friend choose one another in joy, as friends, in the pursuit of great interest to both: the well-being of the world, that is, God’s body. And this common vision is not limited to two.

 
These friends now are not only numerous, they are different. They are not bound by race, class, gender, nationality, age, or creed. Individuality has its delights. Difference has is delights too. This friendship is most inclusive. Friends can even be friends with other forms of life! “We can be friends with any other.” (Models, 164)

 
“If God is the friend of the world, the one committed to it, who can be trusted never to betray it, who not only likes the world but has a vision for its well-being, then we as the special part of the body – the imago dei– are invited as friends of the Friend of the world to join in that vision and work for its fulfilment. God as lover of the world gave us the vision that God finds the world valuable and desires its wounds healed and its creatures free; God as friend asks us… to become associates in that work.” (Models, 165)

 
This love is neither elitist nor separatist. Rather, it is solidarity. This stresses that we are relational beings. We exist in a variety of positive connections. It includes the love of family, tribe, and nation, but also hospitality to the stranger. This love affirms we are not alone. Neither are we on our own. We do not belong to ourselves, nor are we left to ourselves. We embrace “mutuality, commitment, trust, common vision, and interdependence.”

 
This is a model of hope. God is with us, imminent in our world as our friend and co-worker, imminent in the fellowship of friends we call church. (Models, 167)

 
Whose activity is Sustaining…

 
“At the heart of the matter is joy at being together with others.” (Models, 167) Most religious traditions embody this in the importance of sharing food. Again, Jesus would be at table with outcasts (Matthew 11:19) This was shocking! Although it is what we deeply want. Imagine that we, of all people, are invited to the table to be friends of Jesus! (Models, 168)

 
This is what we want so desperately. Mother desires our existence. Our Lover finds us valuable. But our Friend likes us!

 
This is joy. This is companionship. Companionship means literally “together at bread.” (Models, 168)

 
God invites us to the table. That is one side of the table. God invites others also. That is the other side of the table. These are the strangers and the outcasts.

 
Friendship continues the work of Mother and Lover. “It is good that you exist.” “You are valuable beyond all imagination.” “Let us break bread in fellowship and joy.”

 
We have been saying that these models point to the reunification of all parts. This is salvation. Bridging separation, isolation, shunning. Entering into suffering with and for victims of estrangement.

 
From an evolutionary, ecological perspective, God’s love (Agape) is for all forms of life and protects the right of all forms of life to exist and to thrive. God’s love (Eros) stresses the value of all forms of life and God’s desire that all forms of life be fulfilled, whole and free. God’s sustaining love (Philia) underscores the joy of all forms of life as companions with one another and with the Source of life. (Models, 19)

 
God’s model of relationship with the world is a model of hope, defying despair. Again, we are not our own, nor on our own. This is Emmanuel, God with us, our companion, accompanying us in all joy and in all sorrow.

 
This Companion, with us and on our behalf, challenges those forces that resist our being, that build walls of discrimination, that deny our nourishment, that oppress some forms of life to the benefit of other forms of life ( Models, 169)

 
God as Friend/Companion restores immanence to those traditional models that emphasize transcendence. Transcendent models celebrate the ”in-spirited life” of Jesus and the “inspired” life of the disciples. But the Spirit cannot be seen. The spirit is: amorphous, vague and colorless;” it is “ethereal, shapeless, and vacant”. (Models, 170)

 
On the other hand, the Companion emphasizes the enduring, committed, immanent presence of God. Our culture still thinks in dualistic terms of spirit/body or mind/body. The Companion adds more to this.

 
Traditional models emphasize “individualistic, existentialist” understandings. “Salvation,” [they say] is essentially a relationship with God and the result of that relationship is the bestowal of the virtues of faith, love, wisdom, hope and other moral gifts.” (Models, 171) It is all about your personal Lord and Savior and a personal relationship with Jesus.

 
But there is little regard for community, cosmos, and the oppressive structure within life and society. (Models, 171)

 
“The understanding of salvation which is needed for our time must be inclusive of all human beings as well as other forms of life; salvation must be a joint project involving human responsibility for the world,  and it must be long-term commitment to the fulfilment of life at physical, social, economic and political levels. God as Sustainer – as the very word suggests – is the One who endures, who bears the weight of
the world, working for its fulfilment, rejoicing and suffering with it permanently (emphasis my own). (Models, 171)

 

To respond in friendship is demanding. To choose God, who chooses us, means commitment in a trustworthy and persevering manner.

 
This is epitomized in the shared meal. (Models, 172) This is Jesus feeding thousands; the feast for the prodigal son; the last supper in the gospels. This is the agape feasts in the early church. This is the recognition of Jesus in the breaking of the bread on the road to Emmaus. Or Paul’s insistence on inclusiveness in the meals. Or the heavenly banquet in the kingdom of God.

 
This is joyful community, inclusive fellowship, attending to basic needs: food, shelter, warmth, clothing, companionship. There is a Celtic saying that “the one who bids me eat wishes me to live.” (Models, 172)

 
There is in this friendship the shared vision of the concrete fulfilment of all life. There is joyful abundance at all levels, for all beings. The shared meal is the metaphor of all that satisfies the body and delights the spirit. All are welcome, as invited by God.

 
The stranger, again, is welcome. One cannot always trust society to welcome, protect and provide for the stranger. Friendship reaches across the barriers of class, family, race, religion or politics. This is important because today’s host may become tomorrow’s stranger. Today’s stranger may become tomorrow’s host.

 
Whose ethic is Companionship

 
We traditionally speak of the fellowship of disciples and the followers of Jesus as the body of Christ. But this model is different. Not that the traditional model is wrong. This is not a corrective; it is different. The body of God is the world. The followers are “the community of friends” or “the fellowship of the friends of Jesus.” (Models 175)

 
This friendship “means choosing, freely and out of a sense of joy, to be friends of the world one likes and wishes to see fulfilled. It means being willing… to join in mutual responsibility with God and others for the well-being of this world.” (Models 175)

 
It is this common vision that creates this friendship and holds it together. God and human beings are friends of the world. This friendship is not limited to two, that is, God and the individual, but binds together all those united by love for the world.

 
This companionship overcomes xenophobia, the fear of those who are different, so prevalent in our  current politics. We need not fear the stranger. We have no need for the aggressive patterns that mark territories and defend borders. Perhaps this was necessary for survival eons ago, assuring the superiority of various kinds of species. But McFague is writing in a time of the threat of nuclear war. We now are writing in an age of environmental extinction. In either case, such xenophobia is, in her words, “suicidal”. Dare we fear the stranger to the extent that we choose the end of all existence, including our own?

 
If we meet as strangers, we have no need to be enemies. The possibility – the necessity – exists that we become friends. We can move from the fear of others to the care for others. This is companionship, friendship, involving advocacy, partnership, solidarity. Political barriers become political bonding, seeking the mutual well-being of all. It is more than cold justice. This is the possibility of warmth and attachment. No longer content with what is merely legal, we purse what is fair. But that means
relinquishing special interests and preferential treatment.

 
The bond of the host-guest seated at the common table, expands into civic friendship. As it is said, “the city that forgets how to care for the stranger has forgotten how to care for itself.” (Models, 177)

 
“Once the door has been opened to the other, the different, the stranger one does not know, it has been opened to the world. All can become companions together” (Models, 178).

 
Solidarity, justice, advocacy, partnership emerge. Identifying with all others, companions advocate fighting for the just treatment of the world’s many forms of life. (Models 179) Companionship is possible because of the divine presence of God among us. God as Friend says we are not alone; we are not on our own. God our Friend is with us, in the joyful celebrations of the common table, as well as the sufferings of the strangers and wounded creatures among us. This Presence gives us courage and stamina for the work we have to do for the fulfilment of all life. The Presence gives us forgiveness for our failure to maintain the common vision. So, we pray for our Companion to support,
sustain, and comfort us.

 
We close with these words from Sallie McFague. “Intercessory prayer is the rite of friendship in which one hands over the friend to God. When we pray for our friend the earth, for whose future we fear, we hand it over not to the enemy but to the friend who is freely, joyfully, and permanently bonded to this, our beloved world. The model of God as friend defies despair.” (Models, 180)

God as Lover– McFague – Part 6

The following blog, the sixth in a series, is based on the writings of Sallie McFague in her book The Body of God: An Ecological Theology, (Fortress Press: Minneapolis), 1993. This series draws as well from another of Sallie McFague’s books, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age,(Fortress Press, Minneapolis) 1987.

 
The first three blogs described more traditional models of God and their limitations as fading bases for responding to care of creation. A transitional blog introduced the “Organic” model. The next three blogs are sketching Sallie McFague’s Organic model in more detail and their advantages in promoting redemptive responses to the climate crisis.

 

Proposing the image of God as Lover, whose love is Eros whose activity is Saving, and whose ethic is Healing.

 
We’re looking for a model of God, describing who God is, how God loves, how God acts and what ethic – what behavior results from the interaction between God and the world. And then we seek what this might mean for humanity’s relationship to the world, especially in the context of climate change.

 
God as Lover…

 
Traditional models of God present a male figure, a King-Judge-Warrior, who reigns from above, is transcendent, distant, generally uninvolved. God is a Creator. The world is a creation. God is Subject. The world is Object, something other than God, made for whatever purposes, uses, advantages such a collection of objects might offer.

 
Enter God as Lover. God as Mother births creation. (See previous blog) Creation is not made by Mother but comes from Mother. Once creation is born, then God as Lover desires a relationship with this creation.

 
Whose Love is Eros…

 
Traditionally, God’s love is Agape. God loves unconditionally, without being earned or deserved.

 

 

Agape only gives. Agape seeks to bestow. Eros seeks to belong.

 
(Let the reader remember that philosophically there are several kinds of love. Epithymia, desire, including sexual desire. Agape, unconditional. Eros, seeking relationship. And Philia, friendship. Each seeks the “reunion of the separated.” (Models, 131) McFague defines Eros as a passionate attraction to the valuable and a desire to be united with it.)

 
Parenthood is a limited example of human expressions of agape. Parents give, provide, guard, protect and suffer for their children. At funerals, grieving children often say something like, “Mom loved us unconditionally.” With all kindness, I believe Mom loved warmly, enthusiastically, and generously. But unconditionally? Not likely. There were no doubt squabbles over frustrated boundaries and disappointed expectations. Only God loves unconditionally.

 
Agape loves and forgives, overlooking sin and rebellion. The Almighty sets rules and standards, gives direction, lays down commandments. Sin is aspiring to be like God, to be God. Sin rebels. Justice for the  King- God demands satisfaction, punishment. The punishment is death. But then Merciful God takes the place of the sinner, pays the penalty. This is atonement. Once for all. Agape overlooks sin, loves the sinner, in spite of who the sinner is and what the sinner has done. (Remember the old adage – “hate the
sin, love the sinner)

 
(No doubt there are times when the Teen might feel so humiliated by Mom’s rule, that she “could just die.” But death is not required. And rarely does Mom take the required time-out in place of the Teen)

 
Traditional theology, except for some medieval mystics) has been sceptical of the possibility of “Lover” as a descriptor of God. Sex was considered base. Desire implied need. God was not incomplete; God did not need anything. Or anyone.

 
McFague argues that parenthood has been acceptable as a metaphor. Friendship has been acceptable. Why cannot the most intimate of human relationships, that of lovers, offer insight as well? The reader is reminded that we are exploring metaphors, McFague likes the term “experiments”, as models of understanding, not definitions.

 

 

The human experience of two lovers offers the greatest experience of joy – as well as pain. Being lovers offers closeness, concern, longing. Scripture offers the example of Hosea as the faithful husband. Jesus prayed that his people would be one, even as he and the Father were one. John 17 describes this union as “I in Thou and Thou in me.” The soul is sometimes described as the Bride of God; the Church, as the Bride of Christ. So, God as Lover is not unknown.

 
If Agape loves in spite of who the sinner is, Eros loves because of who the sinner is.

 

 

Human lovers may experience conflict, the relationship may dissolve, when one partner no longer “gets anything out of it.” The erotic relationship may fade when the passion cools. But Eros says to the Beloved, “I love you because I value who you are. I will love you no matter what!” Eros pursues the Beloved. And won’t let go.

 
But Eros is not an ideal or a feeling or a principle. Eros is spiritual, but it is also physical. Eros is expressed in form. Delightful form. That delightful form is evident in the infinite combination of wonderous senses. Beauty, color and shape for the eyes. Sweet, sour, salty and bitter for the tongue. Chirping, bleating, bellowing and whispering for the ears. The softness of the breast, the playful cuddling and tussling of children, the swaying embrace of the dance for the touch. The wonder of the senses creates a bond, a
connection. Lose that connection and animals grieve; human beings mourn. Even Jesus would weep at the death of his friend Lazarus.

 
As the Lover loves, the Beloved is “touched” in heart, body, and soul. The Beloved seeks to love in return, to love in kind, to respond. As one is valued, one seeks to value as well.
Remember, in the environmental, evolutionary context, we are speaking beyond individual terms here. The whole world is God’s body. The risks of dualistic, individualistic, anthropocentric distinctions dissolve. Love as only transcendent, invisible, and inaccessible disappear in the confirmation of love that is physical, attractive, precious, and valuable.

 
Whose Activity is Saving…

 
This is beginning to sound like a saccharine, sentimental nature documentary. The world can also be harsh and cruel. The world is fragmented. People love wrongly. Some creatures thrive at the expense of the bloodshed of other creatures.

 
Eros as love seeking relationship with creation, seeks the healing of fragmented relationships.

 
Eros brings passion. Passion involves strong, deep feelings. Those feelings might be desire and delight, joy and warmth. Passion may also be disappointment, disillusionment, jealousy, shame, and rage.

 
Life tests the limits of commitment, the intention to value. Consider the changes that come with illness, conflict, loss, aging and death.

 
From the perspective of the environmental, ecological realities of a broken world, there is the potential for profoundly tragic existence. The immensely destructive harm of gender conflict, racial discrimination, class discrimination, genocide, the deterioration of the ecosphere, the possibility of nuclear disaster, and the extinction of life leave humanity wondering: how did we become victims in this seemingly flawed universe?

 
In Eden, humanity tasted the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. That taste has grown rancid with the knowledge of the power of God to end life, to become “un-creators.” The light of Eden has turned to the blinding glare of nuclear holocaust, the unfathomable darkness of the Jewish holocaust, and the unimaginable extinction of the Anthropocene holocaust.

 
Sin has been understood to be corrupting, depraving, making worthless what was created valuable. Sin makes a low value of life.

 
God as Lover sees the wonderous, attractive and valuable, and pursues the Beloved, seeks to be one with the Beloved, to protect and provide for the Beloved, to gather up what is fractured and sick and reunite and heal.

 
The Lover pursues the Beloved because of what the Beloved is. More importantly, perhaps, the Lover pursues the Beloved because of who the Lover is! The Lover goes the limit… just because.

 
In a fractured world, God pursued Israel with a covenant. God pleaded with Israel to return to faithfulness. That covenant would stand no matter what.

 
Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Because those people were wonderous and beautiful and valuable. And because that was who Jesus was.

 
The prophets in the first Testament and Jesus in the Gospels challenged the empire, seeking to bind up the broken, set free the captive, and lift up the downtrodden. They opposed the forces of oppression. Because Love – Eros seeks change, renewal, reconciliation, growth and development, the reunification of all the parts.

 
From an ecological – evolutionary perspective, this means addressing all that threatens to pollute and destroy, all that threatens with death and extinction.

 
This requires the work of healing.

 
Whose Ethic Is Healing…

 
In traditional theology the saving work of God is atonement. The act, once and for all, to make new, whole, and alive. An act limited to the reconciliation of God with humanity.

 
But from an environmental-evolutionary perspective, acting once for all is not enough. This work is not redemption – buying back what has been trapped and enslaved. It cannot be once “Done and Done.” Saving must be a continuous, on-going, evolutionary process. Eros must act anew in new times and in new places.

 
The ethic of the Lover is to reveal this Eros for the renewal of creation, in order that creation might reflect the presence and power of the Divine and enable humanity and all creation to continue, to imitate, to demonstrate the desire and the activity to love into being.

 
As the Lover embraces the Beloved, the Beloved is transformed and seeks to respond. Traditional theology described this as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or “I in Christ and Christ in me.”

 
In a fragmented world, the love of God may be refracted, like light scattered by shards of glass. As the fragmented parts are gathered together, grow together, heal and are reshaped, the refraction becomes reflection, ever brighter, ever stronger. Humanity is created in the image of God. Humanity is transformed into the image of the Lover, making manifest the love of God. But not humanity only, all creation as well.

 
Jesus’ call of the disciples is a call to become agents of healing and loving, continuing incarnations of the Lover.

 
If sin may be described as refusing to be the special creation God intended. Healing is the Lover’s work and the call of the Lover to love the world in kind. Being loved in the body, we love God’s body in return. Scripture speaks of the trees praising God simply by being trees, being what they were meant to be. As humanity, we love God by loving God’s body; that is the world. We love the transcendent, the invisible, the inaccessible by loving the attractive, the precious and the valuable. We retain and extend the passion, the desire to be reunited. Eros is the desire for relationship.

 
Having experienced being valued, humanity desires everything about the Lover, and desires what matters to the Lover who is now our Beloved. What matters to the Beloved is the world, the body.

 
McFague does not use the word “sanctification.” But she describes at length the process of growing into what we have become, what we are in the grace of the Lover. She describes the saving activity of God as not possible in one place in one time, for all time. This may be puzzling, if not offensive to some who are secure in the teaching and experience of “salvation by grace alone”. Nevertheless, McFague is adamant
that salvation becomes visibly active. And she describes the Beloved creation becoming the multitude of hands acting as the Lover’s agents incarnate again and again.

 
McFague insists that from an ecological, evolutionary perspective, salvation requires the repair, restoration of creation. Waters must be restored. Forests must be replanted. Animals must find  place in the ecosphere again. That takes many hands. And much time.

 
While healing is the ethic, there is no cure. The environment is too complex. The best humanity can do is restore a dynamic balance. There can only be work for better or worse health, greater or less imbalance. Sometimes the best one can do is refuse to join those who spread further the disease.

 
The many hands responding to love and engaged in healing McFague calls the “many saviors.” Jesus made sense as the once and for all Savior in atonement. But the reunification of a shattered world requires many saviors. Jesus reveals the Lover’s passionate valuing of life. Then Jesus sends his disciples to continue the work, to make incarnate what is the new reality. From an ecological-evolutionary perspective, this incarnate, valuing love extends beyond one historical community, and beyond one human species. Christianity enters the secular world and contemporary suffering, with all who suffer. God is that big!

 
This continuing incarnation works against the empire for an alternative society. This community is willing to go the distance to heal the wounds. These are not saints but ordinary people working against the forces of discrimination, fear, and prejudice.

 

 

We are created in the image of God. We become healers in the image of Jesus. The community becomes revelatory, pointing to the person of Jesus and reflective, illuminating the love of Jesus.

 
This is work done in natural, historical, and cultural contexts. Aware of the deterioration of the web of life, conscious of our power to extinguish all life, and knowing we are saved in the Eros of the Lover, we join the work. We work to save.
Next time…. God as Friend… whose love is Philia… whose activity is Sustaining… and whose ethic is Companionship….

God as Mother – McFague – Part 5

The following blog, the fifth in a series, is based on the writings of Sallie McFague in her book The Body of God: An Ecological Theology , (Fortress Press: Minneapolis), 1993. This series draws as well from another of Sallie McFague’s books, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Fortress Press, Minneapolis) 1987.


The first three blogs described more traditional models of God and their limitations as fading bases for responding to care of creation. A transitional blog introduced the “Organic” model. The next three blogs sketch Sallie McFague’s Organic model in more detail and their advantages in promoting redemptive responses to the climate crisis.


Proposing the image of God as Mother, whose love is Agape, whose activity is Creating, and whose ethic is Justice.

Metaphors for God do not reduce God or our understanding of God but underscore the complexity and multiplicity of perspectives. No one image can capture all our understanding of God’s being or action. What follows, introducing God as Mother, does not detract from God the Father, but adds another perspective that brings additional insight and reverence for the Divine.


Have you ever winced during a prayer at the address to God as Mother? Or perhaps flinched at the reference to God as “She”? Some will hear these words and smile, thinking, “At last.” Others will think this is unusual at least; disrespectful, maybe blasphemous at worst. Consider, however, that to insist on the image of God only as Father skirts the realm of idolatry.


God as Mother… Whose activity Is Creating….


Male terms are often power terms. God as Father has behind it: God as Ruler, King, Lord, Judge. Fathers do indeed nurture, defend and seek after lost children. But those are not the primary functions of the Father Almighty.


In classical terms, the Creator acts from up above and is distinct from what is created. The Creator is separate from Creation in time and space. The Creator creates by speaking in words, and the result is order, justice, and logic. The Creator fashions reality “with angels (all spirit), man (mainly spirit), woman (mainly body), and on down the line” (Models, 109). This created order includes a hierarchy with “spirit superior to body and Humanity to nature” (Models, 110).


Sometimes the Creator uses an artistic mode, “fashioning” creation “as though by hand”. God the Father and Creator acts as a craftsman. Still, God is other than what is created.


God the Father remains transcendent, up above, far beyond. God’s dwelling is in heaven. Holy (separate, distinct) be His name and his will be done.


Consider the differences when the image of God is Mother. Mother gives birth to her children. She bears life within her. There is a time of deep intimacy as creation gestates in her womb. The child that she carries, the child that she births, is of the same flesh, the same stuff. The child born is the expression of God’s own being. There is a sameness, even as there is a difference. A child born is similar too, but still distinct, an individual. And this birthing process has not happened in the six or seven days of the traditional Creator but in eons of time. Indeed, it is continuing now as species, human and non-human alike, evolve. As mountains continue to rise and fall.


Some of the resistance to the Mother image has to do with the implied sexuality. McFague discusses this at length in both books. I will touch on only a few points.


The avoidance of the feminine imagery was a distinct opposition to expressions within the Goddess cults. In addition, there has been a reluctance to explore, value, think or talk about female sexuality, out of concern for its tempting nature and its baser qualities in the historical hierarchy of the created order. But if humanity is made in the image of God, and if humanity is male and female, then what about God needs to be expressed in female imagery?


It has been argued that the feminine embraces purposes, different from the masculine (Models, 99). The feminine teaches, nurtures, acts passively, and heals. The masculine roles are to create, build, redeem, to make and defend peace, to make justice. It has also been observed that to use strictly gender-neutral descriptors (Matrix, Godself, Holy One) is to lose the sense of the personal/relational.


The image of God as Mother obviously is inclusive of the maternal but is not limited to that. There are roles that are neither masculine nor feminine. These include creating, governing, nurturing. A Sovereign may be either King or Queen.


The righteousness of the Father is based on his holy will and his divine orders. The righteousness of humanity is considered individually, personally, dependent upon moral integrity expressed in choices made, or righteousness conferred by divine grace. God the Father remains righteous whether humanity is righteous or not. The Father is “indifferent”. God does not need anything. God does not need humanity. “God is not dependent upon the world” (Models, 112).


On the other hand, the righteousness of the Mother is more communal, universal. Righteousness is given with the gift of life itself. The Mother seeks to be reunited with her creation collectively, all creation, not merely humanity, and not individually, one by one. “God is physical as well as spiritual. God will therefore need the world, want the world, not simply as a dependent inferior (flesh subordinated to spirit) but as offspring, beloved and companion.” (Models, 113).


“The artistic model of creation – the distance as well as the difference between God and the world, and the subordination of the physical and the spiritual – are blocked in the model of God as mother of creation.” (Models, 113)


Mother-God is both Creator and Judge. God as Mother does not reduce God “to stereotypes of maternal tenderness, softness, pity and sentimentality.” Models, 113). “There are no attributes of weakness and passivity, but qualities contributing to the active defence of the young.” (Models, 113) “Those who produce life have a stake in it and will judge, often with anger, what prevents its fulfilment.” (Models 113). Mother God can sometimes be a mother bear!


And this begins to take us to the nature of divine love.


Whose Love is Agape…


The Father’s love is for the unlovable. The Father loves the defiant and rebellious, overlooking such sin, even as they are unworthy. Sin is that defiance, whatever separates humanity from God. Sin requires justice. Rebellion must have restitution. To assume a stature aspiring to rise up to be God must be corrected by a punishment; there must be a price exacted. The righteous Father sets that punishment. The merciful Father then assumes that punishment himself.


C.S. Lewis makes an interesting statement: “God loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures”(Models, 102). God the Father’s love is AGAPE, totally undeserved. But apparently reserved for humanity only. Non-human creatures apparently have no soul. They have no laws to keep, no divine will to obey, no opportunity for confession or repentance.


The love of the Mother is also AGAPE, neither deserved, nor earned. It expresses itself, saying, “I’m glad that you exist!” This love is impartial and all inclusive. This love bears life for life. This love is a unifying, reuniting love. The Mother is an active defender of the young. Agape seeks to birth life and then seeks to provide and defend all that is required for growth and fulfilment. Sin is whatever threatens to interfere with that growth and fulfilment. Mother is a mother bear that rushes in to protect against whatever threatens life and fulfilment. More about justice in a moment.


While AGAPE is abounding love and abounding in life, this life is present in a closed ecological system. Life is precious, but also vulnerable. The world’s resources are limited. This love protects not only the quantity of life but also the quality of life. There are tough ethical decisions to be made. Life is to be preserved, but some will die. Love seeks the continuation of this life, but also provides for the continuation of generations to follow. This requires justice.


And Whose Ethic Is Justice….


Justice is the ethic of Mother God. Justice is the fair distribution of all necessities for life. Justice, motivated by AGAPE, provides for the basic needs of all living creatures. This includes the young, the weak and vulnerable, and the generations to come that have no other voice, no other defence.


In the tradition of the king-redeemer, individuals are condemned because they rebel against the righteousness of the king-redeemer. The king judges the guilty, assigns the punishment, requiring death. The redeemer assumes the punishment, paying the price. The condemned are absolved.


For Mother God, the goal of salvation is neither the condemnation nor the rescue of the guilty, but the creation of “a just economy for the well-being of all her creatures” (Models, 117-118). She establishes justice, rather than “handing out sentences.” This vision of the kingdom of God sounds like utopia. But the vision of utopia “that one holds makes a difference in how one conducts daily business” (Models, 118). Because this justice is an ethic required of “universal parenthood,” it embraces all the creatures of creation, and is enmeshed in the evolution of history. More on this in the next model, God as Lover.


Justice is an ethic of care. Human beings become “fathers and mothers” to the world (Models, 119), assuming a share in the work of “universal parenthood.”

Writing in 1987, McFague is certainly aware of the climate crisis, but she is more attuned to the crisis of the nuclear age, and she sees in both crises the possibility of “the second death.” All die. But humanity has the power to bring about the end of life, “the death of birth” – “when none will die” (Models, 119). Universal parenthood then is the desire and activity not only to provide for the well-being of one’s children, but for the well-being of generations to come.

The Mother God gives birth to all life – for all creatures – in all generations. And this work is justice-making, “the fulfilment of life through the ordering of justice, the impartation of wisdom, the invitation to the oppressed, the transformation of life” (Models, 121)

Justice includes this generation and all generations. And in this generation, justice includes the weak and the vulnerable. There is for McFague, and for Mother God, no split between nature and history. And the work of justice-making involves the universal parenthood of teachers, social workers, librarians, owners of the local supermarket, politicians, and rock stars who raise funds for famine relief (Models, 121). Justice-making is not the work of individuals only but requires that governments also take their part in
balancing the rights and responsibilities of all social constituencies.


There is no blueprint. There is no model theocracy. Rather, there is a change in orientation, direction, mind-set. What some, like Pope Francis, have called a conversion of conscience. Humankind, as conscious of their universal parenthood, and listening to those instincts, have the task of preserving creation, giving and receiving, embodying the patterns of caring parents, Mother and Father, in manners appropriate to this holistic, nuclear and ecological age (Models, 123).


So, in summary, what are the implications for care of creation in this time of climate change? The worship of Mother God includes the care of creation. Service honouring Mother God includes service honouring, protecting, and preserving creation. The command to “love your neighbour as yourself”, includes creation as our neighbour. Injustice toward creation prompts Mother God’s anger. At the same time, as Mother God’s love infuses us, we respond with love toward all children of creation. This is ecojustice, including our non-human creatures and their environment.

Adoring God as Mother, reflecting her love as Agape, participating in God’s Creative activity, requires commitment to Justice for all creation. An orientation toward life that seeks only individual advantage; that acts to extract and exploit all it can, without concern for harm done, including the extinction of species and the impoverishment and genocide of tribes and cultures; that remains deaf to the cries of the rivers and trees – such an orientation interferes with the creation, preservation, and defence of Mother God. Beware the mother bear.


Next time – God as Lover, whose love is Eros, whose activity is Saving, and whose ethic is Healing….

Peace-Keeping Faces Needed, Not Peace- Threatening Forces

This blog series is being briefly interrupted for a comment on breaking news today from the Washington Post.


Gregory Scruggs reports that “Protests Explode Across the U.S. – Police Declare Riots in Seattle, Portland”. This article was printed in the NP-Section of the Calgary Herald, Monday, July 27. The link to the Washington Post is here. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/07/25/seattle-policedeclare-riot-renewed-black-lives-matter-protests/ (Caution: the ending of the article on-line does not match the article in the Calgary Herald, after the section quoted below….)


I want to leap deep into the article to these words:
“Early Saturday, a U.S. District judge issued a temporary restraining order against a Seattle City Council ordinance banning crowd-control devices such as pepper spray, rubber bullets, flash grenades and blast balls.

“On Thursday, Police Chief Carmen Best warned that without such tools, the police department could not protect property.”


Did you catch it? For months now, there have been protests across the country demonstrating against the abuse of power by the police and the excessive use of violence against people, especially the killing of people, especially people of color. The protests have been increasing in breadth across the country, more cities, more states. The protests have been increasing in volume, more people, longer hours. And the protests have been increasing in violence and in destruction of property, more fires, looting, and injuries.


Police numbers have increased. National Guard have been mobilized. Now Federal agents, armed and uniformed, have been deployed. And it’s getting worse.


Mr. Scruggs’ article is reporting that armed militia are now appearing. In Louisville Kentucky Saturday, 2,500 from the left (NFAC) and from the right (The Three Percenters). His closing sentence reads:
“However, the appearance of the two armed militias raised the spectre that future confrontations may not pass off as peacefully.”


Back to the quote above. For months people have been protesting violence against human lives. The Police Chief quoted above stated that crowd-control devices were required to protect property.


Somebody is not listening. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that violence is the last cry of a people who will not be heard.


Lives matter. Black lives matter. I do not want to be misunderstood or change the subject. I stand with the emphasis: Black lives matter.

Let us stop protesting and start promoting. Let us stop opposing and start embracing.


I urge that we sit down and listen. That we sit down and plan. That we sit down and change. And I say “we”, not leaving it to “people.” Naïve, aren’t I?


Why can’t we get elected officials, community leaders and representatives of some of these more organized protestors to sit and talk? Sit and listen. And include some of the mothers and fathers in our neighbourhoods.


Why can’t five communities across the country, invite five such gatherings to open, transparent, and recorded conversations that demonstrate a willingness to move from confrontation to conversation, from conversation to collaboration, from collaboration to transformation? This would be an experiment. Five communities would demonstrate which approaches work, and which do not. Five communities would respect the fact that approaches may
differ, because the realities and the resources differ, region to region. Five communities would demonstrate the very beginning of sincere efforts to engage, understand, and hold accountable. Five communities would demonstrate that people across the country have a say, have a voice, and need to be involved.


And, if we do it right, five will become eight; eight will become fourteen; fourteen will become thirty….


We are quick to report the clashing of communities. Let us also report the gathering of communities! Ultimately this will be more important news!


It may not be appropriate, in the beginning, to record every face and every word. There is not enough trust for that. Emotions are high. What must be said must be said. And what must be said must be heard. We must be respectful. And that means curious and patient. And that means our anger must be embraced. But we are not necessarily angry with those across the table. And yet, we are all responsible. If not for what has happened, then certainly for what happens next!


We cannot record every word and every face. But we can record and report that these efforts are happening. Slowly. Too slowly, undoubtedly. But something has to happen, in the light of day, rather than the dark of night.


But efforts at protecting lives matter more than protecting property. As long as protecting property matters more than protecting lives, we will not make progress. And as long as the powers- that-be are more concerned with protecting property than lives, those who-will-not-be-heard will attack what matters most. Even putting lives on the line.


The commitment to five centres demonstrates accountability. To all sides.


But maybe five communities raise too high a profile. What about your community? Who in your community needs to sit and talk? Sit and Listen? Sit and plan? And then, stop sitting and start moving?!


Any of this is hampered, of course, by social distancing. But we need to move from social-distancing to social bridge-building. Six feet is nothing compared to the gulf between people, races, communities. But bridging six feet might lead to bridging decades and centuries of injustice and emotional, physical, and spiritual violence.


But arming ourselves is not going to help. Taking more lives is not going to help. We must be vulnerable in order to be strong.


When armed agents, who do not represent us or act under our authority, and armed, radical citizens, who do not represent us or act under our authority, take the attention away from what we really need to do, and from who really needs to be involved, we will not make progress.


What, in God’s name, does this blog have to do with theological reflection and spiritual practice? Well, this is about God’s people. God’s community. God’s reconciliation. God’s justice.


And that involves you and me. And a Spirit, between us and among us, that seeks deep and abiding peace.


DMS July 27-2020

An Organic Model of God and Stronger Responses to Care of Creation- Sallie McFague Part 4

The following blog, the fourth in a series, is based on the writings of Sallie McFague in her book The Body of God: An Ecological Theology, (Fortress Press: Minneapolis), 1993. This series draws as well from another of Sallie McFague’s books, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis) 1987.


The first three blogs described more traditional models of God and their limitations as fading bases for responding to care of creation. Following this transitional introduction, the next three blogs sketch Sallie McFague’s Organic model and their advantages in promoting redemptive responses to the climate crisis.


McFague is seeking to address old language in a new age, seeking to reframe theology in the context of a nuclear age and an Anthropocene era. We need to move beyond a theology of dualism and division. We are more than spirit/flesh; subject/object; male/ female; mind/body. Ministry requires more than attempting to bridge rich/poor; old/young; straight/gay; Christian/ non-Christian. The questions answered by classical theology are not being asked in the same way in this era. And the answers offered by older, familiar models are not being appropriated in this new age.


The spiritual journey in this era is less about seeking holiness, but more about seeking wholeness. Christian ethics are less about a people set apart and more about becoming a people drawn together. And salvation is more than the redemption of humanity; it is the redemption of all creation.


Redemption does not prepare people to escape this world, to enter into life in another world. Rather, redemption is about the fulfilment of humanity, in its political, social, economic and just realities in this world. Once separated by language and culture and distance, we could imagine ourselves to be separate
and static, from one another and the whole of creation. However, we are substantial individuals, no longer alone, on our own, independent from and indifferent to the evolutionary and ecological realities of the cosmos. All life is interconnected, interdependent. Cells become tissues; become organs; become
systems; become individuals; become tribes and families; become communities; become nations; … become the cosmos. As McFague asserts, “atomistic individualism is indefensible!” (Models of God, p. 8)


It is not enough to worship a transcendent God, “out there”, impartial to the outcome of the universe, except for a few “chosen ones”. God must be seen as invested in the universe, in all life, seeking to reunite the universe, driven by reciprocal love.


The Creator has a body. Creation is the body of God, not in the sense that the Creation is God, that we worship creation. But in the sense that Creation is of the same “stuff” as the Creator, just as a child is of the same “stuff as the Mother”. But different, distinct from her at the same time. The Body of God is the self-expression of the Divine. As the Mother of Creation, she gives birth to life, is on the same side as life, in all its manifestation. She is the expression of creative love, Agape. More than the love of the unlovable, rebellious, disobedient children of the classic model, she loves, pursuing, embracing,
nurturing, and fiercely protecting her children, precisely because they are her children! Her work is to birth and to bring justice, wholeness, to all.


The Mother is the incarnation, the embodiment of saving love, Eros, passionate, desiring, delighting love. Her desire as the Lover, will endure any and all suffering, seeking to heal and reunite the broken Body. The world is attractive to her and precious.


Precious to the last and the least, because there is no limit to her passion for the world. Therefore, her love cannot abandon her children. Her love, sustaining love (Philia), drives her to be present to and with and among her children, all her children. This love makes her immanent to all life. She is a faithful
Companion, working to fulfil all life and reunite all life.


Classical models of God were based upon the theology of Paul and the atoning work of Jesus, who came as the second Adam to restore creation.


The Organic model is more reflective of the theology of John, who proclaims the illuminating love of Jesus, who is the cosmic Logos, the Word, made flesh.


The ancient, Dualistic model maintained a distance between God and humanity, God and creation. Humankind and God were divided because of sin, the rebellion of humanity. This was an anthropological model, addressing the human wilfulness against God. God might not have come to earth, were it not for the fall from grace.


The Organic model is more monistic, expressing the origin in the oneness of the universe and seeking to find the oneness of reality again. This model emphasizes the unity of God and the world, the harmony of
reality.


With that, we introduce the Organic model of God as Sallie McFague describes it. Three persons, three loves, three activities and three ethics:


The image of God as Mother, whose love is Agape, whose activity is Creating, and whose ethic is Justice.


The image of God as Lover, whose love is Eros, whose activity is Saving, and whose ethic is Healing.


The image of God as Friend, whose Love is Philia, whose activity is Sustaining, and whose ethic is Companionship.


Next time – God as Mother….

Models of God Influence Responses to Climate Change – Part 3

The following blog, the third in a series, is based on the writings of Sallie McFague in her book The Body of God: An Ecological Theology ,(Fortress Press: Minneapolis), 1993. This series draws as well from another of Sallie McFague’s books, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Fortress Press, Minneapolis) 1987.


Part 1, posted June 19 and revised July 3, used a form of a dichotomous key to tease out from the reader a sense of his/her conscious or unconscious model of God. Part 2, posted July 5, summarized five models of God suggested by Dr. McFague. This posting will sketch how those models possibly influence one’s approach to climate change. Indeed, these models have failed to shape the necessary faithful care for creation. This posting will also introduce McFague’s suggested model with a view to considering the benefits of this model for effective, faithful care of creation.


The Deistic model. God is simply gone. This is the classic metaphor of the “clockmaker” who has created the universe, wound it up to run by its internal rules, balances, and mechanisms and left the machine to run on its own. The world is running as it is designed to run. Except, in the last two hundred years, humankind has tampered with the works. The clock is running too fast. By the month of August or so humanity has used up more of the earth’s resources than the earth can replenish or rebalance. The earth is warming. The polar caps are melting. The sea is rising and life within the sea is dying. Perhaps God might one day return and make repairs. Or destroy the earth. Or perhaps God will simply move on to other worlds.


The Dialogic model. God speaks and humanity listens. Except, it’s unclear whether very many are listening. And, given such a multiplicity of messages within the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as the multiplicity of messages among the global villages, there does not appear to be a common vision for the common good.

There is a hierarchical order in the relation of God to the world. God is transcendent, speaking from on high, speaking holy words through holy people in holy places. What is required is humanity’s submission and obedience. There is little required of any of the rest of the universe, except humanity.


The Monarchical model. This expands the hierarchy even more. God is above, then angels, then priests, then males, then females. The intellect is greater than the heart. The soul is greater than the body.

God abides among the chosen people and wages war upon, banishes, and punishes the others. Those inside the kingdom are suspicious of, or antagonistic toward, those on the outside. God is transcendent in power and majesty. God is imminent through the scriptures, the rituals and the proscriptions.


There is very little in these models that might affirm creation, except for its usefulness, and protect life other than human. So, is it any wonder that extraction, commodification, pollution and destruction are tolerated or even encouraged?


The Agential model. Here God has a goal, a destiny for creation. Humanity is enlisted and empowered with industry, intellect, and science to be God’s agents through whom God works. As humanity aspires to its best capabilities, motivated by the best of intentions, values, and good will, societies will flourish; and cultures will expand; and the economy will grow. All things are possible. Without God. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish what is done in the name of, and by the power of, God, and what is purely humanitarian.

Concern for the protection and restoration of creation is growing. In some circles. Where there are the advantages to do something.

Given enough time, and given enough money, and given enough research, the planet should be alright. The planet has endured for four billion years. And life has survived through several epochs of extinction. There are critics today who say we already have the science, the resources, even the money. We just don’t have the will. There is still enough time to lay a few more pipelines, discover a few more oil fields, dig a few more coal mines. The infrastructure is there already and cannot be simply abandoned. We’ll cut a few more trees and mould a little more plastic. The costs will be passed along to the consumer. In the next generation.


There’s something about these models of God; there’s something about the relationship of God to the world; and hence the relationship of humankind to the world; and hence the responsibility of humankind for the world that’s not working.


And maybe that’s why McFague proposes more than a tweaked or “reformed” model for God. She proposes a model wherein God remains divine and the world remains blessed. God is the creator of life, all life, not just human life. And God has a will, a goal for creation, all creation, whereby humanity is saved, and the world is saved. But it requires a world where God is imminent and transcendent. A world wherein humanity is dependent, interdependent, and responsible.


She calls this model an Organic model. This model requires three new, but very old, images of God; three new, and very traditional shapes of love from God; three distinct but interdependent activities by God; and three familiar and deeply necessary ethics for this time.


The image of God as Mother, whose love is Agape, whose activity is Creating, and whose ethic is Justice.


The image of God as Lover, whose love is Eros, whose activity is Saving, and whose ethic is Healing.


The image of God as Friend, whose Love is Philia, whose activity is sustaining, and whose ethic is Companionship.


These will be each sketched out in three blogs to follow …

Models of God Influence Responses to Climate Change – Part 2

The following blog is based on the writings of Sallie McFague in her book The Body of God: An Ecological Theology ,(Fortress Press: Minneapolis), 1993. It continues the playful thinking of the blog originally published June 19 and edited July 3, and draws from another of Sallie McFague’s books, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Fortress Press, Minneapolis) 1987).

In her book, The Body of God, Dr. McFague builds an argument for an “organic” model of God, reflective of today’s understanding of scripture and of science. In her earlier book, Models of God, she sets a base for reflection by describing several models existing among theologies today. My earlier blog set before the reader a number of dualities, like a dichotomous key, seeking to tease out from the reader the model of God operating in their theology. Or perhaps the reader discovered a complex mixed model, perhaps in a state of transitioning, given this new age.

This blog endeavors to very simply, no doubt simplistically, summarize the historical models, perhaps easily recognized, if not easily claimed. Why is this necessary at all? As she wrote Models of God, humanity had assumed the power of the nuclear age. McFague described an age that had changed radically. Humanity no longer lived in a world “under the guidance of an absolute deity, a world that is populated by independent individuals (mainly human beings) who relate to one another and to other forms of life in hierarchical patterns” (Models, p.3)

She continued, “Moreover, in this world the absolute divisions between human being and other beings and even between the organic and inorganic are softened as are any of the hierarchical dualism that have accompanied those divisions: spirit/flesh, subject/object, male/female, mind/body.” (Models, p.4)

Couple this with the capacity for extinction in this nuclear age, the extinction of all life, perhaps with the push of a button, in a flash – humanity could no longer assume that, as she says, “benevolent forces will take care of the future… we have the power to extinguish it”(Models, p.5).

McFague reminds us that humanity constructs the world we inhabit, but often forgets it has done so. What we know is deemed to be truth, but the metaphors used to express truth, the models we live by, may have outlived their usefulness. She stresses, “Theologians must think experimentally, must risk novel constructions in order to be theologians for our time.” (emphasis hers) (Models, p. 6)

We no longer live in a three-tiered universe. Additionally, the earlier, familiar dualities of the eighties have seen new demands for theological reflection in the second millennium, in this post-nuclear, but still not as safe, age. Consider now these issues, not only of thought but of justice: rich/poor, old/young, white or persons of color, straight/gay or non-binary identifying, Christian/Non-Christian/None.

It used to be that the Christian task was to live as a people set apart. But now there is a need to be drawn together. Some would argue that the universe, not in spite of, but through its ever-expanding diversity, is seeking a return to wholeness, wholeness not known since the great Singularity.


Redemption is no longer about preparing individuals to depart this earth for life in another world. If it ever was. Rather, redemption is the fulfillment of humanity, recognized in political, social and economic realities in this world.


McFague writes that “We are not separate, static, substantial individuals relating in external ways of our choice – to other individuals, mainly human ones, and in minor ways to other forms of life.” (Models, p.7). We are not our own. We must recover our ecology, embrace our ecosystems, renew our relationships to the rocks and waters, atmosphere and soil, plants, animals and human beings. “Relationship and interdependence, change and transformation, not substance, changelessness, and perfection, are the categories within which a theology for our day must function.” (Models, p.8)


“Who are you?” Many dramas have been written and enacted about someone leaving everything to go off somewhere and “find themselves”. But that can’t be done. There is no “me”, apart from “we.” I am nothing, apart from my relationships.


“Who are you?” In the words of Yahweh, speaking to Moses from the burning bush. “I Am who I Am.” Also translated as “I will Be what I will Be.” I am becoming, unfolding, actualizing. I will be known in my actions and my activities, experienced in relationships.


McFague quotes Charles Birch and John Cobb, Jr. who wrote the following:
The life of the cell is best understood in terms of ecological relationships among molecules. The living organism is best seen in terms of its ecological relationships with its environment. The interdependence of each living organism with other living organisms and with other components of its environment is the principle of population ecology (The Liberation of Life, p.4, quoted in Models, p. 14).


In the modern era, now beyond the nuclear age, now wrestling through the Anthropocene, theology has to change. The old models are inadequate. But not necessarily relinquished.


So, briefly, what are these old models?


McFague begins by quoting the First Vatican Council of 1870 expressing the relationship of God and the world as holy Other. She describes a passion for the church to remove God from the world. God is almighty, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intelligence and will and perfection, “really and essentially distinct from the world”. (Body, p.136) These terms would be familiar, I’m sure, to anyone taught the doctrines and creeds of the church and who is conversant with all manner of faithful debates.


The first model that follows (“deistic”) is that God is not in the world or of the world or really involved in the world. Arising from the sixteenth century and shaped by the early scientific revolution, God is imagined as creating the stuff of nature like a “clockmaker” and then leaving. Everything needed, the laws and mechanisms, have been provided for the world to run on its own…. Except for the occasional mess-ups when God is required to intervene and set things right, the so-called ‘god-of-the-gaps’.


The second model McFague calls the “dialogic”. God speaks. Humans respond. The world is narrowly reduced to God and the individual. It is personal, an I-Thou connection. This model focuses on sin, guilt and forgiveness. Religion and culture are separate, perhaps even antithetical. God and humans meet, McFague says, not in the world but in the inner, internal joy and sorrow of human experience. But she adds, “Liberation theologies have protested the focus on the individual (usually white, male, Western, affluent) alienation and despair, insisting that God’s relation to the world must include the political and social dimensions as well.” (Body, p.138).

The third model is that of the “monarch”. “Our God reigns” as the song says. God rules. God has a side that is violent and destructive, conquering and overthrowing, or banishing and punishing. God is transcendent over all human beings and immanent in only one, Jesus of Nazareth. God expects obedience, worship and service from humanity but requires little from non-human creatures.


A fourth model, the “agential,” assumes that God acts as an agent in the world, with intentions and purposes realized in history. God acts through human beings. This sometimes makes it difficult to differentiate what is human and what is divine. This also implies that mankind is the body of God, suggesting a form of anthropomorphism. Classical expressions embrace God as Father, Mother, Lord, Lover, Friend. More modern expressions are less embodied, emphasizing expressions of Force, or Breath, active in the World or Universe and less strongly the mind or the self, with ethical implications among human beings and toward all life forms and natural context.


The fifth model McFague calls “organic.” The world or universe is divine. The divine is transcendent but not indifferent to the world. The world is not made for God but comes from God, as the body of God. This is not saying the world is God, pantheistic, but that God is in the world pan-entheistic. God guides the evolutionary process, through complex interconnected agents. There is a divine purpose and direction for creation. All creation is moving toward God’s ultimate fulfillment, not in a predetermined or fixed way, but as “the processes of natural growth toward the divine source and goal of their existence” (Body, p. 141). In this way God is both radically imminent and radically transcendent.


McFague’s model, strongly rooted in the agential and organic models, has two admitted problems. What do we do with the personal language associated with traditional piety and practice? And what kind of personal imagery is appropriate, given our contemporary science?


Each of these classic models has different implications for care of the planet. These will be unpacked a bit and then examined in light of McFague’s organic model next time.

Models of God Influence Responses to Climate Change edited July 3, 2020

The following blog is based on the writings of Sallie McFague in her book The Body of God: An Ecological Theology ,(Fortress Press: Minneapolis), 1993.

(My sincere apologies for the poor editing of the earlier blog.)

The next couple of blogs will help lift up and tease out what the reader’s model of God is. This platform does not work well to create a chart for comparison purposes. And if I were to be as thorough in identifying what is the model you the reader have, comparing that with the model Dr. McFague proposes, I would need a book. And it would not be as interesting as hers.

 
Let’s begin by understanding that a model of God is the construct we have, whether well-thought out, formally taught by your faith tradition or informally caught by your family tradition. Models become lenses through which you interpret life, faith and faithfulness. Your model will be helpful in determining whether a new experience, behavior, teaching, or perspective “fits.” If it does “fit,” then the experience will become part of the model’s narrative; the behavior will be undertaken; the teaching will be endorsed; and the perspective will be affirmed. If not, then the experience will be refuted; the behavior will be criticized; the teaching will be challenged; and the perspective will be rejected. Most of the time.

 
Sometimes, however, a new experience, behavior, teaching or perspective becomes so compelling that the model needs some attention, some reworking, some expansion… or abandonment.


So let me proceed by setting before you, the reader, some dualisms, some choices. The choices may seem simplistic, and they are. But perhaps they may serve as a sort of dichotomous key. Enough choices will allow your model to become more clear. Again, I may put before you choices that you may not have considered before. And they may not appear consistent or systematic. Nevertheless, they are the model you have… at this time… and they will allow elements of Dr. McFaque to emerge. Dualities by themselves never capture reality. But as you read the following, force yourself to make a choice and see what emerges.

 
Let me begin by asking, where are you home? On earth? Or, in heaven?

 
What does salvation mean? The well-being of all life? The liberation of the oppressed? Or, the forgiveness of sin? The liberation of your soul?

 
Where is your spiritual life experienced? Externally, out in the world, in nature? Or, internally, within your heart, from your soul?

 
What is the material world to you? Your mother? Something alive? Something conscious? You are part of it, and it is part of you? The material world nurtures you? It is in relationship with you? Or, is the material world something entirely separate from you? It’s about “stuff.” The material world and its stuff is to be utilized. The world exists for your benefit.

 
What does it mean to be a person? Do you have a physical nature that is important, essential? Is your identity shaped by your relationships and context? Are you inter-dependent and inter-related? Or, are you meant to rise above your physicality? Are you meant to be an individual? Exclusively distinct, unique? Is the real person you are determined and expressed from your soul?

 
Who is the person of Christ? Is Christ cosmic, timeless? Present from the beginning of creation and present even now as creation continues to unfold? Or, is Christ an historical figure? A God-man in time? Long ago, Christ came and walked this earth and left for a time, but will come again to complete all that Christ is meant to do?

 
What does God as Logos mean? Is the Logos the intermediary between God and matter? The intimate blending, interacting, of the Divine and the material? Present from the beginning? Animating everything? The Wisdom that expresses the continuing will of God? Or, is the Logos simply and only the second person of the Trinity? Separate, and distinct from humanity? Transcendent. God from God, Light from Light. Being of one substance from the Father, as the Nicene Creed contends.

 
Is life an organism? Or, a machine? Is life all together physical and emotional and spiritual? Of one being with the earth and all creatures, not merely all humanity? Passionate, desiring and delighting. Is life one living Being, one body, with one living soul? Or, is life a metaphorical body with Christ as the head and other body parts hierarchically more necessary, more desirable, more attractive, while still other parts are considered shameful? Is life a machine made up of many parts, some parts more important, precious, desirable than others? Parts that may be replaced when no longer desirable, efficient, effective, or productive? Parts combined with other parts to make units, modules, cities, nations that can be fixed when broken? Or destroyed? Parts shaped and functioning by reason, controlled by thinking, with emotions and passions tamed and under control?

 
It’s not easy to choose so definitively, is it? There are elements in these dualities that sound comforting, familiar. But what are the implications in the care of creation if we operate mechanically, rather than organically? Are we discovering our creation, nature, is dying because we have failed to treat it as truly alive?

 
If from the perspective of the mechanical model, our organic model is muddied, (pun intended) our behavior will be complicated, cumbersome and inefficient. If, from the perspective of the organic model, our mechanical model is stiff and lifeless, our behavior will be predetermined according to plan and design; our behavior will benefit only the strong and the powerful, those for whom the machine was designed; and there will be no room for imagination, creativity and the delight of the unexpected.

 
More to follow….