On Angels and Devils

I’ve been working on Christmas sermons and chasing references about angels throughout my Bible. Seeing few references to wings and flight. Or to halos. Or to sweet singing. Apart from apocalyptic literature (Daniel, Revelation), it is rare in Biblical storytelling that the angels perform extraordinary deeds of great power. Angels are often standing. They appear as humans. They bring powerful messages. Indeed, that’s what angel means – messenger. And their message is often surrounded by an awe-inspiring, even terrifying, experience of God’s glory.

I get that angels are divine-ish beings. That’s what Scripture seems to describe. Angels seem to occupy a different spiritual space than we humans do. But I can’t help but imagine – I want to think – that angels are simply ordinary people who show up at the right time, speak the right message, sent by God however briefly, to bring Good News to people who really, really need some Good News. And in that encounter the ordinary people involved in the telling and the hearing of Good News are surrounded by the extraordinary glory of God.

Speaking of angels … Scripture says remarkably little about the devil, often thought of as a fallen angel. Satan as a fallen angel is described in 2 Enoch, a pseudepigraphal text that no Christian group considers canon. The idea that Satan is a fallen angel developed within early Christianity as a way of explaining the existence of the devil in Scripture. If God created all things, surely God created the devil we read of in the Gospels … right? So, where did the devil come from? Got to come up with an answer. (Or do we?)

In the Book of Job Satan is an accuser in God’s heavenly court, but not the evil fiend of popular thought. In the Gospels Satan is an evil adversary of Jesus. In Acts and the epistles, Satan is a tempter and troublemaker. In Revelation Satan is “the deceiver of the whole world,” a personification of evil in a wild spiritual warfare seen as characterizing Christian living until the Time to Come. But that’s about it for the Bible and Satan. Indeed, most of what we think of as the devil comes from Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” not the Bible itself.

Biblical descriptions of Satan are not consistent, and there is no systematic theology of Satan in the Bible (or even in the Christian tradition). Christians have variously feared, mocked, given credence to or all but ignored the idea of an evil being named Satan over the centuries.

But this much is clear: evil is real. Evil and brokenness and sin exist in the world – writ large, in societies and groups of people, and in individuals. Indeed, it is in response to such evil that God sent Jesus into the world, to show us a better way. The Bible, at times, calls this evil Satan and describes it as a quasi-heavenly being at work in the world. Demons, too, have been described as Satan’s emissaries, evil forces at work in the world. But efforts to explain the devil’s origins or to clearly describe the devil’s nature go beyond the Bible’s scope, and lead us into some unBiblical directions.

But the work attributed to Satan and his legion of demons – the corruption of creation and the tempting of humanity to defy God’s intent for the world – is clearly a reality. To face the reality of evil we need neither to accept nor deny that a “devil” exists.

I don’t know how I feel about “spiritual forces” – angels, demons, and so forth – but I certainly acknowledge that what they often stand for exists. Evil lurks in this world. But so does goodness. Love is more powerful than hatred. Healing is more powerful than brokenness. Our faith, as Christians, is in one who comes as Love incarnate, looks sin and death and the devil in the eye, and tells it to screw off. The stone is rolled away. Death is defeated.

And so in this season of angels bearing Good News, let us listen for their news once again. Let us resist evil, be it the devil or ill will of any form. Let us listen and look for angels in our daily lives. Let us be angels to one another, messengers bearing good news for all people.

Angels may we be, angels may we receive, in this season of Good News.

Running as an Easter Spiritual Disicpline

La_Pieta_Santa_Maria_della_Vita_Niccolo_del_Arca_1462

Mary Magdalene running to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty Niccolò dell’Arca | 1462-63 | Painted terra cotta | Bologna, Italy

If running doesn’t yet have a feast day on the church year calendar, Easter should be the Feast Day of Running.

The Easter account tells of running – running to and from the tomb – in three of the four Gospels.

Matthew 28:8 “So [Mary Magdalene and the other Mary] left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

Luke 24:12 “But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”

John 20:2-4 “So [Mary Magdalene] ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.”

This Easter morning I will head out for a run at dawn, the time of day that Scripture says the women first went to the tomb.

With the women I will run.

With Peter and the other disciple I will run.

With fear and amazement and great joy I will run, for the Lord is risen. Alleluia!

The Lord has given us renewed reason to run the race set before us. To run with love. To run knowing that death is not the end of the story. To run knowing that an empty grave, new life, resurrection, and the Kingdom of God lies before us.

Run the race of hope and promise. Run the resurrection. For this is why we run. This is the Feast of Running.

Playing the Wall Street Victim

In her widely shared “Two Views of Pope Francis” Ms Noonan unnecessarily condescends the Pope and his economics, and regrettably plays the Wall Street victim to the Pope’s cautions about capitalism.

Reagan_with_Peggy_NoonanMs Noonan’s experience with capitalism is legitimate, from her vaunted perch as a presidential speech writer and Wall Street Journal columnist. She has lived and worked at the center of American political and economic power, and she fervently believes in the free market’s power to unleash human potential, create wealth, and contribute to the common good. Her experience is legitimate.

Cardinal_Bergoglio_argentinaBut so too is Pope Francis’ experience. He has ministered in the slums of Buenos Aires, at the tip of a continent whose politics and economics is covered with American fingerprints – political, military, and economic. He has seen the worst of capitalism’s imbalance, mixed with corruption and imperialism, and he rightfully has his concerns about capitalism – particularly its underside.

Instead of condescending the Pope as someone who, “doesn’t, actually, seem to know a lot about capitalism or markets, or even what economic freedom has given—and is giving—his own church,” Ms Noonan could perhaps consider as valid the Pope’s perspective as one who has lived on the other side of the world’s economy, and refrain from playing the victim of an otherwise powerless spokesman who speaks truth about the poor.

Please read her article (linked, below). It reflects Ms Noonan’s faith and affection for the Pope, and her deep commitment to the free market. But ultimately I find her commentary flawed in its failure to see the legitimacy of another perspective of the global economy, one deeply rooted in personal experience and in longstanding church teaching.

Peggy Noonan article pope

Mormon Bashing

“‘All things are lawful,'” but not all things are beneficial.
All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” – 1 Corinthians 10:23

This week The Current in Westfield and The Current in Carmel included a 12-page “advertising supplement” entitled “Non-Mormon Temple Visitors Guide.” In this “guide” provided by Tri-Grace Ministries of Ephraim, Utah, you’ll read all kinds of claims about the Mormon faith written by non-Mormons and by people who claim to be former Mormons.

Twice on the first page this “guide” refers to Mormon teaching as “deception.” I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that this is not an entirely fair “guide.”  This guide may be sincerely written by people of faith, but it is harmful to our community and particularly to our Mormon friends and neighbors.

“‘All things are lawful,'” but not all things are beneficial.
‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” – 1 Corinthians 10:23

It is entirely lawful for The Current to run this “advertising supplement.” The First Amendment protects and guarantees their free speech and that of the authors of this “advertising supplement.” But this massive “advertising supplement” is not beneficial. It does not build up our community.

It is not beneficial for a newspaper that arrives at every single house in our ZIP Code to distribute such a “guide” that dismisses as “deceptive” the teachings, practices, and faith of the Mormon Church. This “advertising supplement” is a form of public bullying, disparaging the faith and church of many of our neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens. Mormonism is a minority religion whose adherents have, for much of their history, been bullied, harassed, persecuted, and chased out of town. That ugly tradition continues with this “advertising supplement.”

Next week will The Current run a 12-page screed against Jews? Roman Catholics? Muslims? Lutherans? Homosexuals?

No matter what theological qualms some may have about the Mormon Church (or the Roman Catholic Church, or Islam, or Lutheranism, or whatever), it does not build up our community when a public asset such as The Current distributes divisive and biased literature to every single household in our community. Rather than spread divisive and biased literature, The Current should seek mutual understanding, interpret the words, faith, and actions of our neighbors in the best possible light, and celebrate when members of our community celebrate (such as our Mormon friends are doing this week with the opening of their new Temple).

Martin Luther, in his teaching on the 8th Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”), says:

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

I am attending an Open House at the new Mormon Temple in Carmel next week. I am doing so to learn more about the Mormon faith so that I can “come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” I am also attending the Open House so that I can stand with my friends and neighbors against the unfair attacks and slander they experience all too often.

Theological differences between the Mormon Church and the Lutheran Church are real. But so too is the unfair treatment our neighbors, friends, and fellow children of God of the Mormon Church receive to this day. My friends and neighbors don’t deserve to receive, on their doorstep, such a publication. I cannot remain silent. I have to speak out.

For me, living a life of faith is not about projecting my faith into the public square to the detriment of others, or seeking public assets – be they government or business – to enshrine and propagate my faith through their power and reach. Instead, living a life of faith is about coming to the defense of my neighbors, seeking the good of the community – particularly the most vulnerable and “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) – living into the promises of the coming Kingdom of God, and having the opportunity to worship and live according to the dictates of faith.

I pray for mutual understanding among the faith communities of Westfield and Carmel.
I pray for a renewed commitment by our communities to seek the common good.
I pray for God’s grace to strengthen us, and especially those oppressed by bigotry and prejudice of any kind.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

UPDATE – Saturday, July 11

After three days I have turned off comments on this post, as the conversation in the comment thread was no longer constructive. We all seem to be talking past each other. Thank you for the conversation and for sharing your different points of view on this matter.

Blessings.

What a Week

(My weekly church blogpost shared here, as our church website is in transition)

Remind me not to take vacation during the last week in June ever again.

I remember watching the Phil Donahue Show one summer in late June as a kid, shortly after school let out (I was a really fun kid. Really.). They were talking about the constitutionality of burning the American flag in the wake of United States v. Eichman, a case that ruled as unconstitutional laws that banned the desecration of the American flag on free speech grounds.

The guests were passionate. The audience members were opinionated. There was lots of energy around this issue.

From that moment I got more and more interested in both politics and in the flag, and I learned quite a bit about both. I read the Constitution and the Flag Code, and various opinions about both. One of the lessons I learned is this: even though school is out and summer has started, late June – when the Supreme Court releases its most anticipated rulings – is one of the most consequential times of the year for our country.

In the past week, the Supreme Court has ruled on marriage, healthcare, environmental protections, fair housing, and congressional redistricting, among other issues. Together with the outrage following the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and the heated – yet very important – discussion surrounding the Confederate Flag, it was a significant week for our nation.

Now, in the midst of all this news and critical issues before our country, the church cannot be silent. At the least, the church and its leaders should seek to make sense – in terms of faith – of what our society is experiencing in this moment. Even more, the church and its leaders should be public voices for justice. After all, a lamp isn’t lit to be set underneath a bushel (Matthew 5:15), the call of a prophet is to cry out loudly against injustice (Isaiah 1:23, for example), and the kingdom of God is not a matter of words but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20).

Cries for the church to stay out of politics, and for preachers to speak on matters of faith not politics, miss the point. Jesus engaged in ministry publicly. Jesus spoke about how people treat one another. Jesus died at the hands of government – publicly. The prophets of old decried how society neglected the widow and the poor. Faith without works is dead, and one work of faith is to seek a more just society that improves the health and welfare of any who suffer injustice, indignity, poverty, hunger, and oppression of any kind. Faith is inherently public, and is inherently concerned with public things.

After all, Jesus’ main way of speaking about God’s intent for humanity was to speak of the Kingdom of God. “The Kingdom of God is like ….” Kingdoms are societies. They are inherently social, public, corporate. The life of faith is not just something we keep to ourselves, individually.

Even more. Faith is not just one part of our lives, but informs the whole of our lives. We do not put faith on and take faith off. Faith is not just found in one box in our closet, to be taken out on Sundays and holidays. Faith is part of all that we do. Faith informs all of our actions. Faith – and the God in whom we have faith – is concerned with all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Thus faith led me to weep when nine African Americans were murdered while at prayer. When one member of the body of Christ suffers, I suffer. Faith led me to ask tough questions about the legacy of racism, the power of symbols, and the unfulfilled promise of “we the people” seeking to form “a more perfect union.” In faith I read where Scripture tells me that “love bears all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), and that we are called to “bear another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Looking at the burden of racism and the legacy of oppression that my sisters and brothers bear, I grieve and ask, “How can I bear this burden with them?” I don’t have a very good answer. The question gnaws at me. The status quo is not working. Racism persists. This sin, and the structures that were shaped by it, need to be dismantled.

Faith led me to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling on marriage, extending marriage rights to same-gender couples in all fifty states. For years couples and families have lived without the dignity and legal protections of marriage. Medical decisions, estates, health insurance, shared property ownership, and so many other protections and opportunities were denied to same-gender couples and their families, to our neighbors and friends, to Soldiers wearing the uniform of the Armed Forces, to our fellow human beings and sisters and brothers in Christ. Legal prohibitions created a hardship for millions of people. Faith celebrates when hardships are alleviated, when “the lowly are lifted up” (Luke 1:52). Faith rejoices at wholeness and healing and justice.

In neither of these issues am I directly implicated. I am not black. I am not gay. Yet that is precisely the point. Faith is not primarily concerned with the self. Our faith is primarily concerned with the whole of society and the care of the other. “Love does not insist on its own way,” writes Paul, speaking to the faith community in Corinth (1 Corinthians 13:5). Faith is oriented toward the justice and renewal of the Kingdom of God and those who live within it. Justice is experienced – and enacted – in community. Faith is inherently interested in the community and the world.

So too, I believe, is the American Experiment. The United States was established by “we the people” to establish “a more perfect union.” The Bill of Rights was written to restrain society, its government, and its majorities from trampling on the rights of individuals. But more than a mere restraint function or a statement of the rights of individuals, the Bill of Rights and the eloquent call to create “a more perfect union” speak to a positive view of a society in which “liberty and justice for all” is the goal.

In the critical conversations about race that our nation has begun since the Charleston shooting, and in the celebrations and hand-wringings and questions of “what’s next?” following the Supreme Court’s ruling, our nation is one step closer to realizing its calling to form a more perfect union. Such steps are difficult, and ours will never be a perfect union – sin will make sure of that.

Yet we strive ever forward, as Christians and as Americans, to make ours a more perfect union. Such a more perfect union begins to take shape when our focus turns from self to other, and we recommit ourselves not to insisting on our own ways but instead to bearing others’ burdens … to seeking liberty and justice for all.

Right to Religious Freedom? Yes. Right to run a business according to your faith? Not necessarily.

Our nation’s commitment to the free exercise of religion is unwavering. Religious organizations are tax-exempt, and gifts to religious organizations are tax deductible, lest the tax code be seen as a burden to the free exercise of religion. Americans are free to assemble with people of like faith and to practice their faith in community without fear of government intervention. People can generally dress, worship, eat, practice morality, and otherwise structure their lives in accordance to their faith. This is a great strength of our nation.

And even the Armed Forces support a Chaplain Corps that provides service members with Chaplains who perform religious services and provide for the free expression of religion of service members. Chaplains also advocate for religious accommodation – to include provisions for a religiously-defined diet, the wearing of particular religiously-prescribed clothing, religiously-defined grooming standards, required head coverings, etc. – within the highly structured and uniform environment of the military.

We are a nation committed to the free exercise of religion.

In this spirit, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in the 1990s to guarantee the free exercise of religion by members of minority religions whose religious free exercise was unintentionally burdened by laws that otherwise had nothing to do with religion. So committed to the free exercise of religion are we that we wanted to make sure that minority religions could practice their faith without other laws would hinder their religious practice.

Yet, just over a week ago, my state passed a law that was designed to protect members of the majority religion (Christianity) from public policies they perceive as burdening their religious beliefs. What began as a law to protect the free exercise of religion from unintentionally burdensome laws has become, in its most recent state-law versions, a law to allow corporations to seek exemption from public accommodation laws on religious freedom grounds.

Of course, we’re talking about businesses owned by Christians who feel it a violation of their religion to provide services to gays and lesbians, particularly to gays and lesbians seeking same-gender wedding services (flowers, cakes, photography, etc.). They believe that providing such services would be an endorsement of a marriage that goes against their religious beliefs.

Yet, there is a big difference between ensuring the free exercise of one’s faith, and guaranteeing that a religious person who owns a business can operate that business with religious exemptions to key public policy commitments of our nation – including that of public accommodation (ie, businesses must serve all customers who walk through the door).

To this degree, the Armed Forces offers a helpful lesson.

The Armed Forces provides a Chaplain Corps to provide for the free expression of religion, and to perform religious services (worship, prayer, sacraments, rites, counseling, etc.) for service members. Yet, this commitment to religious expression within the military does not – cannot – accommodate a service member whose religion forbids the carrying of arms or engaging in combat. Such a citizen simply cannot be a soldier.

Ultimately, there is no constitutional right to join the Armed Forces.

Perhaps this is instructive for Christian business owners who seek exemption from serving certain customers. While there is a constitutional right to practice religion, and while free enterprise is central to our nation’s culture and economy, there is no Constitutional right to be a baker, or a photographer, or a florist. If conducting business according to the laws of our nation causes the business owner to violate their faith, perhaps the business owner need to find a new line of work.

The pacifist Christian cannot expect to keep a job in the military without violating her faith.

The orthodox Jew cannot expect to work in a pork processing plant without violating his faith.

Likewise, the conservative Christian perhaps should not expect to work in the wedding industry, if such work might require her to serve couples that offend their religious sensibilities.

The life of faith requires people of faith to make hard decisions. Will we tithe, spending less on consumer goods, house, or sports for our children? How will we raise our children? What choices will we make for engaging the culture – do we participate in civic holiday celebrations or not? What happens when religious practice conflicts with school or work schedules (an issue of particular concern for minority religions)? For some Christians, perhaps, one new hard decision they face is to find a line of work that would not put them in a position to violate core tenets of their faith.

I do not share the concern about same-gender marriage that some conservative Christians have. Yet, as someone committed to the free exercise of religion, I support the right of people to believe what they feel they are compelled to believe by their faith. Yet, their right to believe does not translate into a right to conduct a business in a way that sidesteps certain laws and commitments of our nation.

“Still”

“There are still problems (with racism and inequality) and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.”
– President Obama, November 24, 2014

One of the most important words President Obama spoke on Monday night was the word “still.” “There are still problems,” he said.

Still.

The Civil Rights era might have seen the dismantling of a segregationist legal code, but changing laws is not enough. There are still problems.

racism is not over t-shirt

Yes, racism is still a thing. For a biting, sarcastic, yet terribly real video telling of the reality of racism, click on the picture.

There are still problems when the education, criminal justice, and economic systems don’t deliver on their promises – not just in individual cases, but for a whole subset of the American people. African Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged in our American system. Race bias, and racial injustice, are embedded in our society and its institutions. The laws have changed, and so have many attitudes and structures. Things are better. Progress has been made. But there are still problems.

Still.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the struggles of our sisters and brothers in Christ, our fellow Americans. We cannot congratulate ourselves for changing laws 50 years ago and just think, mistakenly, that our work there is done. No. There are still problems.

Still.

Can we believe it? Are we willing to face the facts that there are still problems, lingering from over 100 years of slavery, and another 100 years of Jim Crow, all legacies of an even longer history of imperialism that objectified and commodified the other? For most of our nation’s history, black people have been outlawed and branded as criminal, threatening, commodities, animals, as less-than. For 200+ years the freedom of black Americans was seen as un-American, as a threat to the American way.

200+ years of heinously racist and dehumanizing attitudes in our society don’t evaporate because of 50 years of better laws and some structural reform. 200+ years of racism are embedded in the very DNA of our society, in its economic structure, in its public policy, in its education system. And while some of racism’s impact has changed, it has not gone away. There are still problems.

Still. 

[On my blog on the church website, I have written about the need to listen to the cries from the prophets and from Ferguson. Click here to view that story: Listening to the Cries – Habakkuk and Ferguson]

Oaths of Office

On Friday I received my commission as a Chaplain (First Lieutenant) in the US Army and in the Indiana Army National Guard. Here are the oaths I swore.

I, Christopher Thomas Duckworth, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Indiana against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and Governor of the State of Indiana, that I make this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the Office of First Lieutenant in the Army National Guard of the State of Indiana upon which I am about to enter, so help me God.

I, Christopher Thomas Duckworth, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of First Lieutenant do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; SO HELP ME GOD.

April 25, 2014
Lawrence, Indiana

The Bible’s “Marathon” Verses – 26:2

Bible 26:2

I am running my second-ever marathon this Saturday. A marathon is 26.2 miles. For no reason other than the novelty of it, I present here every chapter 26, verse 2, of the Bible – out of context, and perhaps quite odd to read in isolation from the broader story of the text.

The marathon distance is rather arbitrary, and the assignment of verse numbers to Scripture texts wasn’t exactly a precise science, either. I’m no believer in hidden codes in Scripture, nor that the chapter/verse numbers themselves have any intrinsic meaning. I just like marathons and I like the Bible.

That being said, I will certainly carry Job 26:2 with me during Saturday’s race: “How you have helped one who has no power! How you have assisted the arm that has no strength!” If I run this race correctly, I should be pretty much out of power and without strength at the end of the race (and hopefully have a new personal record). This Saturday I will certainly find comfort in the God who helps one who has no power.

I am grateful for the gifts and opportunities God has given to me to run and to train. Running truly gives me such joy, and is a great way for me to revel in the gift of life God has given me. I look forward to celebrating God’s gifts over a 26.2 mile course this Saturday.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Genesis 26:2
The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you.”

Exodus 26:2
The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall be of the same size.

Leviticus 26:2
You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.

Numbers 26:2
“Take a census of the whole congregation of the Israelites, from twenty years old and upward, by their ancestral houses, everyone in Israel able to go to war.”

Deuteronomy 26:2
You shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.

1 Samuel 26:2
So Saul rose and went down to the Wilderness of Ziph, with three thousand chosen men of Israel, to seek David in the Wilderness of Ziph.

1 Chronicles 26:2
Meshelemiah had sons: Zechariah the firstborn, Jediael the second, Zebadiah the third, Jathniel the fourth.

2 Chronicles 26:2
He rebuilt Eloth and restored it to Judah, after the king slept with his ancestors.

Job 26:2
“How you have helped one who has no power! How you have assisted the arm that has no strength!”

Psalm 26:2
Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind.

Proverbs 26:2
Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, an undeserved curse goes nowhere.

Isaiah 26:2
Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.

Jeremiah 26:2
Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord; speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word.

Ezekiel 26:2
Mortal, because Tyre said concerning Jerusalem, “Aha, broken is the gateway of the peoples; it has swung open to me; I shall be replenished, now that it is wasted.”

Sirach 26:2
A loyal wife brings joy to her husband,
and he will complete his years in peace.

Matthew 26:2
“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Acts 26:2
“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews.”

* all bible verses from the New Revised Standard Version

 

Bible Verse in a Box with a Majestic Nature Scene

Have you ever noticed that so many of the inspirational Bible-verse-in-a-box images that get passed around on Facebook and Twitter superimpose the words of Scripture over a majestic nature scene?

A mountain peak reaching into the skies. “I will set my eyes to the hills – Psalm 121”

Ocean waves crashing on rocks as the sun rises. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold – Psalm 18:2”

An endless plain blowing with amber waves of grain. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. – John 14:27”

The message from these images (and from their ancestors, the inspirational Bible verse poster sold at Christian bookstores) sends an indirect yet clear message – God is found in the far-off, in the majestic, in the distant nature scene.

This is terribly sad, of course, for a people who follow a Lord whose name is Emmanuel – God with us. God might be with us in our theology, but in our popular imagery we see God as far off, in nature, away from people.

To be sure, Scripture uses nature imagery to describe God, and even Jesus and Moses ascend mountains for moments of retreat and prayer. Yet, such imagery is neither the dominant nor the only metaphor or model found within Scripture to describe the community of faith and its relationship with God.

The preponderance of majestic nature scene images in our popular expression of faith reinforces an unhealthy sense that we must “get away” from human community in order to commune with God. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul’s discussion of the Body of Christ and of the importance of the Christian community, in 1 Corinthians 12, attests to that.

Take a look at the next several inspirational Bible verse in a box images you find on Facebook or Twitter – how many of those images include people, include the “us” with whom our God is?

We are a people whose hope-filled imagery of God’s promised future is one of a holy city descending from heaven, and a bold declaration that “the home of God is among mortals” (Revelation 21). Jesus spent lots of time among crowds, and from the beginnings of the salvation story we see God choosing and acting within a community of people.

I think our popular imagery should reflect our theology.

I like beautiful images from nature, but our collections of faith-inspiring imagery should also include pictures of people, of urban and small town landscapes, of the communities that God so loved that he sent his only Son into them. I’m sure some such images exist, but in my experience they are few and far between. We can change that.

I’m not a very creative person when it comes to graphics, but I dabbled with some photos on Flickr to see what it could look like to superimpose words from Scripture on images of people. Here are two that I created.

Keep Watch

Light shine

What can you create? Find photos with people, or take your own photos of friends, family, neighbors, and join them with words of Scripture.

Tag the photos #photoverse and share on FB, Twitter, your blog, or wherever else you share photos. Let’s expand how we see, imagine, and share God among us.