Let There Be…
Origin stories such as Genesis are some of the most beautiful writing in all of scripture. At the same time poetry and prose. Evoking beautiful images that reach back into a time and place p none of us have seen or can speak of.
Even more, these stories spark the imagination in so many ways. And it is a shame that our modern scientific theories have led to arguments and disagreements as Christians have lost that imagination and instead argued with scientists placing creation and evolution up against one another as if they are mutually exclusive.
Instead I would encourage us to look deeply and imaginatively at these stories to discover the way they speak in concurrence with our scientific theories, the way that they have shape science and the way our science can help us better understand creation.
It is clear that when God began to create there were raw materials available – something like earth, but formless and void. There was darkness and there were waters – but more of a deep, shapeless, purposeless abyss. And of course, God’s spirit hovering over all this primordial muck.
This swirling formless mess of earth and water and darkness might not be all that different than the Big Bang idea that all matter in the universe was once within a singularity and from that singularity came this massive expansion of matter which eventually formed the stars, planets, and galaxies that we see and know today. This idea is not inconsistent with the Genesis story at all. In fact, they sound a lot alike.
Genesis describes this singularity of matter as a formless void, the primordial goo of the universe, this formless shapeless matter over which God hovered like a wind.
And then, says Genesis, God begins to work. Expanding and separating things, bringing order to the chaos of the formless void.
Think about this chaotic void for a moment: a swirling mess of matter, not distinct yet, but wrapped up in sameness. This is an interesting image. Nothing was yet distinct, everything the same. And it is described as chaotic. We tend to think that there is unity is when things are the same…thinking and acting the same – but scripture describes this homogenous state as a formless void.
Then comes God separating the formless void into different, unique and distinct parts:
- light from dark
- earth from sky
- land from waters
And because this diversity is created new life is possible. After this separation is done, then God calls forth plants and animals, separating water animals from sky animals and different kind of land animals
I love the creation story and I could go on and on about it… But here is the truth I want to encourage us to wrestle with that is seen both within the creation story and the Big Bang theory:
The world, the universe is moving towards difference…since the beginning. And it is this movement towards difference, which is the work of God, work that brings about order, which creates the conditions necessary for life…it is this difference that makes you and I possible (we were not the first act of creation, we were the last, made possible by the acts before us).
If we are to live we must embrace this difference…otherwise we are fighting against the very grain of the universe, we are fighting against creation, against our creator.
And yet we live in a society that constantly seeks to go back to that singularity of primordial goo where everything thing looks the same because nothing can be distinguished.
- We try to live in neighborhoods that look the same because we are uncomfortable with people who are different than us.
- We complain about employers when they hire people who are different than us – whether that difference is in terms of qualification, education, gender, race, or ethnicity.
- Our school systems struggle because folks want their children to go to school with other children who are the same as them….whether in terms of intelligence, culture, race or ethnicity.
- As I suggested last week, our churches have too often been influenced by something other than God’s word and become monocultures of a sameness rather than places that celebrate the difference ordered into God’s good creation.
Apparently difference is much more of a problem for us than it is for God. For God creates difference and today our society is too often bent on unmaking difference within our daily lives.
I think the question for us today is this: How do we join God right here in this church, right now as we move forward in creating a place the grows and lives because of difference?
Now, there is probably someone out there still too frightened by difference who will respond:
God separated things so we should do that too. Separate ourselves into churches by income and color of skin and culture and political party and so on. That is just like what God did.
Not so fast. Fact is, that line of thinking is an utter failure to believe in God’s creation. That opinion implies things that are already separate and distinct and suggests further separating them into their own place of existence. God is not separating already distinct things. God is separating the primordial goo into distinct entities that when they live and exist together can make life.
And as if predicting this argument for separate living and worshiping environments, right after the ordering of creation in Genesis 1 comes another story about God’s creation. A story about a garden where everything lives together worshiping and glorifying God together. It is as if to say, just in case you think all this is about living separately, creating homogeneous churches, homogeneous lifestyles….nope, God made you to live together in a garden that is beautiful because all things live together.
So, Back to my question: How do we join God right here in this church, right now as we move forward in creating a place the grows and lives because of difference?
I believe the answer lies right at the heart of the creation story. In order to be life-giving, we must make space for difference.
The primordial goo was about everything being the same. If we try to make everything the same, then we will be a wasteland of emptiness. If we invite others into this place and ask them to conform to the way we do church, then we are empty of the beauty of Gods creation, we are a void of god’s diversity…we have wasted what God has made good. If we seek to assimilate folks into a single religious culture and practice that we define as Hood Memorial Christian Church, then we waste the unique and different gifts, skills, abilities and tastes of people included in the word ALL.
If instead, we, like God, make space within who we are for someone different to exist in the beauty of their difference, then we create a church that is life-giving.
So, What does making such space look like? Let me offer a few examples…
Consider our worship today compared to a year and a half ago. I am not critiquing what was. I simple want to acknowledge how we have over the past year opened some space for some pretty special people….children. We have brought instruments into worship, placing them on the pews for everyone to play thereby creating space for children. Though they may not all be able to read the words to worship songs or read music, the children can now join us in making a beautiful noise through playing instruments. And they love it so much that since we have begun this some of our children have started crying when it is time to go home from church because they are having so much fun!
We have also begun literally opening up space for folks who would not otherwise step inside our doors. On the third floor, we have begun offering office space to organizations that have a social benefit to our community and some fit with our mission and vision. We now have a yoga studio and a counseling and coaching office. And these small-businesses are inviting and welcoming folks into our doors who would not normally come into our church
Just this week I had a wonderful conversation with someone out in the community who heard about us because of the new counseling office. This person came to meet me at the cellar during my Thursday office hours there. We chatted about family, work, personal and spiritual struggles and a particular need for a church as a place of spiritual healing. That would not have happened without our campus partners nor without your pastor opening space in his weekly calendar for drop-in visits out in the community.
Do you begin to see what I mean by opening space?
There is no one way to do church. And as soon as we confine church – be it mission, ministry, outreach or worship – to one thing, one way, then we miss all kinds of opportunities, we miss out on cultivating relationships with folks around us, and most importantly we miss the beauty of the many different ideas, practices, cultures, and expressions of faith that God has created.
But these are things we have already begun to do. And I hope you are wondering what else? What next? (And I pray those questions are exciting, not scary!)
Consider one of the most noted, historical, disparate divides in our country today: RACE. WEB Du Bois has said this of the church: “No other institution in America is built so thoroughly or more absolutely on the color line.” And of course you know the words of MLK: Sunday morning at 11 o’clock is the most segregated hour of the week.”
It’s interesting how we know that, and yet we cannot find a way to change it. We assert our love for one another. We hold hands and sing Kim aha. We help folks in need across racial lines.
But we cannot find a fix to our segregated church. And I am convinced that is primarily because we do not think about the cultural ways that we do church. If we are to become a church that is not divided by race, then we must open space for the practices and expressions of other cultures, races and ethnicities to exist, be present and valued.
Let me give you an example from the words of Shelia Sholes-Ross, the first female African American pastor of First Baptist Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Writing about differences of practice in white and black churches, she begin by quoting noted preacher and reconciliation advocate Tony Evans:
“When African Americans consider the care and protection God supplies, especially in light of their socioeconomic plight and history, it is difficult not to be expressive.”
She continues, saying,
Such expression may take various forms, including clapping, shouting, dancing, testifying, and the classic call-and-response interaction between members of the congregation and the preacher. “Well! Amen! Hallelujah! Tell It! Say that! Take your time!” are just a few familiar congregational responses that affirm or encourage the Word of God from the preacher.
Evans goes on to speculate that many Anglos lack understanding regarding call and response in connection with celebratory deliverance of a message by a black preacher. As a black preacher, I find it difficult to hear from white people that this type of worship is not meditative. A belief that only silence during worship reflects an appropriate spirit or response in worship denies cultural differences. While they are right that silence is one aspect of worship, I agree with Evans that outspoken celebration found in black churches is due to African Americans’ gratefulness for deliverances from slavery and other forms of oppression.
As Shelia Sholes-Ross suggests, silence during worship is only one way. It is not the only way and believing it is denies the experiences of millions of Christians across the globe. And we should remember that those Christians are not so distant from us….they are right down the street, some worshiping right now….others at home because they cannot find a family of faith that embraces their unique identity.
Silence is one way, a valid way, an appropriate way. Celebration, Amens and expressive movement is also one way, a valid way, an appropriate way. What if there were a place we’re both could exist together in the space of a worship service? Where there were moments of profound meditative silence and moments of joyful, exuberant celebration at the ways God has delivered us throughout life?
What if some of us allowed ourselves to be delivered from the one way of silence? What if others of us allowed ourselves to be delivered from the one way of constant celebration?
What if some of us found a little joy by getting outside our comfort zone and shouting Amen! Preach Pastor! Hallelujah! And what if others of us found some deep spiritual meaning through the stillness of knowing God in the still small voice of silence?
When we make space for differences to coexist in the same space, we create harmony. Think of it this way…
Larry, play as many notes as you can together on the organ. <cacaphony>
Now that is somewhat like that primordial muck….nothing distinct, everything just mashed up together in one singularity.
Larry, take those notes apart and play them separately. <melody>
Now that is nice. We can make melodies when we take the notes apart. Melodies can be beautiful. But, as I said existing apart is not the point of the creation story. It is living together that create harmony.
Larry, put some harmony with those separate notes. <beautiful song with melody and harmony>
As God said in the beginning,
LET THERE BE
Let them be
Let there be space for difference
Let us there be room for diversity
Let this one and that one have a place at the table
And when we see that space for each different person, we can look upon the church we have created and proclaim as God did, It is good, very good.