Science as Worship

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The heavens declare the glory of God, and science explores His handiwork.
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Why are we, the Church, so afraid of science? Are we fearful that our God will turn out to be a sham?
I will always maintain that we have nothing to fear from science. If science is man’s way of figuring out our world, of using our God-given intellect and reason to understand the works of God, than we should be able to enjoy the breakthroughs of science rather than trembling every time a new discovery is made.
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After all, truth is truth. Truth cannot disprove truth. ~ Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project
When we attack the findings of science without fully understanding the facts, we bring ridicule on Christ’s Church, driving away those who are seeking His truth.
It happened before, between the Church and Galileo. I believe it is happening now, between the Church and Darwin.
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There is no real conflict between theistic religion and the scientific theory of evolution. What there is, instead, is conflict between theistic religion and a philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific doctrine of evolution: the claim that evolution is undirected, unguided, or unorchestrated by God (or anyone else).  ~ Peters and Hewlett, Theological and Scientific Commentary on Darwin’s Origin of Species
Why does evolution threaten us so? It doesn’t say anything about what was before the Big Bang, whether anything set things in motion so as to produce our current existence, or of what value is our existence.
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What goodness or beauty is, why we are here, and what happens next are all questions for theologians, not scientists.
Why can we not follow the urging of Copernicus? To know the mighty works of God; to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful working of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.
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Science can be worship.
Seeking to understand the stars and the oceans, attempting to comprehend the laws that govern our universe, yes, even the study of evolution, all of this can be worship.
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Science is moving forward. New breakthroughs are being made and people are deciding what to do with those discoveries.
The ethics of how to use such new findings will be debated with or without people of faith sitting at the table. We, the Church, have a responsibility to join in the conversation, to learn the facts and not get defensive about where those facts will lead.
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The need to succeed at (figuring out these ethics) is just one more compelling reason why the current battles between the scientific and spiritual worldviews need to be resolved – we desperately need both voices to be at the table, and not to be shouting at each other. ~ Francis S. Collins
So let’s stop shouting and begin talking. Please. For the sake of the Church. For the sake of us all.
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Note: I am not a scientist. I am not qualified to argue the specifics of whether or not evolution is true. Yet like it or not, evolution is now the accepted truth of how life came to be, and we must have a conversation about how to accept evolution within the Biblical worldview of our Christian faith, or to at least accept those Christians who do accept evolution as truth. Why? Two reasons: The first is that so many intelligent people are being driven away from Christ because we, the Church, continue to dismiss evolution out of hand, becoming defensive and angry whenever the topic is broached. The second is one I brought up at the end of this essay, the ethical issues that are here now and those that will be coming in the future. We must be present for both of these kinds of conversations. Our world needs us, as representatives of Christ, to be present, not fearful and defensive, for conversations about evolution. God can handle evolution. Evolution is not something to be feared but something to be thought about deeply, pondering how it could fit within our Biblical framework.
If you are truly interested in reading more about this topic from a Christian and scientific perspective, I highly recommend The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. Collins is a committed Christian and a brilliant scientist. You may be familiar with his scientific work as the head of the Human Genome Project.
I understand that this can be an inflammatory topic. If you choose to comment, please keep your conversation seasoned with grace and, above all, love. Thank you, dear readers.

Art credit: all space photos are from NASA; all other photos are my own, copyright Elizabeth Giger, 2017

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Identity-Changing Worship

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Worship is powerful.
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Not the singing-in-church kind of worship, but the kind of worship that you live. The kind of worship in which you adore something so much you give your life over to it. The kind of worship that focuses your whole being toward the single aim of praise.
That kind of worship is powerful. It shapes who you are. It gives you your very identity.
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God created this world, this universe, to be a temple. The building of Moses’ tabernacle and the building of Solomon’s temple mirror the 7 day progression of the creation story, and the Jews reading the Genesis account would have recognized it as such.
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This temple, our universe, contained within it the Garden of Eden as the Holy of Holies. Within that holy space were creatures who were made in God’s image, made to be homo liturgicus or man made for worship.
James Tissot
Man was made to reflect God to the world and to reflect worship back to God. We were created to worship God and, in that worship, become like Him.
What we worship molds our identity. Or to put it another way, we are what we worship.
When we spend our lives focused on and chasing after power, money, sex, adoration from others, we become like those things. We become shallow, insatiable, discontent.
Yet when we, here in this glorious temple of creation, spill our very lives in worship to God, we become like Him. We become joyful, content, full of peace.
Which identity would you prefer?
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God knew how powerful worship was, He knew that what we loved would shape our identity, our very being. This is why He is so fierce in stamping out idolatry. This is why He is so firm on the subject of having no other gods before Him.
We are His children and He wants what is best for us. He wants us to reflect His image, not the image of something shallow and low. He created us for more than that.
You who want to become like Christ, turn your focus toward Him. Adore Him and love Him with all of your life, with everything that you do and say and think.
Worship is a powerful force. So be careful what you worship. Your very identity will reflect your choice.

Art credits: cathedral and nature photos by Kirk Sewell; artist’s rendition of Solomon’s temple; Solomon Dedicates the Temple by James Tissot

 

 

Using the T Word

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There is always a reason behind our actions.
Whether or not we realize it, the way we view God affects what we do and how we do it.
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Even if we never explore the beliefs behind our actions, we all believe something about God and the world and it is this belief that comes out in our behavior.
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It is precisely because our beliefs dictate what we do that makes it so vital to explore those convictions.
Part of loving God with all of our mind, after all, means being deliberate about what we believe, knowing why we believe it. We all want our actions to be based on truth.
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Enter theology.
It is a dirty word in some Christian circles. Some believe that it takes away the joy or emotion of loving God. Others think that theology does nothing but stir up trouble and break up churches. Still others suppose that theology moves away from Scripture, that it creates something that wasn’t there before.
Yet you already have a theology. You have already read Scripture and interpreted it and let what you believe it teaches you about God influence the way you live.
Wouldn’t you rather your theology be one you have prayerfully and thoughtfully considered rather than one that just evolved without conscious decision in your mind over time?
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Paul, I believe, was the first theologian. He used his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures along with his knowledge of Jesus to write some of the first doctrines of the Church. Certainly no one would have accused him of not knowing what he believed or why he believed it.
Theology is what brought us the teaching of the Trinity. The word Trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible, yet by taking such Scriptures as the Shema, Christ’s own claims, and the teachings on the Spirit in the epistles, Church theologians have come up with the doctrine of the Trinity that we all know.
We all want to love God the best we can. We all want our actions to be based on truth. To do this, we all need to evaluate our own beliefs about God with the help of Scripture and what historically the Church has confessed.
Make sure that what comes out in your life, your words and thoughts and actions, is based on well-thought-out theology, not just-what-I-grew-up-thinking theology.
Let’s do our best to know why we do the things we do. Let’s do our best to be sure our actions are based on truth.
Let us love God with all of our mind.

credit: Thanks to Todd Daly for many of the ideas contained in this post.

 

It All Began with a Lamb

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They ate their lamb standing up, their robes tucked into their belts.
They stood as they ate, trusting that God would keep his promise, ready to leave at a moment’s notice to head toward freedom.
They trusted and obeyed, and so they remained standing up, their staffs in their hands, as they ate their lamb.
That lamb who had saved their oldest child, that lamb whose blood was painted around their doors, that lamb whose life was substituted for a human life,
that same lamb would now give them what they needed for their journey.
That lamb, as they ate, gave them sustenance for their journey. That lamb was their food at the start of their decades-long journey across a wilderness. They partook of that lamb before they took a first step, a first step of obedience toward a Promised Land.
That lamb which gave them life also gave them strength, and courage, perhaps, too, as they stood ready to take the first steps toward a Land they could not yet see.
Life, sustenance, strength, courage.
And it all began with a lamb.
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We eat our Lamb every week, gathered together with family.
We gather with family, trusting that God will keep his promises, ready to serve and care for each other at a moment’s notice, ready to love.
We trust and we obey, and so we gather together and eat of the Lamb each week.
That Lamb who saved us, that Lamb whose blood was shed for us, that Lamb whose life was substituted for ours,
that same Lamb now gives us what we need for our journey.
This Lamb, as we eat, gives us sustenance for our journey. This Lamb is our food and drink at the beginning of each week in our decades-long journey across the wilderness of our life here on earth. We partake of this Lamb before we take a first step into our week, a first step of obedience through our life toward a Promised Land.
This Lamb who gives us life also gives us supernatural power, and courage, perhaps, too, as we take Him into ourselves and abide in Him, as He through His Spirit abides in us, as we stand ready to take the first steps toward a Land we cannot yet see.
Life, sustenance, power, courage.
And it all began with a lamb.

Art credits: stained glass in Saint Peter and Paul parish church; Eucharist photo by John Snyder

 

Finding the And

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What is this proclivity of ours to divide ourselves? What is this propensity to force a choice, to say it must be either-or rather than and?
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The more I read and listen to church leaders in other countries, in other faith traditions, in other times, the more I see our especially American tendency to eschew the middle of a continuum for the outer reaches.
We do this in religion and we do this in politics. Fundamentalism vs Liberalism. Republican vs Democrat. Often we confuse the whole thing completely and mix both religion and politics all up together in an inseparable soup of extremes.
Why can’t it be and?
Why can’t some of what fundamentalists teach and some of what liberals teach both be true? Is there truly no middle ground, no and?
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N.T. Wright, a bishop in the Church of England and a respected theologian/historian who specializes in studying and writing about Jesus and 1st century Judaism and Christianity, spoke at a conference in America of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
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Wright described how the Roman Catholic church made the Lord’s Supper more and more mystical and ritual, almost turning it into something magical that had to be done with just exactly the proper rites in order for the bread and wine to become body and blood, and how the Protestant church reacted so strongly against this that they turned the Lord’s Supper into merely a symbol, a sign of something that happened a long time ago and nothing more.
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Wright suggested that perhaps it is both. Perhaps instead of either the Catholic view or the Protestant view, it is and.
The Lord’s Supper, as Jesus gave it to the disciples and instructed them to continue to practice it, was simple. There was no formula that had to be done in order to make it work correctly. Yet it also was  more than a symbol.
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In some mysterious way, when we take the bread and the wine, we are taking into ourselves the body and blood of the risen Jesus. We are taking into ourselves the presence of the living Lord which then gives us the power and strength we need to go out into our community and meet the needs of those around us.
This view harmonizes with the other things that Jesus did and said, such as his imagery of the vine and the branches, saying that we must abide in Him and He must abide in us, otherwise we can do nothing (John 15).
Of course, God can find other ways of giving us the power we need to bring His kingdom here on earth, but this is the primary, continuous way that Jesus gave us.
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If we open our hearts and minds, there are so many more and‘s to be found. There are many more ways in which the theology insisted upon by fundamentalism and the social justice insisted upon by liberalism are essential to each other rather than pressed up hard against one another.
If we find them, perhaps we can move one more step closer to the unity that Jesus prayed for us to have.
If we can only seek out the and.

 

Art credits: Eucharist relief; Catholic EucharistProtestant Eucharist; Eucharist tapestry; Eucharist in Prayer Book