Sexuality: Calling for an Authentic Conversation

by Ben Cremer

I have been mulling over several of Walter Bruggemann’s essays as of late. His exposition on our contemporary culture brings forward several needed elements that are essential for an authentic dialogue over the topic of human sexuality. In our mainstream culture, a cloud of ambiguity surrounds this topic; and the culture as a whole seems bent on keeping it that way.

We live in a culture that endlessly advocates and calls for freedom; specifically in this case, sexual freedom. What causes me to be apprehensive is that, as many people are demanding freedom in our mainstream culture, not many seem to explicitly contemplate over the ‘kind’ of freedom being demanded, or more importantly, in what is our mainstream culture’s understanding of freedom rooted? When I bring up the topic of philosophy in a conversation with acquaintances, it is generally met with a look of fatigue, disregard, or even an eye-roll. This seems to be the norm of how philosophy is perceived in mainstream culture – philosophy just doesn’t bear authority over how we understand reality. I think this general disdain towards philosophy is in defense of a deeply ingrained belief: the belief that we as individuals determine our own reality. Brueggemann helps us by showing how this belief and our culture’s understanding of freedom were shaped through a particular… philosophy!

Brueggemann rightly portrays our mainstream notion of freedom as comprised of several strong philosophical ideas. In summation: Descartes’s establishment of the human doubter as the norm of truth, Locke’s presentation of the human person as a rational, free decider, and Kant’s framing of the human as the autonomous actor and the one who shapes functional reality. He then writes, “This Enlightenment ideology has received its popular form in a Freudian theory of repression in which human maturation is the process of emancipation from communal authority that is extrinsic to the individual person and therefore fundamentally alien to mature humanness. Thus the human goal is movement beyond any restraints that come under the category of repression.”

Naturally, in our culture of freedom, we despise anything that calls for unquestioned and thoughtless allegiance. Yet, as good children of the Enlightenment, we have given our unquestioned allegiance to this fantasy of unfettered freedom – that we should be held accountable to no one. This idea shows itself in how our mainstream culture regards and expresses the nature of human desire. All that seems to be presented in mainstream culture is that humans have desires, individuals have a right to express those desires as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others, and anything that hampers this right of expression should not be tolerated. Consequently, this unquestioned allegiance to the Enlightenment’s fantasy of unfettered freedom presupposes our unquestioned allegiance to the whims of our individual desires.

This talk of human desire is necessary because of how much it plays into our mainstream culture’s understanding of sexuality. Much of how we define sexuality is framed within the context of feeling or desire. Much of what is determined about one’s sexual orientation begins, at least basely, at how a person feels towards the opposite, same, or both sexes. In mainstream culture, no serious questions are being asked on where our desires come from, how they are formed, of what are they comprised, how do they manifest themselves, how are they to be managed or, heaven forbid, can we be deceived by them? No, our conversation begins and ends with the individual’s right to determine and maintain a sexual identity. People will cheer the exercise of this ‘right’ as a sexual freedom not seeing it for what it really is, isolation. Sexuality at its core is an interactive expression – a way of communicating the self to and with the outside world. So, when we leave the deciphering of sexual identity completely up to individual desire through the lens of the individual experience, all that can really be accomplished is eloquent terms of sexual preference. Because the fantasy of the Enlightenment relegates individuals solely to silent experimentation within society by denying ambiguous thoughts and questions and a robust sexuality demands robust and open communication.

This isolationism is one of the reasons we have the puzzling argument in mainstream culture over being “born this way” and the idea that it is by “individual choice” that one’s sexual identity is formed. As if the two can really be separated and set against each other! Everything about who we are regarding how we relate to and identify ourselves within the outside world from the moment of birth is a conglomeration of genetics, brain chemistry, culture, physicality, biology, point in history, and choice. Individual choice has no say over the aforementioned human building blocks. Simultaneously however, one cannot live without making a choice somewhere along the way to participate or not to participate in a particular way of being in the world. Thus, attempting to make a distinction between choice and birth is reductionistic and harmful. The former denies free will while the latter denies the nature of growth. The irony of this fantasy of unfettered individual freedom is that enacting within it causes a legalistic relationship between our true self and our desires. For to make our unique, irreducible, unrepeatable identity known, we force our selves to pigeon-hole, reduce, and endlessly repeat a declaration of self to the outside world to maintain integrity and a place within it that isn’t subjugated to an authority. How often must we relearn Icarus’ lesson? That the freedom given to us through the wax wings of individualism, however intense, powerful, and passionate the flight may be, will always melt away in the heat of reality, leaving us in a shocking freefall alone. Our lives were brought forth through community, and for us to decipherer an authentic identity of self, including our sexuality, must be through an honest engagement within a loving and challenging community.

Our mainstream culture is made up of many separations of our own making. We have scripture separated from history and thus from the Church; the Church separated from Christ; spirituality separated from religion; information technology has helped us separate labor from learning; and we have the identity of the individual separate from community. These separations are neither loving nor challenging but deceitful; for they all detach the object from its context. Freud understood that sexuality is a sphere of endless inscrutability, the arena of our true selves and the place in our life for deepest deception and pathology. If we continue to operate under the assumption that the Enlightenment’s fantasy of unfettered freedom is the best atmosphere for the individual, endlessly praising the burden and isolation of self-determination, then we will continue to not ask hard questions of ourselves and others regarding sexuality. If we continue to deny that human desires can be self-deceptive we will continue choking on the idea that authentic sexuality is based on the ‘theory’ that unfettered human desire manifests pure truth. This illusion will only ever leave us with lifeless sexual ethics. We will continue to have raging disputes between equality and condemnation among individuals who think they are debating over sexual identity but are actually only debating over their differing understanding of how the unfettered human desire should be interpreted and expressed. Our culture is bent on producing autonomous individuals rather than fostering authentic persons.

If this continues, it will not matter how many governmental legislations are passed or not passed. Individuals will still be left secluded and alone left to forge out the ambiguity of sexuality on their own. This recipe will not only suppress an authentic understanding and expression of sexuality based on examined desires but will maintain coercive behavior that crushes and often misdirects true desire and cuts people off from authentic community. Many so-called religious folk have done great work in carrying out this coercive behavior under the banner of their fidelity to God. But Brueggemann tempers this condemning behavior with this corrective of enacting an authentic fidelity to God regarding sexuality. He writes, “such a perspective requires much more than embracing traditional mores, because fidelity means something quite different from “abstaining” or “staying married” or “being straight”. It means rather being in a relation that is genuinely life-giving and life-receiving, where the work of neighbor regard is practiced. And covenantal freedom means finding modes of fidelity congruent with one’s true self and the capacity to be emancipated from “legal” relationships that are in fact destructive and hopelessly demeaning.”

A word to we Christians: Humanity is made in the image of God: three holy persons, not Enlightenment individuals. No person of the Trinity is exploited, reduced, or oppressed by another person of the Trinity. But rather each person of the Trinity pours themselves out for the other—an authentic community. We, as human beings, were hardwired to reflect an image. If we choose our own way apart from God, we won’t stop reflecting an image; we’ll simply begin reflecting something else. Just as Adam and Eve found out in the garden, this type of “freedom from authority” will always lead to oppression and exploitation of others as well as ourselves. Apart from God, we do not know what nature to reflect and grow in to. Thus, ambiguity will then be our nature and ambiguity is what we’ll grow in to. We cannot be free to express or know our true self, including our sexuality, unless we are “dead to Christ” (emphases on WE). The unfettered freedom of the Enlightenment keeps us shackled to the haphazard whims of our human desires, even giving us ‘rights’ to do so, offering only a dismal cycle of perpetual ambiguity leading to oppression for ourselves and from ourselves to others. We must no longer accept these lifeless ethics of sex but make space available through humble service for us all to express our true self, no matter how we understand our self to be at the given point when it engages authentic community. Our mainstream culture’s unfettered freedom does not offer hope because it does not offer authentic change but rather smothers it. We have hope in Christ, because we are changed by Christ. In the midst of the authentic love of Christ in his body the Church, through humble body-to-body service of neighbor, we as both servant and neighbor are able to, as Keirkegaard wrote, “face the facts of being what we are, for that is what changes what we are.”

*Ben Cremer is the College Ministries Pastor at Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene and blogs at Constant Investigations. Ben is a graduate of Northwest Nazarene University where he earned a B.A. in Christian Ministries and a M.A. in Spiritual Formation. He is also a graduate of Nazarene Theological Seminary where he earned a M.A.T.S. with an emphasis on Church History and Christian Thought.

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A Lesson in Holiness: Father Emilio ‘Meelo’ Sandoz, S.J., Ph.D.

The story of Emilio Sandoz, the fictional Jesuit priest of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, has a lesson to teach us about holiness.   Now, I have yet to read Children of God, the sequel to The Sparrow; regardless, I believe the lesson still stands.   And if you have not yet read The Sparrow, and whether you like science-fiction or not, it is an excellent book which will both challenge you and move you. I highly recommend this book!

In a previous post, At the Edge of Science and Theology: ‘Cosmic Speculative Theology‘, I wrote about the possibility of intelligent life on other planets and what that might mean for Christianity; Mary Doria Russell does a great job of exploring this concept in The Sparrow. Father Sandoz, along with a few friends, find life on the planet Rakhat in the Alpha Centauri system of our galaxy; he and a group of Jesuit missionaries are able to go to Rakhat. The reader experiences the positive of what holiness truly is – love for God and love for neighbor. And while these are not human beings, the Runa and Jana’ata are another species of God’s intelligent creatures; the Jesuits show them the great love that they deserve.

But in the negative of what holiness is – a lack of sin – we are forced to face perhaps our most difficult challenge in practicing the positive of what holiness is – love. I don’t mean ‘negative’ in a way that has a bad connotation; I mean ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ simply in terms of what holiness is and is not. It is just the plus side of thinking – love – and the minus side of thinking – not sinning.

Nonetheless, events happen on Rakhat which haunt Emilio to the point where he can barely speak of them. These events are so horrendous that they cause Emilio to struggle with overwhelming and crippling amounts of both shame and guilt.

When he returns to Earth, he becomes an outcast because of the public’s perception of what happened on Rakhat.

I belong to a denomination called The Church of the Nazarene, part of the Wesleyan-Arminian branch of protestant Christianity; we have a strong focus on holiness.   We discuss theological doctrines like ‘Christian Perfection’ and ‘Entire Sanctification’; these are the ideas that, through God’s power in the Son and the Spirit, we are filled with God’s love so much that it is as if there is no more for sin!   It is a sound doctrine, but there is a very strong focus on avoiding sin or even any perception of sin.

The great temptation and danger is to only think of holiness in terms of what it is not – not sinning – rather than what it is – fully living in God’s love! And when we only think in terms of what it is not, then we miss what it is!   Inevitably, we must ask: what will we do when we are confronted with sin, whether it is in ourselves or in another’s life?

If we see sin, or even the perception of sin, in another’s life, then distance and separate ourselves from the person and offer nothing but sharp words, we miss the opportunity to show and live the positive of what holiness is – love. If we run from our own sin within us and don’t deal with it in the right way, criticizing ourselves and becoming our own worst enemy, it can weigh us down to the point that we are crippled with overwhelming guilt and shame.

Either way, we forget three of God’s most basic qualities in holiness: grace, forgiveness, and compassion.   We lose sight of Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

With news of the events on Rakhat, there was the idea among Earth’s people, and even many of Emilio’s colleagues in the Society of Jesus, that Emilio must have done something horrible and sinful. In the pursuit of holiness to the point of self-righteousness, there was little grace shown to Emilio. There was a strong initial tendency to focus on the negative of holiness – not sinning – rather than a demonstration of the positive of holiness – love.

We should always be willing to understand circumstances and do the right thing in the midst of a bad situation; this is being faithful to God. But it should not be to the point where we miss the opportunity to demonstrate love with grace, forgiveness, and compassion. To love, no matter what (and it really, really, REALLY means no matter what!), is our most basic obligation as Christians; it is what separates a true Christian from the rest of the world. In the pursuit of holiness, Christian perfection, and entire sanctification, a disposition towards love, to include grace, forgiveness, and compassion, is where we must lean to first.

Christ, our example in holiness, came to offer grace, forgiveness, and compassion to the demon-possessed man running wild, the woman at the well who had been already been with so many men, the woman accused of adultery and about to be stoned, the man who struggled to believe, and the tax collector who stole and cheated so many people out of money. Christ came to this world to offer grace, forgiveness, and compassion to even the criminals and the depraved hanging on the crosses next to him on Calvary.

Christ came to offer his love to the people that the fictional Emilio Sandoz represents – the misunderstood, the broken, and the ones struggling with crippling guilt and shame. And Christ came even to offer love to the people who would jump to conclusions and judgment about Emilio.

Christ came for you and for me. Christ came for the sinners.

Christ was beaten, suffered, and died.   He slowly and painfully suffocated to death while hanging on a cross in one of the world’s most barbaric forms of execution. He came so that through this atoning sacrifice, we, the sinners, might finally be reconciled to God.

Christ came so that you and I, absolutely broken people, yet still God’s loved and created beings, might have hope in true life and love of God through the risen, living Christ. Christ came so that you and I can learn and live the positive of what holiness really is – love.

Christ came so that you and I, in being a positive example of Christ’s holiness, can show God’s love to the depraved, the criminals, the adulterers, the demon-possessed, the thieves, the frauds, the unbelieving, and the liars.

Christ died for the ones who sinned against him, the ones who beat him, clamored for his crucifixion, sentenced him to death, nailed him to a cross, spit on him and mocked him as they watched him die so that – yes – even they could receive God’s love and be a part of Christ’s family.

As I mentioned before, perhaps our most difficult challenge in holiness is not necessarily practicing the negative – not sinning  – but practicing the positive – love.   Christ died for all; are we willing to show the type of love that Christ showed to all?

Father Emilio ‘Meelo’ Sandoz, S.J., Ph.D. offers us a challenging reminder to focus on what holiness is. And the lesson? With Christ as our example, and by the power of the Spirit of God working within us, the positive of what holiness is – love, to include grace, forgiveness, and compassion – is something that we must live out towards one another every day, no matter what, and no matter whom.

Thoughts on Easter: “Spiritual but not Religious”

A large number of people label themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”   I can understand this viewpoint; for some it is because of bad experiences with a major world religion, such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.   For others, it is not necessarily because of a previous experience, but just that they are skeptical of the idea of “organized religion.”   Still, some may want to explore different religions before jumping into one; it is dipping one’s feet into the water before fully diving in.   In any case, and no matter what category a person falls under, the individuals who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” recognize that there is something more to life than simply going after common and vain pursuits such as money and power.

However, the label “spiritual but not religious” is misleading; it implies that there is also a group of people who are “not spiritual and not religious.”   To be honest, I do not think it is even possible to be “not spiritual.”   The idea that one could not have a spiritual self at all, or that one could completely destroy or kill one’s spiritual self, does not make any sense.

The spirit is a characteristic of the physical body.   It’s like saying one is one; it simply is.   If you’ve read my previous post, “He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion,” you’ll get a better idea of where I am coming from in stating this.   God created us; God breathed life into us, giving us a spirit.   In this life, the body and the spirit are inseparable.   They are intertwined into one existence – the human being.   What happens to the spirit after death, we do not know exactly (check out N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope); we have many ideas though.   Although, as a minister in Christianity, I believe that at the end of this sinful age there will be a resurrection of the dead and our spirit will return to our body through God’s power; we will live as one existence of the intertwined and inseparable physical and spiritual human being – the way God designed us to be – in a new eternal creation free from the bondage of death.   This is what is supported by Christian scripture and thousands of years of tradition.

There is no one who is “not spiritual.”   It is impossible.   We are all spiritual beings.   Granted, different people may deny or accept the reality of their spirituality on different levels, in effect, respectively, either suffocating or cultivating who they are.   But we are all spiritual on some level.   And as we become more in tune with ourselves, we realize that there is much more to life than simply the pursuit of vain items and materialism.   We begin to realize the importance of the connections that exist within this world.

Jesus summarized it as he echoed the Jewish Shema of Deuteronomy 6: “Jesus answered, ‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these'” (Mark 12:29-31).

A few weeks ago in one of my classes at the U.S. Army Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course, one of my Chaplain instructors gave us his thoughts on a definition of spirituality: it is a person connecting with the four c’s – the creator, the community, the conscience, and the creation.   Even if it is at a very basic level, we are all making these connections; we are becoming more in tune to the bigger picture of life.   And as a Christian, I believe God made each one of us to have a role in this bigger picture; God created us to be people who are not selfish individuals, but selfless people who are always recognizing the connections we have.

Religion is a vital tool in developing this spirituality.   Through religion, we cultivate and grow these connections and relationships.   And perhaps most importantly, we learn to first develop our connection with God so that we can better develop our connections with the community, the conscience, and the creation.   On our own, it is impossible to cultivate these connections.   But through a connection with God, and with God working in us and changing our hearts, our other connections will grow into something we never believed was possible.

Christianity is based on the person of Jesus Christ; this religion is centered on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.   Through Christ, we can experience the amazing love of God in his grace, forgiveness, and mercy, despite all that we have done wrong in life.   Through Christ, we can become connected with God.   And through that connection with God, we can learn to truly love one another.   We can begin to understand ourselves, how we fit into the bigger picture of life, and be free from vain pursuits.

During this Easter season, I pray that no matter where we are on our spiritual journeys, whether we are struggling to take the very first step or have already been traveling for a thousand miles, we will begin to see the ultimate form of spirituality as a relationship with Christ.   I pray that we will use the tools that thousands of years of the Christian tradition have given us to develop our connections with the creator, the community, the conscience, and the creation.   I pray that we will explore and reflect on different aspects of what it means to be a Christian in whatever context we find ourselves in today.   I pray that we will begin to learn how to worship God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.   And I pray that we learn to love our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves.

This week is Holy Week in western Christianity. Soon our brothers and sisters in eastern Christiany will also be celebrating these Holy days of the Christian calendar.  Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday – this week is the pinnacle event of Christianity.   The significance of these days for our lives is the culmination of what it means to know ourselves and recognize our spirituality.   The life, death, and resurrection of the Christ and the Messiah is the sum of what our connections to the creator, the community, the conscience, and the creation mean in each of our lives.

Happy Easter.   Christ has risen.   Let us celebrate.

God, the Goodness of Life and Creation, and Humanity’s Destruction of that Creation through Greed, Selfishness, and Sin

Genesis 1:1-2:4 (NRSV)

1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
2
the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
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Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
4
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
5
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6
And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
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So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so.
8
God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
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And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.
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God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
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Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so.
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The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.
13
And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
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And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years,
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and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.
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God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.
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God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth,
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to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
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And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”
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So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
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God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
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And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
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And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so.
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God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
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Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
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So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
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God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
29
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.
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And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2:1
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.
2
And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.
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So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
4
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

I am not sure that, as Christians, we entirely believe those words. When I write “those words,” I am not referring to God’s act of creation of the world, but I am referring to the multiple times it states in this passage, “And God saw that it was good.” In today’s modern age, with our eyes enthralled and enraptured by the lust of modern technology brought about by a vastly over-industrialized world, we seem to have lost sight of what God has observed regarding his natural creation: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Whether God created this world in billions, millions, hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands, thousands, hundreds, or tens of years, or simply in months, weeks, or days, is not for us to know, and is simply a needless argument which causes unnecessary strife and division. Nonetheless, our small ability to grasp the wholeness of time, compared to God’s creation of time within the endless infinitude of eternity is, I think it is fair to say, rather limited. We cannot forget the astute words of 2 Peter 3:8: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (NRSV). Moving on, however, my point is to say that God’s labor of love in making this world is that this creation, and everything in it – human, beast, bird, insect, fish, tree, fruit, vegetable, and even the sea monster – was indeed, very good.

Yet, overall, Christians, especially in the “modern,” “western” world act as if we have forgotten these seven words: “And God saw that it was good.” And because we, even as Christians, act in a way that tosses the reality of these seven words into the perpetually growing landfills that litter our planet, it paints and foreshadows an even uglier world for future generations of people we must learn to love, with even more waste covering the world that God has inherently deemed as good. Now, I may get in trouble for writing what follows at the end of this sentence, but by the way we act, especially in the United States, in our over-consumption of natural resources in the wanton destruction of the earth in the pursuit of what can only be called greed, we might as well be giving God, the one who patiently took his time to create this world of sustainable beauty out of love for us to enjoy, the middle finger when it comes to his creation (Whew! Now that I have your attention….).

Yet, epitomizing the definition of irony, the majority of people who call themselves Christians living in the “modern,” “western” world will hike to the top of a mountain, or travel to the middle of a rainforest, or visit any of the other countless natural wonders out there, take a deep breath, and say, “Wow, this is beautiful.” We will then take a swig out of one of probably billions of grossly over-produced plastic water bottles, eat a piece of vacuum-packed processed food made with high fructose corn syrup, return to our manufactured steel vehicle, turn it on, pump pounds of toxic gas into the atmosphere, drive back on one of the countless paved roads in the nation, and return home only to realize that we accidentally left our plastic water bottle at the top of the trail while we were in awe of the beauty before us. We will then toss the wrapper of our high fructose corn syrup “trail food” in the trash, where it will go to a landfill and sit there in a vain attempt to decompose over what could be millions of years; meanwhile, it does not register in our minds that as long as we continue to produce such ridiculous amounts of garbage, that one day even that mountain view will become a landfill that future generations will not enjoy.

This picture is unfortunately a common reality, yet it is a common reality that many of us, including myself, are guilty of. However, it is a common reality that needs to change. The truth of the matter is that a hike to a beautiful mountain peak will often inspire people toward environmental conservation and awareness (sadly, I am also sure that there are some who are uninspired and take beautiful mountain views of creation for granted); I was simply pointing out the tragic irony of the situation (and also pointing out to be aware of where you put your trash during a trip outdoors and to please drink out of a reusable water bottle!).

One piece of trash may seem like a small, miniscule thing, but we often forget that even our smallest actions have consequences; each of those small consequences will build up to, and are currently building up to, environmental disaster. Even if we do not see these consequences in our lifetimes, our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will see them in their lifetimes. It is time that we put a conscious check on what is for many of us a selfishness that we are unaware of, and instead learn to be selfless in being a steward of God’s creation for future generations. Aware or unaware (most of us are aware – we just do not want to recognize how aware we are), selfishness, and selfishness regarding natural resources, is still a sin against God; if we do not change our attitudes and behaviors, it is a selfishness and a sin that will have drastic consequences for future people around the world whom we still have an obligation to show selfless, Christian love for today. We must learn to show future, unborn generations the same type of selfless love that we claim to have for current generations, family, and friends.

We, in the “modern,” “western” world, are robbing the earth blind; today’s robbery has drastic effects on multitudes of people in terms of sustainable livelihoods such as fishing and farming. Already, there are huge dead zones spanning our oceans, bays, and rivers, brought about by over-fishing and the washing of chemicals into our waters via poor farming practices. Our robbery, our arrogance in what can hardly be called stewardship, will produce arid lands and dirty waters; famine and ensuing sicknesses will sweep across the land. If Christians are going to legitimately claim to love others, and consider the health and well-being of brothers and sisters living today and in the future, then we certainly do not act like it with the gluttonous lifestyles that we live today in the “modern,” “western” world. Consider the child who will be born in half a century, or a century from now, who will be forced to live with the consequences of our current actions. That child will look back in recent history to our over-industrialization and realize just how systematically and culturally selfish our generation was. I would like to think and hope that God will have mercy on us through his prevenient grace, but allowing his people to live with the consequences of their actions is not something new for God. If you have questions about that, read the Old Testament.

I belong to a denomination within Christianity called the Church of the Nazarene which emphasizes Christian holiness. Holiness means living in a way that is obedient to God, but holiness is also a word that is nearly inseparable from another word: love. Both holiness and love are not only meant to apply on an individual basis, but also meant to apply on a community basis. There must be community in order to show true, selfless, Christian love to another; a holiness and love without considering the well-being of others is a selfish view of both. Today, with the proliferation of technology, Christians find themselves in a global community. If we are going to profess to be a holiness people, then we must begin to recognize the consequences of even our smallest actions on people halfway around the world, as well as for the people who will live a century or centuries from now – such as buying a t-shirt made by low wage workers in China, or chocolate made with what is effectively slave labor, or a phone made with minerals that fuel ravaging wars.

Besides the negative impact on the people who are forced to participate in these systems so someone in the United States can buy a new item that they most likely do not need, each of these industrializing systems contributes to negative impacts on the environment somewhere in their production lines (economic growth is good for poorer places in the world, but it should be done in a way that creates jobs that are beneficial to the health and well-being of the people, and is friendly to the environment; one of the keys is education). A communal view of holiness and love is something that not only the Church of the Nazarene is called to, but all of Christianity is called to. Yet it is a view of holiness and love that is conveniently swept under the rug in places such as the United States, where a consumeristic, materialistic culture ravages like a disease, and where responsibility is not something we particularly like.

There is a reason for our (unnatural) nature to destroy life (human and non-human); it is caused out of selfishness and pride, and at the root of it all is sin. It is disobedience to God’s call on our lives for a humble love of all the life that God has breathed into this planet. In C.S. Lewis’ “The Space Trilogy,” the protagonist, Ransom, says we are “bent.” And without God, and the nature of God’s love, we are bent beings. To be bent is to be unnatural. It is to bend what was once straight. A human is now bent and unnatural as a result of sin. Genesis 1:27 states that we are created in God’s image – that image is holy love. That holy love is a human’s natural state, but as a result of sin, that image has been marred and removed. We become bent out of what was once a nature of divine love. There is no way to recover that image of true love except through the grace of God found in Jesus Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, unbending humans out of an unnatural state of sin, selfishness, pride, greed, lust, and gluttony, and returning us into our natural state of divine, holy love. Our sinfulness only destroys us, tears us apart, and dehumanizes us both internally and externally, from who we truly are – an identity that can only be restored in God. By the grace of God, each one of us must rip sinfulness from our lives and replace it with true, selfless love. Although God entrusted us with dominion over creation, it was a dominion meant to be exercised in God’s image of selfless, holy love.

Our “bent” sinfulness takes on a variety of forms; all too often, corporate and big-business America plays a part in promoting our “bent-ness,” primarily by putting the value of money in front of the incomprehensibly greater value of a human being, as well as by placing a higher priority on a dollar bill over the other forms of beautiful life that God has created on this planet. More-so, this plays out in the politics of our nation and other nations around the world, where Christianity is misused, manipulated, and made a mockery of, by politicians whose main motivation is also not the love of life, but the love of the dollar bill, and whose love of the dollar bill is cheaply veiled by the term “economic growth.”

One of the big businesses whose love for money over love for life is vastly apparent is the monopolized agricultural industry. Corporate agriculture promotes cheap farming practices with produce that is forced to grow by harmful chemicals. The chemicals and fertilizer wash into groundwater, contaminating it, washing into rivers, destroying aquatic life in those rivers, bays, and oceans, further destroying coastal peoples’ ways of life. The reason is our dependence on products like high fructose corn syrup, an alternative to sugar whose cheap proliferation is directly contributing to our epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Another reason is our gluttonous desire for inexpensive beef; the cattle are fed unhealthy corn, leading to cut-rate beef in our food systems, and also contributing to the epidemics of obesity and various heart diseases. What can you do? Support your local small farmers instead of big-business agriculture. Do not buy products with high fructose corn syrup. Eat less meat products; when you do eat beef, demand grass-fed beef, where the cattle are allowed to roam freely like the wild beasts that God created them to be. One of the reasons for the Jewish Kosher law is so that animals are not systematically treated horrendously in order to feed gluttonous societies like ours in the United States. And if you reread Genesis 1:29-30, it is perfectly scriptural to become a vegetarian.

Just recently we have seen the introduction of “fracking,” a last-ditch effort to feed our (also gluttonous) energy dependence and addiction in the United States. Politicians again claim “economic growth,” but all it is is simply feeding a corporate and personal lust for money while the fracking process contaminates groundwater reserves with unnatural chemicals never meant to be introduced inside a human body. What can you do? Write a letter to your senator, congressional representative, and president, and tell them that we have had enough and that the cost of people’s health and environmental destruction is not worth it. Call your energy provider, complain, and tell them that the cost of people’s health and environmental destruction is not worth it.

Again, there is a horrible irony in this situation: we are destroying our clean water supply so that we can turn on the air conditioner when it is only 75 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Meanwhile, there are children struggling to get clean water around the world as their families sit in wooden huts with dirt floors with temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There is something wrong with this picture; what is wrong with it is Americans and our ridiculous lust for more of what we do not need.

Not to mention the destruction of rainforests, the abundant varieties of life that are being killed, and the indigenous peoples’ ways of life that are being desecrated, all in the name of making another dollar. Again, it is a horrifyingly ugly and blatant lack of respect for the life that God has blessed his creation with.

I realize that some may challenge that climate change is a myth; all I will say to that is scientists are not idiots, they are incredibly smart, and I think that they have got a pretty good idea of what they are talking about. A branch of Christianity known as fundamentalism has somehow spread this myth that climate change is not real and in the process, has hijacked American Christianity; little do they know that they are unwittingly being the pawns of the big-business corporations that are putting the value of money before the value of humanity. Nonetheless, even if you say climate change is a myth, you still have an obligation to care for this creation, if for no other reasons than that God has created it and God saw that it was good.

Fundamentalists spread a Calvinist influenced theology that says we do not need to take part in conserving and respecting this earth, because the course of history has already been determined down to the last minute detail until the end of time. The truth is, in fact, that in the pre-deterministic sense, the kingdom of God is much more liquid than rigid, and out of love God calls us to participate in the shaping of this kingdom; being considerate to all the life that is a part of this creation is not simply an option in being part of the kingdom of God, it is the fundamental (to put the word fundamental back in its proper definition) responsibility of anyone who claims the label of Christianity.

Moreover, many Christians, fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist alike, have fallen prey to gnostic influences on theology, an ideology the negates the inherent goodness of God’s creation, and states that the earth will disappear forever and only a spiritual realm will remain; it is an ideology that was deemed heretical by the Church within the very first centuries of Christianity. If you continue to study the New Testament, you will learn that scripture speaks of creation being made new again, and heaven coming down to this new earth at the end of the age. Just as God continues to sanctify us through the work of the Holy Spirit, making us into new creations, God desires the sanctification of all creation, seeking to make it new again with the residual effects of sin finally removed. This sanctification of creation is yet another absolutely critical aspect of the kingdom of God, which God, again out of love, calls us to participate in.

Imagine this scenario: you pour out your energy and your love in creating a masterpiece of art; it may be a painting, it may be a sculpture, it may be a carving, it may be a beautiful piece of handcrafted furniture, it may be a poem, it may be a story, it may even be a vibrantly colorful and exquisitely landscaped garden. Whatever it is, you put every last ounce of your creativity into it, even exhausting yourself to the point where you simply have to rest after you have finally finished creating it. But you did not just make it for yourself, you created this masterpiece of art for a loved one, so that they too may enjoy it. You give it to your loved one with the understanding that they will take care of it and that they will be a steward of it; they are in awe at how beautiful your creation is.

Now imagine that they do not take care of it, but take it for granted, misuse and abuse it for other things, and they tear and cut pieces off here and there so that they can use those pieces for other, less meaningful projects. You realize that your painting, sculpture, piece of furniture, or garden will soon be destroyed if they do not change their attitude toward it. Among the other emotions going through your mind, body, and soul, it makes you feel that this loved one does not care for you because they do not care for the gift you have given them.

We must learn to show our love for God by showing our love for the creation he has blessed us with. That begins with being responsible stewards of this world, its resources, and by being aware of the consequences that each and every one of our actions has on the environment and the people who live in the various parts of the world, today and in the future. It means exercising holy, “unbent” love over God’s creation.

If we are living in the United States, or in any other part of the world that could be considered “modern” or “western,” there is a good chance that we are guilty of taking part in the systems that contribute to the degradation of the environment and to the degradation of various people groups around the world, future and current; I am unfortunately guilty of contributing to these systems as well. However, we are not helpless to change; if we call ourselves Christian, then we are part of a kingdom where change, no matter how impossible it may seem, is possible – Jesus Christ, after all, rose from the dead. But it begins with you and me taking responsibility in our roles in God’s kingdom on earth. Christ gave us an example of selfless love through his death thousands of years ago; we are reminded of it every time we partake of the Eucharist. Perhaps we can start to embody that selfless love to all of creation and the future generations of people that will also inhabit this creation; we must give them an opportunity to enjoy it just as we have enjoyed it, give them an opportunity to be responsible stewards of it, and bless them with a healthier creation than what we even have. For many of us, it may mean changes in our lifestyles; it may be a sacrifice, but God calls us to sacrifice. There is no definition of love that does not include sacrifice.

Maybe it means driving the car less and considering other forms of transportation, such as your own two feet that God has blessed you with, or a bicycle, or public transportation, or carpooling. Maybe it means staying local.

Maybe it means putting down your devices that consume energy and electricity, such as your cell phone, computer, or television, and doing an activity that does not require the use of electricity, such as reading a book, or playing a game with friends, or going outside to enjoy what God has created. Maybe it means turning off lights when they are not in use.

Maybe it means being conscious of how much water you use during the day, and trying not to use so much.

Maybe it means being aware of how much waste and trash you produce, and consuming less so that you produce less garbage which will take up less room in a landfill. Maybe it means recycling and composting more. Maybe it means that you buy less plastic water bottles, and only buy one reusable water bottle that will last you for years.

Maybe it means not being consumed by an insatiable greed for more (of everything). Maybe it means consuming less material goods. Maybe it means that you do not need the newest technological product. Maybe it means buying refurbished or used instead of brand new. Maybe it means you should stop playing video games. Maybe it means not taking things for granted and taking care of the products that you have now so that they will last longer. Maybe it means learning to be more content with less.

Maybe it means that you choose not to consume products with high fructose corn syrup, which will tell the monopolized, over-industrialized agricultural businesses to stop destroying our land and water in pursuit of another dollar bill. Maybe it means supporting your local farmer instead.

Maybe it means becoming a vegetarian, or limiting the amount of meat products that you eat, or considering following Kosher law.

Maybe it means writing a letter to your politicians and telling them that as long as they are motivated by money, they will no longer get your vote.

Maybe it means that we really just do not need to rape our earth of its natural resources and murder its natural, God-given beauty so that we can satisfy our lust for more. Maybe that means that we really do not need everything, right now so that future generations can enjoy this earth.

Maybe we can slow down the mass extinction that we as humans are causing to countless species around the world.

Maybe it means rooting out every last selfish behavior, thought, and tendency from our lives.

Maybe it means that we as Christians begin to act as if we believe the words, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

*In writing and publishing this post to my blog site, I fully realize that there may be many who disagree with the words I have written. It is okay to disagree, but please do so respectfully and lovingly; I reserve the right to delete any response that may not be loving in nature. You may call me a hippy, you may call me a tree-hugger, you may call me what you like – but, please, call me a Christian; and I sincerely hope that if you call yourself a Christian, you will recognize the necessity of legitimately loving and taking care of this inherently good creation that God has made for us. To take care of creation, and to take a stand for the good health of our creation, is an act that will lovingly benefit humanity, show others the love of Christ in a real way, and is a beautiful act of worship that glorifies God’s name.