Tags: issues: religion and science

religion is a queer thing

God is a verb

Continuing reading When Science Meets Religion:
I suggest that the concept of God is not a hypothesis formulated to explain the relationship between particular events in the world in competition with scientific hypotheses.  Belief in God is primarily a commitment to a way of life in response to distinctive kinds of religious experience in communities formed by historic traditions; it is not a substitute for scientific research.  Religious beliefs offer a wider framework in which particular events can be contextualizes.
    Every disciple is selective and has its limitations.  Each abstracts from the totality of experience those features in which it is interested.  The astronomer Arthur Eddington once told a delightful parable about a man studying deep-sea life using a net with a three-inch mesh.  After bringing up repeated samples, the man concluded that there are no deep-sea fish smaller than three inches in length.  Our methods of fishing, Eddington suggests, determine what we can catch.
    (p.14)
***

At re/New planning meeting tonight (topic: "Change and Transition"), Lindsay referenced Octavia Butler.  (Her facebook status after she got home from the meeting was: "Change is the one unavoidable, irresistible, ongoing reality of the universe. To us, that makes it the most powerful reality, and just another word for God. Earthseed: The Books of the Living Lauren Oya Olamina" — Octavia E. Butler Reminds me of Re/New planning tonight!)

Later, Laura Ruth pulled out her smartphone to pull up the Preamble to the UCC Constitution -- for the "It [the United Church of Christ] affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own" bit (which recalled for me the "Making the Faith Our Own" Lenten House Church series last year), but she read the whole paragraph leading up to that sentence, so my primary (silent) takeaway was, "the UCC really affirms Jesus as the Son of God?"

Anyway, what I actually said was, "You just outgeeked me."

We'd been talking about Scripture earlier, and Rachelle had said something about wineskins and I said about the seed dying and breaking open, and somewhere in there we had Isaiah's "Do not remember the things of old for behold God is doing a new thing," and Laura Ruth and Rachelle were going back and forth trying to remember which chapter that was exactly, and I said it was a lectionary reading from Lent and Laura Ruth said, "last Thursday," or something, and I said, "No, it was a Sunday, because I remember using it in a sermon -- though I may not have actually finished the sermon," and I said, "And I don't have my netbook with me, so I can't look it up" (though it was probably good that I didn't have my netbook with me, so I was engaged with the conversations and ideas at the table rather than getting focused on researching).  So after I got home I skimmed through my recent sermons and emailed Laura Ruth (Subject: Isaiah 43:19 = Lent 5C): Collapse )

After Laura Ruth quoted the "every generation" bit, Jeff suggested putting that in tension with (sings) "As it was in the beginning, is now and every shall be, world without end, Amen, Amen."  I immediately responded, "Which beginning?  What part of the beginning?  In The Beginning was chaotic water..."  Laura Ruth said, "Tell it, sister," and so I went on and said, "In The Beginning was chaotic water, and the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, moved over the waters, and yes there was order -- separating the water above from the water below -- but there was also abundant newness -- the first six days of Creation were full of radical change."
religion is a queer thing

my interests, I am subtle about them

I ate lunch outside today and started reading Ian Barbour's When Science Meets Religion. Jeff V. (of FCS) is doing this book for the pilot of the "Eggheads" group. I am unexcited about the topic, but I am easily persuaded to show up and discuss texts with people, so I ILLed myself a copy of the book.

In the Introduction, Barbour lays out "a fourfold typology as an aid to sorting out the great variety of ways in which people have related science and religion" (p.1) and says, "I believe that the examples of each of the four categories can be found in the major world religions---especially in the monotheistic ones (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), but also in Hinduism and Buddhism" (p. 6).

It struck me in reading that parenthetical that the only monotheistic religions (at least the only major/surviving ones -- I have no idea if other groups independently invented monotheism and just didn't stick) all worship the same One God. Huh.

Unrelatedly -- from Chapter One:
     In the centuries before Galileo, a variety of views about scripture had been advanced. In the fourth century, Augustine (whom Galileo quoted) had said that when there appears to be a conflict between demonstrated knowledge and a literal reading of the Bible, scripture should be interpreted metaphorically. In commenting on the first chapter of Genesis, Augustine had said that the Holy Spirit was not concerned about "the form and shape of the heavens" and "did not wish to teach men things not relevant to their salvation." Medieval writers acknowledged diverse literary forms and levels of truth in scripture, and they offered symbolic of allegorical interpretations of many problematic passages. Galileo himself quoted a cardinal of his own day: "The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes." This aspect of Galileo's thought could be taken as an example of the Independence thesis, which distinguishes scientific from theological assertions. On astronomical questions, he said, the writers of the Bible had to "accommodate themselves to the capacity of the common people" by using "the common mode of speech" of their times. He held that we can learn from two sources the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture---both of which come from God and therefore cannot conflict with each other. (pp. 7-8)
I continue to be thrown by reminders that Traditional Christianity has not always been the post-Enlightenment thing it is today. The whole "the Word was given to a particular people in a particular socio-historical moment and so it is culturally conditioned and doesn't literally apply to everyone through all time and space" is something that today fundamentalists dislike progressives saying, but hey look, not actually an invention of twentieth-century liberals.

(I, of course, would quibble with the "how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes," since my theology focuses on how we are called to bring God's Commonwealth to fruition here on Earth -- so what salvation looks like is as important as how one brings it about. But that does mean I am similarly uninterested in parsing the bejeweled descriptions of the New Jerusalem as literal.)

Then my best friend called, and we talked about her day thus far and her evening last night and my preaching last night and gendered language for the Godhead.

After work I'm having smoothies with one of the Gordon Conwell students who's been visiting CWM (they're doing a school project) and then joining the tail end of Laura Ruth's office hours at Blue Shirt to be followed by the re/New planning meeting (this month's topic is "Change and Transition").
light in the darkness

church is what i do with my free time

Last Sunday morning, Tiffany's facebook status was "Tiffany is journeying through the wilderness to the water's edge."

She preached (sacred texts: Baruch 5:5-9, Luke 3:1-6, and an excerpt from Three Dreams in the Desert by Olive Schreiner) about preparing the way and those who go before us and talked about CWM's founding and the people in those very first weeks who had such a profound impact on how CWM is today and invited us to recall those we remember who no longer worship here with us, and then she segued into saying that her path is diverging from ours and we will continue to do great things and the stones that have helped build this path will always be there -- and one day someone else will be preaching in this pulpit and will invite the congregation to remember those who went before and they will name us :)

I had known since Tuesday's Charge Conference that her last Sunday as our pastor would be February 14.  (Her appointment as Dean of the Chapel at Syracuse begins March 1.)  But it wasn't to be public knowledge until she announced it in person to the full congregation, which was really hard for me.  I expected to feel grief all over again at her announcement, but the only thing I felt was relief that I could grieve publicly now.  (Admittedly, I was also spent from the week.)

***

We're doing Advent Bible Study at CWM, and last Sunday we did the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79).  In talking about light in the darkness and preparing the way and all that, Tiffany mentioned that Mary Daly often asks her why she stays in the church, and Tiffany's response is to invoke the story of Plato's Cave -- the church is in darkness, and so she feels called to go back and dwell in the darkness to tell people of the light.  But in talking with us she talked about how leaving the darkness of the cave the light is overwhelming and so maybe we want to go back into the comfort of the darkness.  I thought of Ian's concern about my playing it safe re: my career choices.  I still stand by all the things I have said in pushing back against his concerns, but I also continue to think about his concerns.

Transforming worship space into fellowship space before dinner that Sunday (Bible Study was after dinner), Carolyn and I were carrying a table and then realized there was stuff on the floor in our way and someone joked about "make the paths straight" or something, and Carolyn said, "Prepare the way for Elizabeth -- oh wait, we can't say that until she answers her call to ministry."  (I was like, "Hush, you -- what are you, the Metatron voice of God?")

Monday morning before prayer service, there was something FCS-Ian couldn't find in the chapel, and I said there might be some in the pulpit 'cause I knew there were some the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent -- I explained that I knew because I'd been helping to decorate the sanctuary for Advent; "I forget why I was in the pulpit..."
Ian: "Getting a feel for it...  Is that still funny?  Is that obnoxious now?"  (I assured him it wasn't obnoxious.)

At SCBC Adult Ed last Sunday, Owen said they got my invite and are looking forward to coming to hear me preach.  I referred to Borg and Crossan's The First Christmas during Adult Ed at one point and afterward, Betty asked me for the title again so she could write it down, so I handed her the book.  (She was surprised that public libraries have books on religion -- because of the separation of church and state? I dunno and I didn't ask.  I am amused that my ILL copy is from Norwood.).  I said, "I can't believe I'm inviting people to hear me preach at my radical, queer, progressive church."  (Yes, I said all three of those words.  \o/  )  Betty said she's looking forward to it and said she's going to ask Margaret if she wants to come.

***

At morning prayer service on Monday, I said I wanted to do one of the readings (which is an optional/encouraged way for attendees to participate in the service), and FCS-Ian asked which one, and I said I didn't know what the Old and New Testament readings were because I hadn't read the daily lectionary because I haven't finished my sermon for yesterday and so in my head I'm not allowed to read the next week's lectionary yet, only I forgot that of course I'll read it at morning prayer because we're doing daily lectionary.

The texts were Isaiah 40:1-11 and Romans 8:22-25.

I liked them both, but I chose Isaiah because I liked it better and because it's longer (and it's more important that it be read dramatically).
And after I finished I said, "The word of God, for the people of God.  (Thanks be to God.)"  Because I have turned into that person.  I did the Old Testament reading on Tuesday, and I almost prefaced it with "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church" -- which is what we say after the Sacred Text reading at Rest and Bread.  (Later in the week I was rewriting the Scripture I read to use gender-neutral language.)

At CHPC last Sunday, we started our three-week Advent study on Borg and Crossan's The First Christmas, and Karl wanted us to start with actually reading (aloud) the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1:5-2:40), starting with Matthew.  "Are we really going to read the entire genealogy in Matthew?" I asked, looking at how it took up an entire column of text.
Karl said to just read until I got tired and then someone else would read some.  I am of course am stubborn (and love lay reading), so I read the whole Matthean genealogy.  (I think some people clapped after I was done.)  After we'd finished Luke, Karl said, "Luke 3:23-38 -- that's all you, Elizabeth."  So I read that aloud.  It's actually much harder to read aloud than Matthew's, despite being shorter -- the "son of" repetition meant I started to stumble over the vowel in "son;" plus I think Luke's names are harder to pronounce than Matthew's.

+

I told Ari about Annie's Year A liturgy proposal for CWM.

Ari: "I assume she's doing this for seminary rather than for fun" -- because it is totally the kind of thing we would do for fun, because we are crazy Those People.  I assured her that Annie's doing it for her D.Min.  I was telling Jason about this Monday night, and he goes, "demon?"

At Charge Conference, the D.S. [District Superintendent] asserted that pastors really value getting to create worship
Apparently the Book of Discipline says the pastor is responsible for worship.  I was telling Ari this and of course found myself wanting to look up exactly where that is and what else it says.  Apparently I need my own copy of the UMC Book of Discipline?  [I assumed one would just order a copy from Cokesbury, but apparently it is also available in ebook.]

+

Ari and I were talking about the Creation Museum woman at the UCN church fair, and I said that after my brain stopped being stuck on "I believe the Bible is [a creationist]" being such bad grammar, my next thought was, "But there are two Creation stories in Genesis."  Ari pointed out that there are also Creation stories in Job, Proverbs... "Almost as if it weren't a factual history, but expressing the idea of God's powerful, creative, generative, love for all creation."

She talked some about mothering love and whether that was problematic terminology because not everyone has a good mother (so not everyone would have positive associations with the term "mothering love") and immediately she thought, "But everyone has [a good mother in] Jesus."

Jesus as Mother of course makes me of Julian of Norwich which makes me think of my mom (and sk8eeyore).

In talking about gendering Jesus, Ari mentioned the historical Jesus as being "read as male," and because I've been reading Borg and Crossan I thought, "Yes, I suppose that is more accurate -- since we are getting the Biblical author's understandings of their experiences and their attempts to articulate those experiences, rather than literal historical fact."  It wasn't until we were talking later that I consciously registered that she had posited Jesus as trans.

We talked about how "Away in a Manger" is problematic because the statement about baby Jesus not crying at the disruption implies a supernatural creature rather than a wholly divine human one.  I said to Ari, "I don't know if that makes my Christology higher or lower [because my instinct is to say it's a higher Christology, but that can't be right because I'm emphasizing the "fully human" aspect rather than the "fully divine"]."  She provided the word I was looking for: "orthodox."

So I am becoming more orthodox at the same time as I am becoming more radical.  Ari said, "Because orthodox Christianity IS radical."

This reminded me (from Latin 1 class) that radix=root, and yeah, digging into the texts (and the traditions) to find what is at the root, to clear away what has been built up over it which is obscuring our view, to try to be transparent to the Ground of Being.

I hadn't realized (or had forgotten) that I don't actually like "Away in a Manger" until we sang it at morning prayer service one day the first week in Advent this year.  I also think we shouldn't sing Christmas carols during Advent.  Rev.S. had mentioned a piece from Working Preacher about how singing Christmas carols during Advent is legit.  We think she probably meant the David Lose piece rather than the Marc Kolden, but they are both rather failsome.
professional me, self

"the world don't owe me nothing, even though i want it to"

UCN's church fair was today, from 9am-3pm.  I'd intended to get there around 9, but I snoozed my alarm for a half an hour (9 hours of sleep and yet I am tired) and then was on the Internet over breakfast, so I got there around 9:45.

Early on, I heard Eileen S. recommend to someone that they watch the 22-minute (pro-) Creation Museum video that her husband was showing in the other room.  I had the twin sensations of wanting to throw up and feeling like my head was going to implode. 

One of the new guys (David the younger) kept saying "Happy Holidays" to customers, which threw me every time, because UCN post-schism* is a conservative evangelical church of the sort that thinks that's part of the War on Christmas or whatever.  Eileen told him that she doesn't say "Happy Holidays" to ANYONE, and when salespeople say "Happy Holidays" to her, she says that if every Christian stopped shopping they [the retailers] wouldn't have much of a holiday season.

* The church I grew up in was an apolitical Protestant church with a Baptist/Congregational sort of polity structure but no particular denominational affiliation.  When I was in high school, we had an influx of young (like age 30-ish) folks with a lot of energy and a very conservative evangelical slant.  They basically took over the church, and Pastor Bill (who has been the pastor there since I was 9 years old) let them.  A whole lot of people (the older people who were the church for me) left (as much because of the way the changes were steamrolled as because of the nature of the changes), and I stopped considering United "my" church.  Ironically, most (all?) of those first wave people have since left over other debacles.  (I remember Eileen's husband Jim -- who's a geologist or something -- talking about scientific arguments for Creationism in Adult Ed or something, so they must have pre-dated the schism, because one of the influx people became the Young Adult Minister and so I stopped going to Adult Ed once there was an actual Young Adult program.)

I chimed in (yes, I know that was obviously a mistake) that I didn't think buying things for people was exactly in the spirit of Christmas.  (As soon as it was out of my mouth I realized it sounded wrong, because of course generosity to others is in the Christmas spirit whereas what I'd meant was that the focus on spending money on material goods misses the point of Christmas.)  She said something in response, and I think she hadn't heard me quite correctly.  I responded that I think secular Christmas and religious Christmas are very different, so I don't have a problem with people wishing me a Happy Holidays because when salespeople wish me a "Merry Christmas" I think, "Your Christmas is not my Christmas."

She was on her way out, and we didn't really go any further with that, but she recommended that I check out the Creation Museum video showing in the other room.
Eileen: "I think you'll really like it."
me: "I think I really won't."
Eileen: "Maybe you're not a creationist."
me: "Yeah, I'm not."
Eileen: "Well, I think the Bible is."

I am very much an Englightenment kind of girl who wants/needs her Bible to be literally factually true, but I find myself channeling Marcus Borg and thinking, "not only do I not believe in the story of Creation the same way you do [and hi, there are two Creation stories, so where exactly is the line that demarcates which Bible stories we have to accept as literally true?] but why does this even matter?  Where is the Good News here?"  (I'm reading Borg and Crossan's The First Christmas right now, and one thing that really struck me was Borg's emphasis on "what does this MEAN?" rather than on whether something was literally factually true or not, and while in other books he has used language like "history metaphorized," here he brought up the idea of parables -- that if someone tried to insist to you that there literally was or was not a Samaritan who helped a wounded guy by the side of the road you would be like, "But you are totally missing the point!")

A few minutes later, around 10:15, my mom came down.  I hugged her a lot.

My mom came down again around 11:30 to get my grandma (and me) for lunch.

Over lunch, I said to my mom, "On the plus side, nobody has asked me if I've lost weight."  [I decided years ago -- like early in my college career -- that when people see you looking happy etc., they think, "you look good," and the only/dominant framework they have in which to understand that is "You've lost weight."  I, of course, find this problematic on a whole number of levels.]  My mother said, as she had at Thanksgiving, that she thinks that regardless of whether I'm actually skinnier, people are likely to think I have because I'm more toned (because I work out); I can accept this interpretation.

Downstairs, one of the customers was Mary K. (one of the sweet old ladies from the library) and we chatted a bit and I wanted to say, "How's the library? I haven't really been back to visit since Terry doesn't work there anymore," but I didn't have opportunity to.

When Deb was asking me what I'd been up to, I told her various true and important things, and I wanted to say, "and I've been going to lots of radical queer progressive church" but I didn't have opportunity to.

sweet_adelheid: I saw The Color of Water and thought of you and picked it up.
fox1013: I picked up The Snowy Day because it made me think of you.
I also picked up Inkheart just because.

I came home via the grocery store at Porter Square, and around the Powder House Rotary, I was praying, "I pray for grace and wisdom to offer the love and support necessary even when I am feeling rage and bitterness," [not re: UCN, ftr] when I noticed there was snow on my hoodie.

My new camera arrived.  It is so small.

Housemate: "I'm going over to Rachel's.  I would invite you for the dinner, but Ricky's making beef, so ... not so much your thing."

And I still haven't finished writing my sermon for tomorrow.