The South African Partnership for Missional Churches, working closely with the Church Innovation Insitute from Saint Paul, like to read Luke 10:1-12 with a process called Dwelling in the Word. I can still vividly remember the first time I was in a meeting reading this text three years ago, and my first response was that I find verse 10-12 extremely arrogant. My partner, who was supposed to share with the group what I heard in the text wasn’t quite happy with what I said, and neither was the facilitator.

Since that day I’ve been sharing my discomfort with the text every time we had to read it, and usually found myself to be a lone voice. However, Wednesday morning at the Missionary by its very Nature conference with Roger Schroeder, I found myself in a group of 5 people who shared my discomfort, hearing possible colonial interpretations when they read the text, being uncomfortable with fear motives etc.

I’ve been meditating on Walter Brueggemann’s 19 Thesis the past 10 days or so again. So I guess this got me to consider whether it’s possible to re-read this text as a counterscript. In a way that does not get stuck in old theological controversies or metaphysical speculations. So, this is my re-reading of Luke 10:

Luke 10:1-12 – After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to the town of politics, where dishonesty and misuse of power reigned, the town of economics, where discrepancies between rich and poor reigned, and the town of ecology, where grave dangers existed. This was some of the places he intended to go to bring peace. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4You have only 1 goal: To go to the towns and houses where I have sent you. 5Proclaim to these houses: ‘Peace to this house!’ 6If in this house there is someone who is already sharing in this peace, or open to take part in this peace, you will find a connection, if not, you will remain a lone voice of peace. 7Partner with those who you find a connection with, stay with them, dream with them, and let them provide for you. Do not run away at the first hint of struggle, but stay with this one house that is open to peace. 8Whenever you enter a town and it’s people welcome you, become part of that town; 9care, cure the sickness of this town, and say to them: ‘God’s dream, the possibility of the impossible, has now come near you’ 10But should they refure the peace, should they wich to continue down paths of destruction for themselves and others, proclaim publicly: 11’This is wrong! We will have nothing to do with this! Yet the reality remain that God’s dream, the possibility of the impossible, is near. 12Know this: on the day when the dream which seem impossible come into existence, it will be more tolerable for the evils of ancient times that for those who refused to accept the peace, and chose to continue down destructive paths.”

18 December was the day Avatar was released in South Africa. 18 December was also the day of the Copenhagen accord.

Today I finally came around to reading the reports of Copenhagen. And I finally came around to watching Avatar. A sad concurrency of events.

Yes, Avatar is good. It might be one of those movies which will take me quite some time to work through. It presents a weird and magically wonderful world with effects which few, if anyone, have ever been able do. In combining this with the total over-romanticization of primal cultures, it reminds me of the 1999 Hallmark mini-series of Journey to the Center of the Earth (which I haven’t seen in 8 years or so, but I remember finding really brilliant at the time).

Avatar portrays this beautifully wonderful world of perfect pantheism (although they mess up this theological concept a bit with typical popular western theological ideas, but that will have to be left for another post), where everything is connected, and everything is in balance. It’s an Eden environment, where humanoids feel nature, care for nature, name the animals.

The movie is a blatant critique of colonialism, of the disconnect with nature brought about by our technocratic society, of the destruction of the earth by humans, of the disregard of everything sacred. And dare I say that the general reaction to this critique is positive. For many, the fantastic fantasy world of Pandora point to what we know, on a deep level, to be right, and true. Peace. Harmony. With all of creation. Living a simple lifestyle. Caring for the environment. Yes, all this and more, the beautiful world of Pandora is what we want. But we want to keep it fantasy.

Almost as if we need the fantasy of the possible life in harmony with nature, to keep our technocratic militaristic consumerist world alive. As if we know that as soon as the hope of peace and harmony disappear, we’ll die. So we keep the fantasy alive, so that we can continue our destruction. Because as soon as we walk out of Avatar, we continue our Christmas shopping, buying more than we need, and more than the earth can sustain. We go back to our lives in security villages and kept safe by large armies that keep the possibility of a society where the masses are living in absolute poverty alive. And not only do we shrug at a climate deal which screams against everything that Avatar has been fighting for, we kind of know that we are not willing to change our own lifestyles to be in harmony with our mother earth.

As the days after Copenhagen pass, the reaction of sadness, and sometimes madness, is heard over and over again. Yes, the thoughtful recognize the difficulties that the conversations faces, the thoughtful know that a first step in the right direction has been made. But the reality is that we are making decisions to safe our own asses. We have heard that gaia (to use Lovelock’s language) is going to make it difficult for humans, and we are willing to keep to the limits which was set so that our own comforts aren’t threatened. But harmony with the earth isn’t even on the table. Actually going above and beyond what the economy and human survival require isn’t even considered. A world where the human species is connected with everything around it is kept for the fantasy world of Pandora.

The rising electricity prises in South Africa is costing me. Money. Twitter user talk about it. It’s in papers. And I’m getting emails every now and again about some petition I have to sign to stop Eskom from razing the prises. My response is always some table of electricity prises showing Eskom prises before the prise rise started. Everybody complains about the cost. And everybody complains about their CO2 output. But few seem to put together that a reduction in CO2 usage will be costing us money. And no one seem to welcome the prise rise as a possible means of reducing CO2, since this might be forcing people to use less electricity in South Africa. And no one seem to talk about what electricity actually should cost in South Africa if the cost to the ecology is taken into account.

South Africa has one of the highest CO2 per person outputs, meaning that my own community of suburban, upper-class, highly mobile, professional people might be the most CO2 intensive people-group in world (I have no proof!). I think it was someone in 11th Hour who talked about ancient rays of sunlight. The energy we use, coal, oil, or whatever, that was made over centuries, millenia, of sunlight, the only large energy source we have. And we are using it at a rate much faster than it is being made.

So we need to work with the energy as it’s being created real-time. Stop complaining about Eskom prises. It’s gonna cost money to stop or reduce your usage of these ancient rays of sunlight. Are we willing to go the ecological route if it’s gonna change our lifestyles? And it’s gonna. For the community in which I live it’s gonna. We will have to start using public transport, live in smaller homes, drive smaller cars, drive less, change our diets, eat less meat especially. Eskom’s raising prices should not bother you. If they made mistakes, let that bother you. But on this year’s Blog Action Day what should bother you is the fact that they aren’t calculating the cost to nature into you’re electrical bill.

in the beginning…

May 16, 2009

hebrew-cosmosI’m reading Genesis 1:1-2:4a. The first creation narrative. Written later than much of the Old Testament, in Babilon (remember that most Jews in later times lived not in Israel, but in Babilon). And it’s the most brilliant story! Imagine with me, how a Jewish father would explain faith to his little son, who have to listen to his Babilonian friends speculate about the universe and about the different gods in existence. Keep the picture to the right in mind, this is how they pictured creation.

What was there in the beginning? Nothing? No, in the beginning there was darkness and water. Darkness and water: In the beginning there was only chaos! Nothing good can come from darkness and water my son. We know that the see is the host of choas, the way to the underworld. It would have been hopeless my son, but God was there. In the beginning, all that was, was chaos and God!

The heaven of heavens did not exist, the firament of the stars did not exist, the underworld, pillars of the earth, nothing existed. That was, except for the darkness, the water and God. God and the chaos.

But then, God said, this wouldn’t do. Let us create light to take away the darkness. Let us get rid of the chaos, so that we can create a space where life can exist. God spoke, and the chaos started receding, because now the possibility of hope was there, the possibility of light, op hope! Where was the light? Well, we don’t know yet, but light was now possible.

But the water was still everywhere, everything was still water. So God said: This wouldn’t do. Let us create space for life to exist. God moved the water around. Some he sent to the underworld, some he sent up to the heavens. Suddenly, a space started to appear where it was visible that God was at work, because the chaos was moved out of the way.

But there was still no place for life to exist. There was space, but the sea was still everywhere. So God said: Let us move this sea out of the way, so that we can have some ground for life to exist on.

Finally, to really nail the chaos, God created two lights. One for the day, and one for the night. Now the chaos was really moved to the underworld, between the pillars that God created for the earth to stand on.

Then God bursted out! “Let’s make life! Earth”, God commanded, “spawn living beings”. Plants, birds and animals, big and small, let us even make fish to swin in the sea, to populate the remaining chaos. And then, my son, God made people, and God made us to look after everything that he created.

So my son. It is true, in the beginning there was only chaos, water and darkness, but in the chaos, there was God. And God got rid of the chaos, to make some space for life. And we are too look after this life. And on the Sabbath, the seventh day, we stop to remember the God who created, we stop and lister to the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that was there when all that existed was chaos.

Oh, and by the way, my son. All those gods your Babilonian friends talk about, that’s just things that God created, not gods.

I come from a Reformed background. OK, so I’ve opened myself up to many other church traditions, and learn from them, but I find depth in my own tradition as well. It’s a more dinamic relationship with tradition I guess, where tradition is challenged, and sometimes it humbles us with the wisdom that we find in response to the our challenge. Anyhow, not the point, the point is rather that some parts of our tradition is gaining meaning which I want to point to.

We reformed folks talk about two books in which we learn about God: The book of nature and the Bible. Yeah, we obviously link back to Paul (Romans 1) when saying this. Paul said that we learn about God in nature.

burning_bookBut what then if we mess up nature? Is that like burning Bibles? Maybe worse, cause Bibles we just print again. Is it like  somehow getting rid of all copies of the gospel according to Mark… forever?

I’m not totally insane am I?

I remember a conversation where we once played around with what prophets would do in our day. Remember the symbolic things prophets did in the Old Testament? Marrying a prostetute. Walking around naked. Carrying around joke. What would prophets have done today?

Well, maybe they would have took a heap of Bibles to church and burned them on a Sunday morning, as a symbol for how we are burning the book of nature, God’s revelation…

Maybe I’m just insane or losing it. What do you think?

Usually it is said that if your comment become as long as a post, better get your own blog and post it there. So, in response to Jake’s question to me, this is what I’ll say:

What will the church of the future look like? What do be need to focus on? Well, I believe that one thing that needs to get some serious attention is a theology of creation. How do we think about the world in which we find ourselves in light of our reflection on God, how do we think about God’s act of creation, and what about God’s continous acts of creation?

Turn to the classic creation narratives (remember not the only ones we find in the Bible), Genesis 1 & 2. Was the earth perfect before the little incident with the evil snake in Genesis 3? A bit of background is in order. We have two totally different creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2. The first probably from a priestly source, talking about creation in 7 days with rest on the last, the second probably from a non-Jerusalem common-folk source. The first point to the cultic rythm, showing that it is inherent in creation, the second the the task of looking after the land, working on it.

Then in Genesis 3 we have the snake and apple incident. What traditionally we call “the Fall”. The Fall, from total perfectude, to total depravity, so we were taught. My problem is that the two creation narratives, and especially the first, doesn’t prepare me for the coming fall. Genesis 1 teached that all living things is created, each to its specie. Everything, the whole system exist in Genesis 1. Genesis is similar, and Genesis 3 talk about the relationship between man and earth, man and creation, being broken. The only hardship spreading out that is not directed at man, is directed towards the snake. But this “total depravity” doesn’t talk about nature turning against itself, does it? Not in these texts at least?

Jesus’ message was clear, the kingdom of God is at hand. The gospel of John makes it even clearer, Jesus came to give life to the full. It is not something for someday. To take the Isaiah 11 text literally, would beg to ask why in living out believe in God’s continues creation and re-creation of creation, we are not taking part in making this true. As David Bosch would have said, if God’s idea of heaven mean that wolf and lamb dwell together, then surely God would want it for earth as well? (Think the Lord’s prayer?).

So, in response to your question Jake. I think we need to focus on man’s broken relationship with creation. Genesis 3 doesn’t seem to point to an inherent brokenness in creation, but simply brokenness because of the relation to man. I see deep theological value for our current conversation on ecology! In taking part in the coming of the kingdom here, we should restore the relationship of man to creation, and so restore creation.

I believe that this still leave a lot of unanswered questions. But this is my 2 cents worth for now…

the task of theology

December 5, 2008

Over time the task of theology and theologians have changed quite a bit. Who we consider to be theologians has changed as well. At times the importance a certain theologians view was based on his position within a hierarchy, those higher up doing more of the “thinking” and passing it down the structure. At times and in places all theologians an pastors were officiallyconsidered to have an equal voice. Some would say that with the professionalization of pastors theologians has disappeared. The pastor became a manager or a pop-psychologist.

Now, this post is not on who the theologian of today is. Whether it is those trained to be so or just an elite group of them, whether it is everyone who wants to be, or whether it is everyone, whether they like to be or not. Whoever the theologian might be, I’d rather like to ask what his/her task would be.

We live in a time when we realise, maybe more than ever before, that sometimes your worldview matters! The way you see the world matters! How you view the value of human life, how you evaluate the importance of something, how you see things fitting together, what you consider the purpose of life to be, whether you consider life to have purpose, and whether you think the purpose of life can be known, it matters! Whether you think there is a God or not, what you consider this God to be like, and how you relate this God to daily living: it matters!

Sometimes it is a matter of life and death… more and more we are realising that maybe always it is a matter of life and death. This determine whether you take part in systems that oppress the poor (and most of us do, but we have a worldview which blinds us to seeing this), what our ecological footprint would be and various other quite important things.

And this, I believe, is the primary task of theologians. Helping to form worldviews! It is the critical task of challenging a reigning worldview, and searching for a healthy worldview. All worldviews does not need a God, the theologian would say that considering God helps in forming a healthy worldview, and must search for what this might look like, since considering God can sometimes lead to an unhealthy worldview, depending on your view of God. Others also take part in this quest of forming worldviews. We sell ourselves out to the advertisement industry and Hollywood to form our worldviews! And sometimes this ain’t a good place to find a worldview!

Many other things will be taught to those who attend universities to study theology or attend seminaries, or church Bible schools or who attend church. Much of this would be good things. But when theologians, whoever they might be, forget their primary task, that of forming worldviews, a sad day might await us, because although all the other influences on worldview is not bad, and although the influence of theologians ain’t always good… we in a time where a constant danger exist that those who want to make money out of us become the biggest influence on our worldview… when that happens we can only cry: “woe woe woe” (Revelation 8:13).