An Imaginative Creator

I am in the forest and leaves are falling. At times they are falling so hard it sounds like rain. Looking up, it is like I am watching the hardwoods throwing leaves from their branches and into the arms of the conifers. Who knew the trees played games of catch?

In the book The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben teaches us a thing or two about trees. He wants to make sure we know that individual trees are important. At the same time he insists a tree is only as strong as the surrounding forest. When trees unite to create a forest, the whole becomes greater than its parts. The well-being of a tree is dependent on the community of trees. Wohlleben suggests that trees are far more social than we might imagine.

One tree standing alone is at risk. It cannot establish a consistent climate. It suffers alone in wind and weather. But a forest of trees creates an ecosystem that moderates temperature, stores water, and generates humidity. Wohlleben insists that in a forest, trees care for one another. Every tree becomes valuable to the community and is worth keeping around as long as possible. Sick trees even receive support and nourishment from others until they recover.

Wohlleben is convinced that trees are able to communicate with one another. And not only one another, but with other creatures as well.  Who knew? He makes a case that trees care for one another. They share food with one another. The forest is a tree community. They need one another. Maybe those lively trees we read about in stories are not as farfetched as we think. Maybe trees are not the passive plants they appear to be. Maybe that really is a game of catch they are playing above me. Maybe the forest really is an enchanted place.

I am struck by the way Wohlleben talks about the forest in ways the New Testament talks about church. We communicate with one another. We care for one another. Like trees in the forest, we are stronger and more productive when congregated. Alone we are at risk. Together we are the church. We need one another. Just as an individual tree does not make a forest, an isolated Christian does not make a church. It is interesting that both forest and church are the dream of the same imaginative Creator. Perhaps we should not be surprised by any similarities. Whatever future research tells us about trees, I will never walk through the forest the same way again.

A Persistent God

“I can’t help but notice a distinct pattern in this relationship between Creator and creation. The Creator keeps showing up, again and again, unwilling to let creation go. So we celebrate His arrival as a Middle Eastern baby. We celebrate His return from the dead. We celebrate His arrival as Spirit. This Creator seems willing to show up anywhere at any time. This is a persistent God. It is clear He is unwilling to give up on us.”

From Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 99

Chapter One

Once upon a time a world was carved from chaos. The Maker loved this world and talked of how good it was. The world was full of life. Light shined on it. It was textured with deep valleys and tall mountains. Color fell on it and formed beautiful patterns. Life splashed against its shores and blew across its horizon. Life grew along its surface and up into its air. Living creatures flew through its skies and swam in its waters. Others crawled and climbed all over it. And some of these living creatures were special representatives of the Maker. The Maker loved them and talked of how very good they were. These creatures enjoyed the Maker and this world and all that was in it.

Something Lies Ahead

This is quite a ride we are on. We spin on Earth’s axis at more than 830 miles per hour. At the same time, we orbit around the sun at over 66,000 miles per hour. This prompts the question, how do we spend our time during such an adventure? One full rotation gives us a day—one full revolution a year. But we want more than years and days; we want to know that we hang on for something that matters.

We hang on because we want to know what happens next. We want to know where to go from here. People seem to be aware that something lies ahead, but we do not know what to expect. We don’t know whether to be excited or frightened by the prospects. We don’t know where to look. We do not even know what to look for.

It would be easy to settle with the herd, where the loudest voices can convince us they have things figured out and where we can find the road least difficult. Yet I long for an adventure that explores the beauties of creation and the mysteries of the Creator. Fortunately, it is Advent. Advent is a path that leads somewhere. It calls for us to prepare. It creates a sense of expectancy. Like the wise men that followed a star, we still need direction.

Noah: a Response to the Narrative

The trouble with approaching a familiar narrative is that we have convinced ourselves that we know the story.  That its lessons and implications are known.  That we have already gleaned its treasure.  This is a risk that some of us take when we read the Noah narrative.

It is easy to think that this is a text about an ark or a flood.  Yet, the text is telling us something more.  The more time we spend here the more we realize that this text is about the relationship between God and creation.  This relationship is in crisis.  The text says that God is grieved.  The wickedness that is in creation has an impact on the Creator.  And so, He enters the pain and fracture of this world.

We can fool ourselves into thinking that God stands outside the story sending His wrath, but this is a story about the pain God feels for a wayward creation.  In this context, we find Noah.  Noah is introduced as son of Lamech, one who will bring comfort.  In the midst of wickedness and evil human intentions, Noah is righteous, blameless, and walks with God.  The narrative announces with confidence that faithfulness is possible even in a wicked world.

After forty days of rain and one hundred fifty days of water covering the earth there is possibility of feeling forgotten.  But, “God remembered Noah…”  This is an issue that cannot be overlooked.  Each one of us knows what it is like to be forgotten.  In this narrative, all of creation may feel forgotten.  But “God remembered Noah.”  Walter Brueggemann implies that this is Gospel.  The flood appears to destroy everything except the commitment of the Creator to His covenant partner.  Brueggemann goes so far as to suggest that God is preoccupied with His creation.

Following the flood, we still find that “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  And we still find that humans are created in the image of God.  Yet, not everything remains the same.  Genesis wants us to know that this relationship between God and creation has changed.  Namely, we receive a promise and a sign that God will never destroy the earth like this again.

Creation has not changed.  You could say we are all in the same boat. Hopelessness remains.  Humans rebel against the purpose of God.  Any chance of hope depends on God.  Genesis brings good news!  God keeps His covenant with creation.  Human rebellion does not ruin His plan.  A grieving God will have unlimited patience with a rebellious world.  This is Good News because we are not capable of saving ourselves.

Noah: a Response to the Movie

I admit that I am late to the party, but have finally watched the movie Noah.  I have heard a great deal of criticism about the film, usually about details that contradict with the Genesis account.  The critics are right; there is much that does not agree with Genesis. For myself, I could have done without a stowaway on the ark and a Noah who borders on insanity as he misinterprets the intent of the Creator. I haven’t decided whether the “watchers” bring a comical or a supernatural element.

I can’t help but think about another version of the Noah story that contradicts with Genesis.  For years, we have painted animals two by two on nursery walls and blankets and children’s toys.  We seem to be ok with trying to convince our children that this is a feel good story.  The fact is, we can decorate the nursery with a Noah theme but that does not eliminate the disaster of the flood.  If I have to choose, I think the film is closer to what Genesis is talking about.

I am glad that it was released and that I had the opportunity to watch it.  Most of us who watch movies enjoy strong acting and this one has Anthony Hopkins who plays a strong, imaginative Methuselah.  Bravo Hopkins!  I also was glad that the movie portrayed a Creator who refuses to be domesticated.  It allows us to bring Genesis and more importantly the God of Genesis into conversation with people who otherwise may not have been interested in such talk.

Perhaps a thank you is in order to Hollywood for providing opportunities we otherwise would not have had. Should we be shocked that Hollywood grabbed a story from the Old Testament?  Can we fault them?  After all, the Old Testament is far more interesting than the stuff we usually see on the big screen.  For that matter, it is far more interesting than nearly anything labeled as entertainment.  Seriously, have you seen what the industry has been trying to pass off as entertaining?

It is sometimes easy to forget why Hollywood makes movies.  They are entertainers, even more, they want to make money.  They probably choose a story like Noah because it is familiar to many who they think might be interested in buying a ticket to the theater.  They do not mind when we protest our disagreement with the way Genesis or God is portrayed.  They probably enjoy it, thinking of our protests as free publicity for the movie.

I enjoyed the creative portrayal of the way that the Creator works.  I was fascinated by the miraculous way that a flower grows, a forest grows, animals arrive at the ark, and the rains come.  I enjoyed the oral presentation of the creation story as told by Noah.

As I mentioned above, there are a number of things that I wish were portrayed differently in the movie.  But, even more, I wish that we would respond differently to mainstream attempts to tell our stories.  Why do we get so worked up when Hollywood doesn’t tell our stories correctly?  Do we seriously expect them to?  What are our expectations?  That Hollywood should tell our stories for us?  When did we pass off this responsibility?  Talk about abdicating our calling.  Instead of criticizing the movie industry would it make more sense to be participating in the conversation in more faithful ways?

I wonder if our frustration in these situations isn’t actually a self-indictment.  Are we frustrated that we have not been effective at telling our own stories? Here is one guy hoping that Hollywood continues to put out movies featuring the biblical stories.  I hear that a movie about Exodus is on the way.  I am anxious to engage in the conversation.