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Have you seen depictions of The Ascension of Christ in religious art?Before literacy was wide-spread, visual art was the means of teaching Christianity.I served a rural eastern North Dakota parish for 12 winters.The parish was made up of 5 small congregations, each no bigger than Tabor.It was interesting for me to see how the altars in these five churcheswere both similar and unique.One of the similarities I noticed in three of them was thestatue of Jesus that Tabor also has in our narthex. But two, Sigdal and Sheyenne, had a painting at the altar: a depiction of the The Ascension of Christ. The folks at Sigdal told me that many rural churchesbought many of the same paintings from the same artistwho traveled rural America in the 1920’s and 30’s.It was a treasured work of art for their grandparents who couldn’t afford such a painting in their own homes, but together they could buy this piece of religious art for their altar.
The background of the painting is a bright blue sky, and the foregroundis a green grassy place where the disciples stand looking up in wonder, as the Christ stands on a small cloud as if he were taking an elevator up higher and higher into the waiting clouds.
For millennia, Christianity has used this image to teach us that the Earth is not our real home, and that our real home is up in the sky, or the clouds,or anywhere that isn’t the Earth.Even today, some Christian theologies teach that the Earth is like a Bus station, or a School to visit for a while, then graduate or catch the bus to where we really belong. I think both the School and the Bus Station analogies teach humansthat the Earth is simply something God provides for our use, and disposal,until the bus comes or we graduate to a better plane of existence. Even Jesus’ prayer of farewell in the Gospel of John has him, in the English translation, talking about how the world isn’t his real home.He says to God, “They do not belong to the world,just as I do not belong to the world.”
Now the way I choose to interpret this is from a Creation-centered theology where the one-ness that Jesus is also praying for in that farewell prayer is embodied in the promise that “there is no place that our loving God is not.”The Triune God in whom we “live and move and have our being”, the risen Christ, the embodied Word of God spoken at the beginning of Genesiscalling the universe into being, this Christ, in Creation-centered theology,is inseparable from Creation.
And so it’s essential in Creation-centered theology, to understand that when Jesus says “world” that’s merely one translation of a Greek word that actually comes closer to meaning “human society as it exists now”and not “The Earth” -- the planet that sustains and supports a wondrous web of life.“World” refers to the society that humans have created thus far;a society that has believed and been taught for millennia now,thanks to just one over-riding interpretation of the Scriptures,that the Earth is disposable.
Natural Science, especially today, tries to call humankind’s attention to the harm this orientation to the Earth is causing.One of the things Natural Science teaches us, is that “There is no Away.” When people say “Oh you can just throw that Away”the thing we’re so conveniently disposing of is actually going somewhere else on the Earth, or in the Earth’s atmosphere.It doesn’t get on a “cloud elevator”, like the Ascension painting,push the button, and go somewhere else! “There is no Away”is so logically simple and profoundly true.Yet human society today has to believe that there is a mythical “Away” place if we’re to continue to buy and dispose of consumer products like we’ve been doing.And what has that belief and behavior done to the Earth, our home? And to more species than we know?
What I hear Jesus saying in his farewell prayer in the Gospel of John, is that he doesn’t belong to this way of thinking; this perverted orientation toward the Earth, and human society.I hear Christ saying implicitlyin all the gospels,that nothing and no one is disposable, so that when we tell “the old old story of Jesus and his love,” like the disciples were commissioned to do,I believe we’re to teach a way of livingthat says we won’t use and throw away human beings or anything in Creation when we’re done with them.We will instead adopt the mind of Christto re-invent, and re-create our way of being in the Earththat isn’t a disposable way, but a conservative way: conserving, stewarding, and preserving, the magnificent abundance of the Earth for the well-being of future generations.
The founder ofthis Creation-centered theology is Matthew Fox a former Dominican Roman Catholic priest, andnow an Episcopalian priest.In his book “Creativity” Matthew Fox says:
“Creativity is who we are. Creativity can redeem and save our species.What are we waiting for? Let us remove the obstacles, let go of the guilt, and get moving. We have nothing to lose but our pessimism and cynicism, for, as Otto Rank warned us, “pessimism comes with the repression of creativity.
Creativity is not in short supply. There is an abundance of it, plenty to go around. It has always been this way. From the original fireball to the birth of the atoms, galaxies, supernovas, stars, Sun, planets, Earth and her marvelous creatures. We humans are latecomers to the creative universe, but we are powerfully endowed with creativity.
Some of my hope comes from the realization, growing daily, of how perilous our situation is on this planet. As more and more people get out of denial and the addictions denial puts us in, and come to realize the danger that our unsustainable species is in, there will be action and there will be grounds for hope.
This sounds paradoxical, and it is: Our systems are breaking down today. All of them. And we feel it. All our professions, all our religions, all our politics and economic and educational establishments need reinventing.They all lack feminine energy. Wisdom energy. They lack cosmology and creativity.
This gives hope. That the Divine can and will return in a more balanced form to our species. It will return through a coming alive of our love of life, and a response to the pain so omnipresent on our planet.This response will precipitate an outbreak of creativity.
If we can use justice and compassion as contours to contain and to critique the use of creativity, then what we give birth to will serve other generations and other species, instead of destroy them.Then the Spirit will be at work once again, creating and re-creating, co-working with humankind.
Let us not deceive ourselves or live in a silly illusion about our creativity.Creativity is a choice.In theological terms, it is grace and works operating together.It is an option to live life with grace.
Creativity is not a particular gift given to certain people only. It is a personal choice, and a cultural choice.An individual choice and a family, professional, and societal choice. And at this time in our history, it is a species choice.We choose whether to let creativity flow or not; in our educational systems, our media, our politics, our economics, our Religions . . . our very psyches.In theological terms, it is a matter of letting the Spirit in. The Christ in.” -- Matthew Fox.
The Triune God in whom we “live and move and have our being,” the risen Christ, the embodied Word of God spoken at the beginning of Genesis calling the universe into being, this Christ in Creation-centered theology is inseparable from Creation. In Him we are all co-creators with God, called to “the contours of justice and compassion” and sent into the world. – Pr. David