Archive for February, 2022

‘Thick and Thin Places’    

Posted: February 26, 2022 in Uncategorized

‘Thick and Thin Places’       

William Loader from Western Australia says this. He says; ‘Let’s go up the mountain.

Let’s go up to the place where the land meets the sky where the earth touches the heavens, to the place of meeting, to the place of mists, to the place of voices and conversations, to the place of listening’… When we read those words many of us will immediately think of Iona and all things ‘celtic’. And one of the things about Iona is that it is a place where one can each day come face to face with the elements: rain, wind, sunshine, thunderstorms and rainbows and beautiful morning mists. Iona… the Hebridean isle to which Columba and his monks travelled over 1400 years ago. And turning their backs on Ireland, commenced a religious community. Iona… regarded by many as a ‘thin place’ between the material and spiritual dimensions of life. What William Loader is doing is picturing a ‘thin place’ in his prayer poem.

With the memory of the Moses story resonating in his mind, and a similar Jesus story as told by Mark some 20 odd years before, Luke weaves his words into a picture-story ‘where the earth touches the heavens, to the place of meeting, to the place of mists, to the place of voices and conversations, to the place of listening’. Lets remember here that none of these stories are recording an historical fact and yet they are saying something true.

I have read Elaine Pagels autobiography and she writes about her work on the Nag Hammadi documents, especially the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Truth. She touches on her work on Revelation as well but what fascinated me was her work on the Gospel of Thomas which of course we know to contain a lot of sayings attributed to Jesus.

Video Beyond Belief

Some of the key points she makes are that unlike the Gospel of Mark, Thomas suggests that Jesus was speaking in metaphor when he says “If those who lead you say to you, the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds will get there first. If they say, It is in the sea, then the fish will get there first. Rather the kingdom of God is within you, and outside of you. When you come to know yourselves then you will know that you are the children of God”. Here we have Jesus revealing that the kingdom of God is not an actual place in the sky, or anywhere else, or an event expected in human time. Instead, it’s a state of being that we may enter when we come to know who we are, and come to know God as the source of our being. The significant change here is that the ‘good news’ is not only about Jesus, its also about every one of us. This is a direct challenge to our current global obsession with difference and identity. While it may be right and proper to specify how we differ in terms of gender, race. Ethnicity, background and family this saying from Thomas suggests that recognizing that we are children of God requires us to recognize how we are the same. Members of the same family so to speak.

Taking this another step Pagels introduces the poem from the Nag Hammmadi documents entitled ‘Thunder’ that she worked on and here the unifying thing is the divine energy that links us all. The poem explores the complete mind by not seeing it only in the positive attributes like wisdom, holiness and power but also in terms of negative experiences like foolishness, shame and fear. The following is a short excerpt that gives us a picture of life not as one of sinner in need of redemption, not one of suffering as a result of sinfulness in need of absolution but rather as a holistic one where suffering and struggle are the requirement of life because they empower and affirm that a life of joy and peace is equally available. The poem also reintroduces for the patriarchally driven Jews the required feminine balance…..

I am the first and the last

I am the one who is honoured and the one scorned;

I am the whore and the holy one..

I am the incomprehensible silence and …

the voice of many sounds.

The word in many forms

I am the utterance of my name..

Do not cast anyone out. Or turn anyone away…

I am the one who remains, and the one who dissolves;

I am she who exists in all fear\and strength in trembling

I am she who cries out….

I am cast forth on the face of the earth..

I am the sister of my husband,

And he is my offspring..

But he is the one who gave birth to me

I am the incomprehensible silence

And the thought often remembered

I am the one who has been hated everywhere,

And who has been loved everywhere

I am the one they call Life, and you have called Death

I am the one whose image is great in Egypt

And the one who has no image among the barbarians.

I prepare the bread and my mind within;

I am the knowing of my name..

If our storyteller Luke is one thing, it is that he or she is consistent. Luke has been saying that this Jesus bloke is different, is better, than all the heroes of the past. Luke seems to understand Jesus as a new Moses, who mediates the new ‘law’ to his people and will deliver them out of bondage in a new exodus. It also seems that another of the things being suggested in this ‘thin’ story is, it is saying something important about an experience of God or The Sacred. And that something, is not about any so-called supernatural power or being. The important bit for me, I think, is that when we experience God or The Sacred something like a creative transforming power is released into our lives. We have encountered the thin place in the thick complex environment of life. And this encounter is not brought about by coercion and power over, but rather by lure and suggestion and imagination.

As Jesus was transformed before Peter, James, and John, (as the story goes), God’s so-called ‘will’ is to transform us in the everyday moments of our lives. As another scholar suggests:

• If your deepest experience is loneliness, it is the will of God to transform you from loneliness to human connectedness.

• If your deepest feeling is fear and anxiety, then God wishes to move you creatively past that, to love and to trust.

That is, the Source and Creativity of Life we call God, wants to move us beyond the meaninglessness of life to the intensity of living, characterized by joy and by vitality. It is precisely this creative, transforming power of God that moves us from the triviality of our existence to a new level of depth in our existence that will provide joy and zest and empowerment.

Pagels reading of the poem Thunder continues affirming the feminine as the primordial, life-giving energy that brings forth all things and I have taken the liberty of introducing the idea of God as serendipitous creativity. By that I mean that God is the unexpected, uncontainable, ambiguous uncontainable, John D Caputo’s perhaps and my almost. Creativity itself. The involved participatory vitality of possibility, unfolding of the cosmos. The adapted poem continues….

I am

Serendipitous creativity is the thought that lives in the light

It lives in everyone and delves into them all…

Serendipitous creativity moves in every creature..

It is the invisible one in all beings

Serendipitous creativity is a voice speaking softly

A real voice… a voice from the invisible thought It is a mystery….

Serendipitous creativity cries out in everyone

It hides itself in everyone and reveals itself within them,

and every mind seeking it longs for it.

Serendipitous creativity gradually brings forth everything

It is the image of the invisible spirit

The mother, the light, the virgin, the womb, and the voice

Serendipitous creativity puts breath within all things.

The suggestion here I think is that the thin places are to be found in amongst the thick places, in the everyday as well as the time out places. I think this is what the Gospel of Thomas is suggesting as the good news. It is important to take the walks in natural surrounding such as the beach at sunset or the deep lush bush because few of us feel we have ever been in a ‘thin place’ without that because much of our everyday living is done in ‘thick’ places. In the city within concrete and steel landscapes. In the city with its noise and traffic and flashing neon signs. In a life that is overwhelmingly filled with reason and fact and certainty, or at least the feverish attempt to capture it.

And in ‘thick’ places such as the city we tend not to see paved malls and lawn areas as ‘sacred’ or ‘thin’ space, let alone high-rise buildings or glitzy shopping centers. And amid the mind-blowing achievements “and certainties of technology, it is not difficult to lose our sense of mystery. The challenge of Thomas is that the thin places exist within the everyday life as well. David Tacey, in his book, ‘The spirituality revolution’, cites the 1960s theologian Harvey Cox at a couple of points. He says; “The secular world is the principal arena of God’s work today.  Those who are religious will have to enter more vitally into the secular world if they are to be agents of God’s reconciliation”. And again: “The church… must run to catch up with what God is already doing in the world”. So while it might be a bit hard to hear among all the mythology and storytelling hype, there is more good news in this story of Luke’s.

  • Our God or that which we call God is not aloof and detached.
  • God’s present-ness is like that of an expert weaver, using the fibers of our lives, weaving them into beautiful, powerful garments of love, empowering us for living and our continuing theological journeys.
  • That which we name God is present in both ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ places: in the beauty around us, in the close encounters with death, in a special way during a period of suffering, in cities of concrete and sandstone, in rain forests and church liturgies.
  • God, or that which we name God is not a noun but a verb, an action, an unfolding, revealing dynamic event. If you like it could also be an adverb such as an ‘Almost’.

Don’t ignore or throw away these imaginative and mysterious experiences. Don’t let go of those things you don’t understand or cannot explain. Rather, meditate on them. Delight in them. Become a public voice for them. Use them as imaginative power that vitalizes your faith… And as a source of strength for living in both the valley and on the mountain top. In both ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ places. For Serendipitous Creativity God is up to something larger more complex and more refined than we seem able to imagine. Amen.

This morning’s sermon is an attempt to claim that Radical Change is the move from a confident certainty of faith to a faith of great weakness and that the social reversal is to see and acknowledge the harm done by a misinterpretation of what loving one’s enemies actually means.

Firstly, we have to admit that there are some biblical stories we’d rather not preach on or tell. And that this morning’s story by Luke might be one of them. It could be that preaching on this story is like walking on eggshells. One is aware that in every congregation or community there are people who are fragile and at various points in their lives vulnerable, and this story can come like a vicious stomping. It can be heard as ‘stay in your abusive relationship’ or ‘Love your rapist.’ Or simply bless those who screwed up your life so badly that every relationship you have ever had has been a painful struggle. Love the one who robs you or freedom, who beats you, bullies you, destroys your life. And we are reminded that, “There are women and children who have fled from their homes to escape the drunken rampages of a perpetually violent man, who have been told by their churches, for God’s sake, to turn the other cheek and go back and love him.  And some of those women and children are now dead because of that callous and gutless misuse of this story”.

In light of this hesitation and these horrible examples of an enemy we have to revisit these words of Luke’s Jesus. We have to re-examine the meaning of the words such as: love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you, present the other cheek… and we have to see that they are not addressed to individual people who have been the victims of cruel abuse.  Period. They are not to be used in this way, but rather as words addressed to those who have power… They are addressed to people who have the power to take effective action for good or harm over another person. They are meaningless if directed to those who don’t have any power in a situation.

John Donahue, a Catholic New Testament scholar says: “A true meaning of the love command is not acquiescence to evil and violence, but imitation of God’s love by freeing enemies of their hatred and violent destructiveness…”  (Donahue, 2001, America, online weekly Catholic magazine). 

Jesus’ vision is of a radical theology of a radical social reversal that was both ‘good news’ and a call to people to do that good in actual practice. A call to people to do that good in actual practice…
“not to be seen as human virtues, but rather as God acting through those who trusted God” (Robinson 2002:16).

Rex Hunt when exploring this text makes comment about two examples of this radical social reversal. The first was Martin Luther King Jr whose home was burned down one night by a group of white men who did not like his message about the equality of the races. The situation after the fire was extremely dangerous. African Americans, under the leadership of King were becoming more confident of themselves, and less willing to be oppressed and neglected by society. And they were angry… Angry about how they had been treated for years by white society. Angry in particular that night that their leader’s home had been destroyed.

A crowd of King’s friends and supporters gathered outside the shell of the burnt-out house.
Some talked of getting guns. Others talked about getting petrol and setting fire to the homes of all the white people in the area so they could suffer as the black people had suffered. The crowd wanted to hurt those who had hurt them. They wanted to hurt those who had burned Dr King’s home. They wanted to hurt their enemies. Indeed, they wanted to destroy them.

That night however did not end up that way. Instead, the crowd left their enemies in peace and they went home determined to win the victory with votes instead of with guns, with politics instead of with fire, with love instead of hate. One of the things Martin Luther King Jr told the crowd that night was this: “When you live by the rule ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, you end up with a nation of blind and toothless people.”

King believed that those who held the real power would not be changed by force or perhaps even a winning argument but rather by incremental, cultural and social acceptability. A change rooted in loving one’s enemies. Martin Luther King Jr was a person who tried to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

Another of this ilk was Bishop Desmond Tutu, twice Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and chairperson of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when asked why his country chose to set up the Commission and work the way it did, replied: ‘To be human, we have to live in community, we have to restore community and, in the end, only forgiveness will achieve that.  A person is a person through other persons.  Your humanity is caught up in my humanity. If you are dehumanized, then inexorably I am dehumanized. For me to be whole, you have to be whole. If you are a perpetrator, a torn and broken human being who has lost your humanity, then I too am less than whole.’ Again, Desmond Tutu was a person who tried to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

About now all this sounds good and logical so what is it that makes it radical theology? Or what might be Jesus’ word to us today when he says Love your enemies?

We what is the nature of this power that Jesus calls us to? What does a weak theology or a weak God look like? Well! What if the Genesis narrative was about the weak force of God in the face of God’s mightiest feat, creation, which, however exhilarating, is a feat of cyclical spinning of clay that needs re-spinning? Maybe we should be honest and not hide that fact that the power lies not in the completion of, nor in the success of but rather in the ambiguity of, the incompleteness of, and the weak force that is ultimately stronger than the strong power. Maybe the message is that we have had power up our sleeve right from the start. And it is when we side with the lowly of this world we would then be visited by the power of God, who love his enemies. The humbling of human power in order to exalt the mighty power of God is a ruse; it uses weakness in a bait-and-switch game, as a lure in order to spring power at the crucial moment. We should have the strength of our convictions and allow our weak theology and anarchic hypothesis to play itself out, to stretch all the way from the world to include God. The power of this weak God is deployed to confound the powerful, all the way to God, to what we have been calling the weakness of God.

So, in Caputo’s words we pose the question: what if, in the name of a weak theology, we reconceived God as something unconditional but without sovereignty? What if the event that stirs in the name of God is the event of a weak force? What then? Remember here that the gap we spoke of earlier. The God of the gap is best described as ad interim or ‘Almost’. In being ‘Almost’ there opens up an alternative possibility than the highly hierarchical power story that emerged in the later theological tradition.

If we take another look at this argument for a weak theology, we can consider how creation form nothing would, work against the traditional idea of the “gift” that God is giving. Without the in-originate desert and the watery deep, God cannot give a true gift because God cannot give up or give over, not in truth, and expose Godself to risk, or make Godself vulnerable. As Moltmann says, God cannot love if God cannot make himself vulnerable. Without the desert and the deep, God would remain in such total annihilatory, exnihilatory absolute control of what God makes, God would retain so much possession of what God gives, with so much power over it, that it would only be by a weak analogy that we could speak of a gift or of God giving, or even of the production of something “other” than God. The word by which God lets the world be must also be the word by which God lets the world go, letting Godself in for something that God did not bargain for or see coming.

When we idealize God into an ideal observer who knows and sees everything past, present, and coming, we leave behind the biblical narrative in which Yahweh lets himself in for a future that he had not planned on and in which he comes to regret his decision. The possibility of regret is a condition of the possibility of the gift. Time is not a creature in these narratives—the Hebrews did not have a Platonic idea of eternity beyond time. Rather, time is the element in which they transpire, the common horizon of God and the elements, while the foreseeability of the future is an elemental part of time.

Otherwise, creation is just more of the divine self-same, God and more God, the same engendering the same, and there would be no alterity in creation. That kind of ex nihilo monotheism is continually exposed to pantheism, on the one hand, where God simply suffocates the very world into which God was trying to breathe life, or, on the other hand, to the reduction of religion to the sycophantic praise of a transcendent Power-God who would seem to enjoy such obsequiousness, of a Zeus-like oriental tyrant or a decadent Roman emperor, to whom we pray for magical interventions on the course of history and nature. Without the mythological tohu wa-bohu and the tehom, the horizon of the narratives is dramatically and disproportionately shifted away from that of beauty, goodness, and life and over to that of power and of being. They are turned into explanations of why the world is there, instead of proclamations that what is there is beautiful. God is love, the world is God’s and it is the unconditional fragility and serendipitous-ness that reveals and is revealed in the beautiful weakness of God. ‘Almost. Radical change, social reversal. Love one’s enemies and know the real power of God.

I want to end this with a call from Rex Hunt. Where he says; “live your lives out of an alternative vision of reality that reverses the values of the dominant culture, especially the ‘values’ of the ruling Empire. Nourish your entire life with integrity and be empowered with compassion, that you may indeed live a new kind of life in this world. Amen.

Robinson, J. M. “What Jesus had to say” in R. W. Hoover, (ed) Profiles of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.

Caputo, John D. The Weakness of God (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion) (p. 84). Indiana University Press. Kindle Edition.

Evolution and the Gift of Wisdom

Posted: February 9, 2022 in Uncategorized

Proverbs 8:1-7a, 8-9

Evolution and the Gift of Wisdom

Almost all evidence points to the fact that the mystery we call God insists that existence should prevail. The question we might have though is how and what do we have in common? I want to explore the idea that nature is the best example of existence and that it might be human wisdom that insists we look there. It is just possible that the future of the planet and the human race depends on getting a handle on the human to nature relationship and it might just be that it is one and the same with desire and the how.

“Whether or not we believe that there is something more, nature is so significant that all our beliefs
must be reformulated so as to take nature into account.
Whether it is our view of the world, our image of ourselves, or our beliefs about God – everything
must be rethought in response to our knowledge of how deeply we are rooted
in natural processes” (Philip Hefner 2008:x).

“God is not a being but a process: God does not create the universe;
God is the process of creation (Karl Peters 1989: 481).

Around this tie (12 Feb) some of us celebrate Darwin Day.  The reflection begins by reminding ourselves that: “Darwin Day is an international celebration of science and humanity held on or around the day that Charles Darwin was born on in 1809.  Specifically, it celebrates the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin – the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection with scientific rigor.  More generally, Darwin Day expresses gratitude for the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity” (JShuck. Shuck&Jive blog site).

And to honour his birth, in much of the progressive religion network throughout the world, this day is once again being recognised liturgically as ‘Evolution Sunday’ The compatibility of science and religion. Not the pseudo-science of intelligent design – ID, or its earlier incarnation called ‘creationism’. But real science.

The church, historically, has had a hard time with evolution. It is the church – or perhaps more accurately – it is religious people who go to church, who build Creation Museums (in the USA and Queensland) and fund authors to write books to attack evolution. And attack ministers who embrace evolution. There are stories that in the USA people have been attacked over this issue usually in Letters to the Editor, by another minister (of a different denomination). And all because they signed ‘The Clergy Letter’. The attacking minister wrote: “What you have espoused and embraced and have now taught others is nothing short of outright apostasy.  The signatories of the ‘Open Letter Considering Religion and Science’ have affixed their names to an apostate document.  It is a damnable denial of the biblical gospel.”

Charles Darwin, as resident naturalist, sailed to the Galapagos Islands on the HMS Beagle, where he encountered evidence “of great diversity between animals of the distant past and those of the present” (

Darwin’s book quickly became the topic of conversation in both scientific and church circles.
Indeed, one of the more persistent tales of the relations between science and religion
is the story of Thomas Huxley’s encounter with Samuel ‘Soapy Sam’ Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford.

In June 1860, following one particular presentation at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Wilberforce was, so the story goes, invited to make a response. “Addressing a crowded meeting, the bishop paused during his monologue, turned to Huxley and asked whether it was on his grandfather’s or his grandmother’ side that he was descended from an ape.  Huxley was ready with a reply… that he would prefer a miserable ape to a man who employs his great faculties and influence for the purpose of ridicule” (Wilson 1998:44).

“It is a story”, writes Karen Armstrong, “that brilliantly encapsulates the ‘warfare’ myth in its depiction of intrepid Science victoriously triumphing over complacent Religion” (Armstrong 2009:243). The outcome is that the impact of Darwin’s thesis, which 12 years later he called ‘evolution’, was felt in most parts of the world. And most scientists today still accept Darwin’s theory as foundational to the modern scientific study of biology.

What is interesting is the claim that Charles Darwin eventually jettisoned any notion of a God
“let alone one that might be involved in the process of evolution” writes Canadian Bruce Sanguin (Sanguin 2007:120). But who or what was the ‘God’ Darwin rejected?  Sanguin continues: “Clearly, Darwin rejected a designed God, who was in absolute control of the universe; in other words, the God of supernatural theism… This continues to be the God and the ‘Christian faith’ most atheists and agnostics reject” (Sanguin 2007:121).

 And despite the millions of people leaving the traditional church and the growth of the none’s when it come to religious adherence the church still persists in its supernaturalism which condemns nature to a tool of human power and control. Domination is the driving desire as humanity seeks to become the sacredness itself.

Prior to modern science, most Christians, following a literal interpretation ( a recent phenomenon) of the Genesis stories, believed the flat earth was created only about 4000 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (another recent phenomenon). Or, if they followed a certain Archbishop Ussher literally: at 9.00am on 3 October 4004 BCE. Today, based on many controlled observations combined with rational theory, we have mentally constructed another universe.

The most widely accepted modern estimate of the earth’s age is approximately 4.5 billion years.  While the universe – that whole “complex, interrelated and interacting… matter-energy in space-time… of which humans are an integral part…” (Gillette 2006:1), is approximately 14 billion years old.

And: “if we put our fourteen-billion-year universe on a clock of one hour, humanity appears in only the last few seconds” (Peters 2002:127).

So, modern science is saying and has been saying, again and again: the universe must be regarded as a whole; it is of intrinsic value, and each part, galaxy, organism, individual atom, participates in that intrinsic value as each part participates in this wonderful web of life. Each part, rather than one species or organism separating itself out as more important than the rest.

Which is why a growing number of people around the world are beginning to recognise that our modern life-style is: harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering global climate patterns. We can no longer think and feel that humans are separate from the ‘environment’…  “we must think and feel that we are part of and at one with the whole holy system we call the global ecosystem” (Gillette 2006:4).

Progressive religious thought calls each and every one of us to ‘dance with’, to live in harmony with, nature.  For such is to live inspired (in-spirited, in-the-Spirit) lives. And progressive religious thought names that creativity which indwells and sustains all life forms… Galaxy. Organism. Individual atom… And this demands that we approach what we understand as ‘God’ or ‘the sacred’ differently. Some of the new challenges centre around renaming God as a verb as opposed to a noun, a dynamic or ‘serendipitous creating’. Or as John D Caputo argues a God that does not exist but rather insists and might be known as ‘perhaps’. I prefer the word ‘almost’ as a definition, or descriptive in trying to protect the positive, intentional understanding of love’s impact on reality.

Rex Hunt reminds us of a poem he discovered in 2005. It is called: “A short but true story of you”.

You are made of star-stuff.
You are related to every other living thing on
You breathe out a gas that gives life to plants,
and plants breathe out a gas that gives life to you.
You are part of a wonderful web of life on a planet spinning in space.

When you die, someday, the elements of your body
will become a part of clouds and crystals,
seas and new living things.

You can think and wonder, love and learn.
You have the gift of life 

(Anderson & Brotman 2004).

Likewise, environmentalist John Muir has also offered this comment: “Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another” (Quoted in Peters 1989:478).

This weekend is the 201st anniversary celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin.
And to honour his birth, today is recognised as ‘Evolution Sunday’.

It needs to be said that Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist many religious folk like to berate, has been a catalyst for some new thinking around the topic of evolution. He
has written a book, The Greatest Show on Earth.  The Evidence for Evolution.

In it he says evolution is a fact.  He writes: “Our present beliefs about many things may be disproved, but we can with complete confidence make a list of certain facts that will never be disproved.  Evolution and the heliocentric theory weren’t always among them, but they are now” (Dawkins 2009:17).

He then goes on to say: “In the rest of this book, I shall determine that evolution is an inescapable fact, and celebrate its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty” (Dawkins 2009:18).

Evolution is the greatest show on Earth.  “Perhaps the greatest story ever told”.  And as an American Minister colleague of Rex Hunt goes on to say: “we should be teaching it and celebrating it in school and in church with religious fervor.  We need to sing hymns to the glory of natural selection” (Shuck&Jive, blog site, 1/2010).

Dawkins and number of scientists and theologians wrote a letter to the British Prime Minister regarding teaching evolution in school. Great Britain, it seems, is being hounded by the superstitious – ‘creationism’ and ‘intelligent design’ as is other parts of the world.

For instance:

• 44 % of Americans believe that God created Earth as it is 10,000 years ago;

Only 42% of Australians ‘believe in evolution’.

Now while Dawkins is happy that enlightened bishops and theologians are writing letters, they need to do more.  He says:

“To return to the enlightened bishops and theologians, it would be nice if they’d put a bit more effort into combating the anti-scientific nonsense that they deplore.  All too many preachers, while agreeing that evolution is true and Adam and Eve never existed, will then blithely go into the pulpit and make some moral or theological point about Adam and Eve in their sermons without once mentioning that, of course, Adam and Eve never actually existed!  If challenged, they will protest that they intended a purely ‘symbolic’ meaning, perhaps something to do with ‘original sin’, or the virtues of innocence.  They may add witheringly that, obviously, nobody would be so foolish as to take their words literally.  But do their congregations know that?  How is the person in the pew, or on the prayer-mat, supposed to know which bits of scripture to take literally, and which symbolically?  Is it really so easy for an uneducated churchgoer to guess?  In all too many cases the answer is clearly no, and anybody could be forgiven for feeling confused”.

Dawkins isn’t finished.  He pushes his point: “Think about it, Bishop.  Be careful, Vicar.  You are playing with dynamite, fooling around with a misunderstanding that’s waiting to happen—one might even say almost bound to happen if not forestalled.  Shouldn’t you take greater care, when speaking in public, to let your yea be yea and your nay be nay?  Lest ye fall into condemnation, shouldn’t you be going out of your way to counter that already extremely widespread popular misunderstanding and lend active and enthusiastic support to scientists and science teachers?” (Dawkins 2009: 7-8).

So, what of wisdom? My title suggested that Evolution was and is a gift of wisdom. This I suggest implies that wisdom is essentially that which is always the most learned response to anything and that it arrives new and creates awareness. It is more than the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement. It is an example of insight, good sense, judgement, and challenges the status quo while at the same time confirms what somehow, we already know. It is the quality of being wise which is somehow an accumulation of philosophical, scientific and common knowledge. This is why in many cultures celebrate the aged purely on the assumption that the older one is the more one has learnt about the meaning of life and subsequently what it means to be human. The marker is that it is a heartwarming experience for the recipient even when seemingly challenging the traditional thought or belief.

An example of a wise person in the context of religious or Christian thinking is that of the life and work of Rachel Held Evans; a young brilliant theologian who died at the age of 38 in 2019 and Adam Twining and Tom Cantwell wrote an article giving us an idea of her thinking about the Progressive offering to the new world we are living in. Below is a transcript of a conversation she might have had in response to a question about her journey in thinking. She is responding to the fundamentalist evangelical tradition that she was brought up in and gave her ministry to and for. For her the arrival of wisdom was heart-warming in its discovery and devastating in its challenge.

“They, said that if I questioned a 6,000-year-old earth, I would question whether other parts of Scripture should be read scientifically and historically.

They were right.  I did.

They said that if I entertained the hope that those without access to the gospel might still be loved and saved by God, I would fall prey to the dangerous idea that God loves everyone,  that there is nothing God won’t do to reconcile all things to Himself.

They were right. I have. 

They said that if I looked for Jesus beyond the party line, I could end up voting for liberals.

They were right. I do (sometimes). 

They said that if I listened to my gay and lesbian neighbors, if I made room for them in my church and in my life, I could let grace get out of hand.

They were right.  It has.

They told me that this slippery slope would lead me away from God, that it would bring a swift end to my faith journey, that I’d be lost forever.

But with that one, they were wrong.

Yes, the slippery slope brought doubts. Yes, the slippery slope brought change. Yes, the slippery slope brought danger and risk and unknowns. I am indeed more exposed to the elements out here, and at times it is hard to find my footing. 

But when I decided I wanted to follow Jesus as myself, with both my head and heart intact, the slippery slope was the only place I could find him, the only place I could engage my faith honestly.

So down I went.

It was easier before, when the path was wide and straight.

But, truth be told, I was faking it.  I was pretending that things that didn’t make sense made sense, that things that didn’t feel right felt right.  To others, I appeared confident and in control, but faith felt as far away as friend who has grown distant and cold.

Now, every day is a risk.

Now, I have no choice but to cling to faith and hope and love for dear life.

Now, I have to keep a very close eye on Jesus, as he leads me through deep valleys and precarious peaks. 

But the view is better, and, for the first time in a long time, I am fully engaged in my faith.

I am alive.

I am dependent.

I am following Jesus as me—heart and head intact. 

And they were right.  All it took was a question or two to bring me here.”

Biological, Philosophical, Scientific, Intellectual, evolution is a gift of wisdom that comes when the big picture holds the primary role and when community, human relations with everything and collective agency are valued as the imperative. And this is not to belittle the individual but rather to value it as an individuality vital for wisdom. Wisdom is more than the sum of its parts.

Right about now the reader might be thinking yes this is common sense is I not, and that would be true but since the 18th Century we in the west at least have not acted as though that is so. Amen.

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