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Celebrating the Blessed Metaphor

By: Mary Domb Mikkelson, Editor of Connecting Voices

     Bigger than life – or legend, Neptune, the Roman god of the seas, dominated the suburban living room with his fierce eyes and (rumor has it) actor Brent Spiner’s1 menacing voice.  Commanding his image be left on the wall, he mesmerized the youthful man of the house into compliance.  Armed only with a roller and a can of Glidden, the man’s wife soon put an end to that, vanquishing old Nep with the latest in one-coat-covers-all paint2.

     Would that it were that easy to eradicate from our tribal consciousness the jealous, judgmental, interfering God of the Old Testament scribes or, for that matter, the ones we – or our parents or pastors – create in humanity’s image.  Would, too, it were easy to “fine-tune” our understanding of God; to recognize how God, newly envisaged, works in and with us; to, ultimately, find and celebrate the God at the very center of our lives.

     Though, perhaps, were it simple, we’d miss the challenge, the excitement of discovery; might never explore what could be, might settle for pap and never taste nectar.

     What of that OT God?

     Richard Dawkins, in Dwindling in Unbelief:  An Unbeliever’s Thoughts about the Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon, offers this:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

     Well, o-kay… at least as Yahweh was all too often portrayed.  Those early scribes, it would seem, slanted their stories to confirm the people of Israel as God’s Chosen, excuse enough apparently for their deity to take sides, meddle capriciously, make and break promises and kill off innocents by the score – even animals, as in “He gave over their cattle to the hail, their livestock to bolts of lightning“(Psalm 78:48).

     And thus they shaped humanity’s view of God.  Not a pretty picture, it shortchanges both the “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” writers from Exodus to Joel, Deuteronomy to Psalms occasionally glimpsed and, sadly, the God revealed through Jesus.

     So there you have it: wrathful God; loving God, wrathful and loving God (with the wrath rationalized as evidence of love); fiction or truth.  “You pays your money and takes your chances.”  Or you take another look.

     The Bible presents God in a variety of guises… three men walking and talking with Abraham, an angel wrestling with Jacob on the bank of the Nabbok, a burning bush, a pillar of fire or clouds, silence or thunder, the gentle Jesus.

     God in many persons, blessed metaphor.

     So how do you envision God?  A bearded old bolt-thrower on a throne?

     Father?  Mother?  Spirit?  Maybe as light?  The Quakers make a good case for that one, seeing the light of God in every person.  As a force…of nature or life, perhaps?   As a creative force?

     As creativity itself?  As any of a myriad of other possibilities?  (a mere drop in the bucket if you add in those from other religious traditions!)

     And does it matter?  Or, as I was once counseled about my unorthodox prayer life, is it a matter of “if it works for you, it’s good?”

     Upon reflection, I’d amend that to read, “if it means you are receptive to God working in you, it’s good.”

     A prayer I recently read – “God, bless each one of us with a sense of responsibility for the part we play in your drama and the comforting knowledge that the show’s success does not depend on us.  Amen” – provides food for thought.   The author, Rev. Lillian Daniel2, had been reflecting on The Message version of Mark 1: 4-8:

“As [John the Baptist] preached he said, “The real action comes next:  The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life.  I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life.  His baptism – a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit – will change you from the inside out.”

“…will change you from the inside out.”    Speaking of challenges!  For God as well as for us.  If God is, indeed, within us – as, perhaps, that creative force, AND has given us, as I believe, free choice…oh, wow!  Picture it.  God puts forth a good idea, a subtle suggestion, a marvelous possibility.  We opt out, choose a different path.  God sticks around to try again…and again…and again. 

     Careful…that way lies process theology.

     Process theology…another stepping-stone on my road to faith? 

     I could almost hope not, finding the primer material more stumbling block than springboard.     The trouble is I have tangible experience of God’s creative work in my life.   I know where the God-inspired paths I’ve chosen to follow have led.  One can’t simply bookmark that page to return to at some later date, can’t deny that call from the God within.  Oh, one can ignore it…but God doesn’t go away.

     Recently I found an “in a nutshell” definition that helped.  In a discussion of Religion and Faith at www.wondercafe.ca, a blogger described Process Theology:

     “It holds a few key principles: the basic building blocks of the universe are not discrete entities, but unfolding processes that interact through time. God is present in the unfolding of these processes at the most basic level.  God sees the enormity of the past and the potential of the future, and calls each element of creation toward the best possible future.”

     I’m one of those elements God is calling toward the best possible future, as are you and you and you.  As is everyone, yes, EVERYONE.  Gives new meaning to being God’s chosen people, doesn’t it.

     Don’t know where it’s heading…

     Should be a great trip, though, one to last through the years – like that party Kool & the Gang sang about.

     It’s a celebration!
1Data in StarTrek:  The Next Generation
2Glidden Paint commercial
3Senior Minister, First Congregational Church, UCC, Glen Ellyn, IL

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