God is Always Needing to Be Born

Essay by Lauren Van Ham on 1 February 2018 12 Comments

 
January is over and 2018 is finding its voice. Each year extends possibility. Within the possibility, events take place – births, deaths, celebrations, mishaps – and history is made. Meister Eckhart, the 12th century mystic proclaimed,

We are all meant to be mothers of God…for God is always needing to be born.

In December, just after the shortest day of the year, the church calendar welcomes the return of holy innocence. Jesus is born and 12 days later, on Epiphany, Christians celebrate his physical arrival, a much-awaited incarnation called forth by ages of invocation and prophecy. Christmas carols lift the refrain, “Christ was born to save!” And then, Eckhart comes along with, “God is always needing to be born.” As 2018 unfolds, this teaching is a prompt for us. What role will we play as mothers of God?

For the last decade, my holy work in this world has been called, Eco-chaplaincy. On this path, I have tried to create some guiding principles to help me and others who wish to embody a lifestyle which supports and celebrates life in all its forms, humans included! In this time on Earth, the task of being an informed human is unrelenting; societal panic and personal despair are abundant. Fortunately, the eco-teachings we receive in winter are hugely instructive about how we might ready ourselves for whatever lies ahead, and I want to highlight 3 of them now.

Here’s the first one: Slow down. The insistent urgency of our economy pulls us along, yanking us from the end of one year into the next with stories of scarcity and endless tactics to stimulate spending. If we follow the Christmas story as it is shared in the New Testament, we know that the baby was taken away to Egypt, away from the noise and violence of the Imperial system. Or if, like me, you feel less moved by the story, but truly curious by what around you feels real, then in this season (at least for much of the Northern hemisphere) we observe Earth’s soil as frozen and fallow; it’s resting to be ready for when longer days return.

Walter Brueggemann, the brilliant Old Testament scholar, says this, “Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”

Despite Advertising’s efforts to move us through this slower, liminal time and fast forward to Spring, we can honor what might feel a bit messier, but also more true. Stillness or sabbath, is the first practice to help us envision the life we are called to live, a place where God needs and wants to be born. Sometimes, the stillness is blissful but we cannot forget Brueggemann’s mention of an anxiety system that suggests our worth is determined by what we do and what we acquire. I don’t know about you, but when I pull away from such patterns, I feel disoriented and quite frankly, duped. In stillness, there can be a nervous backlash in response to “not doing.” I’m reminded of some lines from the David Wagoner poem, “Lost.”

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost… You must let them find you.

Alright, so we slow down, and in that strange place of leaving the day-to-day pace of 120mph, finding ourselves on foot, in the forest, we might actually discover feelings. That’s right, I said this can get messy! When we allow ourselves to slow down so much that our emotional voices can be heard, what do they say? And more importantly, will we honor them? Feeling is the second practice that helps move us toward the world we are empowered to co-create. We begin with our own feelings, but to really appreciate the collective emotional intelligence available, there’s more to this one.

Soong-Chan Rah, is a theologian and seminary professor who is committed to freeing spiritual communities from what he calls, “Western Cultural Captivity.” Rah writes, “Lament is honesty before God and each other… should we not be concerned over a church that lives in denial over the reality of death in our midst?”  Friends, as readers of “Progressing Spirit,” and earlier posts by Bishop Spong, we are not blind to the death around us – the extinction of species, our government’s termination of life-affirming policies, and the archetypal display of patriarchy in its last gasps. While so much of laboring to birth God begins inwardly, as individuals, it is what we do together that makes our beliefs visibly alive in the world. This is tough when the dominant system rewards us for our ability to do things without needing any help – some thrive on this, and some give up entirely, hoping that others will find a magical way forward. But these, “Independence Teachings,” are written nowhere in the sacred texts I know. Moreover, Earth’s teachings repeatedly show us the brilliant interdependency that sustains us all – trees needing CO2, and mammals needing oxygen – as the most obvious example.

After winter’s snow and ice, rivers of water and muddy, sloppy mush precede the return of firm earth, gardens and leaves. Our communities are only as strong as the transparency and vulnerability we entrust to them. How will your spiritual community resolve, this year, to acknowledge the mess? To create a very intentional time and space for lament…and then to mindfully respond? When our anguish is fully met, we see our passions and convictions more clearly; more love becomes possible. Love = God being born.

In the poem, “The Man Watching,” Rainer Maria Rilke urges us to lean-in, allowing Earth’s expressions of intensity to metaphorically mentor us,

What we choose to fight is so tiny! What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

In the lines just after these, Rilke refers to Jacob wrestling the angel. Dominated in the struggle, Jacob “loses,” and comes away forever changed, blessed. In the face of more frequent natural disasters and civil wars over resources, we are most certainly being asked to wrestle! We don’t have to, of course, but I suspect that if we apply stillness and allow our true feelings to surface, that engagement will be a natural response. It is one thing to love Earth, to strive to defend and protect Her, but as with any sacred activism, there is also the moment when we lose our attachment to the outcome, when we move a particular way in the world because of a sacred communion we feel. And here it is! The third and final practice for this article. Do you feel Earth’s love for you? In the noise around us, imagining the magnitude of Earth’s love for us is a radical act.

Last July, there was an eerie string of days when a Delaware-sized piece of the Larsen C ice shelf was breaking away from Antarctica. Did some of you watch that? I was astonished, watching science blogs with awe and terror. I wanted to call out, “Is anyone else listening to this? Who among us is thinking about what this really, really means?” A few weeks later, I heard myself say to a close friend, “I wish the whole world would’ve paused for a moment of silence.” Yes! What if we had? Would anything feel different right now if, when the Larsen C left the South Pole to melt steadily on its float to the North, humans around the world had taken 60 seconds to be still…and to feel? We do this for other epic events, tragic, cosmic or otherwise. Where were you, for example, on the day of the total eclipse?

Perhaps the Larsen C’s split from Antarctica is the Divine plan unfolding just as it should. None of us knows how our story with Earth is to evolve or find its end for that matter; but it is in this paradoxical space of wrestling and finding blessing that our spiritual paths are formed. I think we do this because we DO know the Love that comes from it — the Divine Love that is in us, and for us, wants us to be in Love.

As 2018 evolves, how do you perceive God needing to be born? When we’re clear about what isn’t working, Eco-ministry asks us to imagine what we do want and I hope we all will consider these three practices: Stopping for Stillness, Daring to Feel and sharing our Laments in Community, and then Wrestling – not for the perceived reward of winning – but rather to receive the unimaginable flow of Earth’s Love that is in us, for us and beyond us, calling us to God who is always needing to be born!

~ Lauren Van Ham

 

Question

​I belong to a church that has a fairly sophisticated membership. We are inclusive and pride ourselves on our openness to diversity of race, socio-economic background, ethnic background and sexual orientation. It's a warm, comfortable atmosphere in which to worship, and people remark on the welcoming nature of our congregation. I cringe, however, every time we enter the Lenten season, especially as we get closer to Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Some of the references to the Jews clearly foster an anti-Semitic atmosphere. There are Jews in the choir and some in the congregation as well. While sophisticated people realize there is a 2000-year span of time between the Crucifixion and today, still there are people who succumb to literalist interpretations and justify their own prejudices. I am especially concerned about the impression this makes on children and for the feelings of the Jews who sit in the pews and listen to these readings. How can we address this and still read the accounts in a faithful manner?

Answer

 
Dear Cynthia, your concerns resonate deeply with me. Although context is not everything, it affects everything. Texts that emerged originally within a Jewish milieu and embody intra-Jewish differences, today land upon the heart and ear as anti-Jewish rhetoric within the very core of the holiest days of the Christian liturgical year. To be unresponsive is to be irresponsible. Our multicultural and interfaith context requires that we make significant changes in worship if we are to be faithful to the Christic wisdom path of Jesus.

Over the past decade I have worked with communities within the Episcopal church, at least one of which has various faith traditions counted among its worshiping membership, to reconceive the vision of Holy Week, to draw upon radically inclusive translations of scriptural texts, and to preach in such a way as to deliberately and forthrightly acknowledge the anti-Jewish history and rhetoric of prayer, song, and story, and to rewrite the liturgies we pray that shape our searching souls. Let me offer a few concrete examples.

Our flyer for Holy Week speaks of The Wisdom Way of Christ: A Holy Path for 21st Century Seekers. The spiritual path of the realization of our Christic nature, not sacrificial atonement, is the genesis of our worship. Within this embracing vision, the distinct liturgical days receive their renewed focus, drawing principally from the Wisdom literature of the scriptures. The Reign of Wisdom is the meaning of Palm Sunday. Being Sent to Serve is the thrust of Maundy Thursday. Companionship and Cross, not abandonment and isolation, is the heart of Good Friday, and the reality that Light Renews our Life is the message of Easter.

But it is not enough to reform the liturgies of Holy Week. The liturgies and readings and songs and prayers which shape us throughout the entire year must be reworked to reflect more clearly the Jewish spirituality of Jesus of Nazareth. We also need to radically expand our vision of what a faith community is today. For not only are there Jews who sit beside Christians in our faith communities, there are also Muslims and Unitarians and Buddhists and those who consciously eschew labels of identification and are searching for a safe place to search and question and be supported.

What this diverse presence brings is an invitation: the faith community exists not to convert to a belief system, but to welcome into faith journey. There is a universal relevance in the Christic wisdom path of Jesus: each and every being is a unique and precious embodiment of the Holy Source; a chosen One of immeasurable worth. Too often the light of Christ is dulled and distorted by text and ritual when it need not be. Our responsibility is to polish the lenses from centuries of deadening dust.

~ Kevin G. Thew Forrester, Ph.D.

__________________________________________________

Bishop John Shelby Spong Revisited

The Connection between the Crucifixion and the Passover, Part II

Spong

Last week I began the analysis of the crucifixion of Jesus as it appears in all four gospels, examining in particular the claim that this founding moment in the Christian story occurred in the context of the Passover, which celebrates the founding moment in the sacred story of the Jewish people. I raised the question as to whether that connection is literal, remembered history or is rather an interpretative liturgical adaptation. My first clue was found in an examination of the narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark, the earliest gospel, which scholars generally date in the early 70's C.E. In that story of the Passion, (14:17-15:47), I pointed out that we have a format of a 24-hour vigil divided into eight clearly marked three-hour segments. The material that provides the content of this account has been lifted not from remembered history, but from Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. That was my first clue. Christians need to embrace that even the treasured description of Jesus' crucifixion is not literal history, it is later interpretative material. Jesus died alone with no one standing by to record what happened. Mark has made that clear by his assertion that when Jesus was arrested all of his disciples forsook him and fled (Mark 14:50).

It is the setting of the crucifixion story against the observance of the Passover that first started my questioning process. Passover is observed in the Jewish world on the 14th and 15th days of the month of Nisan, which would place it in late March or early April on our calendars. The biblical narrative in Mark, Matthew and Luke (to put them in the order in which they were written) suggests that the Palm Sunday triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place just five days before the Passover. It indeed was the Passover celebration that drew Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem in the first place. If this entry came a week before Passover it would move the date to somewhere between mid-March and the first of April.

Yet the Palm Sunday procession, according to the earliest narration in Mark (11:1-10) was accompanied by the spreading of leafy branches that they cut from the fields (Mark 11:8). The only trouble with that little detail is that at that time of year, there are no leafy branches in the Holy Land. The leaves have not yet come out! Is that a hint that the Palm Sunday procession was either not history at all or was not originally in the spring of the year? It is at the very least a provocative clue that we might want to probe further.

The next step in our analysis comes when we examine the passion narrative in Matthew, which was the second gospel to be written, coming some 10-12 years after Mark. However, we know that Matthew had Mark in front of him when he wrote, so any time we see that Matthew has overtly and clearly changed the text of Mark, we need to ask why. What was his reason? Can we discover his agenda? Looking at Matthew's version of Mark's Palm Sunday procession story (Matt. 21:1-9) we discover a fascinating note. Whereas Mark refers to the cutting of "leafy" branches, Matthew, perhaps aware that there were no leaves on the branches of the trees in late March or early April, simply omits the reference to the leaves. This means that in Matthew's gospel the crowd only cut branches (v. 8). A branch without leaves might better be called a stick and sticks without leaves are not thought of as instruments that can be spread or waved. It is the leaves that provide the cover on the ground on which the procession can move. It is the leaves that flutter when the branches are waved. So I become slightly more suspicious when Matthew omits the leaves from these branches.

Turning next to Luke who wrote some 5 to 10 years after Matthew, and who also had Mark before him when he composed his gospel, we discover another interesting clue. Luke's Palm Sunday story (19:28-44) has omitted any reference to the waving of the branches at all.

There are no leafy branches in Luke because there are no branches at all. Luke has replaced that gesture with another. In Luke's Palm Story the people only lay down their clothes before him (v. 36). Was Luke also suggesting that Mark's story did not add up and he wanted to make it consistent? There were no leafy branches to be waved in the Holy Land in March.

When we come to John's gospel, that is generally dated somewhere between 95-100, we believe that we are dealing with a different and independent source. He is not dependent on the rest of the synoptic tradition.The data we find here is thus even more fascinating. John does not appear to identify Jesus' entry into Jerusalem with the Passover. He has been there in the region for some time. Jesus however stages a procession into Jerusalem just a few days before the Passover. When we recall that John is the only gospel that claims to be based on the work of an eyewitness, his placement needs to be looked at carefully. I know of no scholar who thinks this gospel was actually written by the disciple of Jesus named John Zebedee. However, there is a strong scholarly tradition that suggests that the Fourth Gospel John might be the work of a disciple of the apostle John and thus might reflect more remembered history than the others.

The Johanine note that I wish to add to the growing data, however, is that John is the first gospel to suggest that the branches they waved were made out of palm and thus were evergreen. Palms however would not be characterized as "leafy branches." By naming the Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday, we have stamped the day with its particular identification with palm branches so it is of interest to note that only in a book written 65-70 years after the crucifixion does the narrative suggest that palms were used in the triumphal entry. One wonders why that note would have escaped the memory of the authors of Mark, Matthew and Luke. None of this is yet a persuasive argument. It is only a series of hints that are becoming cumulative — so on we move.

We come next to the story of a fig tree that Mark relates as coming on the day after the Palm Sunday procession (Mark 11:12-14, 20, 21). Mark's account says that when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he went to the Temple and looked around. Presumably he saw the commerce and the moneychangers at work but he did nothing more than to take in this scene before withdrawing for the night to Bethany where the group was headquartered, probably at the home of Mary and Martha.

The next day on their way up to Jerusalem from Bethany for the activity that came to be called the cleansing of the Temple, Mark tells us that Jesus was hungry. Seeing a fig tree in the distance, he went to it seeking figs. However, no fig tree bears fruit in late March in the northern hemisphere. Jesus, apparently unaware of that bit of reality, is irate and curses the fig tree to eternal barrenness. It is a strange portrait of Jesus, generally ignored by sermon writers. To curse a fig tree for not bearing fruit in March is not unlike blaming a man for not getting pregnant. It is to be judged for the inability to do the impossible. After this episode, Mark relates the dramatic story of Jesus driving those buying and selling as well as those changing money from the Temple. Then on the way home, Mark concludes the fig tree story by observing that Jesus' curse took. The fig tree had withered to its roots.

Is this again hidden evidence of a different dating process? Had this story been in the fall it would not be so jarring, so difficult to understand the actions of Jesus. Is this a hint that it was originally a fall narrative and that when it was moved into the orbit of the Passover in early spring all of its now inappropriate time references were not smoothed away?

Once more we turn to see what Matthew and Luke do with this strange story as they work from Mark's text to create their own. Matthew relates the fig tree story almost identically. He simply makes it wither at once and does not have to revisit this uncomfortable narrative as Mark does. Luke however omits it altogether in this context, but earlier in his gospel (Lk 13:6-9) he uses much of this material in a parable about a fig tree that it does not produce fruit, creating in the owner of that land the desire to cut the unproductive tree down. His foreman saves the tree for at least a year with the promise of digging around it and fertilizing it.

The leafy branches reference in the first Palm Sunday triumphal entry story and the fig tree story were both told as part of the preamble to the crucifixion at the time of the Passover. They both seem out of place in that early spring setting. Is there a hint in these narratives that the original context of both was the fall of the year? They look like they have been moved and rather clumsily at that. When these things are examined one cannot help but wonder if these accounts were not originally connected with the fall of the year and, sometime between the death of Jesus and the writing of the gospels, were moved because the crucifixion had been attached liturgically to the Passover, and the death of the Paschal Lamb at Passover had become the way the death of Jesus was interpreted. I invite you to hold that possibility open until we can examine another clue that seems to suggest that the details of the Palm Sunday story have been borrowed from another Jewish tradition that occurs in the fall of the year.

To that story I will turn next week as this series on the relationship of the Passion Story of Jesus and the Passover of the Jews continues.

~ John Shelby Spong
Originally published February 9, 2005

 

Comments

 

12 thoughts on “God is Always Needing to Be Born

  1. Two facts about the fig tree story I have recently come across. Some fig trees produce what is called a breba which are fig fruits that develop in the spring on the previous year’s shoot growth, followed by the main fig crop that develops on the current year’s shoot growth and ripens in late summer or fall. Breba would have been available for Jesus to eat in the spring. The Fig tree is a symbol of Rome. Jesus through the author of Mark is actually cursing Rome and the Romans who at the time of the writing of the Gospel had just destroyed the Temple.

  2. Dear Lauren: Thank you for this essay! I found that the iceberg B-15 which had calved off from the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica,in March, 2000 to 2001 was much larger than the Iceberg A-68 im July, 2017.Iceberg A-68 was at 2,240 square miles, or about the size of Delaware, or about 4 times the size of greater London.
    But…this iceberg is a little guy compared to B-15, which calved off of the Ross Ice Shelf on 17 March 2000. That iceberg was 4,200 square miles–a size often compared to the state of Connecticut. Like the Larsen C calving, the impending calving of B-15 was anticipated and watched for from about 3 years before it actually broke off.
    Yes, it would be great if any of these icebergs could be dragged tothe North pole because perhaps we can save the blives of many polar bears which have been drowning and have starved to death.
    This reminds me of what I’ve read about that had happened to our earth about 2 or 3 billion years ago when a davastatingly huge volcano or a huge meteor had hit the center of the original Australia when it used to be joint with the southern land mass of China, and was located in the middle of the Equater. But the collition had caused the front half to drift toward the north while the lower half toward the south. Then the northern half became part of China while the southern half became what is the present Australia. Such was part of the evolution on our planet earth.
    The next huge land movement would be tiny in comparison with the cleavage of Australia, but we have been told that the Mariana Trench which is moving toward Japan might take place in another 1,000 years from now when the two will meet. And apparently there is nothing one could do yo keep them apart.
    Again we will not be here to actually observe it.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  3. Dear Lauren: As: ” Meister Eckhart, the 12th century mystic proclaimed, We are all meant to be mothers of God…for God is always needing to be born.” Yes, as we,the newly reformed members of “Progressive Christianity”, we are all waiting for the spiritual God to be born.This God must not be restricted by human beings, nor would God be of any kind of image, nor a God of thunder or lightening, nor of anger to hate, nor to kill, nor to utterly destroy lives, animals,nor any vegetations or plants. We will welcom a loving God for all mankind, regardless of race, creed, or gender,lefthanfed or righthanded, or of any differences in sexual preference by nature.Our God is of true peace, with grace, kindness, and love that lives within our heart. Our God would help to make us feel that we are: “born again!” There would be no sin by origin, nor any inheritance of sin from generation to generation any more; and no more slavery, no more need for guns or bombs or other destructive weapons to wipe out other people.
    I like the three practices recommended by you for those of us who are “…Tired and under heavy modern lobor upon working for Christmas or simply spending too much …, as Jesus might have said ‘come to me and I will give you restd’…”.So we need to slow down, and “if we apply stillness and allow our true feelings to surface”,and then “..Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost… You must let them find us…” Indeed, “Earth’s teachings repeatedly show us the brilliant interdependency that sustains us all – trees needing CO2, and mammals needing oxygen…” (In fact the trees actually throw
    back the CO2 to us in the night; and the best times to open our window dor fresh air is at least 3 hours after sun up.)But your point is good.
    FYI, afyer reading about the spending of one thillion Dollars by the US consumers in 2016 and again in 2017, the Conngressional meeting in China at the end of 2017 has approved the Chinese Government to stop the holidays of thanksgiving and Christmas in 2018 forward. The traditional Chinese holidays would be honored from now on instead.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  4. Dear Louren: You are very welcomed indeed!
    Speaking of China, which has built or constructed a huge network of duper fast trains throughout China, and has the best public transportatuin along with millions of motor cars, has also changed the illiteracy in the country to a much better system of education. In comparison with the 10 years of so-called Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 when most of the schools in China were stopped still, today in total numbers of all schools there are 208 million students in China. There are 105.6 million of them in elementary schools, 57.4 million students in the middle school from 7th yo 9th grades, and 45.3 million of them in the senior high school up to the 12th grade. From the 10 million of graduates from the 12th grade only 7-8 million enter colleges or universities.
    According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the United States 4.8 million women suffer intimate partner related physical assaults and rapes.In comparison, as reported in 2015, out of 270,000,000 families in China, 30% married women have been assualted or raoed by there intimate partners or about 81 million women in total numbers.Finally,on December 27,2015,after the 12th National People’s Congress, the Exacutive National Committee met for its 18th meeting and voted to approve of the very first National Domestic Anti-Violence Law in China, whicg was to be applied in practice starting in the entire Nation on March First, 2016.That was a good law and a good news for all women in China.
    Louren:There has been a misconception by many people agout the “One Belt, One Road” planning in China.It all started from the ancient history of the Chinese merchants riding on camels through the desert “Road” over much of the sand from northwest China across many nations to the middle eastern countries, including Persia, etc.in trade of our silk and our tea and perhaps our china ware, in exchange with the products offered by those far reaching countries.The Belt in the modern tims resembles the merchant marines through the oean again in the international trading.None of these had any thought of sending our army or navy to concour ither countries at all. But part of our planning of the “One Belt, One Road” has been about the protection and construction of our own eco-forestry and green belt network through out China itself.I am sure Louren would like to hear our ocerall planning within the country.As one might be easily appreciate the need for the use of building our cities with wood on top of all the concrete high rise as examplified by Suzhou where I have lived for nearly 10 years now.We have about 15 million people who live in this city with very well planned and built roads, public bues,plus the subways, all crand new.But the green belt around the city is very well in place.The “small”district
    where our 22 story building of apartments(88 in my builtinf)also contains a large part like trees and ponds and landscape.There are more than 100 apartment buildings in this district alone.My apartment is No.89. As I have described with the huge number of students in China, however, the requirement for books and paper must be huge in China as well. So the protection of our forestry and our conyinued new construction of trees, shrubs and greenery is urgent and necessary.The “One Belt, One Road”plan in China starts with Tianjin and Beijing,Hebei,along the great Yangze river economic belt,and extends to the rest of China along the coastal regions, the inland provinces, then through the grassy steppes,to the northwestern desert of Xinjiang and all the lakes and rivers and wetlands of China with all the mountains and hills as well. But the total planning is ubder scientific and reasonable systems by a large number of soil and forestry experts which had been double checked and been approved by the National Congress in China. The overall plan is to construct new trees and shtubs covering 100,000,000 Chinese Mu (or about 15.2 million acres) in China from 2016 to 2020 when it will be completed.And every river and lake and wetlands along the way are also part of the planning.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  5. Dear Louren: You do remind me of Doris Day in her Beautiful appearances through Holliwood pictures.
    But my start in the US was in Chicago when my mother broight me to America after I turned 18 back in 1958.I attended the 2.5 years(after 5 months of working in a factory downtown)of college at the old Navy Pier while working part time on campus.Then I went south to Urbana Shampaign until graduating in 1963.I used to belong to the Presby-
    terian church in Ravenswood, Chicago, McKingly Foundation in Urbana, and other churches in the rest of USA.Then in 2008 I moved with my wife Amy Hu to Suzhou, China.(I became a member of Ptogressive Christianity,or PC,in 2001 while in California)I am an old Illini Fan.
    Now back to China.
    The major problems in China were due to the lack of water over the pasr 3000 years in northwestern regions of the country.We can take a look at one of the “smaller” deserts in hobq desert(kubuqi desert);it is the 7th largest desert in China, located in the northern part of Erdos Plateau (Ordos Plateau)in the Inner Mongolia.It has 1.5 million hectare(145万公顷)of high land,or about 3.707 million Acres of desert.
    Kubuqi desert (库布齐沙漠)used to be full of trees,feryil green pastures with lakes and rivers and sheep and cattle every where 3000 years ago.Due to the continued dry seasons plus human destruction in the cutting off of those trees for the construction of cities in the northwest Chinese regions around it,the desert gradually was formed and was enlarged during wars between those fighting nations.By the recent Ming and Qing dynasties the Kubuqi desert became an area of neither trees nor grass.It became totally dead.
    This desert is only 800 Km west of Beijing. Thus,since the middle 20th century the sand storm from the weatern desert frequently caused terrible living environment in Beijing area.Thus,for the sake of self-preservation,the front-running financial groups around Beijing began the 30 years of long renewal treck by 1988.(It is not yet done)
    The first person to get started was the head of the milk and dairy Ily group(亿利),Mr.Wang Wenbiao (王文彪) who was born in that desert as a child.
    Initially he started to take his own profit of 5 RMB of each ton of salt he sold to plant one new tree in Kubuqi desert.Then in three tears time he built a 115 Km long road,from Xini Town(锡尼镇)in Erdos city to Wula Mountain(乌拉山镇)Town of Bayan Zhouer city(巴彦淖尔市)in the Kubuqi desert,called Xiwu Highway(“锡乌公路”)which is now a paved highway with two-way traffic across the sand. And in order to prevent the windy sand which keeps covering up the highway,Mr.Wang created a checkered netwark using the willow branches as checkered barrier to lock the sand in place; then he built low cost sand sagebrush in those willow checkered nets.The Ily group has also discovered the technology in “Desert Distillation”,using rocks around a plastic membrane which is naturally concave downward into a sand hole,and as the moisture in the sand below it is heated up,the water which is collected in the plastic membrane can drip into a bowl that gives rapid irrigation to the seedlings of trees with a much better rate of living than any other method.After 30 years of building more trees and grass,about 1/3 of Kubuqi desert has now become a green oasis with sandy willows and grass every where; another great news is that several million acres of fertil soil can be used for agriculture to make wheat and vegetables for food.The great change in the Kubuqi desert after 30 years has now recieved international praises all over the world.
    And as a direct result in China, the green oasis actually has stopped millions of tons of the tellow sand from attacking the Yellow river and the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and other areas

  6. (The following portion was somehow left out in the earlier attempt by me.)
    And as a direct result in China, the green oasis actually has stopped millions of tons of the tellow sand from attacking the Yellow river and the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and other areas as well.The Kubuqi Midel has also resilted financial revolution in that area; with annual increase of 30 billion RMB it has helped 100,000 people in that region to get out of poverty forever.In 2015 the UN gave a “Life of Soil” honorable Awarded to Kubuqi.(“One Belt, One Road”)
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  7. Dear Loren: You started this essay with: “Christians celebrate his physical arrival, a much-awaited incarnation called forth by ages of invocation and prophecy. Christmas carols lift the refrain, “Christ was born to save!” And then, Eckhart comes along with, “God is always needing to be born.” As 2018 unfolds, this teaching is a prompt for us. What role will we play as mothers of God?”
    I wonder if “Christ was born to save!” could be changed? Because the old Saving by Jesus was to save us from the “original sin” ? And the literalist Christians are still hanging on the coming of Jesus Christ to be born and then to die on the cross in order to “save” us all? In a similar manner for Cynthia’s question of her concern over the liturgy in the Holy Week, perhaps we can redo the Christmas Liturgy as well?
    As the new “Mother of God” perhaps the new God to be born ought not be a new baby coming in a physical manner, but a new God who has wisdom and is totally spiritual? We are now aware that the story of the baby Jesus as being born by the Virgin Mary was a purely imaginary one as was told by the great story teller named Matthew about 82 years after Jesus was actually born.And no one was there to witness how he was born in the village of Nazareth.The difficulty in telling the new birth of Jesus or a new born infant who might later grow up into a human being 30 years after he/she lives in our mist and come back again to teach us would be incredible! And almost impossible!
    It is much easier to tell about the new born oasis from the desert in Kubuqi of Innermongolia then to tell about the new birth of ???
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  8. Dear Kevin: In the “Bishop Spong revisited” this week, The Connection between the Crucifixion and the Passover, Part II by Biahop Spong happens to be relevant to Cynthia’s concern as well. And it might be helpful for all of ug to rewrite that part of new liturgy.Thank you.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  9. I’m not a liturgist so I will leave that to the ‘experts’ and those whose interests are in this area. However, merely because literalist Christians still have certain beliefs doesn’t mean that all other Christians have to do away with huge chucks of their religious heritage. I suspect there are many of us on this and other PC sites who have a more nuanced understanding of sin, salvation, and the theology (as opposed to history) of the NT but we still enjoy, for example, the Christmas season as traditionally celebrated. We also understand when others might talk about sin and salvation and the cross and we (hopefully) have the tools and the compassion to at least try to hear what they believe (if we don’t they have no reason to dialogue with us) and also present our understanding which, if delivered in the right way, might be heard and even cause at least a few heads to begin to nod (in understanding). Thus the beginning of a new understanding.

    I get that Jesus was not born to save: if there were never sin, God (the Lover) would still long to be one with humanity (the Beloved). However, there is sin – the original (not understood traditionally) and only sin of self-centeredness and from the moment of birth, a child is ‘born into’ a world of such selfishness. It ‘reigns’ throughout society (in others, in our institutions, in communities) and is a powerful presence that can ‘orient’ one toward their own selfishness, thus participating in and ‘adding’ to the sin of the world (baptism, properly understood, attempts to orient one toward love – and thus away from sin). In such a world, God’s will toward Unity with us also becomes redemptive: it presents a way to move away from selfishness as it presents the way of love and unity.
    So, although we would express it differently, there is something to the Christian insight of the power of sin and the need for redemption that can be explained in a non-theistic way that, if expressed carefully and, yes, lovingly might, eventually, be heard as good news. Such ‘new’ good news can be expressed in liturgy.

    I fully recognize the some literal Christians might not be open. I had a plumber in my house the other day who began his spiel and it seemed if he could talk faster and louder and tell me he read the NT 5 times, his point would be made. I told him I would love to discuss it at greater length over coffee some day. We shall see. Then today I heard a member of Trump’s faith council say the with Jesus, we didn’t need flu shots! Where to begin with one such as this? Perhaps take a chapter from Jesus: present and call in the hope of being heard but sometimes, especially when people are at risk, the most loving thing is to say, No, you’re wrong!

  10. Dear Lauren,

    Thanks for a thought provoking article. Perhaps with changing social consciousness, God is always needing to be born. There was a time and even today when some Whites and Blacks want to be separate because they found passages in the Bible that justified segregation. And now, they suddenly discover passages that they are meant to be integrated.

    All I can say is that theologians have not done a good job interpreting the Bible; their interpretation is perhaps deeply rooted in economics and power.

    I won’t be surprised that in time, Jesus will be said to come from the Black race and this disciples will accordingly be granted their racial status.

    I recall a black intellectual (writer) mentioning that the first three Catholic Popes were Blacks. I have asked this question to Catholic priests but no one knows if this is true.

    Rgds,
    Joe

  11. Jesus is a lesson in Utility. It is as simple as themes of darkness, restriction, and idolatry as opposed to the Light, Liberation, and Emulation, respectively. Things can be reborn imaginatively all the time, such as the PC designation. Is it that the Progress or is it the Christianity that is paramount? By their fruits we do know them. At the same time, I wonder about the lack of inclusion for Truth seekers, or any Spiritually perplexed who already have prejudiced notions from prior malpracticing Christians. I have recently met some atheists who far surpass, both in intelligence, courtesy, and discipline , Christians who, even on this site, seem lacking in the Knowledge of the Way. It is like wearing glasses-frames without lenses, for you receive no correction. The idea that “the letter kills” usually comes from complacency and stagnation, usually also over long periods of time, and a rebirth is needed to awaken, to reaffirm, be nurtured, get on a good path. Thank you for your article, and Peace be unto you. Written in the year 2018 of Anthropomorphic Deification, {A.D.}

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