A Wedding Homily for Later This Afternoon

Saint Paul makes a valiant attempt to compare love to the other spiritual gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit.  By means of contrast, love is the greatest gift of all, out pacing prophecy, speaking in tongues, and even faith.  We kind of get that, don’t we?  Love is a big deal.  However, if you’re not readily familiar with prophets, tongue speakers, and really faithful things; love only seems kind of important.  To really get how important love ought to be, we need our own equivalents to prophecy, tongues, and first century ideas of faith.  I think this would help clarify this passage we’ve all heard hundreds of times.

Let me tell you what I love.  I love tomato sandwiches made from fresh tomatoes grown out of my parent’s garden.  I love those sandwiches to be made with Duke’s Mayonnaise.  I love grits.  I love bacon prepared in my grandmother’s cast iron frying pan.  I love the understand genius of Conway Twitty.  I love driving by little country churches between here and where I grew up and thinking, “I bet there’s some good preaching going on in there Sunday mornings.”  I love looking off into the distance where a corn field meets the tree line.  I love going to the Waffle House on Friday afternoons when people get off work and listen to them talk about their week so I can shape my prayers.  I love all these things.

However, if I don’t have love for my wife or my family, my grits are tasteless and bland, no matter how much salt and butter I add.  If my love for my wife and family are absent, I won’t hear a word that Bible thumping preacher says.  Without the love of my wife, the frying pan will never be seasoned and the bacon won’t be crispy.  The love for my wife is what makes the flavor of the tomatoes come alive once they’re off the vine.  Kevin and April, love is the greatest gift of all.  It is a big deal.  As you become husband and wife today, I challenge you to think of the most important things in your life.  Ask yourselves, what do you love?   Whatever they are, they’ll never be as meaningful without the others loving presence.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Between You, Me, and The Gatepost

I’m looking for a way to read my own life.  Despite my best efforts, I am unable to find the first chapter, a table of contents, or anything resembling an index.  Life is there, everywhere, in the middle of an unfolding narrative waiting for me to join somewhere along the way.  I can’t go back.  Left, right, and forward are my only options.  God won’t let me go back.  Returning to Egypt was never in the cards for anybody, was it?  God is always out there hovering just below the horizon; unseen to the eye but clearly visible to the naked soul.  It is impossible for me to read my story without reading it in light of God’s story.  I discovered long ago:  one does not make sense without the other.

How can I, in the most theologically sensitive way possible, examine the stories I’ve inherited?  Somewhere along the way, the past ended up in my lap.  Now, gift wrapped in layers of census records, birth certificates, and other information; I’m not sure what to do with what I’ve opened.  As I look around my desk, I hear stories that need to be told.  There are well-traveled roads waiting to be followed.

The Ancestry dot com commercials piqued my interest.  Who doesn’t want to know where they come from?  The question of ancestral legitimacy is central to God’s unfolding drama in the Old Testament.  We are defined by our family bonds and ultimately our relationship to God.  In the Ancestry advertisements, men and women who’ve taken DNA tests (or simply explored their family tree), discover hidden aspects of their heritage.  With this new found information, they feel a new sense of empowerment to dress differently, decorate their homes in new styles, and further embrace their new identity.    Who knows what you’ll find?  You might be related to royalty or George Washington.  The possibilities are endless.

It all begins with your name.  Because others have walked similar ground, you’ll be surprised to find your relatives (grandparents and great-grandparents) are already in the system.  Then you build your tree.  At sixty five names or so, it starts to become clear; you’re related to more people than you ever realized.  The questions start to come: Who were these people?  What did they look like?  Were they like me at all?  Would we recognize similar traits in each other?  Would we get along?

I have to think, at some point, there’s something of me in the names of the dead who are on these 19th century census rolls and marriage certificates.  Somebody was nearsighted, wore glasses, and enjoyed reading.  Most of them were devout Quakers or Methodists.  Their lives revolved around going to church.  We have this in common.  Then I wonder, how much of these men and women is living in me?  This question frightens me.

Although I was born and raised only miles from where most of my ancestors lived and died, I came of age in a different country.  Most of the women and men in my family tree were born and raised in the United States of America when slavery was legal and/or segregation was legal.  This is not the country I know.  We would share a fundamentally different view of what it means to be an American.

My ancestors were farmers and laborers.  They were about as poor as you could be.  They were sharecroppers on good days and subsistence farmers on most days.  I have found no records of anyone I’m related to ever owning a slave.  As Daina Berry of the University of Texas at Austin notes, the value of a slave sold at a high value auction in the late 1850’s (in today’s dollars) would be $33,000-$40,000.  In the 1850 Census, my third great grandfather’s total estate was valued at $350.00 or about $3,000 in today’s currency.  I don’t know their moral position on slavery or slave ownership.  However, I do know they, like most of their neighbors, could not afford to own slaves.

When I started to feel good and at peace with my morally upstanding Quaker and Methodist relatives I began to notice gaps in the information.  My male relatives, third and fourth great grandfathers were notably missing between 1860 and 1865.  After 1865, they resumed having children, were married, and continued with their lives.  I couldn’t ignore the gap.  One by one, I entered their names into the database of Civil War soldiers and sailors maintained by the National Park Service.  Each time, every name, came back with a solid hit.  I am the (great) grandchild of Confederate soldiers.

The names matched with regiments raised in Randolph and Guilford counties.  My fourth great grandfather was at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and then surrendered with Lee at Appomattox.  Another uncle was killed at Chancellorsville.  This was not what I wanted to find.  I was the minister who led the campaign to remove the Confederate battle flag from our local community.  I wanted to find out I was related to Quakers who opposed the Civil War not those who took up arms against the United States.

My ancestors had no stake in slavery, the plantation economy, or the Old South way of life.  Why did they volunteer to fight?  This is what I want to know.  It’s the question I want to ask and it’s the story I think I’m supposed to tell.  What prompts good Christian people to fight and die for something horribly wrong, oppressive, and evil?  What do I do, as a person of faith, who has inherited this story? Is it possible to find redemption, even salvation, in the suffering I’ve discovered?

Jesus lived in a violent world where slavery and war were realities.  His world was much like our own.  In Matthew 10, he tells his disciples that, “Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me.  Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me.  Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow aren’t worthy of me.  Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.”  I’ve set out to discover the hidden parts of my soul.  There are some things I didn’t count on seeing.  However, I realize Jesus’ call on my life extends to the past, present, and future.  If I want to follow Jesus, my love for my family must have limits.   I must be ready to pick up the crosses and lynching trees strewn across four generations.

I won’t discover who I am on a website.  I know this.  I have one story to tell.  It is Jesus’ story.  My story makes no sense unless I tell His first.   Though here’s what I think:  one way to read my life is to be a better neighbor.  I need to know how to be a better neighbor to those around me.  I can do this by understanding the world that has gone before me.  It’s important to know who hurt who, who killed who, who fought who, and why these things happened.  Jesus seemed to say the Kingdom of God is built one day at a time both with stories about King David and the world to come.  The past informs the future.  I’m trying to be better informed about yesterday because there are still plenty of crosses to bear tomorrow.

Richard Lowell Bryant

An Ethic of Friendship

Ocracoke United Methodist Church

Wedding season is here. June, on a beautiful island along North Carolina’s scenic Outer Banks, means weddings. To be honest, I stay fairly busy in weddings throughout the year. Ocracoke’s unspoiled beaches, relative isolation, and natural beauty make it an ideal spot for couples to begin their lives together. Unlike other ministers and churches up and down the Outer Banks, I’m not in wedding business. I don’t run a wedding chapel. My ordination didn’t cost thirty-five dollars and wasn’t downloaded from “getordainednow.com”. Weddings, like baptisms and celebrating and Holy Communion, are an important liturgical part of my ministry. I require at least four sessions of pre-marital counseling. If you’re looking for marriage on the fly; I’m not your guy.

I’ve lost count of the number of weddings I’ve performed. Many of them were dramatic and memorable. Some I will never forget. If I had to guess, it’s got to be pushing one hundred or more services where I’ve officiated at the union of two people in Holy Matrimony. I feel like I know weddings. I’ve seen the whole range of emotions one might find a rehearsal and in the service itself. I’ve seen broken families mended, fistfights, way too many drunken people, and heard 1 Corinthians 13 more times than I’ll ever admit. However, there’s one thing I’ve never done at a wedding. I’ve never been in a wedding.

Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve never been in a wedding; other than my own, as the groom. I’ve never been a groomsman, best man, usher, or anything. Friends of mine (both members of Generation X and Millennials) have participated in wedding after wedding. Some people I know, when summer hits, are still on the wedding circuit well into their thirties.

As I considered the contrast between my professional work and my personal life; some questions came to mind: What my never having been in a wedding says about the friendships I formed during those crucial early years of adulthood? How does my lack of participation from the other side of the altar inform my work behind the pulpit? Were the people I thought to be my friends, those who excluded me from their weddings, really my friends in the first place? Has popular culture created an ethic of friendship which deems participation in a friend’s wedding the greatest honor one friend can do for another? Is friendship something we should be cultivating between husbands and wives not between the friends you ask to watch you get married?  It’s the old Aristotelian question:  friendship of pleasure, utility, and virtue?  Where is the virtue in asking your college roommate to buy a suit or wear a bridesmaid’s dress?

Contrary to popular culture, the friendships we form in late adolescence and youth are shallow. The outgoing president of our annual conference’s youth program admitted as much on Saturday afternoon when he said how many times he’s seen people cry the same tears and pray the same prayers after the same youth events. Our emotions, like our hormones, can be manipulated. It’s part of growing up. Once we’re back in the valley, what do we do with those experiences? How do we contextualize our spiritual encounter with God (and our friends) and put that knowledge to work in the wider world?

For some young people, it comes down to returning to those same places and maintaining those relationships. It’s important to achieve an equivalent spiritual high with the same people. Others, (and I’d say I fall into this second group) have no need to go back. When Thomas Wolfe told me I couldn’t go home again, I believed him.  We got what we needed and are ready to use what we’ve learned without feeling the constant need to recharge and reconnect with the same set of people. Recharging is important but it can be done the way the mystics did it on Iona or John of the Cross did it Spain. There are other ways to meet Abraham’s God.  I don’t know if I’m right or wrong here. I believe once I learned, saw, and encountered the reality of the living Christ I wanted to be in the world with tax-collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. I withdrew, in a sense, because those around me made me uncomfortable.

I liked taking Jesus with people who had no friends and their greatest needs were love, food, and shelter. Those who weren’t my friends welcomed me to their tables. They became my friends.  Much like Troy, in Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow, they would ask “Who says that crap?” I would say Jesus Christ. I have been welcomed and blessed by good people in common law marriages. I was honored to share their table. I will tell you the truth: this means more to me than renting a tuxedo and going to any wedding.

I don’t know whether it’s easier for me to talk about love and sacrifice because I’ve never been in a wedding. We live in a world that will break your heart. The other person, the one about to become your “till death do you part” friend, will break your heart. The good news is that we live in a world of grace. It’s hard to see God’s grace at work if you’re only going from wedding to wedding and reception to reception. Grace isn’t readily visible at the happy ending before the closing credits. Grace is the hard work of daily living. I’ve seen grace at work in my life and in the lives of others. Grace is elegant but it’s not beautiful, made up, and picture perfect for a wedding day. Friends who come to a wedding, the best gift you can give your couple: grace to grow.

Yes, popular culture has created a wedding mythology. Whether it’s Bridesmaids, the Hangover, or Wedding Crashers, the media spreads an image of how expensive and elaborate a typical wedding ought to be. Membership in the wedding party is now defined as what it means to be a close friend of the bride or groom. If you participate in this event, you are an intimate, close, personal friend. We know this because movies tell us it must be so.  Have you noticed how much these “best” friends in movies “fight” and “hate” each other?

We want those we love to bless us with their presence when we make promises before God to love and cherish a person for the rest of our lives. Remember, it’s about you. It’s your life. From here on out, you are writing our own script with the person you love. Learn how to love each other. There’s no movie, pattern, or handbook for this. Your friends won’t be of much help.   No one has any easy answers.  It’s the day to day, practical aspects of learning how to love your best friend right beside you that will make all the difference in the world.

So yes, I was in one wedding. The bride asked me to be there. Well, we sort of asked each other.  She is my best friend and my moral compass.  And to quote Winston Groom, “that’s all I have to say about that”.

It’s Almost Time

An Annual Conference Journal

Ocracoke-Preparing for Greenville, NC

Leaving at Dawn on the Swan Quarter Ferry

June 15, 2017

Are you ready for fun?  Have you picked your breakout sessions yet?  I’m having trouble getting my mind around leaving.  It’s not what you think.  I need a break.  Things here will go just fine without me.  A Sunday off will do me a world of good.  For me, it’s much more basic.  My brain hasn’t caught up to the fact it’s Thursday and we’re leaving tomorrow.  To my addled mind, it’s still last Thursday and I’m preparing for weddings which ended in divorce weeks ago.

The ministry, by that I mean, the day to day work of being a pastor, hasn’t helped matters.  Ministry doesn’t stop because you’re going away or even when you empower others to be agents of influence and change.  See what I did there?  I used fancy leadership jargon.  I feel dirty.  It’s a good thing I live near the ocean.  Life happens even when you prepare, plan, and do everything you’re told do before you leave the pulpit for a day, week, month, or year.

At the beginning of the week, a member of our community was swimming in the water of the island.  Derek dove into a shallow spot he didn’t see or expect.  He received extremely serious spinal and neurological injuries.  Derek’s a great guy in the prime of life and in excellent health.  In a moment, it all changed forever.  From Monday afternoon, the enter focus of my week has shifted in trying to care for people asking the most fundamental questions:  Why? What next?  How can we help?

If you’ve read any of these posts over the past few months, you know that we’ve had more than our fair share of evil.  From serious natural disasters, cancer, suicides, shark attacks, domestic abuse, and now a freak accident; hope is taking a beating.  The platitudes and clichés we see on social media fall on deaf ears.  We gathered in the church two mornings ago and waited for a word from God.  We waited in silence.   Names were called, gratitude was offered, the Spirit was thanked, and we waited.  This silence from God is deafening.  I try to hear God in our breathing.  I try to see God in our presence.  We lean on each other’s everlasting arms because that is what we can touch and feel.  When it’s all said and done, we are left waiting.

Derek is in a hospital about five minutes from where annual conference is being held.  Tomorrow afternoon, as soon as I arrive and grab my name tag, I’m leaving the building.  I’m not going to a session, or to say hello to friends, to complain about the budget, or gripe about our position on climate change.  I’m going to see Derek and Callie.  If I’m going to hear God, I don’t think it’s going to be in the opening session of an annual conference.  No one has ever been saved through the effective use of Robert’s Rules of Order.  If God’s around and wants to really move out of the silence, it’s going to happen in a hospital room where doubt and hopelessness have set up shop and refused to be moved.  I’m going to be there, in that room, because I want know: when will the silence end?  Those are questions worth asking.  One day, I’ll tell you how I voted.

Richard Lowell Bryant

You Had To See It Coming

Democratic Congressmen Praying for Their Republican Colleagues

We had to see something like this coming.  In this hyper polarized political climate, the dangling implications of our snarky tweets, meandering posts, and outraged memes were finished by a left-wing sniper in Alexandria, Virginia.  Culturally, aren’t we all on the hook for this one, to one degree or another?

It was going to come this, or something like it; sooner or later.  If you demonize and dehumanize people for so long (I’m speaking in generalities here), some people actually believe the “loyal opposition” are “evil enemies”.

If the killer had succeeded in murdering 20 congressmen, the entire dynamic of American politics would have shifted in that instant.  Can you imagine the President’s reaction to a sudden Democratic majority (or near majority) in the House of Representatives?  Impeachment would become a mathematical possibility.  The implications of what we avoided this morning are almost too frightening to consider.

A culture can’t whip itself into a daily political frenzy without some among us (the under medicated, perpetually angry, the misdiagnosed, the outright crazy, the politically obsessed, and those able to find a gun) snapping under the pressure.  Honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long.  For some people, the past few months have been a game of catchy signs and funny knit hats to wear at cold weather protests.  Half of America views their glasses half full and can’t understand why their neighbors don’t embrace the same awesomeness they see.  The first group lives in a liberal silo and listens to MSNBC and the latter hasn’t moved off FOX News in years.  We stay in our echo chambers reinforcing what we already know is right.  Hell no, we don’t want to be challenged!  My preconceived notions are mine!

But there’s a third group.  They tuned out a long time ago.  For them, institutions are broken and government is the greatest and grandest institution of all.  The hearings and arguments we watch and poke fun of on television each night, whether in serious news or comedy programs, are charades-all meant to further the institution.  I don’t know this shooter’s motives.  I’m willing to bet:  he’s off his meds, his personal life is in chaos, and he’s mad at the whole system.  He’s a third group guy.  Tuned out and alienated from the wider political discourse; he saw violence as the only way to create systemic change. Persons in the third group may associate with any ideology (right, left, or even Jihadist). They are primarily defined by their antipathy toward institutions and a willingness to embrace violence.  In the end, death is of greater value than any political theory.

A little more of this kind of thing and we’re going to see a crack down on free speech (and access to members of Congress) like we’ve never witnessed in this country.  There will be no more town halls to talk about health care legislation or any other kind of bill.  To be honest, I’m a little scared.  It’s scary to think about lawmakers being massacred at baseball practice.  It’s scary to think this event could be used to take away access to our lawmakers or other freedoms.  This was the last thing we needed.  I pray to God there’s nothing else.

Richard Lowell Bryant

I Heard a Rumor Annual Conference Was Happening This Week

The word on the street is I’m going to be gone this weekend. You heard correctly. The North Carolina Annual Conference is gathering in Greenville. I will be there. To be honest, I dread going. It’s not the idea of conference that makes me queasy. I get it. I know we need fellowship and friendship. Attending annual conference is part of my job.   I’m OK with doing my job.

It really comes down to this:  Annual Conference can be a little weird. My awkwardness stems from the plethora of outside voices in inside settings, the simmering anger never fully addressed, and the elephants in the room (which everyone has an opinion about) that no one wants to address head on. For a guy who lives on an island (two miles wide, fourteen miles long) and works hard to keep up with the world around him; it’s like going to a family reunion with relatives you barely know. Under no circumstances would you want to talk about religion or politics with some of your relatives at dinner.

Preachers swap stories at annual conference. Pastors talk about church growth, their plans for new buildings, evangelism, money, and vacations. The biggest news I’d like to share with my colleagues is that a drunk man came into worship on Pentecost Sunday, urinated all over himself, the pew and carpet, then created a commotion as we walked out of a full church in the middle of my sermon. My stories, while all true, gross people out. So what do I do? I grab a hot dog and listen to people argue. Time well spent.

It’s not all arguing. There’s good preaching, worship, ordaining, and business meetings. The work of the church must be done. What are we doing?  What exactly is our work?  That’s the one question my congregation asks most often, “What is it you do at Annual Conference?” This year, my answer has been a little different. I usually give a pat response. I talk about budgets, resolutions, pensions, reports, and ordinations. This year, I’m putting our work in historical terms. Much like Abraham’s Lincoln’s preparations to resupply Fort Sumter in April 1861, we’re getting ready for something bigger that we’re currently able to articulate or understand.

The United Methodist Church doesn’t know how to think, speak, talk, preach, or pray about what we’re doing. We’ve lost our way amid bureaucratic delay, commissions, and blamed our unwillingness to act on simply following the “Holy Spirit”. I am convinced our attempts to cite divine discretion are excuses for inaction. So much uncertainty hangs over our heads and will continue to do so (at least until the interim General Conference in 2019), it feels like we’re playing church and treading ecclesiastical water until we allow someone to decide who we are going to be. These last few conferences of a post 1968 Methodism , while prescribed and rich with the pomp and pageantry of liturgical worship, are place holders for the United Methodist Church currently evolving out of existence.

The status quo will not hold. When the present state of affairs changes, the powerful (even those with good intentions) will be removed from leadership. Whatever a commission decides or an annual conferences votes will ultimately clash with those whose economic and social interests are tied to Methodism’s remaining United. In the end, it will not come down to a question of God wanting us to remain United. We will be told we can’t afford not to be United, regardless of theology or how we read the Bible.  Capitalism is the invisible hand keeping United Methodism together. However, this too is slipping.

Our finely tuned machine is crumbling. Playing church and pretending that the present won’t catch up to us is simply sad to watch. But that I’ll do, over this coming weekend, with a hot dog in hand.  I’ll see you there.

Richard Lowell Bryant

The Trinity Sunday Sermon Your Mama Warned You About (Genesis 1)

God is a hot topic.  Everyone seems to be talking about the “man upstairs”.  His name, or some version thereof, is on the lips of men, women, the young, and old.  I know this because I listen.  I’m not talking about news programs on television or the religious documentaries I’m forced watch when my family is out of the house.  No, God is an ever present reality, even beyond this Sunday morning (where we do talk about God a great deal) all over this island (and elsewhere).

If I walk out of my front door and turn left or right to walk down Howard Street (the direction doesn’t really matter), particularly on a weekend night, it won’t be long before I’ll hear someone talking to or about God.  In fact, if the wind is right, I might not have to leave my front porch, the sound may carry it perfectly.  I’ll hear Jesus Christ this, God blank that, and conversations galore invoking the first and second persons of the Trinity.  Someone asked me this week, “Is the Trinity a really big deal?  Do people care about the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit? ” You want to know what my first answer was?  “This starfish does.”

If the God the father is in the perpetual habit of being asked to damn this, that and the other and Jesus is that name you call on when the most unbelievable things happen during you’re day, I’d say, whether we realize it or not, the idea of the Trinity is alive and well, to paraphrase Bob Seger, in the bars, backrooms, alleys, and trusty woods of Ocracoke.  It’s not the right idea but it’s there.

Here’s the good news.  We need to get the wrong ideas about God out of those places before we send the reality back into the world.  We need God in the world.  We don’t need God damning things.  We need Jesus in the world.  Jesus saves people.  We need the Spirit to infuse the relationship between all aspects of God and the world with love.

The Trinity is one of the most complex ideas in Christian theology.  The convoluted arguments used by theologians to explain the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are that way because we’ve allowed them to become so.  I’m not going to pretend I can explain something that Christian theologians have debated for over two thousand years.   That’s not what we’re here for.  However, I will tell you this:  Jesus described his relationship with God as one like a son to a father.   He said, “If we’d seen him, we’d seen the father”.  He and the father were one.  Jesus also told his disciples to except the gift of a comforter and guide, whom he called the Holy Spirit.  We talked about the arrival of the Spirit during last week’s Pentecost service.

Since the beginning creation, God’s spirit has been integral to the process of creation and helping God’s plans for humanity become reality.  The early church, since the time of Paul, was comfortable speaking of God in ways that acknowledged God as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Later Christians came along and gave more complexity and understanding to these relationships and a name:  the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity isn’t meant solely to be read and thoughtfully considered.  That’s one part of the deal.  Ultimately, the Trinity is something that’s social and organic, designed to be lived and experienced.  At its essence, the Trinity is about the expression of the relationship between God and humanity.  Jesus is one way God relates to us and the Spirit is another.  If you take nothing else home this morning, hold on to that.  The Trinity is a way to understand how God relates to us.

If that’s true, and I believe it is, what does that say about we relate to God (versus God relating to us)?  What do we see when we observe living Trinitarian relationships around us?  When we talk about God, it’s not usually in as positive, “I want to build a loving, life affirming relationship with you God” terms.

As I said at the beginning, we’re damning people on behalf of God we don’t really acknowledge.  We’re calling out to a Jesus Christ we don’t expect to answer.   What does it say about you we relate to God?  It says our humanity is bewildered and the further we go from real relationship with God the less we know who we are as people.  This kind of distance from God dehumanizes you.  When you start to dehumanize yourself and see God as instrument blunt force trauma, like any other tool in the back of your truck, it’s much either to start dehumanizing others.

The Old Testament Lesson for Trinity Sunday is the creation narrative from the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.  It is a story like no other in human history.  I don’t believe the Earth was created in six days but I do believe the underlying story of the creation myth is true.  God did something completely new in human history when this story began.  Humanity was created to be in relationship with the divine.  Our relationships with each other were to mirror our creator’s love for us.  Gods, as the ancient world believed in them, just didn’t do that kind of thing.

Read Genesis 1:26-27:

Then God said, “Let us make humanity on our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the live stock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”  God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.”

These are the most important verses in the creation story.  This idea is the most transformational idea in the history of political theory.  Those verses are the basis of western civilization itself.  This scripture is the underlying concept behind, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

Who thinks it’s self-evident that man is on a level playing field with God?  Or that freedom is self-evident?  They are self-evident to no one.  Plato would have thought them laughable.  Aristotle thought some were born to be ruled and others to rule.  No one thought equality of any kind, especially with God, was self evident.  No one thought equality between rich and poor was self-evident.  Mesopotamian kings and Egyptian pharaohs thought themselves made in the image of God, not ordinary people.  But there in this story, God says over and over again, it is good that God’s people are equal and free.  From Genesis 1, God says, “I don’t do class, hierarchy, or caste based societies.  I do relationships.”

Our God and God’s creative spirit working across the vast deep, as it is written in Genesis 1, tells a story we need to hear.  Let us look and listen to the world around us.  Our neighbors are a reflection of God at work.  We are made in the image of God. What it means to be a human is formed by being in relationship to a God made visible in many ways. Do not deny your humanity nor that God given gift in others.