Introduction to re-written
It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? That we can re-write our story? Really, it’s a half-truth. You can’t undo what’s been done. But you can re-write how you deal with it, the narrative we craft around it, and how we’ll take on the future. Really, though, it’s only partly our job. Even the best authors have editors and reviewers–a community of people who help revise and figure and discern. We’ll listen for God’s Holy Spirit as we examine scripture in a new way and wonder together how God is writing our story.
For those of us who haven’t met, I’m Jon. I’m the pastor of Westfield Church, a revitatlizing congregation with a 300+ year history. We’re part of the United Church of Christ, a denomination widely considered to be the most progressive of the mainline churches. Two decades ago, our congregation didn’t know if it’d still be here today. They weren’t many people and hardly any money–they didn’t have anything left to lose but everything. And that’s when we started re-writing our story. Or, maybe, that’s when we realized God was re-writing our story and we started co-authoring that tale.
Our goal over these next weeks together is to delve into our personal and communal experience. We’ll explore themes of confession, reconciliation, hope, mercy, forgiveness, martyrdom, and claiming our faith. Here’s how it works: every Wednesday, we’ll send you an email with a link to that week’s content which will include a brief introduction (where you are now), then sections including God in Art, God in Scripture, God Elsewhere, God in Music, and some thoughts from me on the theme of the week. At the bottom of the page, you’ll have the ability to leave comments. I invite to you to discuss with the others particpating in this series.
Sound like a plan? Good. Let’s give it a go, scroll down to get an idea of what to expect from our first session on February 21st.
Weekly time in minutes
total number of posts (with Holy Week)
God in Art
Each week, we’ll post an image or artwork for you to reflect on.
Look at this picture. What do you see here? What do you notice?
God in Scripture
We’ll give you a scripture to reflect on. All scriptures are from the Common English Bible unless otherwise noted.
When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night.
There was evening and there was morning: the first day.
God said, “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters to separate the waters from each other.” God made the dome and separated the waters under the dome from the waters above the dome. And it happened in that way. God named the dome Sky.
There was evening and there was morning: the second day.
God said, “Let the waters under the sky come together into one place so that the dry land can appear.” And that’s what happened. God named the dry land Earth, and he named the gathered waters Seas. God saw how good it was. God said, “Let the earth grow plant life: plants yielding seeds and fruit trees bearing fruit with seeds inside it, each according to its kind throughout the earth.” And that’s what happened. The earth produced plant life: plants yielding seeds, each according to its kind, and trees bearing fruit with seeds inside it, each according to its kind. God saw how good it was.
There was evening and there was morning: the third day.
God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years. They will be lights in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened. God made the stars and two great lights: the larger light to rule over the day and the smaller light to rule over the night. God put them in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was.
There was evening and there was morning: the fourth day.
God said, “Let the waters swarm with living things, and let birds fly above the earth up in the dome of the sky.” God created the great sea animals and all the tiny living things that swarm in the waters, each according to its kind, and all the winged birds, each according to its kind. God saw how good it was. Then God blessed them: “Be fertile and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”
There was evening and there was morning: the fifth day.
God said, “Let the earth produce every kind of living thing: livestock, crawling things, and wildlife.” And that’s what happened. God made every kind of wildlife, every kind of livestock, and every kind of creature that crawls on the ground. God saw how good it was. Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, 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.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.
There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.
In our tradition (the UCC) we believe that God is still speaking. So while we look to the scriptures for God’s revelation, we also listen for God’s voice elsewhere.
FOR A NEW BEGINNING
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time, it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plentitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with you life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothin back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
“For a New Beginning” (c) John O’Donohue. All rights reserved.
From the collection “Beginnings” in John O’Donohue’s larger collection, To Bless the Space Between Us
God in Music
Each week, we’ll give you a song to listen to while reflecting on that week’s theme.
Through Lent of 2017, we sang Gungor’s Beautiful Things as part of our weekly worship. This year, we start the season of Lent with it. It’s a song about what God can create out of dust.
I said: what about my eyes?
He said: Keep them on the road.
I said: What about my passion?
He said: Keep it burning.
I said: What about my heart?
He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said: Pain and sorrow.
He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
13th Century Persian Poet and Mystic
Each week, you’ll find some thoughts about that week’s theme. These aren’t meant to be final thoughts or decisive ones. Just a starting place for your own thinking to journey from in the following days.
Every time someone mentions the story of Creation–the one we find in Genesis, we think we know how it goes. We boil an entire chapter into a few sentences: “God created everything in six days and called it good. Then God took a break.” But when you take the time to read the story–really read it–we discover so much more. We notice how God creates in opposition. That is, much of what God creates has an opposite. And we uncover details we hadn’t noticed before.
But one of the details many Christians miss is this one: There are two creation stories. Go read Genesis 2, then come back.
The stories aren’t entirely at odds. There’s some overlap, sure. But the stories are less opposing and more complimentary. In fact, you might read Genesis 2 and think of it as the rest of the story. And yet, when you examine them, you realize that while it continues the story, it also corrects or edits the previous one. All of that to say that the story of Creation–the very one more than 1 billion Christians around the world claim as their own, either literally or metaphorically or somewhere in between–was re-written.
The only time I’ve been entirely mortified while I was in school was when a teacher told me that I needed to re-write a paper. Not edit it. Not spellcheck or rearrange. Re-write. I took it as a sign of failure, like what I had to offer wasn’t good enough–that it didn’t make the grade. And that teacher, noticing my cheeks burning red, said, “It’s OK, Jonathan. I just know you can do better.”
Things don’t always turn out the way we think they will. Jobs are elminated, relationships end. Friends move away, and beloved family die. And the temptation is to think that the story–our story–is already written. And, to some extent, that’s right. We can’t change the past. But in Christ, we’ve got an eraser. That is, in Christ, we have the opporunity to change and impact how we see the past today. And we have the opporunity to re-write how we deal with it. And the truth is, re-writing our stories isn’t anything new.
In fact, we’ve been doing it since the beginning of creation.
The Rev. Jonathan Chapman
Pastor and Teacher
The Rev. Jonathan Chapman graduated from Candler School of Theology, Emory University, in May 2010. He is currently pursuing his Doctor of Ministry with an emphasis in Biblical Witness and Proclamation.
He joined Westfield in October of 2012 and was officially installed as Pastor and Teacher in May of 2013. He was selected to be a part of the Next Generation Leadership Initiative, a program sponsored by the Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ that works with young clergy committed to parish ministry through a decade-long relationship. He has a passion for visual worship (a topic he blogs regularly about at revjonchapman.com) and married his husband, Greg, in December of 2014 at Westfield.