July 17, 2017

Why So Much Beauty?


A recent trip to the barrier islands and a swamp of southern Georgia brought me face to face with some of God’s remarkable creatures.  Sea turtles, alligators, terrapins, turkey vultures, deer, raccoons, bears, snakes, horseshoe crabs, sharks, to mention only a few, populate this part of the world.  As I journeyed through this low country, I wondered why so much beauty?

Creative Commons - National Aquarium Flickr

            Take, for example, the Diamondback Terrapin.  The carapace of each is exquisite in design.  It did not have to be so; however, the Creator of all that is determined that beauty would be a hallmark of divine handiwork. These ancient web-footed members of the turtle family are essential to the ecology of wetlands.  They are a part of the water purification system, and their presence helps maintain the invertebrate balance in the brackish water they prefer. They also help control the salt marsh snails that overgraze the grasses.  Yet, they are endangered, and crossing the road puts them at great peril.  We might also ask, why so much waste?
            Only 1 of 400 sea turtle hatchings makes it to maturity.  Many predators and the sheer exertion of making it from a nest back to the ocean diminishes the prospects of all but a very few.  Is the waste a part of unredeemed creation or is it simply the necessary calculus of an interdependent ecosystem where death is a part of ongoing life?

            The alligators of the Okefenokee Swamp, a National Wildlife Refuge, reveal how long a species can endure in certain climes.  Amazingly robust, a bull alligator can grow up to 14 feet and weigh nearly 1000 pounds.  As we toured the swamp by boat, we were instructed to keep our elbows in the boat lest we provide a snack to the ever circling alligators who keep watchful eyes on who comes through their territory.  As a big one splashed right next to my seat, a headline flew across my mind: “Alligator unaware of teaching about redemption of all creation as he drags seminary president overboard.”

            One of the lectionary texts for next Sunday recounts Jacob’s dream sequence with the ladder that spans heaven and earth.  Awaking from his dream he exclaims: “How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). He recognized that the earth is full of God’s glory, and that God inhabits not only the heavenly places, but the abode of creatures, too.
            There is so much beauty and, seemingly, so much waste.  Yet God’s desire for the flourishing of all creaturely life entails pain and cost for all who share this good home.  That should invite us to praise and recognition that “surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  God indwells all that is and calls it good.  God has made everything beautiful, as the Bible teaches.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving the whole world.


June 26, 2017

Time for Lament

            Many are anxious as a rending of the health care safety net is transpiring.  Decisions are underway that threaten to exclude a growing sector of the population from basic access.  The tension between federal and state responsibilities will only grow, and each will resort to blaming the other. Preserving the wealth of the few by sacrificing the poor is unworthy of a nation who claims moral status.

            A reading for this coming Sunday expresses the frustration and lament so many of us feel about the political landscape.

        How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide      
        yourself from me?
        How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all
        day long?  How long shall my enemies be exalted over me?
        Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!  Give light to my eyes, or I
        will sleep the sleep of death. (Psalm 13:1-3)

            I will refrain from naming "enemies," for elected officials have an insuperable burden in seeking to govern; however, to craft legislation because of personal vendetta against the ideas of others is an expression of corrupt character.  It is very hard to transcend pettiness, but our time calls for heightened rectitude.

            The Psalter offers words to express our deepest emotions.  Raw and unbridled, this psalm of lament gathers up the present moment.  While persons of faith trust that God has not forgotten them, it is hard to believe that their particular plight matters in the larger scheme.

            Psalms of lament are addressed to God, for where else can the downtrodden go?  Who else can renew courage to cry out against injustice and not lose heart? Who else can we trust with our raging fear?

            There are more psalms of lament than of sheer praise in the Psalter, and they invite the most honest kind of prayer.  If there is no room for lament in our private and corporate prayer, we only offer sanitized superficialities.  When the people of God gather, the pews sag with unspoken grief and personal suffering.

            It is time to dust off the Psalter and let its powerful words direct our prayer and heal our wounded hearts.  Especially now.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares leaders to seek God, shape churches, and serve the world.