Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

Progressive Christian Social Action

Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

I have a collection of children’s books about creation that I read to my grandchildren and to the Sunday school children in my church. Some of the books present the seven-day sequence from Genesis 1, with colorful pictures showing the emergence of light and dark, heavenly bodies, plants, sea life and birds, and finally animals and human beings. Some books are based on the story of Adam and Eve. Jane Ray’s Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, on the other hand, tells the creation story, which has a completely different order of creation, by saying: “At the very beginning of the world the earth was a dry and dusty place, where nothing could live and nothing could grow. So God made a mist which watered the ground all over. Then with his great hands, he formed the first man of the clay of the newly watered earth.”

Other picture books on creation are more loosely based on scripture. And God Created Squash by Martha Whitmore Hickman portrays God as an old man with long white hair and a beard, thinking up things to create. He puts his ear to the ground and says, “I’d like to hear something growing.” As he creates he walks around smelling flowers, tasting food, and enjoying the abundance of life. At the end he says, “I’ll be around. You may not see me. But I’ll be here—and there—wherever you are, whenever you need me. Even in the middle of the night.” Big Momma Makes the World by Phyllis Root presents a feminine image of God: “When Big Momma made the world, she didn’t mess around… she rolled up her sleeves and went to it.” Big Momma, with a playful baby on her hip, takes mud and knits it together to create the world and everything in it, culminating in a huge ball of mud out of which emerge people of every race, size, and shape. They are, apparently, naked, to the delight of the children.

Each of these books is a creative contemporary expression of Judeo-Christian traditional teachings on creation. Each has its own unique twist based on the theological interpretation of the author. Christian tradition is not static. It develops in an ongoing way.

A Christian understanding of creation doesn’t rule out respect for science. I also read the children a science-based book about the origins of the universe called Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton, author of children’s classics such as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House. Life Story begins with the birth of the Sun, “one of the millions and billions of stars that make up our galaxy.” It proceeds with a fascinating walk through geological time and the evolution of life on earth right up to the present. “And now it is your Life Story… The stage is set, the time is now, and the place wherever you are.”

I have never felt there was a conflict between reading the traditional storybooks that talk about God creating the world and children’s books based on science. These accounts of creation complement each other. The children aren’t confused. They know the Bible stories, they know about Jesus, and they know God’s love. They also know about stars, black holes, dinosaurs, and fossils.  . The scientific story of creation doesn’t negate an understanding of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the world.

This blog post is an excerpt from Sharon’s new book,  Love in a Time of Climate Change

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My New Book is Out!

Progressive Christian Social Action

My New Book is Out!

Hello friends.  I’m happy to announce that my new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, has finally been released.  I’m delighted with how it turned out and thrilled to be holding copies in my hand.  It will be available in local bookstores here in Nevada County when I receive a shipment next week.  It’s already available through online distributors. You, my friends, can help boost its visibility by ordering a copy, reading the book, and posting a review.  Find it at Amazon here.

This book offers a spiritually-based approach to climate change that is informed by both science and theology.  It makes the case that the spiritual principle of loving God and neighbor is the only foundation strong enough to take us through this grave global crisis.   While the book primarily addresses Christians, it also speaks to people of other faith and philosophical traditions who care about the earth and seek a peaceful and just world.

It was a year ago that I signed the book contract with Fortress Press and started working seriously on Love in a Time of Climate Change:  Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice.  I felt that I needed to present a progressive alternative to the anti-science biblical literalism of the Religious Right, which helped to elect Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed climate change skeptic.  (For more on this theme, see Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right.)  This book does just that by:

  • Presenting an overview of climate change and its implications for churches, poor and vulnerable people, future generations, and creation itself;
  • Exploring the themes of creation and justice in the context of climate change;
  • Using resources drawn from scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to inform, challenge, and encourage readers to form their own conclusions;
  • Offering hope for the future based on spiritual awakening and the need for a broad-based movement that includes various constituencies working together for peace, justice, and caring for the natural world;
  • Proposing activities that people can take beyond personal lifestyle change to help build the global movement for climate justice.

I’ll be presenting Love in a Time of Climate Change at several upcoming public events, which I’ll announce soon.  I’m scheduled to go on the road (or, rather, on the train) in November, with several presentations scheduled, including in Boston and New York.  It’s an exciting time.

Meanwhile, climate change continues to progress, a reality that motivates me to keep on with my work, in solidarity with all of you who continue working for a world that is habitable and abundant the children and upcoming generations.  May we work together with the Spirit of the universe, who surely is with us in this struggle.

 

Find out more about the book at Love in a Time of Climate Change at this website, where you can find the Table of ContentsInitial Endorsements, and several excerpts.

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

 

Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Progressive Christian Social Action

Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Poppies in our yard.

 

This Easter season has been filled with paradox.  How can we understand and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus when ignorant or ideologically-driven men in high places dominate public policy and endanger the world?  In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, who was supported overwhelmingly by white Evangelicals, the question for socially-concerned Christians is:  How can the story of Jesus and the lived experience of the Risen Christ be relevant in this context?  Today I point to the reality of the Risen Christ as an antidote to despair and paralysis, and as a spiritual motivation for the ongoing struggle for peace, justice, and the healing of the world.

The presence of the Risen Christ is the basis for Christian life.  One way this presence is expressed is through the concept of the Mind of Christ (1Cor. 2:16). The mind of Christ is a lived experience, an awareness of the presence of God, a tangible sense of the Holy Spirit.  This experience itself is resurrection: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…”(Galatians 2:20).  In words attributed to Martin Luther:  “My head has been raised, my Head is Christ.  My heart has been raised, my heart is with Christ.  My tardy body will follow.”

Reflecting on the Mind of Christ also provides a safeguard against the faulty idea of a violent God.  For those of us who believe that the personality and love of God are revealed in Jesus, our understanding of God must be consistent with the biblical view of the life and teachings of the nonviolent Jesus.  Biblical literalism has no place here, but the overall “tenor and scope” of scripture, especially the stories of Jesus, point to a God of mercy and love.

What does this understanding have to do with the way we live our lives? Opening ourselves to the awareness of the Mind of Christ means living into the ongoing consciousness of God.  It means living in a way that reflects the life of Jesus and his way of fostering inclusive community, even if it comes at great cost.

It’s important to remember that Jesus died in a way that was consistent with how he lived his life.  After demonstrating compassion and confronting the Ruling Powers nonviolently throughout his ministry, he refused to back down when those Powers threatened him with death. In this way, he “gave his life” for others, for the the sake of the greater good, trusting that somehow, in some way, God could bring life even out of death.

Others have followed his example.  Archbishop Oscar Romero, after being converted to the side of the poor in the US-backed war against the Sandinistas, said, “If you kill me, I will rise in the Salvadoran people.”  This, too, is resurrection.

Living a resurrected life means joining in solidarity with all who seek justice, especially those who are most vulnerable, challenging injustice and oppression, and courageously following Jesus into the heart of the struggle for a better world.  I, for one, plan to keep my eyes open for those outbreaks of spirit, those moments of social breakthrough, when people of many faiths and philosophies rise up together in resistance to oppression, with hope and determination.  By courageously acting for justice, we participate in resurrection, working for a world that reflects the love that brought us into being, the love that can’t be extinguished by any empire, the love at the heart of the universe.  In the words of the great hymn by Martin Luther, updated for our time:

Let goods and kindred go

This mortal life also

The body they may kill

Love’s truth abideth still

God’s kin-dom is forever.

This post is the culmination of my Lenten series, A Lenten Call to Resist.  I began by writing Resisting Cultural Possession.  I wrote later about The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified and about Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth.  In Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of This Age, I pointed to the ideology that rationalizes and the systems that justify such harm.  I also wrote about The Subversive Jesus, putting into perspective why he was killed by the ruling powers of his day.  I challenged the view of God promoted by the Religious Right in Rejecting Theological Sadism and in Jesus Was Not Born to Die, and presented an alternative in God’s Restorative Justice.  Finally, right before Easter Sunday, I wrote about prayer and action in Good Friday:  Contemplation and Resistance and Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus.  This final post is about Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ.

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Following Jesus Without Being a Sheep

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This post is based on a sermon I preached on Sunday, May 7, at Nevada City United Methodist Church.  You can watch the whole service here or move the curser 21 minutes into the service for just the sermon.

The Gospel of John includes many metaphors.  Just in this short passage (John 10:1-10), there are two:  1) Jesus as the good shepherd, who leads and cares for the sheep, and 2) Jesus as the gate, the point of access, so the sheep can come in and go out and find pasture.  Here Jesus describes his mission and goal:  “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

When I read this passage, it reminds me of the wonderful section of Handel’s Messiah, where it says, “He shall lead his flock like a shepherd, and carry the lambs in his bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”  A poignant and comforting song.  When I read this passage, it reminds me of the wonderful section of Handel’s Messiah, where it says, “He shall lead his flock like a shepherd, and carry the lambs in his bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”  A poignant and comforting song.  It also reminds me of the 23rd Psalm, which my grandmother taught me, and which I’ve taught my children and at times, my grandchildren.  Passages like this stick with us, and come back at just the times we need them.  For instance, when we feel like we’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

When we think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, what does that mean?  A shepherd’s goals are to make sure the sheep have a place to roam, pasture, food, water, protection from predators, and if one strays off, according to Jesus, the good shepherd will leave the 99 there in the wilderness and go out to seek the one that was lost.  That’s an image of God.  And that’s a great image of abundant life.

But awhile back, one of my granddaughters said to me, “I don’t want to be sheep.”  So when I started preparing this sermon, I decided to look up the definition of “sheep.”  1)  Any of the various hollow-horned typically gregarious ruminant mammals (genus Ovis) related to the goats but stockier and lacking a beard in the male–specifically one long domesticated especially for its flesh and wool.  2) a timid defenseless creature; 3) a timid docile person, especially one easily influenced or led.  Of course, none of us want to be that kind of a person, and that’s certainly not what Jesus meant.

Jesus didn’t mean for people to follow him without thinking for themselves.  He engaged people.  He used figures of speech, he asked them questions, he challenged them, he sent them out in ministry.  He said, “Follow me, do what I do, teach what I teach, love how I love, serve as I serve.”  He engaged with people in the fullness of their humanity, even though sometimes (like us) they didn’t have a clue what he was talking about).

Nevertheless, with these very limited and flawed human beings, Jesus was able create a community that welcomed the poor, the outcast, the stranger, even women and children.  A community that embodied God’s love and what it means to live an abundant life.  A community that embodied the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.  Today some call it the reign of God or the kin-dom of God.  A kin-dom of abundant life.

This community that Jesus drew together became very popular, so much so that the religious leaders began plotting against him.  They collaborated with Rome to keep the military occupation in place, and they benefited from this collaboration.  Jesus challenged their authority.  He broke their laws, including laws against healing on the Sabbath.  He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.  He and his followers occupied the Temple.  Slept outside, but each day the people all came back to occupy the Temple.  The authorities couldn’t arrest him there.  Why?  Because “all the people hung on his words.”

Finally, the authorities succeeded.  They waited until he was alone in the Garden of Gethsemane with just a few followers.   Then they came out with swords and clubs and Roman guards to arrest him.  They tried him in a mock trial, beat him, and crucified him.  His followers fled, except for a few—mostly women.  They killed the shepherd, and the sheep scattered

Then something amazing happened.  People started saying, “I have seen the Lord.”  According to the gospels, this started with the women—the first preachers, the first witnesses to the resurrection.  The community that had formed around Jesus reconstituted itself, based on the lived experience of the Risen Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  We read about that early community today in Acts, about how the people pooled their possessions and shared with whoever was in need.

These early Christians continued in the faith of Jesus.  They lived according to his teaching and example, identifying with the poor and outcast.  For the first three centuries, Christians refused to bow to the Emperor and refused to serve in the Roman Army.  Many were martyred for their faith.   They stood on conscience.  Not at all like sheep.

When Constantine made Christianity the State Religion, the church became identified with the power of the state.  Some have called this the downfall of the church, because the Church became aligned with the dominant culture, wherever it was situated.  But throughout history, there have been people and communities who have kept alive the vision that motivated the early church.

One of these people was John Wesley.  John Wesley was a key figure in the 18th Century Great Awakening, and the founder of Methodism.  Wesley worked hard to make sure that the early Methodists were not sheep, that they didn’t just believe what they were told.  He insisted that people move toward a mature faith, and take responsibility and make decisions for themselves.

We still follow that understanding today.  I have been helping with the youth confirmation classes during this school year.  I’ve been teaching some of these kids ever since they were little, when we’d sing “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” But faith is not always so simple.  And we don’t want our youth to just swallow something whole, even if they’ve read it in the Bible, even if someone in authority tells them so.  We don’t want them to be “easily influenced or led.”

And so, in our classes, we’ve often turned to John Wesley.  Wesley said that of course we need to read scripture.  But we also need to look to tradition, reason, and experience.  We need to look to Christian tradition, especially to traditions of the early church, which he said demonstrated “no other than love.”  We also need to use our own God-given faculty of reason.  And we need to be true to our own experience, our experience of the world, our experience of the divine.  It we turn our back on our own common sense or our own experience, we turn our back on ourselves.

We’ve put a lot into challenging the youth.  And when the time comes for them to decide whether to be confirmed, some may say “yes,” some may so “no” or “not yet.” But they will know what they are deciding.   I’m grateful to Pastor Kris, to Peggy, Eleanor, and Jenny, and to this congregation, who have all supported the youth in this process.

Pastor Kris suggested that I preach on the themes in my upcoming book, but I decided instead to go with the lectionary.  Still, I am putting in a plug about the book, which is called Love in a Time of Climate Change:  Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice.  It will be released in July, and there are cards on a table in the Fellowship Hall if you want to know more.  It’s based on the teachings of John Wesley.  It uses scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to explore the themes of creation and justice.  The point is not to convince people what they should think.  Instead, it’s a challenge for readers come to their own understanding about climate change, and to decide for themselves how to respond.

We face many challenges, not just climate change.  There are so many challenges today that change may seem almost impossible.  We may be tempted to give up hope, but now is not the time for that, not if we are truly committed to following Jesus.  Christ is risen.  God who is Love can bring light out of darkness and life out of death.

Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God… the reign of God, the kin-dom of God.  However we name it, following Jesus means following him into the heart of the struggle for a better world:  a world where all have access to food and water, where all are cared for and offered shelter, where even the stranger and outcast are sought out and brought into community.  A world where the abundance of creation is a shared gift, offered to all people and all species and preserved to all generations.  “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

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God Bless the Grass


I’ve been singing two songs lately that use images of the earth to carry a message of hope in the face of despair.  The first song is “Now the Green Blade Rises,” a traditional Easter hymn.  The second song, “God Bless the Grass,” is by singer-songwriter and social justice activist Malvina Reynolds.  Both songs present the key message of Easter:  love overcomes violence, life overcomes death.

Listen to this version of “Now the Green Blade Rises” by the Smoke Fairies.  

Now the Green Blade Rises

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love Whom we had slain,
Thinking that He’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Up He sprang at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Up from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

(John M.C. Crum, 1928, 15th Century French Melody)

I also hear the message of life conquering death in this wonderful song by Malvina Reynolds.  You can hear her sing it here:  God Bless the Grass .

 God Bless the Grass

God bless the grass that grows thru the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that’s gentle and low,
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass, which demonstrates the power of life to overcome death, and to bring about both personal and social transformation.  May we all have renewed confidence, courage, and hope during this Easter season.

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This post is re-posted from April, 2013.