We, Image Bearers

Somehow, in between graduate school, homeschooling, painting cabinets, scheduling photo shoots, and oil pulling, I’ve managed to continue the self-imposed charge to read meaty books during Lent.

Right, we’re still in Lent. How easy it is to forget when the ashes wash off and I have a screenplay and short story due the same week.

I finished City of God in a couple of days. It was a great book to start with since it’s primarily focused around Ash Wednesday and its affect on people outside the walls of the church. Sara Miles is a lovely writer who paints a very clear picture of everyday life in San Fransisco’s Mission District. Some bits were heavier than others, and some bits were quite humorous, but it was a quick read and gave me a deeper understanding of how the tradition of Ash Wednesday is one that physically connects people to God.

Then I started reading Understanding the Four Views on Baptism, which is significantly heavier in church history and denominational tradition. It is an actual study, not a collection of anecdotes, so I’m taking this one slowly. The four views represented are Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed, and Christian Church/Church of Christ, and after each view of baptism is presented, the other three representatives offer a response.

People, we are so stinkin’ divided. The more I read, the more I grieve. I am currently knee-deep in the Lutheran view but have decided to take a break and switch to something lighter for the week. Yesterday, I started Sex God by Rob Bell.

This was one I picked up from McKay’s before I realized how irritating Rob Bell’s writing style is. But, since I’m reading for content, I’ll muscle through.

Yesterday, he made some great points about us – all of us – being “image bearers” and how often we reverse God’s creative process to suit our judgments. I had to share:

In the beginning, God created us “in his image.” So first, God gave us an image to bear. Then God gave us gender: male and female. Then God gave us something to do, to take care of the world and move it forward, taking part in the ongoing creation of the world. Later, people began moving to different places. It takes years and years of human history to get to the place where these people are from here and those people are from there. Different locations, skin colors, languages, and cultures come much later in human history.

What we often do is reverse the creative process that God initiated. We start with all the different cultural backgrounds and skin colors and nationalities, and it’s only when we look past these things that we are able to get to what we have in common – that we are fellow image-bearers with the shared task of caring for God’s creation. We get it all backward. We see the differences first, and only later, maybe, do we see the similarities.

Guilty as charged. I feel so silly when common sense slaps me upside the head, and this is only the beginning of the book.

Of course, it’s infinitely difficult to look at some people, like [insert name of serial killer here] and see the image of God, but I think we grow closer to God by trying. We deepen our own understanding of humanity by making the effort to see the similarities before we see the differences. The payoff is exponentially greater.

image of god

Full Body Experience

This is how  Sara Miles, author of City of God, describes Ash Wednesday.

This service… reminded me not to over-spiritualize the problem of mortality. Ash Wednesday was calling me back to worship God with my whole body — lungs, thumb, knees, eyes, tongue — and to admit that body’s inevitable failure. And it reminded me that I was no different in my flesh from any other human being. – City of God

It didn’t occur to me until last night how physical Ash Wednesday is. There’s touching involved, it’s dirty, and it all starts with a smelly, smoky fire. It’s a tangible experience, not just a spiritual or emotional one.

To dust we shall return.

Burning palm leaves

Furthermore, Sara adds, it’s entirely born from within the church. Ash Wednesday isn’t a holiday we pull from a Bible story. Jesus didn’t spread ashes on anyone’s forehead. Rather, it’s an event we created for ourselves to corporately realize our sin, to acknowledge our own mortality, and begin the rebirthing process of repentance together. It’s the starting line we cross together on our 40-day journey.

Holding hands

While working on St. Gregory’s liturgy for Ash Wednesday, Paul and I argued a bit about the challenges of collective confession. “Doesn’t it kind of let me off the hook,” I protested, “to say we have wasted your creation, blah, blah, we have been snide, blah, blah, we have failed at whatever? Shouldn’t I have to consider my own actual sins and look at exactly what it is I’ve personally done and am ready to repent of?”

“Ah,” said Paul. “That would be the sin of pride, thinking that your wickedness is so different from others’.”

Ash Wednesday allows us to look at one another in mutual sorrow and reflection. We’ve all done everything, just in different ways. My selfishness might look different than your selfishness, but it’s selfishness nonetheless.

So come on. Let’s get dirty on this journey together. Let’s get uncomfortable. Let’s brood a bit and see where the road takes us.

Lenten Book Pile

Lent reading begins today. This is ambitious considering what’s required for school, but I’m going to make a strong attempt.  Which one should I read first? Perhaps I should just start at the top.

Lent Reading 2014Understanding Four Views on Baptism
Sex God
City of God
Church History in Plain Language  (This book was in last year’s pile. I read through bits of it but found it was one of those that should be revisited regularly. Here is a link to the books I read last spring. If you click on it, you’ll see a sweet photo of three-month-old Major. )