Monday, December 27, 2010

The Theology of Carbon

Christmas 1, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Killeen, TX, December 26, 2010, The Rev. Paul Moore

Recently Fort Hood has been doing controlled burns on the range. It is a conservation technique replicating the processes that controlled this area before extensive human settlement. I'm familiar with the healthful results of fire. The people among whom I grew up in Ecuador practiced a slash-and-burn agriculture when I was a child. They would clear out the understory of brushy vines and shrubs, and knock down the trees, and wait until the dry season when they would torch it all. The potash and carbon left in the soil acted as fertilizer for their crops. I was with a paleo-anthropologist one time when she turned up some pieces of charred wood at a dig. She got really excited.

Apparently this was left over from just such a slash-and-burn effort, and the carbon present would allow her to date it with Carbon 14 dating. Whatever your opinion of Carbon 14 dating is, it is true that carbon is ubiquitous. In fact, carbon is that one element that distinguishes life forms as we know it from forms that are not alive.

When the evangelist begins to construct his Gospel of John he borrows language from Genesis 1. But he backs up the words to refer to events that happen before Genesis 1. Genesis begins, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..." Yes, but before that, in the beginning... "In the beginning was the Word, and the word was God, and the word was with God," And the Word created...the heavens and the earth. In theological language the Word is the carbon of all existence. One cannot understand existence without referring to the Word—the Logos—that creative, expressive, relational side of God that we call the Second Person of the Trinity. That Word came among us. The Principle of existence became an existent One, and we beheld His glory.

And that changes everything.

I remember when I first began experimenting with falconry in High School in Ecuador in the early 70's. I took a kestrel chick out of the nest, built a nest box in the dorm where I lived, and tried to learn falconry. The bird became a very cute, exotic, and sometimes noisy pet who eventually returned to the wild relatively unharmed for its stay with me, but I was unsuccessful in getting it to hunt. In retrospect, it's a miracle I did not lose it the first time I took it out of the house. There is a very essential piece of knowledge that I didn't have. Hawks want to hunt when they get hungry, and their hunger is directly related to their body weight. Manage the weight, manage the bird. I had a really fat hawk who returned only out of the goodness of its heart, and nothing more! So when you know about body weight you have the essential piece of information that allows you to practice falconry successfully. The Incarnation is the same kind of essential ingredient in our faith. When you understand the Incarnation you understand our faith, and when you understand our faith you know how to live as a Christian.

The Incarnation does two great things:

It reveals the heart of the Father. My eldest son can always find a Christmas present for you that fits you perfectly. Don't bother to give him lists or suggestions, he doesn't need them, they'd just be in the way. When he gives you a gift it reveals something profound about him: He has his eyes open, he reads you like a book. He understands you, and he loves you! When the Father sent the Son it revealed something profound about the Father. God the Father has His eyes open. He reads you like a book, He loves you and He wants to communicate with you! St. Paul writes to the Romans in chapter 1 that the nature of God is known by the things that are made, that is Creation. In John 1 we see that the creative person in the Trinity is the Son. The Son reveals the Father in creation and in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus tells Thomas in the upper room. "Why do you say, 'Show us the Father?' If you've seen me you've seen the Father." The babe in the manger is the great revealer of the Father.

It reveals the nature of our existence. Some people have clean desks, some people have cluttered desks. They say a clean desk is the sign of an empty mind. (I keep telling myself that!) I know a retired Army officer that served for a time as lay canon in the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. He was a full colonel when he retired, he did NOT have an empty mind, but when you went to see him all there was on his desk was material pertinent to the discussion at hand. (I have no earthly idea how in the world he did it!) Under his leadership the diocese worked like a well-oiled machine. You could tell how the diocesan offices worked by looking at his desk: clear, uncluttered and to the point—not always creative or imaginative, but clear. When you know who the Father is you know what kind of world we live in.

We live in a world that is full of the holy. Recently Karisse and I visited a young couple in the hospital after the birth of their daughter. It's impossible to look on the face of newborn and not wonder at the mystery of life. Just beneath the surface lurks the numinous, God is never far away.

We live in the world that is moving toward an end. 3000 years ago this area looked entirely different than it does now. Enormous herds of bison moved through the area. They were preyed upon by prairie wolves and small bands of Indian hunters who moved from one hunting-ground to another. 30,000 years ago it wasn't the bison we know now but enormous beasts that weighed as much as an elephant, with horns that spanned 6 feet. They were preyed upon by dire-wolves that stood almost 4 feet at the shoulders and weighed over 300 lbs., and small bands of wandering human hunters who moved from one hunting ground to another. The world is headed somewhere...it has a beginning and it has an end. Until it reaches its end it is incomplete, under construction and destined to change. God is always, constantly, continuously involved.

We matter in the world. The world today doesn't even look like it did 3000 years ago. Instead of bison we have people and cows. Instead of wolves we have coyotes. Instead of prairie we have city and forest. We have an impact on our environment, and we have an impact on our society. The decisions we make become the building blocks of tomorrow's world. When we make decisions that fall in line with the nature of the Creator we build up life, when we make decisions that contradict the nature of the Creator we destroy it. God the Creator takes us seriously. He has entrusted to us an almost godlike power to create tomorrow's world. When we create as He creates we make Him present once again in creation. We continue the Incarnation.

Just like carbon, the Incarnation turns up everywhere you look. It is at the heart of God's revelation of Himself, it is at the heart of God's redemption of the world, and the Babe in the Manger makes all the difference.

1 comment:

KCF said...

Very inspirational. Thanks.