I am sure that almost everyone is familiar with the lyrics of Do-Re-Mi from the musical The Sound of Music, here in the UK it is a Christmas staple, some love it, others avoid it, I remember seeing it on the big screen as a child, but must admit that I fall into the camp of the avoiders ( don’t judge me). That said the songs stick, and the encouragement in Do-Re-Mi, is this;
Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with – A – B – C
Go on, admit it you are singing it now aren’t you! I must admit that I am.
The very beginning, the beginning of time itself, something we can gaze into as a mystery, for surely even before the big bang, and yes I am not a 7 day creationist, sorry if that offends, though I suspect that it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads my posts.
The very beginning of the Bible begins with a poem, the great poem of creation, the opening words are:
In the beginning when God created….
It goes on to list the days of creation, step by step, and quickly picks up the refrain “and God saw that it was good”, culminating with the creation of humankind, this gloriously diverse expression of love and goodness is drawn to a close:
26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind[in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 29 God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Blessedness and goodness, this is how we humans, and the whole of creation is presented, right at the very beginning, even the following account of creation shows a special relationship between God, Adam and Eve, and while the story ends with a break in the relationship, and the pair being driven from the place of innocence in the garden, that goodness is still there deep within them, God’s image may have been covered ( with fig leaves) but it is not removed, for they are God-breathed. Blessed and good.
Blessed and good! We are all blessed and good, all bear the image of God within, and are all God breathed, Psalm 39 ( yes another poem) tells us that God knitted us together in our mothers wombs, each of us as unique and diverse as creation itself. Of course when we look out at our world and we see war, famine, destruction, and hatred prevailing, when poverty rubs alongside greed and unimaginable horrors are inflicted on people by other people it is hard to see that blessedness and goodness, but it is there.
All through history however we have seen how religion, and I would say all religion has created laws and rules and descriptions of sin that are used to control the masses. Wars have been fought in God’s name and even the Old Testament is full of violence. I might be easy to see in this how the doctrine of Original Sin came about. I am not going to go into a long explanation of Original Sin, you can look it up, what I want to argue for is Original Goodness, that started at the very beginning! Original Goodness celebrates our creation, and the whole of creation in all of its diversity and wonder, in Scripture both the beginning and end are held in a garden, and the end of the book of Revelation tells us that there will come a time when all will be well, no more crying, no more sickness and no more pain, no more exclusion, no more shaming!
No more shaming, I think that shame is one of the most debilitating factors that runs through all cultures, shame drove Adam and Eve into hiding, their innocence gone they hide because they are naked, vulnerable, exposed. The fear of being exposed and vulnerable can be crippling, no matter what is is that makes us feel exposed and vulnerable, and the fear is often that you will be shunned, and rejected, you will become an outcast.
Jesus had a way of including the outcast, of revealing to them the Original Goodness within them and setting them free from fear and shame, be that the woman who had been hemorraging, the woman dragged by the religious leaders and exposed as an adulterer ( yes we should ask where was the man) the man born blind and, the lepers, the list goes on! In his book Being Human, Steve Chalke says:
It is a sobering fact that the only groups that Jesus chose to seriously critique were those who included themselves yet excluded others from the always given welcome and embrace of God.
The religious community leaders of Jesus day were far from inclusive. Theirs was a culture littered with outcasts. They were accomplished at using their distorted understanding of God to underpin the repressive social hierarchy that they had created, which at one and the same time, put them at the centre of everything, and legitimised their exclusion of others.
There were so many who were considered beyond the pale, this included the disabled, people suffering from leprosy, which covered any skin diseases, foreigners, and to a large degree all women! Part of the blessings the devout Jewish man would recite each morning would include:
Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.
How shocking is that? The trouble is when you begin with a set of exclusive beliefs and begin defining who is in and who is out, then the lists can grow longer and longer. Today as we see women’s rights being challenged in the US, and totally predictable curbing of the freedom of women in Afghanistan, we can say that maybe nothing much has changed in the eyes of some.
I wrote yesterday about love, and how challenging the call to love can be, and yes I mentioned Franklin Graham, who is coming to Sheffield this month, and I haven’t changed my mind, I still don’t think he is bringing a message of hope, precisely because his message is exclusive, he demands a repentance from sins that aren’t sins at all. It is not a sin to be the fearfully and wonderfully made human being that you are no matter what your sexuality. The notion that sexuality and members of the LGBTQI+ community are all sexually promiscuous is nonsense, but definitely engrained in some psyches. I was asked once whether I was afraid of sexually transmitted diseases, it genuinely makes me laugh, but the focus of certain purity teaching on sexuality and sex itself is ridiculous, and let’s face it anyone can be promiscuous. But no, I am not interested in what other people do in bed!
So often the whole focus is either sex obsessed or other obsessed, when we fear those who are not like us our tendency is to exclude them, and only to include them if they become like us, to become like us they need to leave behind a part of who they are, thus becoming a shadow of themselves, shamed by their true identity. At this time I suspect this is particularly true for Trans people who are targets for far too much abuse, and so much ignorance!
Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we need to turn from violence, from greed, from theft, murder, from hatred in all its forms. I do believe that we all have a long path to walk before the full glory of God in us can be seen and known, and I believe that that path is best begun with coming to terms with the doctrine of original goodness. You are good, how many times might you have been told that? Recently the BBC, has produced a number of documentaries from people like Olly Alexander, who explored the shame of Growing Up Gay, and also Tan France from Queer Eye, who talked about bleaching his skin as a young man in an attempt to fit in, shame is powerful.
Nobody is sinful because of their sexuality, disability ( in whose eyes) gender, or race, nobody is superior for any of those reasons either. All are fearfully and wonderfully made and originally good. It took me years to get there, I was too tall, to fat, never fitting in, too loud and to quiet, I was asked when my third child was born with a heart condition to look into my sins to see what had caused God to allow this- seriously I was asked that, I have always gone with the sensible answer, which is genetics. It was that child whose condition drove me to prayer, and in and for whom I have seen prayer answered over and over again. He is married now and training to become a Local Preacher!
Jesus always included the outcast, the trajectory of the whole of the Gospel is inclusion, inclusion and revealing the deep love of God, we are not always good at that, but it is where we should seek to start, at the very beginning all was good!