Choosing to Leave the Garden – Weekly Bible Study for Genesis 3

Genesis 3, as most of Genesis 1-11, are etiological stories. Such stories seek to explain the origin of something in mythological or literary terms. William Blake’s poem, The Tyger, composed in 1794 is an example of an etiological story:

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Blake offers a poetic reflection on the origin and nature of a tiger. Etiological stories do not provide a scientific explanation of something; they provide an imaginative explanation. The story of the first humans, the two trees, and Eden offer an explanation of why life is difficult and why things are the way they are. So Genesis 3 would explain why childbirth is painful, why the physical labor of farming is difficult, and why humans and serpents are at odds with one another.

Miguel A. De La Torre describes the story this way, “The opening of the eyes of humans by eating the fruit of the tree may lead to expulsion; but in a way it also is what defines our humanity, our independence, our free will” (Genesis. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2011, 69). The story recognizes that sometimes. Human curiosity and inquiry has led to great discovery and great failure on our part. We learn from those experiences and adapt. The serpent within the story serves as a trickster that provides tension that moves the story forward to a critical moment.

While the story recognizes our independence and our free will, it also acknowledges that our nature leads us sometimes to desire to be like God, or even imagine that we are God. The story says the penalty for eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is death. But no one dies in the story, so the story is not a reflection on death so much as it is a reflection on troubled, anxiety-ridden life. I think it also begs the question, where would we be today if Adam and Eve had not eaten from this tree? Without this action, the story cannot continue because it cannot move forward.

Reflection Questions
1.  How do you make sense of the two trees? Why would eating from both be a problem?
2.  How does our curiosity lead to a knowledge of good and evil?
3,  How do our choices help us live more or less faithfully with God?

I Love to Tell the Story

But what story do we love to tell and what reality does our story tell?

Preacher and seminary president, David Lose suggests “that we live in an era when multiple stories, worldviews, traditions, convictions, and versions of reality now circulate, and even compete, with each other largely because of the advent of digital communication” ( He uses the term, “digital pluralism,” when referring to this new context in which we live. I think Lose is onto something in describing the challenges of the world we live in. Absolutely, we live in a time when “multiple stories, worldviews, traditions, convictions, and versions of reality” bump up against each other with greater frequency and certainly our technology contributes to this reality.

I think though that bumping up against each other has always been a part of the human experience. So there have always been the question “Which story will we tell?” and some related ones too:

What’s the nature of the God we follow?
What’s our relationship with God?
What does God ask of us?
How does our relationship with God shape our relationship with others?

These are some of the questions with which the stories of scripture wrestle and that continue to be before us. As we explore our favorite stories from the Old Testament, we’ll take up these questions and some others as we start our new sermon series next Sunday.

I Love to Tell the Story

My first memories of bible stories come from the night time rituals of my childhood. My brothers and I prepared to go to bed (my sisters, Kelly and Lori, weren’t around yet) and one of my parents would read a story from our children’s bible – Noah, David and Goliath, Jonah, Joseph, Ruth, and Jesus feeding the 5,000 among others. My knowledge of these stories continued to expand in VBS, Sunday school, and then in my formal education. I love these stories. I discovered though as I learned these stories in more of their depth and fullness that they are richer and more meaningful than I first discovered as my parents read them to me when I was a child – as we should expect.

As I think about these stories, I wonder what your favorite stories are from scripture? Specifically I’m wondering about your favorite stories from the Old Testament?

Our fall sermon series is entitled “I Love to Tell the Story” and will focus on our favorite stories from the Old Testament. I invite you to share with me your favorite bible story from the Old Testament and why it is a favorite. You can share that by completing this online survey or by responding via Facebook, email, and always a written note. I look forward to hearing from you.

Continuing Our Circles Conversation

I want to say thank you again to everyone who attended Scott Miller’s introductory presentation about Circles on July 16. We had great support and turnout by our folks here at First Christian Church. We had a good response from the wider community to our follow up meeting yesterday.

As we have discussed in the Justice Ministry Team preparations for presenting the Circles model to the Topeka community, our role is not to take on this project solo. We see Circles as a way to make a difference that leads to the transformation of peoples lives and our community that better reflects how God intends us to live – with enough resources to thrive as individuals and families and not in poverty. Our goal is to generate multiple individual and organizational partners who can take a variety of roles as Circles begins in Topeka.

There are still lots of questions to be answered and challenges that lie ahead for us as we move this project forward in the community. As we stand in the shadows of Scott’s presentation 2 weeks ago, we have talked about some of these questions with several folks from the congregation. The suggestion emerged in these conversations that we have a follow up meeting for the congregation to talk further about Circles and how the model works, the necessities of the program, and how we as a congregation can be involved in the project. We invite you to join in this conversation on Monday, August 10, at 6:30 p.m. We’ll meet in the sanctuary to take advantage of our audio/visual capabilities in that space. I hope you’ll join us for this continuing conversation about how we can witness to God’s call to practice mercy and do justice!

Weekly Reader of the Week of July 5

Lots of things pulling in lots of directions – not as much read this week

On Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

Why Are Black Church Fires Associated with Acts of Hate?

Testimony: Is There Something of God Here?

A Global Middle Class Is More Promise than Reality

The Changing Face of Online Religion

Becoming the Media: Darkwood Brew at Countryside Community Church

Weekly Reader for June 23

Here’s a selection of my reading for the past week.

Reflection and Commentary on the Mass Shooting at Emanuel AME Church, Charleston

As Nation Mourns Racist Murders, Flag of Hate Still Flies Over South Carolina 

Shooters of Color Are Called ‘Terrorists’ and ‘Thugs.’ Why Are White Shooters Called ‘Mentally Ill’?

Nikki Haley To Call For Confederate Flag To Be Removed From South Carolina Capitol: Reports

South Carolina Lutheran Pastor: Dylann Roof Was Church Member, His Family Prays For Victims

Faith and the Confederate Flag

Taking Down the Confederate Flag Won’t Solve Racism

Stewardship & Generosity

The Essential Guide to Growing Your Online Support for Nonprofits

The Future of Fundraising

Buildings for a New Tomorrow

Reflection on Ministry from Christian Century (Read all of these essays if you have the time)


Pastoral Leadership

The Failure-Tolerant Leader

On Our Way: Sabbath Keeping

The summer solstice is nearly upon us and with it the official start of summer. Summer probably began in your mind as well as mine with the end of the academic school year. With the storms and rain, this summer feels quite different from the past few.

In the swing of summer our schedules change somewhat. Sunday school shifts its pattern for the children and youth, small groups are taking a break for several weeks, kids are off to camp, families are preparing for kids to go off to the start of college and trade schools. Other families have children home for summer break. For many of us, vacation planning is underway, and even happening already, and we are looking forward to a time of rest, relaxation, and renewal. We often hang a lot on these vacations. Into them, we try to squeeze as much play and relaxation as possible to the point that the vacation can become exhausting. I’ve finished a vacation on occasion and thought that I needed a vacation from vacation. Have you ever felt that way after your vacation?

Kids Playing in Fountain, Lake Charles, LA

Kids Playing in Fountain, Lake Charles, LA

When I feel that way, and perhaps when you do as well, the play of vacation becomes something else that I must work at accomplishing. What’s missing in the midst of such times is any sense of rest and renewal. Another way to put it is to say that such times lack any sense of Sabbath.

Sabbath should not only be a part of vacation but is something that we need regularly for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The discipline of Sabbath keeping helps us maintain the necessary balance between work and rest. Our society skews this balance with its demands for action and accomplishment. The result of such demands is exhaustion and burnout. Sabbath restores balance to our lives and enables us to “remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity” (Muller, Sabbath, 6).

So as you think about the summer time and rest and renewal, I invite you to consider how you will keep Sabbath. Perhaps this exercise from Wayne Muller’s book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, can aid you in this process. Muller writes, “Sabbath can only begin if we close the factory, turn out the lights, turn off the computer, and withdraw from the concerns of the marketplace. Choose at least one heavily used appliance or device – the telephone, [cell phone], television, computer, washer and dryer – and let them rest for a Sabbath period. Whether it is a morning, afternoon, or entire day, surrender to a quality of time when you will not be disturbed, seduced, or responsive to what our technologies offer. Notice how you respond to its absence” (Muller, Sabbath, 6)

This practice may be difficult for you. It is for me I can tell you. But our decision to do it will create the space, time, and energy for us to experience a time of Sabbath – a time of renewal and rest. Please do not use the space, time, or energy to do some other task such as run errands, take care of the household repairs you’ve been too busy to take care of, or take on another job. Instead, use the space, time, and energy to be silent and listen for God, take a Sabbath walk, read a book, be with loved ones and friends, or simply play. Engage in purposeless enjoyment and harvest some of the sweetest fruit of life.

Such Sabbath keeping helps deepen our relationship with God and with one another as God’s people.

Weekly Reader for June 8

Do you remember the Weekly Reader in elementary school.  I loved those little mini-overviews of a variety of current events and other interesting stories.  That’s the inspiration for the title of this post.  What else is behind this new weekly post?  Here at First Christian Church, Topeka, the elders and clergy staff meet weekly for study, prayer, and conversation.  Well, we meet weekly except in June and July.  So since we are not meeting for the next several weeks and we don’t have a chance to talk about articles and other subjects before us, they asked if I would send them a weekly list or sample of what I’m reading.  Here’s my first offering to them and anyone else who might be interested:

Jason Jones’ Blog (an new post and an older one)

When You’re On a Journey, You Should Go to Church


Dorothy Bass and Craig Dykstra on Christian Practices (this one is a pdf)

Christian Practices and Congregational Education in Faith

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

The Hiding Place Is Also the Revelation Place of God


Congregations align with public institutions to serve the common good

Forming laity, for life and ministry

Pew Research Center – Lots of folks reading here with recent release of data on religious trends in the United States

America’s Changing Religious Landscape

The Non-Profit Times

High Net-Worth Donors Want To ‘Giving Back’


On Our Way: The Gift of Hospitality

We have a whole industry called “The Hospitality Industry.”  I did a quick internet search and quickly got a list of job openings for restaurants, bars, hotels, and resorts.  While I value great customer service in all of these settings, the practice of hospitality that we’re exploring as a Christian practice and Bread&Grapes Smallin the stories of scripture is something different than great customer service.

When is a time you have personally experienced profound hospitality?  Answering this question, I think, begins to help us understand the difference between biblical hospitality and our modern “hospitality industry.”  Some other ways to help us make sense of the difference include these questions, “When were you in need of support and comfort and received it?”  “When were you lost and someone helped you find your way?”  Although hospitality is not always mentioned by name, it was part of the very fabric of the Hebrew and Christian peoples.  It involves welcome, protection, feeding, slaking thirst, and providing space for rest.  I don’t remember where I found this definition but it makes a lot of sense to me: Hospitality is the attitude and practice of providing the atmosphere and opportunities, however risky, in which strangers are free to become friends, thereby feeling accepted, included, and loved. The relationship thus opens up the possibility for eventual communion.  By entertaining the stranger or sojourner, we open ourselves to the blessings of God.

It involves both a practiced act and an attitude toward others – so it involves our heads, our hearts, and our hands.  So practiced, such moments of the shared table brings together host, stranger, and God. Communion around The Welcome Table reminds us of our bonds with one another and also reminds us of the need to show hospitality to others.

Practices for Living a Whole Life

The foundation of the “On Our Way” Worship Series begins with a series of questions:

  • Am I living my life the way I intended?
  • As we participate in of the activities that make our lives incredibly busy, are the activities making a difference beyond ourselves?
  • Are we really living in right relation to other people, to the created world, and to God?
  • How does the idea of “practices” help us think about and live the Christian life?
  • How are we already engaging in Christian practices? How can we further participate in Christian practices?

Christian practices help us explore the meaning-full questions of life!  And we can’t live a meaningful life alone.  We need one another to live such a meaning-full life!  So over these next several weeks, we will explore one practice at a time. It is difficult to examine a way of life as a whole, so we will explore some practices individually in order that we have some understanding of them. The inter-connectedness of the practices will reveal itself as we continue through the series.

So what is a Christian practice?  Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass describe them this way:

  • Christian practices are things Christian people do together over time in response to and in the light of God’s active presence for the life of the world.
  • Practices address fundamental human needs and conditions through concrete human acts – hungry people need food not a sermon on hospitality.
  • Practices are done together and over time – centuries old, even if we have not always done them well.
  • Practices possess standards of excellence – the challenge is to explore the practice with enough specificity to make a difference.
  • When we see some of our ordinary activities as Christian practices, we come to perceive how our daily lives are all tangled up with the things God is doing in the world (Practicing Our Faith, 6-8).

The worship series begins this Sunday, May 31.  I look forward to joining with you in worship.