A Piece of Fruit and a Serpent: A Different Perspective

by Tony Minear

“I want a drink of that.”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“Because it’s hot and you might burn your tongue.”
“Please.”
“I said, ‘No’.”
“Why?”

“Look at all these fruit trees. Yummy.”
“They are, aren’t they. You can eat from any tree you want except one, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
“Why not?”
“Because on the day you eat of it, you will die.”
“Why?”
“Because I said so.”
“But why?”

In the Genesis 3 story God gives a simple command to Adam and Eve. It is much like one given to a three-year-old. You don’t need to think about it. It isn’t an ethical quandary of right and wrong or good and evil. You need to simply obey.

When the curtain opens on Genesis 3, we recognize three characters from the previous scene (Genesis 2): God, Adam, and Eve. In this scene, a new character appears, a serpent. The narrator does not provide much insight into this creature. This particular serpent is the most “subtle” creature God created. It possesses a special form of wisdom. The narrator’s silence allows us to assume that this serpent, like the rest of God’s creatures, is “very good.” Despite the stinginess of our narrator, the information we are provided is enough for us to hear the coming dialogue between the serpent and Eve.

The serpent begins by intimating to Eve that God is holding back some valuable insight and capabilities from her and Adam. The forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil will not kill them. In fact, it will make them like God in that they will have the ability to discern good from evil. They will become wise. Impressed with the serpent’s grand wisdom along with the lure of the fruit, Eve decides to take a bite. The serpent is right. It tastes exquisite and she does not die. For the first time her eyes are opened and she can perceive evil.

When God discovers what has happened, God is displeased. Until this moment Adam and Eve could perceive only good. For them there was no evil. Only God knew of it. When they disobeyed God’s simple command, they acquired the ability to know evil along with good. Now they could make a choice between the two. However, because God does not believe it wise that these two live forever with this new skill set, God removes them from the garden and sets up security to protect the Tree of Life from any poachers.

Adam and Eve find themselves outside their utopian garden of Eden and along with their new ability, they each carry a curse, his and hers. As they journey through life they will face choices between good and evil. As we watch their lives unfold, we discover they don’t always make the right decision. Okay, they usually don’t get it right. Every choice, however, right or wrong, is an opportunity for them to grow and learn. They will continue to evolve.

This understanding of Genesis is probably new to the majority of Christians and many may find it objectionable. The popular reading is that Adam and Eve’s disobedience led to their “fall.” They along with all future generations are sinful. The results of this are devastating. We are born with a sinful nature and are unable to live without sinning. No matter how many times we make good choices, we will eventually choose evil.

This other way of reading implies a “rising up” of humankind rather than a falling when we disobey God. Adam and Eve were created spiritually immature, much like a three-year-old. All they are asked to do is obey a simple command. With their disobedience, they take the first step on a journey that will last a lifetime. This is a journey of spiritual maturation. With each choice, they will grow and evolve. As their descendants, we too are given opportunities to spiritually evolve and mature.

The next time you hear or read the story, I imagine you might recall this alternative reading. If you do, you will either ignore it or perhaps consider its merits. No matter your choice, please understand, how you read this story has implications on how you will view yourself, others, and especially God. I choose to read the story as one of a “rising up.” It works well with my understanding of Jesus. Jesus through his actions and words modeled for us how to make wise choices between good and evil. I, like Adam and Eve, make wrong decisions. I learn from them and take another step forward. Life is a journey of becoming the person God ordained me to be.

All Pointed in the Same Direction: Body Acceptance, Grace, Nonviolence, and Our Whole Lives

by Karen Richter

Advent is short this year, y’all. Because Christmas Eve morning is the fourth Sunday in Advent, the season is 6 days shorter than usual! It’s a great time to do something pondering on the incarnation. I like the incarnation as a metaphor to help us have a healthier understanding of sexuality.

I’ve heard lots of people talk about incarnation as a one-time, limited engagement kind of thing – that it’s just about Jesus. I’ve heard lots of people use the incarnation as an exclusionary doctrine to clobber people who believe differently. And I’m not interested in that at all.

I want to make a case for keeping the incarnation… not in a literal “special Jesus” way but in a life-giving metaphorical way.

The shame around sexuality and BODIES in our culture is the best reason to keep the theology of incarnation! The Word became flesh and lived among us for a time (John 1.14)! Full of grace and truth :: when Jesus was fully human he was full of grace and truth. WE ARE TOO. We are full of grace and truth! Who is full of grace and truth? You are, friend!

We know this. This is not new to us… except sometimes this is new to us.

Living it out  – living INCARNATIONALLY – means having a different relationship with our bodies than we are accustomed to. Living it out means treating ourselves and everyone around us in ways that our culture thinks is downright odd.

Living INCARNATIONALLY means “have you lost weight?” is not a compliment. Yeah, you heard me.

Living INCARNATIONALLY means that “I hate my thighs” goes against my faith.

Living INCARNATIONALLY means shoving your 5 year old forward with instructions to “Go kiss Auntie Jean” tears down that child’s body autonomy.

Living INCARNATIONALLY means that a school dress code that shames young women and holds them responsible for the learning environment is offensive and just plain wrong. “What was she wearing?” is always the wrong question… whether the setting is a darkened alley or a college party or a public school classroom.

On the positive side, Living INCARNATIONALLY means that when we show up for one another in embodied ways… with hugs or casseroles, on yoga mats or in the dugout, with fist bumps or shared tears, with birthgiving and diapering and nurturing, and yes, with sexual intimacy…  holy space is created.

Living incarnationally means that when we say God loves everybody… we MUST mean that God loves Every. Body. including our own… or we are liars. I like to say it like this: “God loves Every PERIOD! Body PERIOD!”

OWL - Our Whole LivesSo… The United Church of Christ and the Southwest Conference support Our Whole Lives. We do this for wonderfully practical reasons: because we value our young people, we want them whole and healthy. We want them to experience sexuality as part of God’s good gifts of embodiment and creation. And OWL does a great job at teaching sexual decision-making, values, safer sexual behaviors, and consent. In so many congregations, there are these awesome trained facilitators… they live this out, showing up for our students. At Our Whole Lives here at Shadow Rock, we eat together, we ask questions… we do many ridiculous role plays… It’s so fantastic.

BUT HERE TODAY, I WANT TO TAKE IT FURTHER. I want to move Our Whole Lives, and bodies, and incarnation, and sexuality to the heart of my own faith.

We believe that each human person is unique and unrepeatable. So in the OWL classroom and beyond, we foster a culture of consent… moving through the world in such a way that each person’s individuality is honored.

When consent become part of our basic operating system – when consent is entrenched as part of our core value of JUSTICE – when anything other than consent is anathema to us… we begin to move through the world in a non-harming way.

Consent and body autonomy are part of nonviolence for me. Nonviolence is not just nice (‘nice’ being a pretty low bar) – nonviolence is even beyond kindness (although kindness gets us closer). It’s a way of being – a kind of showing up – that’s marked by life-giving interactions with other earthlings.

Life-giving interactions with other earthlings. I have SO MUCH WORK TO DO on this. My way of showing up is way too often characterized by materialism and greed and arrogance.

But continuing to lead Our Whole Lives, even when the students are a little squirrelly… this helps.

Remembering that at my best, I too am full of grace and truth – this helps.

Being here, with you all in the Southwest Conference, being part of a group of OWL facilitators and trainers that embodies the Our Whole Lives values of Self-Worth, Sexual Health, Responsibility and Justice & Inclusivity… this helps.

Knowing in my heart in my bones that God loves me – that I am part of Every. Body. … this helps.

Our Whole Lives

So in this season of Advent, I invite you to be gentle, to remember how this idea of incarnation  – of the Word becoming flesh – makes us all siblings together, God’s children, full of grace and truth. Amen!