Often when we talk about what makes us human, we talk about how we are different from other animals. We mention upright posture, language, culture, self-transcendence, and so on. Our concern seems to be articulating and establishing our distance from animals. Theologically speaking, what makes us human, what makes us distinct, is our responsibility for creation as bearers of God’s image and not whatever way we might be different than other animals.
It is interesting that when God uses images and metaphors to describe God’s own self, God and the biblical writers don’t have any problem comparing God to various animals.
I used to be someone who went to worship to “fill up” spiritually for the week ahead. I wanted to have something to carry with me; wisdom from the sermon, a particular hymn, a prayer, something to guide me. My focus, sadly, was on myself—what I got out of worship. I worshiped to receive.
I always knew that people of faith were supposed to have devotional time. When I joined the church, I sort of expected someone to tell me the “official” Christian devotional method. But no one did. It wasn’t covered in the new members’ class. And that was for me somewhat unsettling. I knew I should be doing something, but I couldn’t figure out what that something was. I felt adrift, unsure of what I should be doing and a little worried I might be doing it wrong.
On my way home from the grocery story last night, I listened to a woman reading her poetry. (Yes, it was public radio.) The poetry was lovely, but I could only listen for a little bit because the woman was reading in Poetry Voice.
I looked at the front of my house and saw some peeling paint. I looked again and saw more peeling paint. This did not make me happy. Just four years ago I painted the house. I know that proper preparation is critical for painting success. I spent days, no, more like weeks, on prep. I power washed. I hand scraped the entire house. Up and down the ladder. I scraped most of the south side of the house down to bare wood. Then I bought good paint, expensive paint. Paint that was supposed to last 25 years. I didn’t really expect 25 years but I was expecting more than four.
So last week I washed the front of my house and started removing the peeling paint.
Recently I had the opportunity to talk about Christian call and vocation with an adult education class. Normally I have this conversation with 17-21 year old people, but last weekend the crowd was a bit older, closer to retirement age. I asked them to think about what society had told them about vocation, what the church had told them and what their experience of vocation had been.
The interesting thing this group said was that often vocation only became clear in retrospect.
When I first became a veterinarian, image mattered a lot. I was young and female in a profession that valued experience and was overwhelmingly male. I quickly learned to use everything I could to look like “the doctor” was supposed to look: business professional clothing, white coat, stethoscope, name tag labeled “Doctor Janisch.”
Solvitur Ambulando, “it is solved by walking.” I first encountered this phrase in Thomas Long’s book What Shall We Say: Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith. (I recommend this book to everyone who asks and even to those who don’t ask; it is that good.)
In my work, I get to have conversations with college students about vocation and calling. One of the things I suggest to them is that all Christians have the same calling and vocation—to love God and to love our neighbor. We talk quite a bit about how small actions matter. God can use small actions for good. And we may not know what the effects of our action were.
One of the oddest bits of Genesis is this from chapter 6:
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
What on earth—or heaven for that matter—is this all about?
Who or what is the book of Job about? Many of us would say the book is the story of Job and about the problem of suffering. When in the past I read Job as the Bible’s discussion of why bad things happen to good people, I found it a frustrating book. While the question of suffering is discussed for chapter after chapter, the question of why people suffer isn’t ever answered--even when God shows up and speaks to Job. God doesn’t answer Job’s and my question.