Watershed Formation Studies

Chapter 1 - Creation

As we begin the story, we find God’s people gathered around the evening campfire, disoriented and feeling impotent rage. They are in exile in Babylon, shaking their fists at God, wondering when their suffering will be vindicated and their kingdom restored.

An old man (the narrator of the story), realizes his people have forgotten their story amid their suffering, and asks them to listen to their story. But the people are angry. They want answers, not stories! The old man understands their rage but begins anyway, reminding them that their story did not begin with exile or with the Babylonians who put them there. Their story began in Eden.

The story reminds them of who they are - that they were made in the image of God, partners in the work of God’s creation. The Babylonian gods fought and created humans to be their slaves, but these people were made to be God’s friends. Their’s is a God of order, not chaos; a God who creates a place for a people where all life can flourish. It’s hard to believe now that life is difficult as exiles in a foreign land, but God is still their friend.

“Remember, remember, remember,” the old man tells his community around the fire. “Tell each other the Story, and keep telling it. God can be trusted. God will provide for us now just as in the beginning…even here.”

Questions for Discussion

1) What modern stories could be explanations of origin?
2) Why does God speak of his image as a plural?
3) How vocation, permission and prohibition factor in your life?
4) What comforted, disturbed or intrigued you about this story?
5) Describe a situation of exile, either personal or cultural.

Modern Stories

What modern stories offer themselves as explanations of origin and/or foundation? How are they different from the Genesis narrative? Depict one of their gods.

Paul Patterson: There are several counter-narratives to the Genesis Creation Story: Scientific-Materialism, Humanism, Capitalism, Socialism, New Age philosophy, Nationalism and Hedonism. This list functions as a modern Pantheon tempting me away from my own orienting narrative. If there are denominations within these counter-narratives then I have been most attracted to Humanism with a psycho-therapeutic twist of a Jungian variety. Philosophically this would land me somewhere in the Idealist camp along with Hegel and the Romantics.

Living this narrative has had some benefits such as a keen desire for depth analysis. Positively it has saved me from an utterly superficial life, an unexamined one as Plato would put it. Educationally it has expanded my love of stories and mythologies. Unfortunately, it has led me to the misconception that analysis is a cure in and of itself. Such a counter-narrative led to a self-preoccupation that is narcissistic and subjectively self-sufficient to the point of worshiping the so-called Higher Self of Perennial thought. This counter-narrative lacks the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22,23)

A restoration of the Genesis narrative has lead me to an appreciation of my creatureliness, a realization of my hubris, gratitude for God’s provisional blessings and kind prohibitions that save me from myself. Partnering with God I am free to enter my vocation “for and with” others. I lose very little in exchanging my Humanist narrative since the Genesis story includes its profound depth and expansiveness but it adds to that a normatively unknown in relativism and radical subjectivity.

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Plural Images

Why does God speak of his image as a plural? Does Gladding’s communal interpretation offer a satisfactory solution?

Paul Patterson: There are several possible interpretations to this creational consortium called “us” that confuses the young girl in our story. One is that “us" is the heavenly council of beings sometimes called the elohim. This interpretation suggests a reworking of the Ancient Near Eastern myths of a group of gods who created the world. Then there is the royal “us” that Gladding mentions which to me seems like reading Shakespeare back into the text. Of course, there is a curious Trinitarian possibility lurking in the re-storying minds of some orthodox Christians. Regardless, there is something true about God as a plurality of sorts that bolsters some of these speculations.

What is most interesting to me is Gladding’s idea of the importance of communality. God is not a lonely monad; God’s nature is for fellowship so it makes sense that we acknowledge that in our foundational story. In order to avoid goddess worship the ancient Israelites didn’t supply their deity with a consort, well at least for the most part. There is a Wisdom theophany which Proverbs suggests was with God at creation ‘playing’ with the primordial materials. No matter how we spin this part of the tale such an “us” invites the suggestion that God loves and is defined by fellowship. Since we are made in God’s image we are made for fellowship as well as the episode of ish and ish’ah eloquently tells. We need counterparts and we need complementarity and we are inter-dependent. In short, we need each other.

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Vocation, Permission, Prohibition

Describe how vocation, permission and prohibition factor in your life?

Paul Patterson: In the Creation narrative ha-adam was given a vocation — that of a gardener-in-partnership. He was permitted to make genuine choices. While dependent upon God for his life, Adam was not coerced but given true responsibility for his choices. Those choices had definite constraints which could be ignored only to his peril.

I have been given a vocation. I was given the task of tending an alternative Christian community in partnership with God. God was so generous! God allowed me tons of leeway and creativity in the way I attempted to facilitate community. It was as if along with Adam I was told "…of all the fruit of the land you may eat!" (notice the assumed vegetarianism). In other words the materials are available, the resources are abundant and the combinations possible are staggering! I guess I felt pretty much free within limits to combine what was available theologically, culturally and spiritually to do my job.

But God set a prohibition before me as well. The fence was as far as I could gather to form this community Christo-centrically around the person and revelation of God-in-Christ. When I obeyed this one constraint, I thrived and so too did the community. But when I ignored Jesus as an organizing centre of what we were to do, grief followed.

When I ate from the tree of empire or culturally conditioned values or from the tree of my own self-interest, the fruit of the garden turned to rot. The produce was the fruit of selfishness, individuality, argumentativeness, factionalism, judgmentalism, and superiority. Fortunately God is infinitely patient and has allowed me to, through repentance, to re-embrace the centrality of Christ to move back to at least the border of East of Eden where hope is be glimpsed and vocation re-established, more than less.

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New Container

What insight from this story comforted, disturbed or intrigued you most?

Paul Patterson: What has struck me most is that while in exile, God provides a gracious container rooted in a creational covenant with humanity and nature, interpreted by his revelation in Christ, and is firmly committed to building fellowship and overcoming personal and corporate idolatry. It is a new way of being in a very dislocated situation east of Eden and on the outskirts of Babylon.

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Personal Exile

Describe a situation of exile, either personal or cultural, that inclines you toward feeling as the young songster in this story felt. What could be the foreign land we find ourselves in and how did we get there?

Paul Patterson: I feel exiled from Christian community both within and outside of Watershed. Being at peace and unity with the Body of Christ, living in harmony, trust, and solidarity is something I have yearned for and have frequently felt out of step with. There are always schisms, misunderstanding and splits in the Body that, in my mind, put into question the power and presence of God’s Holy Spirit. I have participated in this exile through my own personal sinfulness and idiosyncratic personality. I have cultured an intensity and focus that has alienated others. I have also been perfectionistic in my hopes for the Body and unwilling to let go of my idealism and what I have come to believe is the New Testament paradigm for our life together. On the other hand, my alienation stems ironically from a spiritual gift of prophecy or mentorship that compels me to share analytical perceptions that are sometimes not welcome. My sinfulness and my giftedness seem to conspire against a sense of peace

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