Sunday, July 15, 2012

Creating Diversity, by Chris

Let me ask you something. What do a corpse flower, a blob fish and a star nosed mole have in common? Well to answer that question we have to go back. Way back. Way way way way back to the beginning. To creation.
         In the beginning it says the earth was dark and formless, like the middle of the ocean on a pitch black night. And God moved along the waters and saw that it was very...dull.  A Dark formless void is not the most exciting place around. Why? Because it is all the same. So God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. Now suddenly the elements had doubled. There was light and darkness. Twice as much as before. The first dichotomy of the universe.
It is interesting that this story begins with the creation of light. Do you remember the story I told last year about Jenny the Jellyfish. Jellyfish were the first creatures to develop a sense of sight, and they did that by being able to distinguish light from dark. It is the first, but the most primitive way to see the world. Light and Dark.
         And there was morning and there was evening, the first day.
         On the second day, God was surveying the waters. God could see them better now with all the light. Lots of waters. Miles and miles of water. It was calm and peaceful. Never moving. Never going anywhere. And God saw that it was...dull. Lifeless. This calm body of water was fine for a while (like a day maybe) but then God came to realize that it just sat there. Boring. So God separated the waters. God took the waters and created a dome that rose above the oceans below. And God called this dome, sky.
         Now the Bible stops there, but we, with the benefit of science and history, can read a bit deeper into the story. What God really created on the second day By separating the water, God created what we now call an atmosphere. By making water vapor God created the clouds that move across the sky. With the atmosphere there could now be wind to blow across the water. Wind, which we use as one of the symbols of Spirit. By moving the water into the sky, God also created rain which we use to symbolize cleansing, renewal, and life-giving nourishment. And let’s not forget fog. If you are an East Bay or San Francisco resident, fog is a constant companion this time of year.
         Water separated. Weather created. And there was morning, and there was evening, the second day.
         So on the third day, you would think that God would be happy with everything. God made tons of different kinds of water. But God looked at the clouds in the sky, the sea swirling below and God thought, “It’s all just water. Sometimes its light, sometimes is dark, but it is always just water. It is so insubstantial. I need another element.”
         So, the Bible says, God gathered all of the water into one place and made land appear. A whole new element was created. Earth. Rock. Formed. Solid. Not like formless water. This was something new. Something different. It is interesting to note that the water was gathered and the land arose not to replace the water, but to compliment it. And what a compliment it was. God did not create just one kind of landscape. Oh no. There was much diversity. Giant rising mountains with deep dank caves growing inside them. Large rolling hills, flat sweeping plains, massive erupting volcanoes, and far reaching deserts.
         And God looked upon this land and decided it needed a little decoration. Something to, you know, spruce up the place. So God created “plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it.” And sure this included oak trees and apple trees and grape vines and the lovely green grass in your yard. But it also included the corpse flower. “What is a corpse flower?” you ask. “Known by its scientific name, Rafflesia arnoldii, this parasitic plant has no visible leaves, stems, or roots. But it does boast the world's largest single bloom that can grow over three feet across and has a hole in the center that holds six or seven quarts of water. It gets its name from its smell which reeks of, you guessed it, rotting meat. But it is this smell which attracts insects that it relies on to pollinate. Gardeners, you may want to consider this next season. Just one of several amazing diverse plants.
         If the corpse plant does not do it for you (I personally find it fascinating) then just think of all of the different kinds of fruit that you can taste at the supermarket. Think of all of the color of flowers to see. Do you know that there are over 100 species of roses alone? Truly God was getting this diversity thing down. What stated as nothingness has now erupted into color. Land. Vegetation. Diversity had sprung. And there was morning and there was evening the third day.
         Fourth Day. God looked away from the little blue dome for a second and into the universe. Probably because all of those plants needed some time to grow. God looked into space and decided that it needed some energy. And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. 
         There are two interesting things at work here. One is that God created something to nurture life on Earth. The sun it says rules the day, while the moon rules the night. They are reminders that God is taking care of us.
         Secondly, God effectively creates a way to mark time. Debates about creation versus evolution aside, it is amazing how much value this story gives to the creation of time. A whole day. The sun and the moon are signs to mark the seasons, signs to mark the days and the years. These are the first measurements, the first markers of order in the universe. Another way that God takes care of us, but giving us order.
         And there was morning and there was evening on the fourth day.
         So fifth day we are back on earth. God saw that the earth was teeming with life. Vegetation and fruits of all kinds. But then God took a look at the waters, and saw that they had been neglected while all of this gardening was happening. The land was beautifully decorated. By contrast the waters both on the bottom and in the sky looked so empty and boring. So God filled them. God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’         
Now God was on a diversity kick. After creating all of the strange, colorful and interesting plants, God turned that same kind of attention onto the birds and fish. There are 10,000 different species of birds. 10,000! Any bird watchers here? Have you made it to 10,000 yet?
And there are fish of all kinds. Weird stuff too. If you do not believe me, just go home and do a Google image search for weird fish. If you do you might come across this guy, the blobfish. The blobfish are found off the coasts of Australia and Tasmania. They live in deep ocean and are rarely seen. To move, the blobfish spreads out its blob-like body and floats right above the see floor. It needs neither oxygen nor muscle power to move. It eats whatever floats into its mouth. It survives because it has no known predators. I mean, would you want to eat this?
So the blobfish, the 10,000 species of birds, and the rest are all part of the wonderful creation that was morning and evening on the fifth day.
On the sixth day, God must have gotten up early. I imagine that God was up all night trying to think of all of the ways that the great success with the air and ocean could be applied to land. God probably looked at all of the vegetation and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was something or someone here to enjoy all of this?” So God got to work. God created animals to appreciate the tallest trees. Here is a giraffe. Now many think of a giraffe as a majestic animal. Personally I think it is a bit goofy looking. But God made the giraffe to appreciate the tall trees.
However, God also made the star nosed mole. Whereas the giraffe explores the high vegetation, the star nosed mole prefers the land underground. Now you can see how it gets its name. But this odd looking feature is extremely important in this creature’s underground habitat. In addition to keeping dirt out of its nose, the mole’s 22 tentacles are extremely sensitive to touch and to electrical impulses and allow the moles to find their invertebrate prey without using sight. So after six days of creation God makes something to live in and appreciate the darkness in the whole thing started. Fascinating.
But after the mole and the giraffe and all of the other land creature were made, God was still not done. Though God had made everything in the world, there was nothing that could truly appreciate creation and its scope the way that God does. So God decided to create humans. God created them in God’s image. Now many people think that this means that God looks like us. Others think that it means that humans have a soul like God separating them from the other creatures. But you want to know what I think? I think that it means that we are blessed with the ability to create. Now many animals can create things; this is true. Just look at a spider’s web or a birds nest and you can see evidence of this. But humans are the only creature with the kind of tremendous foresight it takes to create murals, gardens or architecture. We are the only ones that can think ahead to make something that will be used and seen for generations to come. And it is with this ability to create that we can appreciate creation. God gave us the blessing of being able to look at this planet and be awestruck by its diversity. We can look on it and see that it is good, the same way God saw that it was good.
And there was evening and there was morning the sixth day.
So how do we take this charge that is given to us by our creator? How do we learn to appreciate diversity? Diversity in our world? Diversity in each other? It reminds me of a joke. A violinist gets into a cab in New York City and asks the cab driver, “Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?” The cabbie responds, “Practice practice practice.” And that is what we have to do. To fully appreciate others we have to practice.
So what keeps us from practicing? For some it might be fear. Fear of difference can be a very powerful force. Just ask anyone who fought for civil right in the 60’s, or any Muslim American in the wake of 9/11 or anyone who identifies as gay, or transgendered, or any other sexual minority that has faced persecution because of who they are. Fear of what is different is only one step away from ridding the world of difference. But that is the opposite of what we have learned in this beautiful creation story. We are not creatures of destruction. We are creatures of creation. We are not products of limited diversity. We are products of flourishing diversity. It is time to start living like it.
Our outreach challenge this week is to have a conversation with someone who comes from a different culture than you, or has a different way of life than you live.  I invite you to open your minds up to meeting new people, seeing things in a different way, and being changed. I invite you this week to appreciate this diversity in others the way that God appreciates the diversity in all of creation.
I started this sermon with a question. What do a corpse flower, a blobfish, and a star nosed mole have in common? The answer is that they are all part of a diverse and wonderful creation. As am I. As are you.
And the people said...Amen