By Adam Walker Cleaveland (M.Div candidate, Princeton Seminary) and Sarah Walker Cleaveland (M. Div. Class of 2006)
An exploration of what it means to be co-creators with God. This lesson explores the scriptural images behind this concept, the theological questions raised, and the implications our own personal images of God have for our understanding of co-creation.
To examine biblical texts that provide a foundation for the concept of co-creation
To explore the theological implications of this concept
Participants should have read Stroup’s and Fretheim’s articles prior to the class
The room should ideally be arranged with chairs in a circle so people can talk to one another easily.
Copies of Stroup’s article and Fretheim’s article for each individual
Pens, pencils, crayons
• As people enter, hand them a piece of paper and ask them to draw or visually depict their image of God. This will be challenging for many individuals, but encourage them to do the best they can and be creative and as abstract as they need to be (these drawings will be used later on in the lesson plan)
• Once everyone has arrived and had a chance to work on their drawing, open with the following quote from Madeleine L’Engle:
“God created, and it was joy: time, space, matter. There is, and we are part of that is-ness, part of that becoming. That is our calling: co-creation. Every single one of us , without exception, is called to co-create with God. No one is too unimportant to have a share in the making or unmaking of the final showing-forth. Everything that we do either draws the Kingdom of love closer, or pushes it further off. That is a fearful responsibility, but when God made “man in our image, male and female,” responsibility went with it. Too often we want to let somebody else do it, the preacher, or the teacher, or the government agency. But if we are to continue to grow in God’s image, then we have to accept the responsibility.”
Setting aside people’s drawings for the moment, hand out Bibles and ask one person to read Genesis 2:5, another person Genesis 2:18-20, a third person Genesis 1:28, a fourth person 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, a fifth person Psalm 8:4-8. If your group is larger than 12 people it may be helpful to break up into groups of four or five.
Talk about the texts using these discussion questions:
• What do these texts say about humanity?
• What do these texts say about God?
• Where in these texts do you see support for the idea of co-creation? Where do you see cautions about co-creation?
Using the Fretheim article, have participants re-read the third full paragraph under “God involves the human in still further acts of creation,” which begins with the sentence, “That the human being does not simply acquiesce…” and:
Discuss the following questions:
• Where have you seen human decisions interact with divine decisions either in biblical stories or in your life?
• What are some ways in which humanity continues to participate in creation even today?
Have participants turn to Stroup’s article, the first paragraph in the section: “God’s power is not so much coercive as it is shared and reciprocal,” and
Discuss the following questions:
• How do you answer Stroup’s question, “is there no difference between the way in which God creates and the way in which humans create?”
• How do you feel about the idea of being a co-creator with God? Is that a challenging notion or an obvious one for you? In what ways?
Have participants retrieve the drawings they did at the beginning of the lesson, and:
Discuss the following questions:
• Does your image of God allow for the possibility of co-creation?
• Has your image of God been changed or shaped by the idea of co-creation?
Based on the conversations you have had, return to your image of God drawing. Are you able now to place yourself in the drawing as a co-creator? Take a few minutes to draw yourself in if you think that is appropriate.
Close with the following charge: “Deep peace of the running wave to you, deep peace of the flowing air to you, deep peace of the quiet earth to you, deep peace of the shining stars to you, deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.”
This lesson explores what community and relationality look like based on God’s act in creation. It begins to ask the practical questions of what implications God’s relationality has for daily living and the mission of the church.
To explore who God is in the act of creation
To think about the implications of God’s actions for our own
To wonder together about how the church might better embody God’s relationality
Participants should have read Saunders’ and Professor Fretheim’s articles prior to the class.
You will need to set the room up to facilitate the opening activity before the class arrives. Ideally it can then be rearranged into a circle of chairs fairly quickly.
Sheets of paper with the following instructions (feel free to modify to meet your space, material needs):
– place the Bible under the chair
– sit in the chair
– clap your hands twice
– put your hands on your head
– place the bible on the chair
– stand behind the chair
A clear jar (a jar from spaghetti sauce works well); slips of paper, pens
• Once everyone has arrived, split them into groups of no more than four-six people. Give each group its own space in the room (far apart from one another would be preferable).
• Ask for one volunteer from each group to be the “actor.” This person will need to accomplish a set of actions but will not be allowed to speak nor see (a younger, more agile person would work better since blindfolding is involved).
• Ask for a second volunteer to be the “speaker.” This person will need to verbally instruct the actor, but they won’t be able to see the actor nor will they have the instructions on what to do
• The rest of the group will be the mimes. This group will be able to see the actor and will have the directions for what the actor should do, but they will not be able to speak.
• Place the group of mimes facing the actor. Place the speaker in between the actor and the mimes, facing the mimes and position the actor near the items he or she will need and blindfold them.
• Give each group of mimes a sheet of simple instructions and tell them they need to get the actor to accomplish these instructions but they are not allowed to speak. They will need to mime what the actor should do to the speaker who will then give vocal directions to the actor. The actor cannot see and the speaker cannot turn around to see what the actor is doing. The goal is to accomplish all of the tasks on the sheets in ten minutes.
• When ten minutes is up, have everyone sit back down in a circle and discuss the following questions:
– What was challenging about that activity?
– How did it feel to be limited?
– What was it like to have to rely on other people to accomplish the task?
Fretheim argues that God creates by limiting Godself and involving creation. What scriptural passages can you find that support this argument? Can you find scriptural passages that contradict or deny this argument? Spend 10 minutes looking for passages and talking about their implications as you find them. (Some places to begin might be Genesis and Psalms–such as 8 and 104.)
Have participants re-read paragraph six in Professor Saunders’ article, and discuss the following questions:
• Saunders says that according to Fretheim, God is not a CEO nor a clockmaker, but the “prime mover.” In what ways does the image of God as “prime mover” make sense to you? What questions does it raise for you?
• Reformed theology often emphasizes the sovereignty of God. How does the notion of “divine self-limitation” challenge and/or enrich God’s sovereignty?
Have participants discuss the following questions either together in a large group or in smaller groups depending on the size of the class:
• Saunders points out that according to Fretheim’s argument, if God is neither CEO nor clockmaker then we are neither human managers nor in complete control; rather, Saunders seems to argue, we are guests invited by the host to participate. In what ways do you see humanity acting like managers or owners of creation? What might it look like for humans to think of themselves as guests invited to participate?
• In what ways has the church acted like a manager or owner of creation? What can the church do to help humanity see itself as guests and model this relationship to creation?
• What does self-limitation look like when it comes to caring for creation?
• What changes can you make in your life to make more room for creation?
• What changes could your congregation make?
Close by giving each participant a slip of paper and asking them to write down one change they can make in their own lives or help the congregation to make in order to make more room for creation. When everyone has had a chance to write something down, place all the slips in a jar to keep as a reminder of the commitments the class has made. Close with a prayer.
This lesson will focus on the current ecological crisis. It will ask people to voice their questions and concerns about the state of the environment today and will invite them to think together about how the church ought to respond.
To name disbeliefs and beliefs about the state of the environment
To imagine together what the church can do to respond to the crisis
To engage in intercessory prayer for the whole of creation
Participants should have read Clayton’s and Fretheim’s articles prior to the class.
Write the opening statements, listed below, on large pieces of newsprint and either hang them around the room or place them on tables where people can write on them and see them.
If the class (or church), as a whole or as individuals, is able to watch “An Inconvenient Truth” prior to the class, it will be a helpful starting point and resource for discussion.
copies of Clayton’s article for each member of the class
magazines (particularly ones with scenes of creation, i.e. National Geographic)
As people enter, invite them to respond to the following statements:
• I Think the World …
• I Think Al Gore …
• Global Warming Is …
• Creation Needs …
• If We Don’t Do Something Now …
• In Response to the Climate Crisis, the Church Ought To …
Once everyone has had a chance to respond to all of the statements, gather as a whole group and discuss the following:
• Are there statements where there is a large discrepancy in the responses?
• What response do you find most helpful?
• Which statement was hardest to respond to?
• What observations do you have based on what people have written or your own experience?
Ask participants to read the second half of Clayton’s article beginning with the paragraph “In this regard, I want to offer a confession and an invitation.” Once people have had a chance to read, discuss the following questions:
• What do make of Barbara Brown Taylor’s move from stewards of creation to priests, to neighbors, to kin and finally to lovers of creation?
• Which of those relational terms sits most comfortably with you?
• Which can you imagine using during worship?
• What are the benefits or hindrances of the different titles?
• Is there a title you think might be more appropriate for our relationship with creation?
• In what ways does your congregation uplift creation in its liturgy or mission?
• What are some practical things the church can do to help respond to the current ecological crisis?
• In what ways could the church be a prophet to the world on this issue?
• What are some potential dangers of involving the church in this issue?
• What problems might people have surrounding this issue in the church?
Invite the group into a time of prayer after explaining the following activity.
• Distribute magazines, scissors and tape among the participants and hang a large piece of butcher paper (or multiple pieces depending on the size of your group) on the wall and write “Prayers for Creation” across the top.
• Invite participants to cut-out appropriate pictures or text and tape them to the paper as they pray for them. Background music would help create an atmosphere of prayer.
When the paper is full (or your time has come close to running out), invite people to gather together as a group and pray aloud for those things they contributed to the paper. Close with the Lord’s Prayer.
by Marissa Myers
(M.Div. Candidate, Columbia Theological Seminary)
Creation’s house rules:
…Take only your share;
…clean up after yourself;
…and keep the house in good repair for others.
– Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Actions for Families and Individuals
The Evangelical Environmental Network’s list of suggestions
1. eat fish from sustainable fisheries
2. consider buying local, organic food to reduce agricultural runoff into streams
3. reconsider taking a cruise – cruise ships dump tons of waste directly into the open oceans, where there are no national laws prohibiting this practice.
4. Plant trees, especially near streams. Nurture and care for the trees.
5. Use fewer chemicals in your home, on your lawn.
6. Look for alternatives to pesticides
7. Use these cleaning ingredients: water, soap, white vinegar, baking soda, borax, and hydrogen peroxide.
Best and Worst Seafood
Here is a list to help you select seafood that is caught or farmed responsibly. You can find out which fish are high in contaminants. You can print the Pocket Seafood Selector to use when you shop or dine out.
Michael Brower and Warren Leon, The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists. New York : Three Rivers Press. 1999 .
This useful guidebook for responsible consumers gives a list of recommended actions for consumers:
1. Choose a place to live that reduces the need to drive.
2. Think twice before purchasing another car.
3. Choose a fuel-efficient low-polluting car.
4. Set concrete goals for reducing your travel.
5. Whenever practical, walk, bicycle, or take public transportation.
6. Eat less meat.
7. Buy certified organic produce.
8. Choose your home carefully.
9. Reduce the environmental costs of heating and hot water.
10. Install efficient lighting and appliances.
11. Choose an efficient supplier offering renewable energy.
“Green Living” from the National Resources Defense Council
Energy-saving ideas, health information, shoppers’ guides, gift-giving tips and more. They cover diapers, organic food, what fish is safe to eat, what tissue paper is environmentally preferable.
“Greening your Business” from the National Resources Defense Council
Here are practical tips on how to start making your business operations easier on the planet — and on your bottom line.
Christianity Today on global warming and the environment
Christianity Today has collected its coverage of climate change and creation care into a special section. Evangelicals have become the surprise proponents of policies promoting care for creation, including halting global warming. Though evangelicals are not of mind on the subject, stewardship of God’s creation is a Biblical principle most evangelicals agree on.
Creation Care magazine
Creation Care, the magazine of The Evanglical Environmental Network, has made its Winter 2007 issue available for download.
McFague, Sallie, “Intimate creation: God’s body, our home.” Christian Century, 119:6, March 2002, pp. 36-45.
In Christian theology, creation and providence have often been more about God and God’s power–evidence that God is in charge–than about human beings living in and caring for the neighborhood in which they have been set down. The mythic story focuses on God’s actions, and speaks to our concerns about why the world was made, who is in charge of it, why it is no longer harmonious, and how it is made “fight” again. This story does not speak to our interest in the world or how we should act toward our neighbors. Human beings are, in fact, minor players in the classic Christian story of creation and providence. What is left out of this story is creation itself, that is, “the neighborhood,” the lowly, concrete, wonderful details of physical reality. The focus is on God and God’s intentions for creation, how the divine will conceives, creates, saves and brings to fulfillment everything that is. But the “everything that is” does not get much attention. Our present planetary crisis reveals the price we have paid for not paying attention to our earth, our actual neighborhood where we live.
McFague offers a model of the God-world relationship by interpreting the story of Jesus Christ as follows: God is with us here and now on our earth, then Christians should attend to the model of the world as God’s body. The model of the world as God’s body is appropriate for our time because it encourages us to focus on the neighborhood. It understands the doctrine of creation not to be primarily about God’s power, but about God’s love. The point of this doctrine of the creation is not to elevate God while demeaning us and the world; rather, it is to focus attention on our home, our garden planet. In Genesis God not only tells Adam and Eve to care for the garden, but also how good it is. This understanding of creation asks us to find out about the neighborhood so we can take care of it.
McFague, Sallie. Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril. Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 2001.
McFague’s book is the “working theology,” of her personal, professional, and public life, the culmination of her thirty-year career in theological education and scholarship. At the heart of this theology is a hard-won, yet deeply held theological conviction that “the glory of God is every creature fully alive,” so that to give God glory, “we are called to love the world and everything in it” (p. 7). She balances a theological appreciation of nature and a prophetic concern with social-economic and ecological justice. McFague specifically addresses middle-class North American Christians, she calls for resistance to a culture of limitless consumerism and conversion to a life guided by a philosophy of “enoughness.” While a life based on limitation requires sacrifices (McFague speaks of “cruciform” living), it ultimately leads to a radically different view of the abundant life: one that is not centered on the endless acquisition of material goods but “involves re-imagining the good life in just and sustainable ways” (p. xii).
Searching the web using only Google and Yahoo yields results but one must sift through an immense variety of material: articles, reviews, books, blogs and more. This little search engine makes things much easier. Plug “environment and theology” or “how to conservation” in the search bar and you will get only articles from respected magazines and journals.
Presbyterians for Restoring Creation (PRC)
Presbyterians for Restoring Creation is a nationwide network of people of faith who care for God’s creation. PRC educates and advocates and builds community for eco-justice through its web site, a quarterly newsletter, resources, and regional and national events, PRC educates and advocates and builds community for eco-justice.
Presbyterian Conservation Corps
Presbyterian Conservation Corps is a joint mission of the PRC and the Presbyterian Conferences and Campus Association. Its Eco-Stewards Program is designed to provide youth with the skills and experience necessary to make a tangible improvement in the environment and on the lives of others in response to God’s call. Young adults participate in training experiences and will learn by completing a project such as solar water-heaters, composting toilets, or soil conservation.
Earth Covenant Ministry
Earth Covenant Ministry is a partnership among congregations of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and other faith-based organizations and individuals responding to the biblical and denominational call to renew right relationship with God’s Earth.
Episcopal Ecological network
EpEN, the grassroots network of Episcopalians from around the , is helping the Episcopal Church in the to advocate and articulate protection of the environment and preserving the sanctity of creation.
Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies
Au Sable integrates knowledge of the Creation with biblical principles for the purpose of bringing the Christian community and the general public to a better understanding of the Creator and the stewardship of God’s Creation. All of its programs and activities are structured to allow, and are conducted for, promotion of Christian environmental stewardship. This includes persistent dedication to exemplary Christian stewardship in its planning, operations, programs, and outreach.
Earth Ministry’s mission is to inspire and mobilize the Christian community to play a leadership role in building a just and sustainable future. Earth Ministry works in partnership with congregations and individuals to practically respond to this great moral challenge through education, individual and congregational lifestyle choices, and organizing for social change through environmental advocacy. Their “Greening Congregations” initiative offers practical steps for guiding congregations toward more environmentally sustainable actions.
Eco-Justice Ministries is an independent, ecumenical agency that helps churches answer the call to care for all of God’s creation, and develop ministries that are faithful, relevant and effective
in working toward social justice and environmental sustainability.
Evangelical Environmental Network
The Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) is a non-profit organization that seeks to educate, inspire, and mobilize Christians in their effort to care for God’s creation, to be faithful stewards of God’s provision, and to advocate for actions and policies that honor God and protect the environment. EEN’s work is grounded in the Bible’s teaching on the responsibility of God’s people to “tend the garden” and in a desire to be faithful to Jesus Christ and to follow Him. EEN publishes materials to equip and inspire individuals, families, and churches; and seeks to educate and mobilize people to make a difference in their churches and communities, and to speak out on national and international policies that effect our ability to preach the Gospel, protect life, and care for God’s Creation.
Interfaith Power & Light
Georgia Interfaith Power & Light is hard at work developing ways for congregations to put their faith into action in caring for God’s Creation. GIP&L works with faith communities to become active and responsible stewards of creation, with a focus on energy conservation.
Interfaith Power & Light
The Interfaith Power and Light campaign is mobilizing a national religious response to global warming while promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation. People of faith have an opportunity to put their faith into action and help reduce the devastating effects of global warming.
Religious Witness for the Earth
Religious Witness for the Earth (RWE) is a national interfaith network dedicated to public witness in defense of Creation. Seeing climate change and environmental devastation as issues of justice, RWE invokes the loving sp