Genesis 1:26 states: "Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.'" Genesis 1:27 states: "So God created humankind in God's image, in the image of God God created them." What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
Our course materials offer an intriguing thought in response to this: "It was a common practice in the ancient world for statues of a king to be set up throughout his realm. These were not regarded simply as carved statues, but as the king's representatives, looking out for his interests in those places where the king himself could not always be. This seems to be the idea expressed here: humankind is God's representative, looking after God's interests in the world."
These statues intrigue me, representing the king's interests in places where the king himself could not always be. God, of course, is always present in the world--BUT--and this is very important--NOT PHYSICALLY.
WE ARE GOD'S PHYSICAL PRESENCE IN THE WORLD.
WOW! When people see us, hear us, touch us, they should should see, hear, and touch something of God. God simply cannot minister physically to someone in need except through us.
What does this imply for our ministry?
SUSTAINABILITY. At the very least, it implies maintaining, not destroying, God's creation. This means making decisions about purchases, transportation, heating and cooling, and disposal with sustainability in mind. Do we purchase biodegradable products for cleaning? Do we buy food in biodegradable containers, reusable containers, or even no containers? At church meals, do we employ reusable plates, cutlery, and napkins--perhaps asking people to bring their own? Do we take our church bulletins and newsletters, as well as news and publications from other sources, in online form? Do we recycle as much as possible? Do we compost? Do we walk or bike to places we want or need to go whenever possible? Do we use natural air conditioning--open windows--as much as possible?
INCLUSIVENESS. God pronounced all of creation good, even very good. This means that belonging should be available for all. For a church, this means full access and welcome for all people, including wheelchair ramps, interpreters for the deaf, and rides for those who are unable to drive.
JUSTICE. With inclusiveness goes justice. We need to advocate for the basic rights of all. The rights of humans to basic nourishing food, clean water, hygienic and attractive living arrangements, healthcare, education, freedom from fear of criminals. The rights of animals to live natural lives free of constant pain and distress. I think here of animals raised for food in crowded and stressful conditions with no regard for their well-being. We need to consider very, very carefully the necessity for any testing of products or medical procedures on animals, as well as the treatment of animals used for such testing.
BEAUTY. God made a world of infinite beauty. For aeons before any human walked the earth, there was abundant beauty. The plant world alone is stunningly beautiful. And for aeons, plants thrived with no human witness.
One huge part of being made in God's image is that we, like God, are creative. In fact, if we don't create in some form, we lose energy. Creating replenishes our life energy because being creative is part of who we are.
Our ministry should be done with an eye to beauty, with attention to the aesthetics of what we do and where we do it. I think of simple things, for example, like adding a small bouquet of flowers to a meal we take to someone who is ill. Making our places of worship beautiful with flowers on the altar, candles, stained glass windows, colorful vestments, organs and other musical instruments, singing. The arts in all their forms should be encouraged in church, and the church should be an advocate for the arts in society and in our schools. The church can be a place for us to share and showcase our art.
Perhaps beauty also extends to our physical appearance. I'm not very good at this, but my friend Merry is. Merry is always a delight to look at. I'm not speaking here of becoming obsessed with society's ideal of beauty and trying to conform to it, but simply of giving thought to our physical appearance: people will be looking at me today, and I want to give them something pleasant to look at. Merry is not obsessed with her appearance, but she just always looks nice and attractive, and she accomplishes this simply.
COMPASSION. This is perhaps the central quality of God. We are God's compassion in the world.
CENTEREDNESS. This implies connection with God, being still, going within, and connecting with the God-part of ourselves. In other words, acting from the wisdom within, at our center.