Does a fish, living in a fish bowl, realize that there is a world just outside where creatures take in oxygen straight from the air? A place, inhospitable to a creature with gills, custom made to extract oxygen from water? The fish knows only the water around it and may seek hiding from the tap-tap-tap of the knuckle on the side of their gated neighborhood. Sides that act like walls, keeping the water from spilling out, offering protection of the fish’s habitat. Yet restricting the fish’s movement and experiences.
We too, swim in a fishbowl. We too, know the hiding places in our homes and neighborhoods. And, like the fish, we really don’t notice that we are wet. Until someone taps on the sides of our world, exposing the existence of the unknown just outside our hood. We can choose to hide. But even hiding places get exposed when someone or something breaks the sides of our bowl. And we spill out onto the floor. Gasping for air in an inhospitable environment.
We are sculpted by our environment. We don’t know that we are wet.
Michigan winters aren’t what they used to be. Long before now, we expect our ground to be frozen solid enough to hold the weight of a pickup truck. But just last week, I noticed how the ground gave way to my truck’s weight and deep threads of the tires, leaving tracks. The clay ridges will harden leaving a sculpted reminder of the truck’s presence.
While sculpted fits the clay ridges better than the water in a fish bowl, both the ground and the fish are sculpted. The fish is sculpted by the water that is its home. Both are left with the imprints of its circumstances. And so are we.
But let’s not get too far ahead. For now, settle back into the comfort of who you are. Take a selfie. Look deeply into the person that appears in the photo. What color are your eyes? Your hair? What color is your skin tone? Do you have wrinkles, or freckles, or scars? Like the stillness of the self-photograph, the person you see is sculpted. Let’s focus on how you became you, for now.
Over the next few weeks, we are taking a trip together. But we aren’t the only ones. This is a trip that we all take to one extent or another. Along the way, we will reference the stories of three men. Jesus of Nazareth, Joel McKerrow, and Matthew Vines, made this trip at different times, leaving from different places. But their stories offer insights into our own trip.
You are invited. You will be home in time for dinner on Easter Sunday. But if you go with us, dinner will taste different than you remember it. But stuff happens only in the present. The present is reality. The future is fiction.
The Gospel of Mathew begins by claiming that Jesus of Nazareth is a descendant of a former King, who was a descendant of Abraham. Evidence is offered by listing out members of His family tree. Why? Because the ancestry of Jesus matters. The human Jesus was sculpted by the people around Him. That Jesus was of Jewish descent shaped how He learned about the world.
The qualifier that we use after the name of Jesus also matters. Nazareth today is a city. When Jesus lived in Nazareth it was a tiny village. Every body knew each other. It was smaller even than the Eastside of Flint.
This is the list of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, a descendant of David, who was a descendant of Abraham.
Jesus went to school in Egypt. The family of Jesus moved to Nazareth from Egypt, after Joseph received word that it was safe for them to move back to the region of Palestine. Where we live as we come of age shapes and forms us.
Matthew grew up in Wichita, Kansas. His family attended a Presbyterian Church in their home town. Matthew’s parents lived out the beliefs that were shaped by the same factors that shaped Matthew. Joel grew up in Sidney, Australia. The church of Joel’s youth was spent in an Anglican, mega-church. Like Matthew, Joel grew up with two parents who shared their beliefs about God with their children.
All three men were sculpted by the beliefs of the people they turned to for truth. They learned to speak the language of the fishbowl that was their home. All three were sculpted by persons claiming to know divine truth. And all three learned that truth is very contextual for each of us. We walk only in the shoes covering our own feet and see the world through the eyes God gave us. We each swim in a fish bowl without realizing we are wet. Until the sides of the fishbowl are shattered.
Joel writes in his book, Woven, that “We are birthed not just from parents but from a long line of people. The family home is painted with their stories, layered thick on the walls, whether we can see them or not. They are a river running deep through our self-landscape.” 1
We are sculpted not just by the home where we grew up, but also by society. Jesus was born in the midst of an occupied nation. Political and religious leaders, like King Herod, held authority over his family, and Roman Governors and soldiers held authority over them.
We, on the other hand are more influenced by many of the same factors that sculpted Joel and Matthew.
We worship in our shopping mall cathedrals. We listen to the sermons of advertisements.
Companies spend roughly $600 billion each year on advertising. Persuasive messages telling us what we need to find acceptance. In our country, each of us see over 4,000 advertisements every day. One advertising agency, Young and Rubicam, claims that “Belief in consumer brands has replaced religious faith as the thing that gives people purpose in life.”
This makes consumption the chief rival to God in our culture. Joel writes that, “We worship in our shopping mall cathedrals. We listen to the sermons of advertisements. The media is the mediator of our spiritual journeys, the shaper of our theology and our worldview. It is our modern-day priest.” We are, in part, shaped by society. Sculpted to fit into a particular mould.
God knows how to cut through all of the advertising, all of the noise, and even be heard, at times, over the other voices in our heads. But we hear God’s voice through the filters of our sculpting. Until the ridges that that mark the tracks of our sculpting are broken down by experiencing life through our interactions with people sculpted differently.
As winter slowly gives way to longer days over the next few weeks, I invite you to make this trip with me. We worship each Sunday at 10:30 am. I hope to see you there. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
If you haven’t yet signed up for the Daniel Plan, be sure to do so.3 Each person living in our community who signs up receives your very own copy of The Daniel Plan Journal.4 If you are not a part of the Asbury Community, we still invite you to participate with us, but we ask that you purchase a copy on your own. These journals can be purchased on Amazon or from other vendors. You can also go to the DanielPlan.com store to buy this and other resources.
1 McKerrow, Joel. Woven: A faith for the dissatisfied. Sidney, Australia: Acorn Press, 2019.
2 Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian. New York: Convergent, 2014.
3 Warren, Rick, Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Mark Hyman. The Daniel Plan. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.
4 Warren, Rick, and the Daniel Plan Team. The Daniel Plan Journal – 40 Days to a Healthier Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.