Tuesday, October 4, 2016

St. Francis Day

Fuqua (black) and Pine (tortoiseshell),
sunning themselves and being nice to each other!
It's always nice to see everyone else's pets out socializing,
but my cats would be way too nervous to attend a social event,
such as The Blessing of the Pets (this coming Sunday).

A Sermon for The Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi ~ October 4th
given by The Reverend Nancy C. Tiederman
on Sunday October 8, 2006

How we love St. Francis . . . [and] blessing our pets and other living things in his honor. Francis was a theologian and a liturgist. He believed God to be the source of all, and he wrote prayers and canticles praising God’s wonderful creation.

We see pictures of Francis with animals, and we read stories of his ability to communicate with birds, wolves and burros. A person who could “whisper” with so many kinds of creatures must have been the equivalent of today’s scientist – a careful observer, paying attention, listening, watching, thinking and interpreting his observations.

We live with a different scientific world view than a 13th century Italian monk. We know about solar systems beyond our solar system, about black holes and quarks and sub-atomic particles. We live in a post-Darwinian world and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution makes some people very anxious, even fearful.

To protect their understanding of God and of the biblical account of creation, some deny any truth to the theory of evolution. To respect the scientific approach to life, other people deny the possibility of God. Another group tries to ride both horses and presents an assumption (not a theory) called “Intelligent Design.”

The Bible is not intended to be a source for scientific and historical truth. The Bible records God’s unfolding self-disclosure through time to specific people: first, the Israelites, then the people on The Way. In the 3rd century, Christian theologian Origen taught that some stories are both true and factual (the crucifixion of Jesus) and some stories are true but not factual (parables like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son). Origen could not believe light and darkness existed before the sun, moon and stars were created. Or that the invisible and transcendent God took a daily stroll in the Garden of Eden to enjoy the evening breezes. Or that the Maker of heaven and earth could not locate Adam and Eve when they hid from him. Origen called these “absurdities” and said they were unsubtle hints from God that he wanted the account of creation read in an altogether different way, as truth embedded in the semblance of history, truth conveyed through story. Genesis answers the question of why the world exists, but not how it came to be.

Religion addresses moral and existential issues. What is the meaning of life? How do we live with each other? Science describes the observable world of experience. Both science and religion have been major contributors to the development of Western civilization. Both play important – but different - roles in our lives.

The well-financed Intelligent Design movement is a highly organized attempt to defeat scientific materialism (and its’ so-called destructive moral, cultural and political legacies) and replace it with theistic understanding. To refute Evolutionary theory, they argue from incredulity: i.e., how can you believe otherwise? Living organisms on Earth are so complex and so intricately constructed they cannot plausibly have arisen through the unguided action of natural selection, so there must be an Intelligent Designer. People find intelligent design in the natural order because they read the evidence through the spectacles of their prior Christian faith. Observation of order does not account for dis-order; for tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes which doom the innocent. I.D. is not science: it is opinion, philosophical preference, a belief, natural theology, religion. Existence of God cannot be proven from observation. God exists outside of creation, beyond observation. We believe in the existence of God by faith – by wavering, skeptical, trusting, humble faith.

Science plays by different rules. “Science,” said Albert Einstein “describes what is.” Science consists of the description of certain laws of nature, summarizing observed patterns, and science consists of theories. In every day speech, we use “theory” when we mean speculation. Scientific theories are not uncertain speculations. To convey uncertainty; a scientist uses the word hypothesis. Scientific theories are based on experiment, experiments which can be repeated. Lasting theories start with an assumption, and then describe all appropriate phenomena. Theories can be broadly applied. New theories are built on old ones. Theories become the basis for predictions. Evolutionary theory is the unifying theme of all modern biology. Darwin’s theory of evolution is entangled with Gregor Mendel’s theory of genetics. The predictive power of Darwin and Mendel is stunning. Hundreds of Darwin’s predicted missing links have been found. The genes Mendel postulated in 1860 are seen these days with electron microscopes; biologists routinely cut and paste genes and observe the evolution of new ones that enhance fitness to survive. The theory of evolution is justified by the rules of science; it is not religion and it does not replace religion. It neither denies nor confirms faith in God.

We affect evolution through genome efforts. We keep alive infants who would have perished prior to recent scientific knowledge. We seek to heal cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes and other diseases through manipulation of cells. We must use scientific discoveries wisely and that begins with having respect for science and scientific methods.

Religion is the assurance of things not seen. Religion provides the ethical frameworks with which we make decisions about how to use scientific discoveries. Religion guides aesthetics. Interwoven with the evolution of a human exists a love for the music of Bach and Mozart. Why? Where did that come from? Interwoven with the evolution of the human has come increasing understanding of mathematics. We don’t invent mathematics: we discover mathematics that already exists. We needed arithmetic. We don’t need mathematics to survive, so why do some humans spend time pondering mathematical proofs?

Isn’t it possible, isn’t it true, that we are co-creators with God – affecting our planet, changing our air, land mass, vegetation and water. Isn’t it true we sometimes create wisely and sometimes disastrously? Isn’t creation on-going? Isn’t God in the creation from the bottom up instead of from the top down? Isn’t God in the soup out of which came life. I believe that in each and every moment, God is inviting or luring us into the best possible choice for that moment – whether the choice is in our cells, in our observing and thinking, or in the ethics of the situation. We may choose wisely or we may choose foolishly. In the next moment of time, God offers us choices from the new options now available – we may choose wisely, we may choose foolishly. When we choose wisely, we move towards redemption and ultimately reconciliation. When we choose foolishly, we speak of darkness, evil, Satan.

During WWII, Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, wrote: “If we choose wisely, God is with us. If we choose foolishly, God is with us. Wise or foolish, God is with us.” Amen. Emanu-el. God is with us. Do not fear science. Don’t accept the substitute of a weak philosophical approach or a flight to biblical literalism for intellectual thought. Demand systemic rigor and ethical methods in scientific research. We have intellect. Develop it; use it; apply it. Praise God with it by giving God your best. Praise God in song. Praise God in rigorous thinking. Jesus died to take away your sins, not your mind. Emanu-el. God is with us.

~ The Rev. Nancy C. Tiederman

Kitti & Nancy ~ at the Seattle Art Museum ~ March 2016

Additional Blog Posts & Thoughts from Nancy


Prepare Ye the Way & Crones At Last

Dark Days & I'm With Her

Ready for the Shift & Childlike Spring

Heart of Hearts & Commonplace Book

Sean or Sam? & Celtic Blessing

Swimming ~ Swimming ~ Christmas

Harry Potter Christmas Letter ~ 2000


  1. From my letter to Nancy shortly after reading the above sermon in 2006:

    Dear Nancy,

    This gave me goosebumps! Thanks for sending!

    I especially love your question: "Isn’t God in the creation from the bottom up instead of from the top down?"

    Ben and Gerry are doing the music at Good Shepherd this morning; and Sam is the babysitter -- can you believe?

    Peter & Katy have a new tiny puppy named Charley -- maybe he will be in attendance today! His middle name is "Prescott," which Katy told me means "out of the priest's house."

    We still have our revered old Josef. I never dreamed my cat would live for 18 years! Photos to follow under separate cover. XO, K.

    And from Nancy to me a few years later:

    Tue, 24 Mar 2009

    While you were gone, I had two days of intense thoughts of you and Gerry's parents, wondering how they are and what they look like after so many years of not seeing them. I wonder if I was thinking of you all when you were speaking of me. I believe in these connections. Love, Nancy

    Nancy, Yes, I too am a believer! XO, K.

  2. Feast of St. Francis 2021

  3. I wish I could share this with my dear friend Peter Dodson, who is not on facebook, though his daughter is. Peter is a dinosaur paleontologist recently retired from Penn, where he taught vertebrate anatomy at the vet school in addition to various courses in the Geology Department. His thinking resonates with that of your Nancy. He and former priest Tom Connolly founded the Society of St.Bede,
    an early morning discussion group whose attendees are largely members of the university community. Sometimes there are guest presenters, but usually one of the group begins the discussion with a brief presentation. Retired Penn Librarian Ronald Day presides over a Poetry Day. People bring in their favorites and read them aloud. An art historian member named Joan gave a beautifully illustrated talk about Saint Joan of Arc.