Image by Jennifer Allison –

In a piece titled Science fiction writers imagine the way out – in the May edition of The Christian Century, Melissa Florer-Bixler writes Jesus’ parables give us space to see that something else is possible. In her article she explores how sci-fi writers are putting flesh on the bones of Jesus teaching.

Florer-Bixler is clearly a devotee of science fiction writing. She cites one story in which a city is planted from seeds – buildings, people, and animals sprout like daffodils. In another – people bound together by their common fate, create a new life in a decimated land.

I have often referenced science fiction speaking more directly to our 21st century imagination – reimagining new approaches to faith – enriching our inherited biblical images.

Images from Biblical imagination were fashioned within a pre-modern worldview with quite a different sense of the relationship between cause and effect. The biblical and medieval pictures of a three-tiered universe still hold poetic charm. But in most cases they no longer inform our 21st-century worldview. The Biblical pre-modern imagination may continue to charm us – yet it’s now relegated to the category of ancient tales of implausibility if not downright impossibility; imaginative attempts to explain the workings of the universe before humanity learned better – or so we think.

Sci-fi imagination is a key that unlocks biblical imagination – opening it up for us as a space to imagine something else – the possibility of new worlds.

Florer-Bixler cites the renowned sci-fi writer, Walidah Imarisha, All organizing is science fiction. Florer-Bixler comments that the inverse is also true – our disorganizing, our entrenchment, and the intractability of our brokenness are a failure of imagination, a failure to believe in the possibility of new worlds.

Imarisha writes that whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in speculative fiction. Florer-Bixler describes this as an invitation into an experience of dislocation and disruption – a process of transporting us into worlds that are strange – with their own distinctive language, unknown place names, and intricate histories patterning themselves in our brains. The sci-fi imagination invites us to move beyond the impoverished architecture of our modern materialist mindset – shaking loose expectations and assumptions that from a spiritual perspective – no longer serve us, or serve us poorly.

About this process of shaking loose, Florer-Bixler writes I’m familiar with this loosing as invitation, how it curves within me toward curiosity. In the New Testament Jesus turns my attention from endless cycles of harm toward seeds, pearls, and returning children. Jesus stretches me past the scraps of good life I’ve come to believe we can scratch out from the ruins. The reign of God is like yeast and weeds. It is fisherfolk with nets in flight.

Luke, having given us an account of Jesus Ascension in the first chapter of his Acts of the Apostles – the sequel to his story of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth – Son of God – his second chapter opens with the following description

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Our modern scientific imagination poorly equips us for taking this account seriously as an actual eyewitness account of events on the Day of Pentecost. Of course, we are charmed by its details. Luke’s account works for us as a series of narrative props. We are invited to wear red. Flame motifs abound in banner, balloons, and streamers. We love to mimic the polyglot experience as members of the congregation for whom English is a second language are invited to speak in their native tongue. But beyond enacting aspects of Luke’s story, what sense are we to make of it all?

We embrace the idea of receiving a double portion of the spirit of the risen Christ – the reciprocal movement to his Ascension. But as to the how and even the why of it all beyond the colorful details in Luke’s story – we adopt an attitude of indulgent agnosticism or even down right disbelief. Nice story we say – wish it were true.

Luke’s description of the event – wind and flame and an early form of instantaneous translation for the benefit of the international audience present – is followed by Peter’s long address in which he sets this pyrotechnic-poliglot event within the context of the unfolding of Israel’s longer story of relationship with God. Today’s portion ends with Peter citing the prophet Joel: In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

But remembering Joel’s prophecy of a people empowered to imagine new worlds is not where Luke ends chapter 2. Our current reading ends at verse 21 and if we had been able to jump from 21 to 43, we would see that Luke’s purpose is not to end with Joel’s poetic vision but to go on to describe what it looks like when – to paraphrase Florer-Bixler – a community moves beyond the impoverished architecture of conditioned imagination – to shake loose expectations and assumptions and believe in the possibility of new worlds.

From verse 42-47, Luke paints a compelling picture of what a community empowered by the Holy Spirit looks like. He writes:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. … All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Luke’s task in constructing his Day of Pentecost narrative is not to tell us about the amazing pyrotechnic-polyglot experience accompanying the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the witnesses – but to show the effects of the Spirit’s birthing of a new community capable of believing in the possibility of a different world.

Luke describes a community of folk transformed through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit where from all according to ability -to all according to need –became the central organizing principle. Talk about the courage to imagine new worlds. The pooling of resources is the foundation for the early Christian community’s experience of an empowered transformation into a truly magnetic community configuring itself for those who had yet to show up.

I’m not proposing a return to the early Christian model of resource sharing. It’s both attractive and also unappealing – conjuring for us unfortunate resonances to failed Communist experiments. What it highlights for us however, is the requirement for us to imagine new ways of sharing resources more equitably.

In terms of the use of resources the world today is facing a resources crisis – of which water is the number one resource in increasingly short supply. In a world of finite resource supply, Luke’s portrayal of the effects of the Spirit’s outpouring upon the first Christians points us to the question of equity – that is – how resources are to be shared. The many do not have enough for life – because the few have way more than we need.

Florer-Bixler writes: In the real world, the tethers of oppression are wrapped so tight. Corporate interests and monied developers curl their tentacles around hope. There isn’t enough air. Jesus loosens the grip as we are given space to see that something else is possible here. He refuses reforms that polish up our entrenched systems or policies that quibble over the structure of power. The reign of God sprouts and grows, wild and unruly.

The reign of God sprouts and grows, wild and unruly! Few of us are happy with the ways of our world today. But how might we imagine things to be better. Of course, imagining is the first step. But two additional steps are necessary – the will and the courage to believe in the urgency of our dreams becoming reality.

Pentecost is when we celebrate our receiving of a double share of Christ’s Spirit – the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father through the Son as we say in the Nicene Creed. Following the first day of Pentecost what exactly was the nature of the transformation of Christ’s followers? It seems that it was the transformation of imagination – the power to imagine living life differently empowered by Christ’s Spirit to continue the work he began.

At Pentecost the baton passes to us!

This is my prayer for us this Pentecost – to imagine the life we long to live; to postpone our dream no longer – and waste our hearts on fear no more (O’Donohue, Morning Offering).

Don’t look up!

Don’t look up – words of warning for us as we, like the disciples let our eyes be distracted with gazing upwards after Jesus majestically ascending into a swirl of cumulus clouds – illuminated against a backdrop of suffused sunlight. 

Oh, how different is Jesus’ departure from his arrival into this world!

Because Ascension always occurs on a Thursday – the 40th day after the resurrection, the normal custom is to celebrate Ascension on the Sunday after – and even then – we are likely to miss the significance of this event because the Ascension of Jesus presents its own set of challenges to belief.

In Matthew and Mark, it appears as a kind of concluding event to tie up some loose ends. Jesus had died and then unexpectedly returned in a post resurrection body – that while defying some fundamental laws of Newtonian physics is still a recognizable human body – even to the extent of still displaying the wounds of his passion. They’d seen him die and then they ‘d witnessed his return! He remained living and breathing among them and then – poof – he was gone!  But gone where? Well, as every child in Sunday School knows, he’d gone up to heaven – dummy.

In Luke, the Ascension not only comes at the end of the story of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, son  of God – tying up any loose ends – but more importantly it becomes the preamble for the opening chapter in Luke’s sequel to his life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God – the Acts of the Apostles – or  the life and times of the Church.

Writing after Luke, John understands this point clearly but has his own inimitable way of writing about it as we find in today’s Gospel. John’s Jesus in unpacking the significance of his resurrection over a series of Sunday evenings in the upper room carefully explains to his disciples that he must leave them so that God can glorify him with the glory that he had before the world existed. But he is at pains to reassure them that they will not be left comfortless like abandoned orphans.

When it comes to the Ascension, it’s not the when, or where, or how, or even whether it took place – but that with the Ascension a pivotal transition point is reached in the longer story of creation, incarnation, and resurrection. In Jesus’ birth God entered human experience through a human life. In other words the Creator came to dwell within the tent of the creation. At his Ascension, it’s not the restoration of Jesus’ pre-existent divinity that is the main point but God’s reception of his full humanity – perfected through suffering – into the divine nature.

The function of imagination is to construct meaning out of events that are not directly observable to the human eye – and yet – events that nonetheless shape our experience. Religious imagination builds pictures that distill into sharp focus choices to be made, actions to be taken, and directions to be followed – or avoided – as the case may be.

Luke’s graphic account of the event is powerfully influenced by Elijah’s ascension recorded in the 2nd book of Kings. In like manner – as the mantle of Elijah fell upon the shoulders of his disciple Elisha – giving him a double portion of his master’s spirit, God having received the fullness of Jesus’ humanity – perfected through suffering – into the divine nature – a double portion of Jesus’ Spirit now descends upon the disciples at Pentecost. Ascension and Pentecost – humanity ascending and divinity descending, are the contraflow events connecting the dimension of time and space with the spiritual ground – joining heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

For the modern imagination, the medieval picture of a three-tiered universe – with the spatial references of heaven above and earth beneath – of up and down – becomes the image of a contraflow between time and space and the spiritual ground. The Ascension is a contraflow between parallel dimensions.

If we can stop looking up long enough we can ask the real question – so what next?

Traditional religious imagination pictures two possibilities in answer to the question: what next? Both are imagined in the dualling collects for the Ascension.


Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell.

Compare and contrast with:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages.

We see how religious imagination struggles with the question: so, what next? We long to throw up our hands – giving up on the evils of the world – to ascend with the Lord and there with him to dwell. We long for God to rescue us from ourselves and the mess we continue to make of the world.

We stand amidst an imperfect recovery from global pandemic while staring into the abyss of the ecological collapse. We are struggling to avert the prospect of multiple global flashpoints – Ukraine- Russia-Nato, Israel-Palestine, Israel-Iran, a collapsing nuclear armed Pakistan, China-Taiwan-US – any one of which could spell global catastrophe.  For us things seem to be going from bad to worse according to every measure of progress. So, it’s a natural response to pray for God to – beam us up, Scotty.

Yet, in the Ascension of Jesus God promises to fill all things and to abide here with us – amidst all the pain, disappointment, and sheer messiness of this world. We must not fall into the temptation of wishing to be rescued out of this world. Instead, we must stand firm – empowered by a double measure of the Spirit of Jesus to face up to the challenges ahead in the knowledge that a God acquainted with suffering stands with us. Because Jesus is acquainted with our suffering – God through the divine spirit empowers us in our age-long struggle to realize coming of the kingdom in a new heaven – on earth.

The Ascension of Our Lord is a central insight of our Christian faith. The nature of this insight does not lie in the when, where, how, or whether the event as Luke pictures it took place. As a central insight the Ascension punctuates the continuum that runs on one side from Jesus’s birth, through his death and resurrection to the other side of the Ascension where the instruction don’t look up becomes the question what’s next?

What’s next? Let the words of the late Irish poet, John O’Donohue speak here:

May [we] have the courage today,

To live the life that [we] would love,

To postpone [our] dream no longer

But do at last what [we] came here for

And waste [our] heart[s] on fear no more. (Morning Offering)


If you love me? This is the direct as well as the implied question that Jesus asks his followers all the way through John’s gospel. The thing not to miss here is that Jesus asks if you love me? But what we often hear is – if you loved me?

From love to loved – there’s a world of difference. A difference we hear and feel implicitly. If you love me is a question that implies promise. Whereas if you loved me implies a regret – even a threat. Love me as I demand, or I won’t love you back.

If you loved me, is the battle cry for conditional love. Conditional love is love with strings. And conditional love is the most common form of love we experience. If you loved me, you would show you loved me by meeting my needs.

Sometimes the needs to be met are material, but most often, they are psychological and emotional. The threat implied in if you loved me is the threat of abandonment, rejection, and the fear of being alone.

Jesus said, if you love meI will not leave you orphaned – that is – I will never abandon you. But Jesus also said, if you love me, you will keep my commandments. So, is Jesus’ love conditional after all? Perhaps? But the condition here is not a commandment to – love me back – but the greatest commandment of all – love one another. The string attached to Jesus’ love is not – meet my needs – but meet one another’s needs. Through loving us, Jesus models how we should love one another. He is – in short- the archetype – the universal pattern for the good mother.

Ideally, we learn to love because we were first, loved. In the process of learning to love through first being loved – we encounter many vicissitudes along the way. Many of us enjoy the gift of love and loving because of the indelible memory of first having been loved at our mother’s breast. Others of us were not so fortunate. There are many reasons why the mother-infant exclusive bonding fails leaving many of us afraid of surrendering to loving and being loved.

In a period when as a culture we are struggling to delineate the biological hardwiring of gender from the softwiring of gender identity – confusions also proliferate around the differences between birthing and mothering.

In the most usual course of events, being pregnant triggers the hormonal instincts for mothering. Giving birth ushers a woman and infant into the complex and sacred relationship of mothering – a state of mutual enthrallment. We are fortunate if we experienced the nurturance of being loved because the woman who birthed us was also the one who mothered us. Yet, this is a complex process. Good mothers can never be perfect mothers. Fortunately, all that is required is that they be good-enough.

The concept of the good-enough mother originated with one of the most influential figures of the Object Relations School of British Psychoanalysis – Donald Winnicott – a man who combined the rare skills of both pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Take a look at this short 6 minute video on the essential elements of Winnicott’s approach here.

By good-enough, Winnicott meant that mothers did not need to be perfect. The mother-infant relationship, though vulnerable to mishap is also robust and able to withstand a variety of imperfect conditions. That mothers needed to be good-enough but not perfect is a reminder for us all that in the arena of love, the quest for the perfect is certainly the enemy of the good.

Winnicott’s focus was on the good-enough experience within the early mother-infant relationship. Good-enough mothering is love that is consistent and unconditional. In the usual course of events, while good-enough mothering is found in our early experience with our birthing mothers – this cannot always be so. For many of us the experience of good-enough mothering came through non biological relationships with both men as well as women for the concept of good-enough mothering is not gender exclusive. Good enough mothering is not only an inherent human quality, but most importantly, a characteristic of God as mother.

Human beings are resilient and highly adaptive. Where mother-infant bonding fails – love ultimately trumps biology.

Human beings are highly resilient and the capacity to love and be loved is highly adaptive to circumstances. An interruption in the early experience of being loved can be later compensated for in the love of father, grandparent, or close relative – stepping into the role of primary carer. Early difficulties can be repaired through the love of a teacher, a mentor, or dare I say even a therapist. The redeeming unconditional love of a spouse, or significant other – offers reparation for earlier losses. A friend of mine refers to his husband as the one who has loved me into being. I know this is not an isolated experience.

As a society, we fail the women and men who are responsible for good-enough mothering through our political failure to promote social and economic policies supportive of maternal health, child development, and family life. In a country that eulogizes mother and apple pie, the US ranks low on the scale of nations where public policy concretely supports healthy maternal care, child development, and the structures of family life. We stand alone among developed nations in the stridency of our defense of the rights of the unborn and our social and economic neglect of the born.

This Mother’s Day is the first following the overturning of 50 years of a woman’s Constitutional right to abortion. The 33rd edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Book describes how children in America are in the midst of a mental health crisis, struggling with unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression. This year’s publication continues to present national and state data across four domains — economic well-being, education, health and family, and community. A tragic paradox is revealed in the ranking of states according to measures in overall child well-being. Florida, at no. 32 out of 50, is the highest-ranked southern state in the family and community domain. Utah, New Hampshire, and Vermont topped this same list while New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi feature among the bottom rankings. Again there seems to be a correlation between state preoccupied with a fanatical defense of the rights of the unborn and the chronic political neglect of the born.

When Jesus said, if you love me he made it clear that loving him meant following his commandment that we love one another. Being able to love one another is dependent on having an experience of being loved. Jesus also said, if you love me, I will give you eternal life. The rub is however that whatever the supposed joys in heaven – eternal life begins in the here and now! It’s ensuring the quality of life in the here and now that should matter most to us – and by which, Jesus makes clear, we shall be judged.

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