Lisa Nichols Hickman: New creation in the Gulf?

We need a new creation story.

Our world is in crisis. We need a new creation story.

On Earth Day, April 22nd, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killed, sank and ruptured. Since then, the seams of the earth have been heaving oil and ordinary people on the shores of the gulf are grieving a way of life.

The Gulf Coast needs a new creation. To imagine it, let’s attend to the first one.

Genesis resounds with astounding proclamations. God speaks and creation unfolds: air, water, land, life. God affirms the goodness of each element. In the culminating act, male and female are proclaimed to be the very image of God. The picture of God revealed in this text asserts power and order, immanence and imagination, and a God who finds peace at rest and profound joy in creation.

So it comes as a surprise in Genesis 2:4 to read, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created . . .”. Haven’t we heard this story already? Here, the story unfolds with a closer view. There is less precision and more dust and mud. There is less power and more personal presence as God seems to kneel down in the playground to form a person out of the dust and breathes in the breath of life.

Why the tension between Genesis 1 and 2? The answer lies in a crisis of exponential magnitude: exile. Prior to exile, the text of Genesis 2 circulated through the oral tradition in the height of the prosperity -- the theology affirmed a God close at hand. When the first deportation to Babylon occurred in 597 BC, that theology seemed negated. Life was dismal, God was distant. So professors of faith lent new affirmations to the story of creation. The rhythmic liturgy of Genesis 1 was life-giving in the face of death. The resounding goodness of creation forced the people of Israel to take a new look at their surroundings. And for a people enslaved and oppressed, the affirmation they were created in God’s image was revolutionary.

The Gulf South needs a new creation story because our Biblical stories have been corrupted. This is a year where the Supreme Court gave corporations the right to have “freedom of speech.” Businesses whose very business it is to generate profits are entitled to voice and action in political campaigns. This corrupts the concept God had in mind when he bent in the mud to shape life, breathing vitality into a human being whose lips give voice to praise and prayer, questions and lament, confession and calling. God created a human, not a corporation, to have the gift of speech.

And now, our corporations running amok in the muck and mud of the world are scarring the face of the earth. Creatures are now drenched in oil and dying a slow and painful death. The teeming elements of the earth -- pelicans, turtles, alligators, dolphins, shrimp and crawfish -- are no longer able to give praise.

The Gulf Coast needs a new creation story. The inspired word our world needs will come from the voices of those created and called to praise, to lament, to ask and to seek. This community of those longing for a new creation will need to stamp their muddy feet, raise their dusty palms and from their breathy voices cry out in anger.

Genesis 1 describes a powerful God who is above creation and whose voice booms creation into being. Genesis 2 paints a picture of a God at play in the world, personally present to us. If Genesis 1 says God is above, and Genesis 2 says God is beside, then perhaps this new creation story will proclaim God can be at work within this very mess.

Consider these suggestions to start that new creation story:

1. Create Partnerships: During the aftermath of Katrina many churches partnered with people to provide life-giving support. One church adopted particular floors of hospital staff to provide resources through the disaster. Consider zooming in on a particular community and asking precisely what they need to survive.

2. Craft: Craft sermons and educational series teaching environmental justice and mindful stewardship are essential in such a time as this. Craft letters to congressmen calling for resources in disaster areas. Craft pictures among the children in the church sharing images of a world that is broken and images of a world that is blessed.

In this modern exile, where the world heaves and the Gulf South grieves, may the church be a voice for restored, redeemed, renewed creation.

Lisa Nichols Hickman, a Gulf Coast native, is a Presbyterian pastor and writer. She serves at New Wilmington Presbyterian Church in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.