The 'Three Mile an Hour God’
"Jesus is a walking God; God is a 'three mile an hour God.'"
A sermon by Rev. Douglas Olds
A sermon by Rev. Douglas Olds
For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?
This statement of Jesus is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Mark: (Mt 9:5, Lk 5.23, Mk 2.9). This is, as I shall pick up later, not a rhetorical question. But first I want to discuss the restoration of mobility to the paralytic which in part restored his ability to practice his culture.
The prophets and disciples were people who walked. Prodigiously. Jesus instructs his disciples to walk out into the surrounding villages to testify and preach. He commands the paralytic to walk forth from his bed. Walking is a central feature in the spread Jesus’s announcement of the Kingdom of God. Abraham is commanded by God repeatedly to ק֥וּם לֵךְ֙ (qûm lek,“arise and go forward” [Gen. 28:2, cf. 12:1 et al.]), get up and walk, get up and go as a nomad toward the promised land.
The activity of sustained walking, and the centrality of it as transportation, may be one of the most distinguishing differences between the Biblical age and ours. A culture that devoted 4 hours a day or more to walking developed virtues seemingly foreign to us: virtues of contemplation, recollection, stillness of mind, disinterestedness, and asceticism. Virtues tie body and soul together. The virtues of walking tie our ruminations of mind with the rhythms of our somatic, bodily exertions.
"Knowledge is a rumor until it lives in muscle," an African proverb states. The soul’s religious insights are developed in harmony with the body. The Resurrection confirms that our soul’s destiny is not to evacuate the body, but to be reconciled and integrated with it. The soul’s work and insights during long walks become integrated with memory of the body’s movements in the Biblical anthropological portrait of Homo ambulans.
Henry David Thoreau proposed walking as a spiritual discipline. It was for him a reflective activity that took place necessarily away from society where he could discern and discover his true identity. Thoreau proposed a contemplative narrative to guide his walks and structure what he found both inside and outside himself during the walks. In his essay, “Walking” (based on Lectures he began in the 1850s), Thoreau employed the “metaphor of the walker as a crusader to the Holy Land and places the devil himself in opposition to the freedom and wildness that the walker craves… The ‘Prince of Darkness’ is the surveyor who places the stakes that keep the walker away from the landscape.” 
During these reverie-structured “saunters,” Thoreau would encounter the "Whoa!" of the Evil one to the wildness [and freedom] he sought.” It was the devil, he concluded, who fenced off the private ownership of what was communally-owned nature –its springs of Enlightenment it provided him.
In his daydreams during walks, Thoreau placed obstacles and encounters into a framework of good and evil. In this, Thoreau displayed a Judaic consciousness. The singer Leonard Cohen endorsed the same narrative plot: "It's good to be between a ruined house of bondage and a holy promised land." And Wendell Berry: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Distinguishing these states of ruin and holiness during our own pastoral wandering may illuminate what we personally find necessary for social life versus what is cordoned off for our private and personal use. Employing Thoreau’s narrative of walking in a Holy Land is a way of not only living more closely—resonating--with nature. It is also a way of living more closely with our own spirit. We need only take care not to make this walk among community solely about our right to solitude lest we assert ownership over it in conflict with others’ –God’s--rightful claims. It’s a crowded world, and we must conclude that God wills it so.
As an injunction for sauntering in wilderness, Earth-Firster Dave Forman proposed that all surveyor stakes and ribbons encountered be obliterated as a protest of economic development. However, an appropriate solitude of walking inside an appreciation of creation’s goodness--and wildness’s fall from grace--is implicitly a spiritual discipline of generosity and covenant-keeping worthy of the Sabbath. The walker in this state seeks spiritual knowledge of self and creation that may be rare or fleeting in apprehension, but with repetition may add up to a revelation about God and self.
Through walking in God’s Kingdom, we can remain alert to evidence of possibly unfathomable knowledge. Thoreau writes: "Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure…My desire for knowledge is intermittent; but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant. The highest that we can attain is not Knowledge, but Sympathy with [Cosmic Nature’s] Intelligence." This distinction between a personal knowledge and God’s grant of Cosmic Intelligence demonstrates the necessity of the virtue of humility to the walk and the work, lest one be misled into thinking that the spiritual insights one develops is self-merited. Rather, our walk ideally aligns us with the giver of all good gifts, what I would call the Divine logos which Thoreau defines as Nature.
Thoreau uses the image of the rooster as the bragging "expression of the health and soundness of Nature," rousing humanity to alert perception--to "a pure morning joy" in our journeying.
A spiritualized narrative of walking excludes, of course, the immobilized who may suffer a profound physical disability. We must look for alternative visions for our journey through the world that can encompass these folks. As an alternative to walking in the promised land, descrying its ruins and obstacles, Melville in Moby Dick offers the vision of sailing: "What could be more full of meaning?—for the pulpit is ever this earth's foremost part…and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first [encountered]. Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow."
One immobilized advances as if situated and perched on the prow of a bouncing ship. The wheelchair- or bed-bound might note the rhythms of the breezes and the direction of the birds signaling land. We might contemplate the narrative of Nature from the perspective of their discovery--that their narrative encounters society as the Sea. And from that perspective, it might be as if the world turns past us on the sea as we sit on an unmoving boat. The weather changes, the breezes shift, the birds fly by, the dolphins circle underneath and beside. The movements are all relative, it is our perspective that shifts from an immobile body to a moving cosmos.
The Bible is full of these metaphorical alternatives regarding God’s activity: these metaphors empower devotion and understanding. But some aspects of society and the natural condition that surround and overshadow it are not of God. I think of the anti-Christic sin of warfare, specifically of Drone warfare. Zubair Rehman, a 13-year-old Pakistani, uttered this evaluation of his environmental condition: “I no longer love blue skies. I prefer grey skies. The drones don’t fly when the skies are grey." How tragic, how foreign to God’s intended creation and humanity where drones have taken away the freedom of mobility and its potential to bond with Nature and neighbors. Drone warfare inhibits the walking cultures of the East, inhibiting it as much as a wall or barrier. Perhaps worse than impeding relationship with others, drones impede a relationship with nature--with the full creation. Drone warfare leads to fear and huddling in shadow and structure. Drones disable civilians in their flight path, creating invalids, the type that Jesus healed and which we are instructed also to heal. 90% of casualties by weaponized drones are civilians. Drones dehumanize by maiming and inhibiting the human capability of mobility. They also depersonalize individuals by substituting their identity with a geographical coordinate. The latter is precise, the first is neglected. Drones also depersonalize through its technology’s racial bias that cannot recognize facial features in dark skin as effectively as it can lighter skin. Drone “signature strikes,” especially when automatized inside Artificial Intelligence, lead to the injustice of a sloppy slaughter of black and brown innocents.
Resisting the advent and spread of drone warfare is a way of healing the immobilized and depersonalized—restoring the presence of nature and community in their lives. Code Pink pickets at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, for its drone warfare operations. Another picketing and resistance operation against drone warfare is happening by employees and community members at Google’s headquarters. Google’s Project Maven participates in the application of the military-industrial complex to weaponize and automate big data inside drone warfare./
Jurgen Moltmann writes of the walk of faith that “seek[s] community with the human Christ in every situation in life, and in every situation experiencing his own history." To find Christ, and to sustain the human Christ in his struggle, God sends us into “a real world, a world of starving children and murderous competition, of lonely rooms and smug clubs, of shattered dreams and burned out hopes,” of corrupt politics and closed minds, of resentful bigots and phony pieties. It is up to us to counter and resist the misreadings of the Gospel. The authentic announcement of God’s Kingdom forgives sins, announces release to captives, and justice for the oppressed. The good news humanizes and identifies. It does not kill persons and personalities, it does not kill the capabilities of free thought and free mobility. It does not link riches with God’s favor and poverty with God’s hatred.
Albert Einstein said, “A human being…experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This delusion is kind of a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion, to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and foundation for inner security.” We can expand our human circle and our experience of it by walking the neighborhoods that God has placed us amidst.
Our journeying may be better visualized as a shared dance in embrace with the Holy. If, as Kurt Vonnegut writes, "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God," our guided saunters and joyous waltzes through creation honor God and embraces the wisdom God graces to impart to us. We dance that we become movements in joy. Our joyous journeying obeys the “summons to think about how the world can be practiced differently.” The walk that dances meets God and neighbors “in the middle,” establishing new centers for eternity, transforming dead space into living place. The ramifying circumincessions of creatures, Logos, and Spirit divinize. They are process by which the living Christ is becoming all-in-all, the onset of new hypostatic union(s) of Spirit and incarnated beings, bringing forth a new Creation with creatures becoming increasingly intimate and familiar with, and accomplished toward, the divine will. At the eschaton, the process will come complete.
Moving through nature either by walking or sailing or dancing within a contemplative Christian narrative presupposes the virtue of disinterestedness—a determined lack of greed in grasping what is natural and shared to privatize it for personal gain. Our journeying with a grasping gaze—a greed of spirit--is not the kind of walk Jesus engaged. Our mobility leads us astray if it is done without a generous spiritual outlook.
Pay heed to your journeys; pay heed to your capability of mobility, for the freedom of movement to discover the wonder of the world. Listen to your body—when walking and when praying--and do not think of it as your enemy. What do you do with the miraculous gift of the body? You have the capacity to see, to feel and to hear and to understand. To move about. What do you do with it? Do you bless, do you curse, do you forgive, do you begrudge?
To return to Jesus’ question that began this sermon, “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?” It’s not rhetorical. Ancient Israel thought only God could forgive sins, so they would never dare to pardon their neighbor. The Jews of Jesus’s time would have expected healing to be an easier vocation for the religion. Healing requires presence, but the restoration of mobility to one immobilized by the weaponized drones flying overhead requires a political and cultural commitment out of reach for most. Yet Jesus shows us that we can bring about neighborhoods of shalom through forgiveness. By Jesus’s question, we are to understand, I think, that we are to forgive the trespasses of others against our prerogatives to ownership, to privacy, to self-respect. We CAN forgive because He forgave us. The injunction to heal and the injunction to forgive in our Scriptural passage this morning is the defining character of God’s love, as is the Abrahamic injunction to get up and walk. Get up and dance. The love from God intended for us, and the intention for us to love God back, and oh, our neighbor as well: these I considered on walks.
May this spiritual journeying that walks and dances by faith be for you and me. Amen.
 https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1862/06/walking/304674/ accessed 22 April 2018
 Marjorie Cohn, Bay Area Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare, Pacific School of Religion Chapel. April 28, 2018.
 Clyde Fant. https://books.google.com/books?id=apjJGa26LzwC&pg=PA139&lpg=PA139&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false accessed 26 April 2018
 Attributed to Walter Brueggemann.