“Certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile.”J.R.R Tolkien
The story of the Bible anticipates a re-creation; what was lost in the beginning is ultimately restored and renovated; what was a garden created for God’s image bearing people to “cultivate and keep” is, in the end, spread across the face of the earth. The last page of the Bible describes the scene this way:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.Revelation 22:1-3
Our tasks, as children of God, in this New Eden Project, in a world exiled from God but haunted by a longing for Eden, are to:
RE-NARRATE OUR LIVES
The New Eden Project is shaped by the Eden to New Eden story of the Bible. This is the story of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins and his pouring out of the Spirit to re-create and restore us, ending our exile from God replacing our sinful nature with something new. Our lives, our words, our songs, and our actions retell God’s story of salvation in Jesus; they tell not just of the forgiveness of our sins and a pie in the sky future, but our union in the life and love of God so that we become the ‘body of Christ’ in the world. We are a people who live with Jesus as our king and the mission of renewal as our mission. Though we know this mission is ultimately fulfilled in his return and we know that the world and our lives are still marked by sin, suffering, death and curse, we live as those raised with Christ and seated in the heavenly realm. We reject idolatry and grasping self-gratification and seek to bring all things, including our own lives, towards their ultimate ends (or purposes). We live bringing a taste of the resurrected new creation, living now in our persons and our community even in our suffering. We invite people to taste and see that God is good in our lives and spaces as we tell this story.
BE RE-CREATED BY GOD’S SPIRIT
As we move from the patterns of this world, the pattern of Adam and Eve in the fall, to the pattern — or image — of Jesus, and so re-create our lives and the world in alignment with Jesus’ New Eden Project. Eden was a place of work and rest and play; it was a place of ‘re-creation’ as we people, made in God’s image, were to take up the task of ‘cultivating and keeping’ the garden using our God given imaginations and his good gifts to make life and culture (the conditions and creations that flow from pursuing life in God’s presence with him as our God). We work and ‘re-create’ (both rest and re-creation) with the goal of bringing the life and beauty and order of the God of the Bible into the world. We adopt habits consistent with this story and pursue transformation through a renewed mind as we let it dwell among us richly. We do this as people being re-created, in Jesus, by the Spirit, to be people of his eternal kingdom, anticipating the new creation, the new Eden. By the Spirit we are new creations now.
RE-IMAGINE OUR RELATIONSHIPS
Our re-created humanity is being restored and renewed in the image of Jesus, the image of the invisible God.
We, as males and females, are invited to co-operate in Jesus’ project. The first witnesses to the resurrection — in the garden, where Jesus appears like a gardener, are women. We still, though anticipating a new Eden, live in a world whose patterns are shaped by the curse of Genesis 3, where men have used their strength to grasp for power and control. Men caught up in the New Eden Project recognise the power this world gives them in relationships and give it up sacrificially to make space for women in our community — whether in the church gathering, or our homes.
Our co-operation resists this worldly pattern not just looking back to Eden, where we were created as allies in the task of spreading the garden, but to the new Eden, where the curse, and its effect on our relationships, is finally removed. Our co-operation is expressed in all our actions as we model partnerships built on sacrificial love, and dynamic relationships (rather than static hierarchies) where we serve and celebrate one another.
RE-ENCHANT SPACE, TIME & OUR BODIES
Because God has “broken in” to this world in Jesus (a cool place to notice this is in the tearing of the sky at the start of Mark, and the Temple curtain at its end), and through the pouring out of the Spirit, we reject the secular/sacred or natural/supernatural divide and see every moment as holy and the world as enchanted.
We see creation as a gift from God and the proper use of creation as “revealing his divine nature and character of God” as we enjoy it and cultivate it with him present in our lives.
We see work and rest and play as Spiritual practices that proclaim the kingdom we belong to and shape us in the image of the God we worship.
We worship the God revealed in Jesus and serve him as our good and loving king.
We seek to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves, living lives in his kingdom, participating in his renewing and reconciling mission, a mission that culminates in the New Eden.
RE-CLAIM SPACE, TIME & OUR BODIES
How we use our spaces, our time, and our bodies anticipates the New Eden. Our lives present the world with a taste of what is to come.
We recognise our bodies as fundamental to our nature as image-bearing creatures. We are not just souls or minds waiting for some ‘disembodied’ future. How we use our bodies shapes our hearts and souls. We seek to love and serve Jesus as embodied people who belong to Jesus’ New Eden Project. We use our spaces — those we share, occupy, and own — to provide a taste of the sanctuary of Eden, both old and new. They are places of beauty and hospitality. Places where God is glorified and where we recognise his presence and provision. They are places of life and light and water.
RE-SIST THE PATTERNS OF THIS WORLD
The patterns of ‘this world’ are the patterns of idolatry; patterns or ‘liturgies’ created by the worship of created things in the place of the creator. We resist these patterns by deliberately rejecting the pull of idolatry and counter-forming ourselves through different practices.
The nations of people exiled from God are often depicted after the Old Testament as ‘Babylon’ — this is particularly the case in Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Babylon has the power to capture the hearts of the people brought into its power, and its stories.
We resist Babylon through deliberate acts of counter-formation and resistance (including cultural critique and protest or political action).
We have our own distinct aesthetic and practices rather than imitating the world and its forms. This could be in something as radical as hospitality and sabbath, or as mundane as protest or tree planting. The catch is, there is no mundane because every part of our life is marked by the sacred.
RE-PLANT EDEN IN OUR HOMES AND SHARED SPACES
Habitats shape habits. Belief is ‘ecological.’ What we believe is often shaped not just by information, but also by our practices. Our practices are shaped by our environments; including the way we modify our environments with technology and the systems we participate in. Church buildings once provided an architecture for belief in the Gospel; in recent times buildings have become ‘generic’ or storyless — both so that they can be ‘multipurpose’ and so that they feel less strange to those entering a church building for the first time. This means our architecture often no longer specifically supports the telling of our story. Function has triumphed over form; but the ‘forms’ we adopt have a formative function. Space shapes us like the hole that water flows into shapes a puddle.
There are lots of old buildings dedicated to the worship of God — ‘church buildings’ that have, at times, become too close to Babylon, or that need an injection of new life.
We are people who are renewed to bring renewal through God’s story; his story of renewed people living in a renewed world. The God we meet in the Bible, and through the world he made, is the renewing, recreating, God.
We commit to re-claiming and re-creating whatever space possible, ‘church building’ or otherwise, to be used towards the ends of God’s kingdom, bringing a taste of the New Eden and God’s presence in the world by whatever means possible.
We also commit, in our resistance of Babylon, to re-plant natural spaces — to be ‘gardeners’ and stewards who ‘cultivate and keep’ the world God made — so that they reveal his divine nature and character, rather than our ravenous idolatry.
We recognise that as humans sinfully degrade the planet this is evident in the natural world; and so we commit to an alternative pattern of life that stewards and re-creates the life-giving conditions of Eden wherever possible, from community gardens to tree-planting to our own backyards.