Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Friday, August 17, 2018

Recommended Reading: Mayra Rivera's "Poetics of the Flesh"

Recommended: "Poetics of the Flesh:" I have contended for sometime - commencing with my biblical education in undergraduate studies at a bible university - that "flesh" (sarx) and "body" (soma) are intricately intra-connected between the "law of God" and the "law of sin" with no ability to separate the two concepts so simply as many theologies have implied. Here, in Mayra Rivera's review, she does the same while moving the discussion into a postmodern context of inter-relateability of the human soul as it develops through childhood's naive position of "self" to its maturing "mirrored" reflection of "self in the eyes of others," however rightly or wrongly obtained from the words and reactions of others. Others who may bear the best of intentions or the worst of intentions as forebearers of either "life" or "death" to the souls they speak to. All the while this discussion flows between a redefining of how the ancient Greek concepts of flesh and body contemporarily interacts with the wholeness of our being, persona, social relations, and the world itself, including the Creator of this world we live and breathe. In the echoing reflections of NT Wright one might hear the words of "Well done" to Mayra's reconceptions of blending a Greek culture's binary concepts of the world into a unifying whole so emphasized by the earlier Jewish/Semetic custom of "oneness" to the "duality of life" expressed in more blatant Western contexts. As such, to those requiring a new, more maturer, outlook upon the old theologies we have grown up with I would recommend this study.

R.E. Slater
August 17, 2018


Old Bible Illustration of the Parts of Man,
by Dispensational Theologican Clarence Larkin

Old Bible Illustration of the Parts of Man,
by Dispensational Theologican Clarence Larkin

Old Bible Illustration of the Parts of Man,
by the 20th Century Church

Old Bible Illustration of the Parts of Man,
by the 20th Century Church


In "Poetics of the Flesh "Mayra Rivera offers poetic reflections on how we understand our carnal relationship to the world, at once spiritual, organic, and social. She connects conversations about corporeality in theology, political theory, and continental philosophy to show the relationship between the ways ancient Christian thinkers and modern Western philosophers conceive of the "body" and "flesh.” Her readings of the biblical writings of John and Paul as well as the work of Tertullian illustrate how Christian ideas of flesh influenced the works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Michel Foucault, and inform her readings of Judith Butler, Frantz Fanon, and others. Rivera also furthers developments in new materialism by exploring the intersections among bodies, material elements, social arrangements, and discourses through body and flesh. By painting a complex picture of bodies, and by developing an account of how the social materializes in flesh, Rivera provides a new way to understand gender and race.

Amazon link

Review of Poetics of the Flesh
by "Reading Religion,"
Publication of AAR (American Academy of Religion) 

Title: Poetics of the Fles
Author: Mayra Rivera
Publication Date: October 2015
Publisher: Duke University Press, Durham, NC, USA
216 pages.
ISBN - 9780822360131
For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Reading Religion Review

Mayra Rivera guides readers of Poetics of the Flesh on a journey through the rich and diverse understandings of flesh and body in the Western Christian tradition. The monograph is divided into three parts: Part I, “Regarding Christian Bodies,” examines the concepts of “flesh” (sarx) and “body” (soma) in John’s Gospel, Paul’s letters, and Tertullian’s writings; Part II, “The Philosophers’ (Christian) Flesh,” “focuses on flesh as dynamic relation between the body and the world” (58) through the writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and critiques by Michel Foucault, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Luce Irigaray; Part III, “A Labyrinth of Incarnations,” analyzes the particular ways in which flesh is shaped by the world, interlaced with social identities and social perceptions of bodies (114). Many voices join the discussion here, with primary attention given to Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, and Judith Butler. Although it is a challenging read, this book constructively advances theological anthropology and material discourses by creatively (re)making (poiesis) words that become flesh.

As Rivera explains, “Poetics of the Flesh is inspired by the practice of Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation” (2). Rivera cites Derek Walcott’s description of Glissant’s poetics, which is analogously compared to lovingly gathering and reassembling the pieces of a broken vase. Rivera approaches the texts, which range from Greek scriptures to continental phenomenology to Caribbean poetry, “as part of ongoing, sometimes painful processes of remaking visions of corporeality—out of pieces of shattered histories and shards of vocabulary” (4). Indeed, this analogy of carefully and creatively (re)constructing a theology of flesh well describes Rivera’s text. She begins this process by problemetizing, with Sharon Betcher, the recent theological turn to the body which sometimes “represents the unattainable stability that social norms demand but that corporeality cannot mirror” (7). Poetics of the Flesh offers a theological response to Betcher’s call to “learn to think flesh without ‘the body’” (7).

While some readers (including myself, I confess) may be initially frustrated by Rivera’s refusal to clearly distinguish between “flesh” and “body” in her introductory chapter, it gradually becomes evident that doing so would undermine the project as a whole. “Words do not simply mirror what is, or express the thoughts and desires of a person, but rather shape reality and subjectivity. . . . We are interested in processes of materialization—not just in matter” (9). Re-reading the introduction, having read the body of Rivera’s text, I now recognize that any facile attempt at the outset to define the words “body” and “flesh” would obscure not only their complex genealogies but also the subtleties of becoming flesh that are (in some ways) continued and (in other ways) initiated by Rivera’s poetic processes of materialization in which the reader becomes ever more intertwined and interlaced.

Chapter 1, as one might expect, examines the term “flesh” in John’s Gospel. Far from a philological analysis of sarx, however, Rivera’s thematic trek through the Fourth Gospel incorporates interpretations by Karmen MacKendrick, Tat-siong Benny Liew, and others. Most notably, she draws upon liberationist readings of Bartolomé de las Casas and the “elemental materiality [that] connects the bodies of workers with shared bread, with consecrated bread” (23). The gospel, Rivera asserts, resists attempts to literally or figuratively separate word, flesh, spirit, and bread—all the while interlacing boundaries between individual and societal bodies.

Distinctions between flesh (sarx) and body (soma) are simultaneously sharpened and blurred through Rivera’s examination of the Pauline Epistles (chapter 2). For Paul, metaphysically transcendent spiritual bodies enslaved to the “law of God” stand in contrast to flesh enslaved to the “law of sin” (36, citing Romans 7:25). In chapter 3, Rivera traces “the affirmative images of flesh [in Tertullian’s writings], as they unfold from the poetics of the Gospel of John and the letters of Paul” (44). Here, the logic of poetics operates on two levels: within Tertullian’s corpus and in Rivera’s revitalization thereof. Without excusing or condemning Tertullian’s gendered hierarchies, Rivera demonstrates that the gender rift undermines his argument: “unless you can embrace your own flesh, and its beginnings in the flesh of another, you cannot love other fleshly beings—nor can you understand the incarnation” (53).

While the intricacies of Part II can hardly be summarized in this brief review, one moment strikes me as an especially poignant passage from the heart of the text. In a section entitled “intercorporeal engagements,” Rivera highlights Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of child psychology. In the developmental transition from subjective indistinction to individuality (a process which Merleau-Ponty insists “is never completely finished” (68)), a child enters the “mirror stage.” “In recognizing her image in the mirror,” explains Rivera, “the child learns that there can be a viewpoint taken on her. The child notices that she is visible, to herself and to others” (69). “[M]y experience of my body,” she continues, “is always already entwined with images that others have of me. . . . I borrow myself from others” (70).

Personally, I only truly began to grasp Rivera’s constructive theology of flesh at this point in the text. Unless I am misreading and perhaps making too much of but one passage, I would have preferred some foreshadowing of this moment—which is woven through later portions of the text—in the introduction. Rivera performs an apophatic phenomenology of multiplication (contra negation) through which touching flesh intertwines as a desire for the “you in me and the me in you” (77, John 14:20). This interlacing of inner and social identities informs Rivera’s reading of Frantz Fanon’s critique of Merleau-Ponty and—even more rewardingly—Fanon’s reading of fellow Martinican Aimé Césaire. Rivera, who later offers a critique of Simone de Beauvoir, notes that these authors become black and become gendered as “effects of the white gaze” (129).

Mayra Rivera’s Poetics of the Flesh is (for me, at least) a challenging text that is well worth the effort and attention it demands of its reader. The difficulty it poses is due to the richly profound space it opens for a carnal theology in which the reader is always already entangled and involved. The monograph might be faulted for omitting any engagement (critical or otherwise) with the writings of Jean-Luc Marion, which also explore Merleau-Ponty’s sensual phenomenology of flesh from a postmodern theological perspective. Nevertheless, Rivera’s text makes significant and noteworthy advancement, not only in theological anthropology, critical theory, and materiality, but also in an apophatic theology grounded in the immanent indeterminacy of multiplicity and relational, worldly ontology. While the book is unlikely to find its way onto undergraduate syllabi, it can be considered an enjoyable “must read” for many theologians, philosophers, and advanced graduate students.

About the Reviewer
Brad Bannon is an adjunct professor of theology at Fitchburg State University.
Date of Review: May 30, 2016

About the Author
Mayra Rivera is Associate Professor of Theology and Latina/o Studies at Harvard University and the author of The Touch of Transcendence: A Postcolonial Theology of God.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Amazing Story of Oxygen

I noticed I had not talked about the story of oxygen. I have mentioned it in several articles over the years but not explicitly. In a nutshell, oxygen was a toxic gas in primordial earth's early history until it was not. How and why did this happen? It begins with the story of methane gas. Further, it seems to explain quite sufficiently the explosion of life in the Cambrian Period which everyone seems to make a fuss over (Why All the Fuss over Earth's Remarkable Cambrian Explosion?). So to help develop this line of thought I wish to briefly begin this discussion with no further commentary. I leave it to the reader to develop its language. I also wish to tag it to my most recent article written earlier today (Choosing Life And The Responsibilities of Good Earth Caretake Which Go With It).

R.E. Slater
August 15, 2018
* * * * * * * * * *

Photo of earth filled with thick, methane-rich haze


A period more than 2.4 billion years ago, when
Earth’s atmosphere was filled with a thick, methane-rich haze
much like Saturn’s moon Titan.

Methane-filled Atmosphere of Early Earth
Helped ‘Clear the Air’ for Oxygen

March 13, 2017
Contacts: Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- More than 2.4 billion years ago, Earth’s atmosphere was inhospitable, filled with toxic gases that drove wildly fluctuating surface temperatures. New research from the University of Maryland, the University of St. Andrews, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Leeds and the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science suggests that a million-year-long methane haze helped clear the way for today’s world of mild climates and breathable air.

The team’s new research indicates that this methane-rich haze drove a large amount of hydrogen out of the atmosphere, making room for massive amounts of oxygen. Their work, published March 13, 2017 in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, thus proposes a new contributing cause for the “Great Oxidation Event,” which occurred 2.4 billion years ago. During this event, oxygen concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere increased more than 10,000 times, resulting in an atmosphere much like the one that sustains life on Earth today. 

“The transformation of Earth’s air from a toxic mix to a more welcoming, oxygen-rich atmosphere happened in a geological instant,” said James Farquhar, a professor of geology at UMD and a co-author of the study. Farquhar also has an appointment at UMD’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center. “With this study, we finally have the first complete picture of how methane haze made this happen.”

The researchers used detailed chemical records and sophisticated atmospheric models to reconstruct atmospheric chemistry during the time period immediately before the Great Oxidation Event. Their results suggest that ancient bacteria—the only life on Earth at the time—produced massive amounts of methane that reacted to fill the air with a thick haze, resembling the modern-day atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. 

Previous studies by many of the same researchers had identified several such haze events early in Earth’s history. But the current study is the first to show how rapidly these events began and how long they lasted.

“High methane levels meant that more hydrogen, the main gas preventing the build up of oxygen, could escape into outer space, paving the way for global oxygenation,” said Aubrey Zerkle, a biogeochemist at the University of St. Andrews and a co-author of the study. “Our new dataset constitutes the highest resolution record of Archean atmospheric chemistry ever produced, and paints a dramatic picture of Earth surface conditions before the oxygenation of our planet.”

The methane haze persisted for about a million years. After enough hydrogen left the atmosphere, the right chemical conditions took over and the oxygen boom got underway, enabling the evolution of all multicellular life. 

The key to the researchers’ analysis was the discovery of anomalous patterns of sulfur isotopes in the geochemical records from this time. Sulfur isotopes are often used as a proxy to reconstruct ancient atmospheric conditions, but previous investigations into the time period in question had not revealed anything too unusual.

“Reconstructing the evolution of atmospheric chemistry has long been the focus of geochemical research,” said Gareth Izon, lead author of the study, who contributed to the research while a postdoctoral researcher at St. Andrews and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Our new data show that the chemical composition of the atmosphere was dynamic and, at least in the prelude to the Great Oxidation Event, hypersensitive to biological regulation.” 

This release is based on text provided by the University of St. Andrews.

The research paper, “Biological regulation of atmospheric chemistry en route to planetary oxygenation,” Gareth Izon, Aubrey Zerkle, Kenneth Williford, James Farquar, Simon Poulton, and Mark Claire, was published March 13, 2017 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (Award Nos. NE/H016805 and NE/J023485), the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society, The Geological Society of London’s Alan and Charlotte Welch Fund, NASA (Award No. NNX12AD91G), The Royal Society, and the European Research Council (Award No. 678812). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

* * * * * * * * * *

Evolution Of The Atmosphere:
Composition, Structure And Energy

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and west are mine, and the north and the south are mine
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness - all seems beautiful to me.

- Song of the Open Road, Walt Whitman

Driving Questions:
  • How did the atmosphere evolve into what it is today?
  • What gases in the atmosphere are important to life and how are they maintained?
  • What natural variations occur in atmospheric constituents and what are the important time scales for change?

1. The Earliest Atmosphere, Oceans, and Continents

After loss of the hydrogen, helium and other hydrogen-containing gases from early Earth due to the Sun's radiation, primitive Earth was devoid of an atmosphere. The first atmosphere was formed by outgassing of gases trapped in the interior of the early Earth, which still goes on today in volcanoes. 

For the Early Earth, extreme volcanism occurred during differentiation, when massive heating and fluid-like motion in the mantle occurred. It is likely that the bulk of the atmosphere was derived from degassing early in the Earth's history. The gases emitted by volcanoes today are in Table 1 and in Figure.

Composition of volcanic gases for three volcanoes

Volcanic outgassing

Oxygen in the Atmosphere

    Stromatolite and Banded-iron Formation (BIF)

Life started to have a major impact on the environment once photosynthetic organisms evolved. These organisms, blue-green algae (picture of stromatolite, which is the rock formed by these algae), fed off atmospheric carbon dioxide and converted much of it into marine sediments consisting of the shells of sea creatures.

While photosynthetic life reduced the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, it also started to produce oxygen. For a long time, the oxygen produced did not build up in the atmosphere, since it was taken up by rocks, as recorded in Banded Iron Formations (BIFs; picture) and continental red beds. To this day, the majority of oxygen produced over time is locked up in the ancient "banded rock" and "red bed" formations. It was not until probably only 1 billion years ago that the reservoirs of oxidizable rock became saturated and the free oxygen stayed in the air.

The oxidation of the the mantle rocks may have played an important role in the rise of oxygen. It has been hypothesized the the change from predominantly submarine to subaerial volcanoes may have also led to a reduction in volcanic emission of reduced gases.

Once oxygen had been produced, ultraviolet light split the molecules, producing the ozone UV shield as a by-product. Only at this point did life move out of the oceans and respiration evolved. We will discuss these issues in greater detail later on in this course. 

Early Oceans

The Early atmosphere was probably dominated at first by water vapor, which, as the temperature dropped, would rain out and form the oceans. This would have been a deluge of truly global proportions an resulted in further reduction of CO2. Then the atmosphere was dominated by nitrogen, but there was certainly no oxygen in the early atmosphere. The dominance of Banded-Iron Formations (BIFs; see picture) before 2.5Ga indicates that Fe occurred in its reduced state (Fe2+). Whereas reduced Fe is much more soluble than oxidized Fe (Fe3+), it rapidly oxidizes during transport. However, the dissolved O in early oceans reacted with Fe to form Fe-oxide in BIFs. As soon as sufficient O entered the atmosphere, Fe takes the oxidized state and is no longer soluble. The first occurrence of redbeds, a sediments that contains oxidized iron, marks this major transition in Earth's atmosphere.

Cumulative history of O2 by photosynthesis over
geologic time. The start of free O is likely earlier
than shown.

Early Continents

Lava flowing from the partially molten interior spread over the surface and solidified to form a thin crust. This crust would have melted and solidified repeatedly, with the lighter compounds moving to the surface. This is called differentiation. Weathering by rainfall broke up and altered the rocks. The end result of these processes was a continental land mass, which would have grown over time. The most popular theory limits the growth of continents to the first two billion years of the Earth. 

2. Evolution of the Present Atmosphere

The evolution of the atmosphere could be divided into four separate stages:
  • Origin
  • Chemical/ pre-biological era
  • Microbial era, and
  • Biological era.
and the first three steps were discussed in detail. The composition of the present atmosphere however required the formation of oxygen to sufficient levels to sustain life, and required life to create the sufficient levels of oxygen. This era of evolution of the atmosphere is called the "Biological Era."
The Biological Era - The Formation of Atmospheric Oxygen

The biological era was marked by the simultaneous decrease in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and the increase in oxygen (O2) due to life processes. We need to understand how photosynthesis could have led to maintenance of the ~20% present-day level of O2. The build up of oxygen had three major consequences that we should note here.

Firstly, Eukaryotic metabolism could only have begun once the level of oxygen had built up to about 0.2%, or ~1% of its present abundance. This must have occurred by ~2 billion years ago, according to the fossil record. Thus, the eukaryotes came about as a consequence of the long, steady, but less efficient earlier photosynthesis carried out by Prokaryotes.

Oxygen through photolysis
Figure 1. Photolysis of water vapor and carbon dioxide produce hydroxyl and atomic oxygen, respectively, that, in turn, produce oxygen in small concentrations. This process produced oxygen for the early atmosphere before photosynthesis became dominant.

Oxygen increased in stages, first through photolysis (Figure 1) of water vapor and carbon dioxide by ultraviolet energy and, possibly, lightning:

H2O -> H + OH

produces a hydroxyl radiacal (OH) and

CO2 -> CO+ O

produces an atomic oxygen (O). The OH is very reactive and combines with the O

O + OH -> O2 + H

The hydrogen atoms formed in these reactions are light and some small fraction excape to space allowing the O2 to build to a very low concentration, probably yielded only about 1% of the oxygen available today.

Secondly, once sufficient oxygen had accumulated in the stratosphere, it was acted on by sunlight to form ozone, which allowed colonization of the land. The first evidence for vascular plant colonization of the land dates back to ~400 million years ago.

Thirdly, the availability of oxygen enabled a diversification of metabolic pathways, leading to a great increase in efficiency. The bulk of the oxygen formed once life began on the planet, principally through the process of photosynthesis:

6CO2 + 6H2O <--> C6H12O6 + 6O2

where carbon dioxide and water vapor, in the presence of light, produce organics and oxygen. The reaction can go either way as in the case of respiration or decay the organic matter takes up oxygen to form carbon dioxide and water vapor.

Life started to have a major impact on the environment once photosynthetic organisms evolved. These organisms fed off atmospheric carbon dioxide and converted much of it into marine sediments consisting of the innumerable shells and decomposed remnants of sea creatures.

Cumulative history of O2 by photosynthesis
through geologic time.

While photosynthetic life reduced the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, it also started to produce oxygen. The oxygen did not build up in the atmosphere for a long time, since it was absorbed by rocks that could be easily oxidized (rusted). To this day, most of the oxygen produced over time is locked up in the ancient "banded rock" and "red bed" rock formations found in ancient sedimentary rock. It was not until ~1 billion years ago that the reservoirs of oxidizable rock became saturated and the free oxygen stayed in the air. The figure illustrates a possible scenario.

We have briefly mentioned the difference between reducing (electron-rich) and oxidizing (electron hungry) substances. Oxygen is the most important example of the latter type of substance that led to the term oxidation for the process of transferring electrons from reducing to oxidizing materials. This consideration is important for our discussion of atmospheric evolution, since the oxygen produced by early photosynthesis must have readily combined with any available reducing substance. It did not have far to look!

We have been able to outline the steps in the long drawn out process of producing present-day levels of oxygen in the atmosphere. We refer here to the geological evidence.

Banded Iron Formations

When the oceans first formed, the waters must have dissolved enormous quantities of reducing iron ions, such as Fe2+. These ferrous ions were the consequences of millions of years of rock weathering in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment. The first oxygen produced in the oceans by the early prokaryotic cells would have quickly been taken up in oxidizing reactions with dissolved iron. This oceanic oxidization reaction produces Ferric oxide Fe2O3 that would have deposited in ocean floor sediments. The earliest evidence of this process dates back to the Banded Iron Formations, which reach a peak occurrence in metamorphosed sedimentary rock at least 3.5 billion years old. Most of the major economic deposits of iron ore are from Banded Iron formations. These formations, were created as sediments in ancient oceans and are found in rocks in the range 2 - 3.5 billion years old. Very few banded iron formations have been found with more recent dates, suggesting that the continued production of oxygen had finally exhausted the capability of the dissolved iron ions reservoir. At this point another process started to take up the available oxygen.

Red Beds

Once the ocean reservoir had been exhausted, the newly created oxygen found another large reservoir - reduced minerals available on the barren land. Oxidization of reduced minerals, such as pyrite FeS2, exposed on land would transfer oxidized substances to rivers and out to the oceans via river flow. Deposits of Fe2O3 that are found in alternating layers with other sediments of land origin are known as Red Beds, and are found to date from 2.0 billion years ago. The earliest occurrence of red beds is roughly simultaneous with the disappearance of the banded iron formation, further evidence that the oceans were cleared of reduced metals before O2 began to diffuse into the atmosphere.

Finally after another 1.5 billion years or so, the red bed reservoir became exhausted too (although it is continually being regenerated through weathering) and oxygen finally started to accumulate in the atmosphere itself. This signal event initiated eukaryotic cell development, land colonization, and species diversification. Perhaps this period rivals differentiation as the most important event in Earth history.

The oxygen built up to today's value only after the colonization of land by green plants, leading to efficient and ubiquitous photosynthesis. The current level of 20% seems stable.

The Oxygen Concentration Problem.

Why does present-day oxygen sit at 20%? This is not a trivial question since significantly lower or higher levels would be damaging to life. If we had < 15% oxygen, fires would not burn, yet at > 25% oxygen, even wet organic matter would burn freely.

The Early Ultraviolet Problem

The genetic materials of cells (DNA) is highly susceptible to damage by ultraviolet light at wavelengths near 0.25 µm. It is estimated that typical contemporary microorganisms would be killed in a matter of seconds if exposed to the full intensity of solar radiation at these wavelength. Today, of course, such organisms are protected by the atmospheric ozone layer that effectively absorbs light at these short wavelengths, but what happened in the early Earth prior to the significant production of atmospheric oxygen? There is no problem for the original non-photosynthetic microorganisms that could quite happily have lived in the deep ocean and in muds, well hidden from sunlight. But for the early photosynthetic prokaryotes, it must have been a matter of life and death.

It is a classical "chicken and egg" problem. In order to become photosynthetic, early microorganisms must have had access to sunlight, yet they must have also had protection against the UV radiation. The oceans only provide limited protection. Since water does not absorb very strongly in the ultraviolet a depth of several tens of meters is needed for full UV protection. Perhaps the organisms used a protective layer of the dead bodies of their brethren. Perhaps this is the origin of the stromatolites - algal mats that would have provided adequate protection for those organisms buried a few millimeters in. Perhaps the early organisms had a protective UV-absorbing case made up of disposable DNA - there is some intriguing evidence of unused modern elaborate repair mechanisms that allow certain cells to repair moderate UV damage to their DNA. However it was accomplished, we know that natural selection worked in favor of the photosynthetic microorganisms, leading to further diversification.

Fluctuations in Oxygen

The history of macroscopic life on Earth is divided into three great eras: the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic. Each era is then divided into periods. The latter half of the Paleozoic era, includes the Devonian period, which ended about 360 million years ago, the Carboniferous period, which ended about 280 million years ago, and the Permian period, which ended about 250 million years ago.

According to recently developed geochemical models, oxygen levels are believed to have climbed to a maximum of 35 percent and then dropped to a low of 15 percent during a 120-million-year period that ended in a mass extinction at the end of the Permian. Such a jump in oxygen would have had dramatic biological consequences by enhancing diffusion-dependent processes such as respiration, allowing insects such as dragonflies, centipedes, scorpions and spiders to grow to very large sizes. Fossil records indicate, for example, that one species of dragonfly had a wing span of 2 1/2 feet.

Geochemical models indicate that near the close of the Paleozoic era, during the Permian period, global atmospheric oxygen levels dropped to about 15 percent, lower that the current atmospheric level of 21 percent. The Permian period is marked by one of the greatest extinctions of both land and aquatic animals, including the giant dragonflies. But it is not believed that the drop in oxygen played a significant role in causing the extinction. Some creatures that became specially adapted to living in an oxygen-rich environment, such as the large flying insects and other giant arthropods, however, may have been unable to survive when the oxygen atmosphere underwent dramatic change. 

3. Composition of the Present Atmosphere

Comparison to Other Planets

The overall composition of the earth's atmosphere is summarized below along with a comparison to the atmospheres on Venus and Mars - our closest neighbors.

The variations in concentration from the Earth to Mars and Venus result from the different processes that influenced the development of each atmosphere. While Venus is too warm and Mars is too cold for liquid water the Earth is at just such a distance from the Sun that water was able to form in all three phases, gaseous, liquid and solid. Through condensation the water vapor in our atmosphere was removed over time to form the oceans. Additionally, because carbon dioxide is slightly soluble in water it too was removed slowly from the atmosphere leaving the relatively scarce but unreactive nitrogen to build up to the 78% is holds today.

Current Composition

The concentrations of gases in the earth atmosphere is now known to be (ignoring water vapor, which varies between near zero to a few percent):

The unit of percentage listed here are for comparison sake. For most atmospheric studies the concentration is expressed as parts per million (by volume). That is, in a million units of air how may units would be that species. Carbon dioxide has a concentration of about 350 ppm in the atmosphere (i.e. 0.000350 of the atmosphere or 0.0350 percent).

Greenhouse Gases

Radiative Properties

Objects that absorb all radiation incident upon them are called "blackbody" absorbers. The earth is close to being a black body absorber. Gases, on the other hand, are selective in their absorption characteristics. While many gases do not absorb radiation at all some selectively absorb only at certain wavelengths. Those gases that are "selective absorbers" of solar energy are the gases we know as "Greenhouse Gases."

The interactive activity to the right allows you to visualize how each greenhouse gas selectively absorbs radiation. Wien's Law states that the wavelength of maximum emission of radiation is inversely proportional to the object's temperature. Using that law we know that the wavelength of maximum emission for the Sun is about 0.5 µm (1 µm = 10-6 m) and the wavelength for maximum emission by the Earth is about 10 µm. In the activity to the right see where the greenhouse gases absorb relative to those two important wavelengths.

Sources and Sinks

Greenhouse Gases (apart from water vapor) include:
and each have different sources (emission mechanisms) and sinks (removal mechanisms) as outlined below.

Carbon Dioxide
  • Sources Released by the combustion of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas), flaring of natural gas, changes in land use (deforestation, burning and clearing land for agricultural purposes), and manufacturing of cement
  • Sinks Photosynthesis and deposition to the ocean.
  • Importance Accounts for about half of all warming potential caused by human activity.

  • Sources Landfills, wetlands and bogs, domestic livestock, coal mining, wet rice growing, natural gas pipeline leaks, biomass burning, and termites.
  • Sinks Chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
  • Importance Molecule for molecule, methane traps heat 20-30 times more efficiently than CO2. Within 50 years it could become the most significant greenhouse gas.

Nitrous Oxide
  • Sources Burning of coal and wood, as well as soil microbes' digestion.
  • Sinks Chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
  • Importance Long-lasting gas that eventually reaches the stratosphere where it participates in ozone destruction.

  • Sources Not emitted directly, ozone is formed in the atmosphere through photochemical reactions involving nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons in the presence of sunlight.
  • Sinks Deposition to the surface, chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
  • Importance In the troposphere ozone is a pollutant. In the stratosphere it absorbs hazardous ultraviolet radiation.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Sources Used for many years in refrigerators, automobile air conditioners, solvents, aerosol propellants and insulation.
  • Sinks Degradation occurs in the upper atmosphere at the expenses of the ozone layer. One CFC molecule can initiate the destruction of as many as 100,000 ozone molecules.
  • Importance The most powerful of greenhouse gases — in the atmosphere one molecule of CFC has about 20,000 times the heat trapping power on a molecule of CO2.

4. Summary

We developed a few useful tools for the study of biogeochemical cycles. These include the concepts of the reservoir, fluxes, and equilibria.

Atmospheric evolution progressed in four stages, leading to the current situation. The atmosphere has not always been as it is today - and it will change again in the future. It is closely controlled by life and, in turn, controls life processes. Complex feedback mechanisms are at play that we do not yet understand. 

Oxygen became a key atmospheric constituent due entirely to life processes. It built up slowly over time, first oxidizing materials in the oceans and then on land. The current level (20%) is maintained by processes not yet understood. 

Sometime just before the Cambrian, atmospheric oxygen reached levels close enough to today's to allow for the rapid evolution of the higher life forms. For the rest of geologic time, the oxygen in the atmosphere has been maintained by the photosynthesis of the green plants of the world, much of it by green algae in the surface waters of the ocean.

Selective absorbers in our atmosphere keep the surface of the earth warmer than they would be without an atmosphere.

Copyright © Regents of the University of Michigan

Choosing Life And The Responsibilities of Good Earth Caretake Which Go With It.

My apologies ahead of this article I wrote today. Cold reality seems to have gripped my spirit this morning on a subject I consider quite important. So here goes...

Alaskans lighting the snow on fire... what gives?? We should remember that in addition to glacial melting, on the bottom of the ocean floor resides another vast quantity of methane gas slowly cycling upwards through the hydraulic salinity "cyclone streams" pouring out of the North Atlantic's sea beds. As it enters into the surfaces of the ocean it than transpires into the atmosphere to add to the CO2 load held in the air which, of course, then heats everything up.

Humanity has already reached the tipping point as the earth is heats up evidenced by major weather events across the globe. These events would include all the fire conflagrations which have followed the seasons this past year as they have moved from South America's fires into North America's devastated west lands. Without checking (I'll let the reader do this) I assume this is also occurring across the seas from India into Russia. Then there are major weather events caused by global warming like coastal flooding, wind storms, the dying off of animal and insect populations, the movement of warm latitude flora northwards into once colder areas, the rapid changing of the coastlines where most populations live, etc and etc.

The point being, we tend to be optimistic against the streams of negative reality, so we hope our current and future technologies might be able to capture these new sources of raw energy to utilize it in a way that is nurturing to the earth. How that occurs I have no idea because even though you can break gas down its residual gases still must be "recycled" in a way that isn't harmful to the environment.

My last observation: The earth has always gone through periods of warming - as we are witnessing now. Sometimes it is a prolonged period before it goes back into a "winter sleep" or ice age of some kind. What makes this warming event unusual is that the warming period mankind is experiencing is based upon anthropocene events (e.g., "Man Made events"). As such, a "warming earth" in response to mankind's industrial efforts to provide food, clothing, housing, and transportation makes it all-more-unusual-and-worrisome in its after effects. Usually biologic life dies off in the extreme cases, while at other times it morphs evolutionally into something else. Whatever the case is we won't know because we won't live long enough to see this environmental vs. biologic evolutionary life cycle. Those events take millions, tens of millions, and even hundreds of millions of years to produce.

Which is why religion becomes important to many, as we understand ourselves to be temporary life-events which come-and-go with whatever evolutionary opportunity presents itself. But for the spiritual person, we understand we are part of a much larger cycle of life occurring all around us. For now, the age of Homo Sapiens has been occurring well over the past several hundred thousand years (250,000 BC? earlier? 600,000 BC?). Eventually something else transpires and our race will change again. We know this as the "cycle of life" and relate to it through a faith that usually says, "Whatever the event, our God is present with us, even unto death itself."

But the unkindness of this thought is that the world's industrial revolution has been so successful that we have succeeded in displacing our biologic record sooner than later. Again, perhaps with a global embrace of "solving earth-warming events", mankind might outlast itself. But from what we've seen and read in the most mechanized civilization on the planet, America, this hope is a fiction and does not seem to reinforce that the effort required to solve massive global warming domestically, let alone internationally. Interestingly, lesser mechanized civilizations like China and India are attempting to make greater strides in environmental legislation - but out of necessity because of the high atmospheric smogs covering their large cities whose populations are choking down and ingesting atmospheric wastes. The health effects on both citizen and nature has been immense. America too, has these events going on in it - it just isn't being talked about in the press which has become victimized by a growing society of "fake news" or, "post-truth", adherents.

The point is, we've gone past the point of no-return in global population growth. Eight billion people is a lot. Within 30-50 years the earth will hold 12 billion and rising unless global events remove this growth pattern. What we know is that population grown is becoming unsustainable as it cannibalizes its resources leaving none for future generations ahead of itself. But no worries, what the earth doesn't kill off in weather events, plagues and pan virus epidemics well. It won't require massive wars to kill each other off for dwindling resources like drinking water and green spaces to grow food. Nope, we'll be helped along in our destruction by the events we have unknowingly set in place - and have kept in place - through ignorance or dismissal.

As such, I rest in the knowledge that the Lord is there to guide us into life-filled, physically and spiritually healthy directions. However, it is to our destruction when we ignore this divine guidance by marching to the beat of our own music. The bible does illustrate this life lesson in repeated cycles described as "sin" throughout its Old and New Testament journeys. As much, to those faithful to the God of Creation, we seek to listen and obey to His instruction to remember our caretake of this fragile earth from which so much blessing has been reaped and from which so much hope is derived.


R.E. Slater
August 15, 2018

Related Topics - The Amazing Story of Oxygen

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Of the Failure of Church Leadership in the Age of Man: Willow Creek Pastors and Elder Board Step Down

Sad, but true. And to think I had just used Bill Hybels in a constructive illustration to a senior fellowship group not more than two weeks ago. That illustration is no less true today than it was then but the reality of the life events of a very respected personage I've been reading about this week saddens me beyond measure.

Here was a pastoral life filled with unexpressed agony hidden behind the ministerial cowl of leadership needing help while adding to the grief of others in unloving, unChristlike ways. But rather than casting stones we pray for healing for all who are suffering and for the church, Willow Creek, which has blessed so many, while reminding ourselves once again to beware looking down upon the broken lives of others when our own live's may be just as broken.

From all appearances, Mr. Hybels needed a trustworthy inner-circle of counselors, but this was the one thing he could not have as he doubted if his honest self-revelations might be compromised by untruthful, gossiping, or immature counselors. And so, with skeptical (or self-protective) reasoning, he held back losing any opportunity for personal healing and growth from a tortured life while adding in the grief and harm of many over his long years of ministry.

I think we must always remember, the church is a flawed thing. We all know this. Or should know this. And we shouldn't be surprised when the church spectacularly fails, as it has been doing recently across America's borders in supporting unrighteous government, corrupt officials, and abusive federal policies cloaked under the cloth of patriotic nationalism.

If anything, it is a wonderment that God's chosen instrument, the church, which is to share the Gospel of His Love and Salvation through Christ Jesus, has managed to continue through the centuries against its continuing legacies of failure, sin, lies, and betrayals.

Because of this legacy, many a congregant has turned away from the (institutionalized or secularized) church grieved by the harm they have experienced in the fellowship of God's people preaching one thing but doing-and-being another.

Or, become those who are dismayed to the point of leaving even their own faith, such as it was. Which is a very sad thing indeed. And to those precious few filled with the hope and promise which Christ's salvation has brought into their lives - the church can shatter even these precious souls to the point of silence... an awful silence so deafening that God's people's failure is insurmountable to the shattered lives requiring healing.

In the Gospels these illustrations are borne up by the teaching of Jesus regarding the kind of "soil" a faith may, or may not, thrive in. And as any farmer knows, to bear a good crop requires constant tending against the rains, the birds of the air, rocky soils, and weeds (tares).

Even so must the church of God hold true to Jesus - not to a religion nor to a dogma. But to Jesus who is our ever present help and personal Savior. That in Jesus is where the Spirit of God resides - and so must the children of God who are advised to be as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves (Matthew 10.16).

We come to church not only to receive but also to give. And when we give we must understand how a thriving faith may be derailed even within the fellowship of God - by a stray tongue, an unloving gesture, or a failed leadership.

When this happens we do not leave our Lord but remind ourselves to minister-in-place until the Lord calls us out and there is no longer any ministry therein to witness or give to. And when this happens, to remember, the church lives on in the hearts and souls of God's faithful ones - not in an institution, or an organization, or a class of beliefs. But by the Spirit of God Himself within the beating breast of every man, woman, and child.

R.E. Slater
August 9, 2018

Names of the Twelve

1And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. 2Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphæus, and Lebbæus, whose surname was Thaddæus; 4Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.

Their Work Outlined

5These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. 9Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, 10nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. 11And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. 12And when ye come into an house, salute it. 13And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. 15Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

16Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. 21And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. 23But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. 24The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. 25It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?

26Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. 27What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. 28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. 30But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. 32Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

34Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. 37He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 39He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

40He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. 41He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. 42And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

* * * * * * * *

Willow Creek Community Church Elder Missy Rasmussen
announces the resignation of the elders leadership on Aug. 8, 2018,
in South Barrington following allegations against founding
Pastor Bill Hybels. (Willow Creek Community Church).

Willow Creek pastor, elders step down,
admit mishandling allegations against Bill Hybels
Manya Brachear Pashman
Chicago Tribune

Answering critics' calls to let new leaders shepherd northwest suburban Willow Creek Community Church, lead pastor Heather Larson and other church elders resigned Wednesday and apologized for mishandling allegations that church founder Bill Hybels engaged in improper behavior with women.

Larson and the elders announced their resignations Wednesday evening during a packed congregational meeting at the church’s South Barrington campus. Audience members applauded the elders’ decision. But some people audibly groaned over Larson’s announcement, and one even approached the stage in protest.

“It has become clear to me that this church needs a fresh start,” Larson said.

“This is really important,” she said. “Trust has been broken by leadership, and it doesn’t return quickly. There is urgency to move us in a better direction.”

Hbels stepped down from the helm of the megachurch in April following a Tribune investigation that revealed allegations of misconduct with women — including church employees — that spanned decades. Women have continued to come forward with allegations, among them Hybels’ former executive assistant, who told The New York Times that she was sexually harassed and fondled by the pastor for over two years in the 1980s. Hybels denied those allegations.

The alleged behavior detailed by the Tribune included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who reversed herself and said her claim about the affair was not true when confronted by an elder in 2014. Hybels has denied the allegations against him but apologized to the congregation for taking a defensive stance “instead of one that invited conversation and learning.”

On Wednesday, church elder Missy Rasmussen told the congregation that elders believe Hybels’ sins go “beyond what he previously admitted on stage.

  • “We were not aware of many of the choices he made in private and therefore did not hold him accountable in meaningful ways,” said Rasmussen, who has served on the elder board for seven years.

Hybels was the subject of a series of inquiries overseen by Willow Creek’s elders, including one conducted by an outside law firm. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in those inquires. With the elders’ knowledge, he continued to counsel the woman who alleged, then retracted, her story of having a 14-year affair with Hybels. When members of the Willow Creek Association board questioned that conflict of interest, elders said he was fulfilling his pastoral duty because the woman was suicidal and had kept them informed every time the woman reached out to him.

On Wednesday, elders conceded that letting Hybels counsel the woman was wrong. They expressed regret for conducting their inquiries with the goal of finding definitive evidence of an affair, not with a goal of ensuring the pastor’s behavior was “above reproach.”

“We also weren’t as objective as we should have been,” Rasmussen said. “We viewed the allegations through a lens of trust we had in Bill that clouded our judgment and caused us to not act quickly enough.”

Hybels had named Larson and teaching pastor Steve Carter as his successors last October, before the allegations became public, but planned to stay another year to ready them for their roles. Since stepping down in April, he has had no role with the church that he founded in a rented movie theater nearly 43 years ago and built into one of the nation’s most iconic and influential megachurches.

Larson had served as executive pastor of Willow Creek for five years, overseeing the church’s $77 million budget and 350 employees. Her role as lead pastor, or essentially CEO, included oversight of the church’s main campus in South Barrington and the seven satellite campuses in the city and suburbs.

Carter stepped into the pulpit long dominated by Hybels but did not appear on stage Sunday. He announced his resignation later that day, citing “a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best.”

Scot McKnight, a Christian author and professor at Northern Seminary in Lombard who has preached at Willow Creek in past years, called for the resignation of Willow’s leadership Monday and the creation of an independent council to guide Willow Creek out of the controversy.

“The leaders are complicit,” he wrote. “The leaders — Heather Larson, elders — supported that narrative and maligned the women. They, both (church elders) and (the Willow Creek Association), refused an independent investigation. They chose not to be transparent. Their time is up.”

Wednesday’s announcement seemed to heed that call.

Steve Gillen, pastor of Willow Creek’s North Shore regional campus, will serve as Willow Creek’s interim leader.

Rasmussen said all the elders would leave in waves, starting next Wednesday until the end of the year. She said there will be an external review of the church’s governance to help future leaders.

Vonda Dyer, a former director of the church’s vocal ministry, was one of Hybels’ accusers. She told the Tribune that Hybels called her to his hotel suite on a trip to Sweden in 1998, unexpectedly kissed her and suggested they could lead Willow Creek together.

“I’m grieved for Willow Creek tonight. Many of them are my friends. This is not the outcome I would have hoped for,” Dyer said Wednesday. “I hoped that Bill Hybels could have come to repentance, honoring the church, the generations of people who built Willow Creek over the last 40 years. If Bill and the leadership had come clean 2013, or any time from then until tonight, these tragic events could have been avoided.”

Amy Staska of Schaumburg has been part of Willow Creek for 24 years. She has chosen to continue worshipping at Willow Creek, but decided to withhold her contribution until the elder board was gone. She believes their resignations signal sincere repentance.

“I love the church and its work, and wanted to continue to be present and pray for its healing,” she said. “But I had made the hard decision to divert my tithe until the current elders were all off the board. I didn’t expect what happened tonight. I’m grateful for the church, and that I can continue to financially support this ministry in good conscience — and so so sad.”

* * * * * * * *

Teaching pastor Steve Carter speaks in 2017 at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington. Carter, who took over as lead teaching pastor in April when Bill Hybels stepped down from the helm of the church, announced his resignation Sunday. (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

Teaching pastor resigns over Willow Creek’s handling
of allegations against Bill Hybels

Manya Brachear Pashman
Chicago Tribune

The lead teaching pastor of Willow Creek Community Church announced his resignation from the South Barrington megachurch Sunday, saying he could no longer serve there with integrity.

Steve Carter, who took over as lead teaching pastor in April when Bill Hybels stepped down from the helm of the church he founded 42 years ago, said he was “horrified” by allegations reported Sunday by The New York Times that Hybels had sexually harassed his former executive assistant for two years.

Carter also said he did not agree with the way elders had handled the first reports by the Chicago Tribune in March that revealed allegations of misconduct by Hybels with women — including church employees — spanning decades.

The alleged behavior detailed by the Tribune included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true, the newspaper found.

Hybels had been the subject of a series of inquiries by Willow Creek’s elders, including one conducted by an outside law firm, but the pastor had been cleared of any wrongdoing in the allegations they examined, the Tribune reported.

“Since the first women came forward with their stories, I have been gravely concerned about our church’s official response, and its ongoing approach to these painful issues,” Carter wrote Sunday on his personal blog. “After many frank conversations with our elders, it became clear that there is a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best. That is not to say that I am right and they are wrong. But I must follow the path that I believe God has laid out for me to live with integrity, and that path now diverges from Willow Creek.”

Carter led the charge in a series of public apologies issued by church leaders in July. He wrote on his personal blog that he told church elders he believed the church had mishandled allegations against Hybels and the subsequent investigation of those claims. He said he had personally apologized to “several of the victims” for the way they and their families have been treated.

Lead pastor Heather Larson followed suit and delivered a separate apology from the pulpit. Willow Creek’s elders later posted a written statement on the church’s website.

Hybels no longer has any role with the church that he founded in a rented movie theater 42 years ago and built into one of the nation’s most iconic and influential megachurches.

During Sunday services, Larson said nothing to the congregation about Carter’s departure, but wrote to members late Sunday night after meeting with regional campus pastors to express her sorrow.

“We had been processing together with Steve for a few weeks, and our team was hoping and working towards a different outcome,” she wrote. “Ideally, we know this update would have been given to you directly as the church family.”

But many church observers and congregants praised Carter for making the bold move, saying it sent a clear message that despite the evolving public response over the past four months, the powers-that-be have not corrected course or properly addressed the allegations against the church’s founder.

“I think Steve Carter’s words and actions are very brave and shed greater light upon the leadership dysfunction that exists among the staff culture at Willow Creek,” said Vonda Dyer, a former director of the church’s vocal ministry who told the Tribune that Hybels called her to his hotel suite on a trip to Sweden in 1998, unexpectedly kissed her and suggested they could lead Willow Creek together. “The continued allegations of abuse of power and sexual misconduct by Bill Hybels for many decades, must be fully addressed.”

On Sunday, The New York Times reported allegations that Hybels repeatedly groped his former executive assistant Pat Baranowski in the 1980s, beginning with a back rub in 1986. In her administrative role, she also was instructed to procure pornographic videos for research and watch them with the pastor while he was dressed in a bathrobe, the newspaper reported.

Hybels denied the allegations.

Carter said he tendered his resignation weeks ago but obliged when church leaders asked him to continue leading until they figured out how to make the decision public. On Saturday night, he interviewed public radio personality Ira Glass onstage in front of the congregation. Two repeat performances were expected Sunday morning, but a worship leader stepped in, telling congregants that Carter was throwing up backstage. Carter posted his resignation later that day.

“At this point, however, I cannot, in good conscience, appear before you as your Lead Teaching Pastor,” Carter wrote, “when my soul is so at odds with the institution.”