This NYC 2018 Conference breakout preview comes from Adam Morton, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church and associate pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, both in Lancaster, PA.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

You’ve heard that bit before. If not, purchase or steal a Bible (we can work on the ethics of acquisition later), and crack it open to the very first chapter. It’s a good read. This passage is one of the small set that might come out of the mouths of folks who have little or nothing to do with the church; nevertheless, they have heard that humanity is somehow the “image of God,” and this is surely important. But what does it mean?

Modern life is such that the definition of a human being seems to be daily renegotiated. The pet food commercials tell me that my pair of cats (let us never speak of them again) and my son are more or less equal objects of my care. I doubt this, but clearly not everyone does, else General Mills wouldn’t have offered $8 billion to acquire Blue Buffalo. Various experts and news stories have warned me, repeatedly, that if the robots don’t rise up to kill us, they’ll seduce us instead—and that this sort of thing is one day going to be perfectly normal. Silicon Valley appears awash in the notion that humanity can be—no, that’s too weak—will be transcended by way of the proper application of consumer electronics to the body. Sad as it is to say, neither are we anywhere near rid of the notion that certain colors or other configurations of the anthropoid form are markedly less than human.

Hear enough of this stuff and you might begin to suspect that we don’t yet really know what a human being is. This ancient notion of the image of God might be helpful in such a mess, if only we could pin it down. However, the thorny heart of the matter is that this image isn’t all that apparent in my daily life. I can’t see it, and while I could make several plausible suggestions as to its meaning, settling on which one (if any) is true is another matter—which means, strangely enough, that it has something in common with the God whose image it is supposed to be.

In this conference breakout we’ll try to talk about this image-of-God thing, what it means for it to be hidden from us, and how this confusion impacts us on a daily basis. Along the way we’ll enlist the help of Johann Georg Hamann, the greatest 18th century German writer you’ve never heard of (yes, I know, that’s hardly a selling point—but trust me, this guy is hilarious in a very un-German and un-18th century way).

You can sign up for the 11th annual Mockingbird conference here! No human beings will want to miss this!