Each month we feature a spiritual formation resource from across the body of Christ that helps us deepen our walk with Christ.
Here is what we’ve been looking at the past 6 months.
Christian Unity The Initiative Gathering via Act 3 Network
The first public gathering of a newly forming community of Christians from many church traditions named The Initiative. This gathering will be held at the Green Lake Conference Center (Green Lake, Wisconsin), June 24-28, 2018.
Who Should Attend The Initiative?
This event is open to all who feel “drawn” to attend after reading our covenant and way of life. The Initiative was begun by the leadership team of the ACT3 Network in 2016-17. Because we believe relational friendship is critical to true community we welcome you to join us in the practice of Christ’s love for one another (John 13:34-35). We want everyone who comes to join us in pursuing what we call missional-ecumenism. We are not gathering for an argument or a fight about explosive and debatable issues. We believe the love of Christ is strong enough to call all Christians to pray and serve together (John 13:34; 15:12-18; 17:21-24). We are gathering to build friendships rooted in reconciling love. Click here to learn more.
Breaking the Silence on Racism
Check out the full video on our [MLK Brides] Breaking the Silence on Racism discussion. Starting at minute 35:00 we start to talk about some of the topics that often come up in some of the initial discussions around race within churches.
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Theme
Every year the churches across the globe celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18-25th. Kingdom Mission Society participates in this yearly celebration.
DC region events will occur around May of this year, so stay tuned for the event announcement.
For 2018, the Churches of the Caribbean were chosen, and the team was comprised of Roman Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, and Methodist. Below is some background material posted by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
The Caribbean Region
Bearing the name of one of the groups of its indigenous peoples – the Kalinago people, formerly called the Caribs – the contemporary Caribbean region is a complex reality. The region’s vast geographical spread includes both island and mainland territories containing a rich and diverse tapestry of ethnic, linguistic and religious traditions. It is also a complex political reality with a variety of governmental and constitutional arrangements, ranging from colonial dependencies (British, Dutch, French, and American) to republican nation states.
The contemporary Caribbean is deeply marked by the dehumanizing project of colonial exploitation. In the aggressive pursuit of mercantile gains, the colonisers codified brutal systems which traded human beings, and their forced labour. Initially, these practices enslaved and decimated and in some cases exterminated the region’s indigenous peoples. This was followed by the enslavement of Africans and the “indentureship” of people from India and China.
At each stage, the systems of the colonisers attempted to strip subjugated peoples of their inalienable rights: their identity, their human dignity, their freedom and their self-determination. The enslavement of Africans was not simply a case of transporting labourers from one location to another. In an affront to God-given human dignity, it commodified the human person, making one human being the property of another. With the understanding of the enslaved as property went other practices that further sought to dehumanize the African. Included among these was the denial of the right to cultural and religious practices and to marriage and family life.
Very regrettably, during five hundred years of colonialism and enslavement, Christian missionary activity in the region, with the exception of a few outstanding examples, was closely tied to this dehumanizing system and in many ways rationalized it and reinforced it. Whereas those who brought the Bible to this region used the scriptures to justify their subjugation of a people in bondage, in the hands of the enslaved, it became an inspiration, an assurance that God was on their side, and that God would lead them into freedom.
The Theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018
Today Caribbean Christians of many different traditions see the hand of God active in the ending of enslavement. It is a uniting experience of the saving action of God which brings freedom. For this reason the choice of the song of Moses and Miriam (Ex 15:1-21), as the motif of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018 was considered a most appropriate one. It is a song of triumph over oppression. This theme has been taken up in a hymn, The Right Hand of God, written in a workshop of the Caribbean Conference of Churches in August 1981, which has become an “anthem” of the ecumenical movement in the region, translated into a number of different languages.
Like the Israelites, the people of the Caribbean have a song of victory and freedom to sing and it is a song which unites them. However, contemporary challenges again threaten to enslave and again threaten the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God. While human dignity is inalienable it is often obscured by both personal sin and social structures of sin. In our fallen world societal relationships too often lack the justice and compassion that honour human dignity. Poverty, violence, injustice, addiction to drugs and pornography, and the pain, grief and anguish which follow, are experiences that distort human dignity.
Many of the contemporary challenges are themselves the legacy of a colonial past and slave trade. The wounded collective psyche is manifested today in social problems related to low self-esteem, gang and domestic violence, and damaged familial relationships. Although a legacy of the past, these issues are also exacerbated by the contemporary reality that many would characterize as neo-colonialism. Under existing circumstances it seems almost impossible for many of the nations of this region to pull themselves out of poverty and debt. Moreover, in many places there is a residual legislative framework that continues to be discriminatory.
The right hand of God that brought the people out of slavery, gave continued hope and courage to the Israelites, as it continues to bring hope to the Christians of the Caribbean. They are not victims of circumstance. In witnessing to this common hope the churches are working together to minister to all peoples of the region, but particularly the most vulnerable and neglected. In the words of the hymn, “the right hand of God is planting in our land, planting seeds of freedom, hope and love”.
Biblical – Pastoral reflection on the text (Ex 15:1-21)
The Book of Exodus takes us through three periods: the Israelites’ life in Egypt (1:1-15:21); Israel’s journey through the wilderness (15:22-18:27); and the Sinai experience (19-40). The passage chosen, the ‘Song at the Sea’ led by Moses and Miriam, details the events leading up to the redemption of the people of God from enslavement. It closes the first period.
“This is my God, and I will praise him” (15:2)
Verses 1-3 of chapter 15 emphasize the praise of God: “The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him” (15:2). In the song, led by Moses and Miriam, the Israelites sing the praises of the God who has freed them. They realize that the plan and purpose of God to set the people free cannot be thwarted or frustrated. No forces not even Pharaoh’s chariots, army and trained military power could frustrate the will of God for his people to be free (15:4-5). In this joyful cry of praise, Christians from many different traditions recognize that God is the Saviour of us all, we delight that he has kept his promises, and continues to bring his salvation to us through the Holy Spirit. In the salvation that he brings we recognize that he is our God and we are all his people.
“Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power” (15:6)
The liberation and salvation of God’s people comes through the power of God. The right hand of God can be understood both as God’s sure victory over his adversaries, and as his unfailing protection of his own people. In spite of the determination of Pharaoh, God heard the cry of his people and will not let the people perish because God is the God of life. By his control of wind and sea God shows his will to preserve life and to destroy violence (Ex 15:10). The purpose of this redemption was to constitute the Israelites as a people of praise recognizing God’s steadfast love.
The liberation brought hope and a promise for the people. Hope because a new day had dawned when the people could freely worship their God and realize their potential. It was also a promise: their God would accompany them throughouttheir journey and no force could destroy God’s purpose for them.
Does God use violence to counteract violence?
Some Church Fathers interpreted the narrative as a metaphor for the spiritual life. Augustine, for example, identified the enemy which is cast into the sea not as the Egyptians, but as sin.
“All our past sins, you see, which have been pressing on us, as it were from behind, he has drowned and obliterated in baptism. These dark things of ours were being ridden by unclean spirits as their mounts, and like horsemen they were riding them wherever they liked. That’s why the apostle calls them ‘rulers of this darkness’. We have been rid of all this through baptism, as through the Red Sea, so called because sanctified by the blood of the crucified Lord…” (Sermon 223E).
Augustine saw the story as encouraging the Christian to hope and to persevere, rather than despair, at the pursuit of the enemy. For Augustine baptism was the key constitutive event in establishing the true identity of each person as a member of the Body of Christ. He draws a parallel between Israel’s liberating passage through the Red Sea and that of the Christian people in baptism. Both liberating journeys bring a worshiping assembly into being. As such Israel could freely praise the saving hand of God in the victory song of Miriam and Moses. Their redemption constituted the enslaved Israelites as members of the one people of God, united with one song of praise to sing.
Exodus 15 allows us to see how the road to unity must often pass through a communal experience of suffering. The Israelites’ liberation from enslavement is the foundational event in the constitution of this people. For Christians this process climaxes with the incarnation and Paschal mystery. Although liberation/salvation is an initiative taken by God, God engages human agencies in the realization of his purpose and plan for the redemption of his people. Christians, through baptism, share in God’s ministry of reconciliation, but our own divisions hamper our witness and mission to a world in need of God’s healing.
Christ Among the Refugees
Christ Among the Refugees, a powerful prayer during Advent from Malcolm Guite:
That fearful road of weariness and want,
Through unforgiving heat and hate, ends here;
We narrow sand-blown eyes to scan this scant
And tented city outside Syria.
He fled with us when everything was wrecked
As Nazarene was blazoned on our door,
Walked with the damaged and the derelict
To where these tents are ranked and massed, foursquare
Against the desert, with a different blazon;
We trace the letters: UNHCR,
As dark smoke looms behind a cruel horizon.
Christ stands with us and withstands, where we are,
His high commission, as a refugee;
To pitch his tent in our humanity.
On Giving Thanks
Thanksgiving around a common table.
There are very few moments in American culture where we gather around a common table and spend time with family near and far. Spend time with those we are close to and those we aren’t close to. Time with those we love and those we do not love naturally.
It’s an incarnate moment of Psalm 23:5:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.
Thanksgiving often brings the juxtaposition of peace and reconciliation in the midst of ongoing brokenness in the life of any family. Thanksgiving puts relationships into sharp focus in a culture that doesn’t do relational intimacy very well.
Christians instituted days of Thanksgiving for times of great deliverance. Sometimes in the midst of God helping to save the people from a strong enemy, sometimes at the end of a long famine or a wasting disease, days of thanks were offered. In our own lands, days of Thanksgiving were held at the local and state level until it became a national and fixed day.
A Moment to Commit to Peace
Here’s some tools to help with that common meal.
Liturgically for western Christians, Thanksgiving comes at the end of the Christian year, with Advent, the start of the Christian year, just around the corner. Thus Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to give thanks in a decidedly Christian way, with the fruits of repentance, peace, and reconciliation.
This gives a natural moment of pause to think about the relationships around your common table and to reflect on how they have gone. You can ask yourself:
- What has marked the relational dynamic between each family member and yourself around your table. Has kindness, love, patience, self-control?
- Have things occurred relationally which are in need of reconciliation or repentance, have unmet hopes and desires been an aspect of the relating?
- Scripture has such a focus on helping family in need, are there family members around your table that are in need are there family conversations that should take place to address that need?
Ask the Lord to speak into these relationships and take a moment to make a new commitment between you and God on what you will pursue in the Christian year ahead with this particular family member.
Thanksgiving can seem like such a rushed and hurried holiday, but with focus and reflection it can be just the perfect time to reflect and re-commit to pursuing peace where it can often matter most, at home, among those who have known you for many years and where the relationships are often the most complex.
The hymn by John Fawcett, ‘Blest be the Tie That Bind’ comes to mind as an orientation or a prayer. Especially these lines:
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne,
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts, and our cares.
The fellowship of kindred minds reflects the Trinity above. Not every Christian gathers in a Christian household, but in as much as we take on the attributes of Christ and seek peace with all men, as much as it depends on ourselves, we too can share in that blessed fellowship of the Trinity above. Where peace without ceasing reigns.
Thanksgiving offers each of us an invitation to commit to kind and peaceable relating with many kinds of people. Let’s take up this focus with diligence and take a moment to offer Christian thanks through the fruits of reconciliation and peace
Schmemann on Worship in a Secular Age
Alexander Schmemann has an excellent essay on the nature of secularism titled “Worship in a Secular Age” (click here to read). Well worth the read, when a lot of Christianity can seem overly politiczed especially as we go deeper into 2016 it’s worth asking what is the substance of Christian faith and why is it different than the good life that many of us desire.
In the essay Schmemann posits that secularism is a denial of man’s very nature, his createdness as a being made in the likeness of the Holy Trinity. It’s a negation of our sense of time and place and a particular failure of Christianity to create meaning and contours for daily existence.
Secularism has many features similar to Christianity, especially in its ability to give coherence to daily life, but tells you of its self importance in numbers, health, wealth and strength. I am doing well because I am healthy, have stability, and my family is doing well. I may not be happy, but those things are what success looks like so I am doing well. In essence secularism deprives life of its essence and deeper significance.
Put it another way secularism is about living life according to financial standards and status standards and individualistic standards and saying those are what define life and give it meaning. A secularized Christianity is one that simply seeks to bless the every day meaning that too many of us give to what is important in life and why, instead of faith that seeks to give meaning and richness and fullness, its faith that simply is oddly fitted in to what is otherwise a satisfying life. Under its spell life becomes safe, but never profound and never particularly beautiful.