In 1989, Kathy and I moved to South Africa, when Apartheid was still in full swing. Up to that point, I would have said I had limited knowledge of issues in South Africa beyond reading The Covenant by James Michener and general knowledge from media coverage through the 70s and 80s.
Shortly after arriving, I heard this spoken word performance by one of the students in the seminary where I was teaching. I would say that I was profoundly moved and affected by this in a way that books and scholarly articles could never do. The author/performer was Tshokolo Marra. It was shortly after hearing this that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in early 1990. (I was going through file boxes the other day and found this -- which prompted this reflection)
By the Rivers of Apartheid
By the rivers of Apartheid we sit and weep
When we at the flow of blood look
There on the fast-growing stubbornness of government
The violence arises
And the blood of martyrs of peace and justice
is daily shed... by the rivers of Apartheid
For there our rulers declared the state of emergency
Our oppressors quoted Scripture
And said: "Be subject to the authority,
For authority is established by God" ... by the rivers of Apartheid
How can we be subject to government by minority
Which makes Christian fight Christian
Africans betray Africans
Whites distrust Africans
And live in constant fear and anxiety? ... by the rivers of Apartheid
If we keep quiet Christians
Better for us not to have been saved
Than to be saved and sit and wait
For the coming kingdom
While our families, relatives and friends
Are destroyed... by the rivers of Apartheid
If we do not announce the Good News
To the blind, the poor, oppressed, prisoners
And if we do not denounce Evil
(Evil done in the name of Law and Order)
Who else will do it? ... by the rivers of Apartheid
Remember, O Christians, remember
Where peaceful demonstrators met with resistance of SADF
Which killed and murdered people... by the rivers of Apartheid
Remember, O Christians, remember
Nineteen Fifty Three
The establishment of Bantu Education
Education for the poor and oppressed
Which makes them suffer from inferiority complex... by the rivers of Apartheid
Nineteen Seventy Six in Soweto
Thousand of school children were arrested
Many were killed, others fled the country
But the mystery remains
Where are the others? ...by the rivers of Apartheid
Saints, look, think and speak
You are ambassadors of Christ
To stop the ever-flowing river
Which breeds violence, disorder and exploitation
...by the rivers of Apartheid.
David Fitch's new book, Faithful Presence: 7 Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission, finally got off the press and available in Canada, but not before I digested Kreider's Patient Ferment of the Early Church, which I commented on a while back. These two books are very complementary -- Kreider lays the historic groundwork for Fitch's application to our current context.
Fitch has been talking about these ideas for some time -- to anybody who would listen -- and then, "but don't really run with these ideas, cause I need to get them published." And I've been waiting, patiently, cuz I think there are some very helpful thoughts and images that he uses to convey his points.
To summarize briefly, Fitch talks about 3 circles in our lives as Christians -- Christian community, home & neighbourhood, and "the world." We are called to acknowledge the presence of Jesus in our midst as Christian community (the embodiment of Jesus' continuing presence) and then to extend his presence into the increasingly outward dimension of our lives, home & neighbourhood and the world. He uses a very helpful construct of "host & guest." In the gathered community Jesus is host and we are guests; in home & neighbourhood, we are host and friends are guests; in the world, others are hosts and we are guests. These notions should help shape our posture in each space -- humility, hospitality and respect.
Then throughout the rest of the book, Fitch helps us re-imagine what we should be doing in those 3 spaces -- his 7 disciplines.
So, I thought Fitch's ideas had such a graphic, imaginable feel to them, that I did up this animated illustration. [please let me be clear, this is my take and some of my phrasing of Fitch's stuff -- he may disagree with a point here or there, as I have represented things; so, unauthorized, but I clearly acknowledge him at the end]
Fitch helps us think through what it looks like to practice these disciplines in each of the 3 spaces. To those of us in the Wesleyan tradition 5 of these seem like no-brainers, cuz we recognize these as inner and outer disciplines of "the means of grace" -- acts of piety, acts of mercy. "Fivefold gifting" is a bit unique as a discipline, but if you have been following this whole discussion over the last decade or so, around polycentric leadership, and the recovery of apostle & evangelist etc., you can see that where he is coming from is helpful.
What really grabbed my attention, however, was "being with children" as a discipline that shapes us and our communities. YES! Something our churches are not doing well, if at all. I think that if we paid more attention to the children in our midst this would lead us to reshaping our corporate gatherings in a profound way -- more gentle, more playful, more willing to listen -- all things that "the world" is saying we have a problem with. And if we talked about the life of faith in Jesus in a way that kids can make sense of it, a lot of adults would do a lot better as well.
Fitch's disciplines can be acted upon anywhere -- they aren't culture-specific, although each of them, by being acted upon, become particular and embodied expressions in specific places and times. As we engage in mission/extension there is the potential for colonization in our particular forms -- he starts with how we act out these disciplines in our faith communities. There is something about "sentness" or apostolicity, that in mission practice, allows the receptor community - the world -- to have a feedback role in shaping what those disciplines might look like in practice, as Jesus continually becomes incarnate in new spaces. Fitch is a declared Anabaptist, and functions in the "missional" paradigm, (as do I essentially) which Bevans wants to describe as "counter-cultural" (which Goheen and others want to disagree with). Are we willing to let Galatia help us rethink the received traditions/expressions of the essential disciplines?
My thoughts. You need to read this book.
This week's Lectionary readings that struck me were Psalm 121 and Genesis 12:1-4. The psalm is part of the group referred to as "songs of ascent" -- the psalms that were sung or reflected upon while the Israelites journeyed up to the hill country where Jerusalem and the Temple were located. The psalm starts with the well known phrase, "I lift up my eyes to the mountains -- where does my help come from? My help comes from Yahweh the Maker of heaven and earth." There are two classic interpretations of this phrase.
One interpretation suggests that the person is looking toward Jerusalem and the Temple mount -- the dwelling place of God on earth, the One who watches over us on our journey. That's good, but limited by the notion that eventually the city and the temple are destroyed, which sends Israel into a century of exile and depression, wondering why God left them?
Another interpretation thinks in terms of the pagan worship locations still present in the mountains along the way that were perpetual locations of temptation for Israelites, to turn away from the one true god, Yahweh. This interpretation suggests that we don't pay attention to the temporal, human-made, objects or aspirations that distract us from our Creator, but refocus our attention on the One who is not "located" but is present wherever our journey takes us.
When I turn to the Genesis 12 passage, I note that it tells the story of Yahweh's call to Abraham -- "go from your country... and I will bless you, and... all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. So Abram went, as Yahweh had told him." It strikes me that the second interpretation of Psalm 121 is the one that Abram could sing. Don't trust in what you know and are comfortable with, or the distractions that seem "reasonable," but "Go and I will be with you." And it was Abram's obedient response that stands as the biblical turning point in God's personal engagement with the human project.
Way too many personal applications to even begin...
today being International Women's Day n' all... (originally International Working Women's Day) and since some of my friends are promoting this event IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN - paying attention to the place of women in Christian ministry leadership...
I thought I would like to give a shout-out to some of the gifted and capable Christian women, in ministry leadership, who have influenced my life. I would have to say that the first woman I saw standing up front in church and doing stuff with skill and gifting was my mother Dorothy (I'm recollecting from about age 4 or 5, so mid-1960s through to the present day). Then I think of Mrs Christina Winslow (Faith Chapel), Miss Moyer, Miss Mouland (Dorion Bible Camp), Muriel Rorabeck. In fact, I can honestly say I don't remember hearing someone teach that women "shouldn't be in Christian leadership" until I was a teenager (mid-70s), by which time that thought just seemed confusing.
As I worked in Christian camping from my mid-teens to mid-20s, I was constantly working alongside gifted women leaders. I lived in an intentional discipleship community on Vancouver Island for a year, where Joan McKee gave leadership and Debbie Maxie and Gloria Troll planted a church. The mission society that I joined (WEC) welcomed strong, gracious, gifted women in ministry leadership (Racille, Lucille, Melita, Edie, Peggy). My first real assignment in Christian ministry (Student Mission Advance) was led by Nancy Bridgeman, with colleagues, Kathy Scott, Andrea Brandsma.
And then I met my wife Kathy. A confident, engaged, gifted, thoughtful and committed Christian (a nurse and actively involved with The Navigators). From day 1 we thought of our marriage and ministry involvement as wrapped up together. We have served together in ministry in Egypt, pastoring in Niagara Falls, church planting and community development in South Africa. She is an active contributor to our house church community here in Hamilton.
So, yeh, I wouldn't want to do it any other way...
My normal process in preparing for Sunday gathering reflections is to read through the Lectionary readings for my devotional times in the week before. This morning I read Matthew 4:1-11, where Jesus was led by the Spirit to spend 40 days in the wilderness. I've reflected on this passage, taught on it and preached from it many times over the years. Lots of insights to be gleaned here.
But today I paused again on Jesus' responses to the tempter. There's no discussion, debate, just simple responses from scriptures that he would have been raised with, taught and had memorized. Jesus understood clearly what the tempter was asking in each movement of this passage. He understood because he had a deep picture of God's purposes from the beginning, and he knew there were forces at work trying to dislodge those purposes. Jesus rooted his responses in what God had already said to his people through the writers of Israel's scriptures -- "it is written." When the tempter tried to get Jesus' mind onto human, self-centred possibilities, Jesus refocused on the God of human history.
I think we have to pay attention to the formation of Christian identity and worldview if we want to survive the wildernesses that will come. I engage with lots of Christians who have little or no intentional formation of Christian identity and worldview and see them swinging from one extreme to another in the current social media polarization over so many issues in the public square. We don't get to the place of responding as Jesus did, without deep formation and rootedness.
I've also been reading N T Wright's, Scripture and the Authority of God this past week or so.
Reading and studying scripture has been seen as central to how we are to grow in the love of God; how we come to understand God and his truth more fully; and how we can develop the moral muscle to live in accordance with the gospel of Jesus even when everything seems to be pulling the other way.
Wright goes on to say that many denominational groups have written "massive treatises or doctrinal compendia on every possible issue, as though to close things down and relieve ordinary Christians of the need to read, think, and pray with a fresh mind." He suggests that our churches need to insist that reading scripture remains the focal point of our public worship. If the majority of people in our worship communities don't read any scripture during the week, and only have a few sermon text verses read on Sunday, we are not engaging in intentional formation of Christian identity. And our people will be overwhelmed by the wilderness times we are living in.
Terror, Brexit and U.S. election have made 2016 the year of Yeats’s ‘Second Coming’ https://t.co/JLmOMCCJRD via @WSJ
A poem written by W B Yeats in 1919, just after WW 1.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
My wife very thoughtfully finds meaningful poetry for me on our special occasions... this is from her Valentine's Day card for me today:
I woke to a face not looking at me
but at the bird that settled on your wrist,
lured by food, its trust, for once, was rewarded
you offered the bird everything you had.
I remember. That's how it began
with us: you held out your hand; I took it.
[G. E. Patterson. -from Tug]
Just about finished The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider. Toward the end of the book, he draws a contrast between the practices of the early church in regard to formation and witness, with the emergence of imperial influence (Constantine) on those practices.
When Roman Emperor Constantine began to identify with the Christian faith (around 312AD) subtle shifts emerged in Christian theology and practice which have continued to be factors to the present day. Constantine refused to submit to the normal catechetical practice of the Christian community -- a process of formation, over several years, which focused on reformation of behaviour to match the teachings of Jesus, then baptism and entry in the faith family via the Lord's supper, when biblical teaching and theology moved to the forefront of the ongoing formation process. Constantine said, "thanks, but I will figure it out through my own study." Effectively moving belief to the forefront and behaviour as optional. Constantine was only baptized shortly before his death because he felt the submission of his behaviour to Christian community and teaching might be incompatible with the tasks required of an emperor.
So what changed because of the influence of Constantine and the emergence of Christendom? Kreider suggests 5 areas.
Kreider's summary thought is that it became very difficult for Christian leaders to maintain their beliefs, values and practices once they were presented with power, resources and legitimacy.
...for those with ears to hear...
I'm digging into Alan Kreider's new book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. Think of it as a major update on Michael Green's classic from several decades ago, Evangelism in the Early Church -- a book that profoundly impacted my thinking and practice.
"If the early church had strategies for converting people, they did not teach these or write about them. As Origen put it in a Sunday sermon:
"You catechumens -- who gathered you into the church? What goad compelled you to leave your houses and come together in this assembly? We did not go to you from house to house. The Almighty Father put this zeal into your hearts by his invisible power."
"How then did the church grow? Scholars have seen the church's growth as coming about through something modest: "casual contact." Contact could come about in innumerable ways through the translocal networks of family and profession in which most people participated. Masters interacted with slaves; residents met neighbours; and above all believers networked with relatives and work colleagues. In all these relationships "affective bonds" were formed. The most reliable means of communicating the attractiveness of the faith to others and enticing them to investigate things further was the Christians' character, bearing, and behaviour. The habitus of the individual Christian was crucial."