Posted by: Titus Presler | July 30, 2018

GC2018: GEMN highlights global mission at General Convention

This is the third in a series of blogposts on events and actions related to global mission at the 2018 General Convention, held July 3-13 in Austin, Texas.

The global dimension of the Episcopal Church’s participation in God’s mission had higher visibility at the 2018 General Convention in Austin due to the efforts of the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), the freestanding network of mission-activist dioceses, congregations, mission organizations, individuals and seminaries.

About 150 people attended the Global Mission Reception that GEMN organized at Uncle Julio’s Restaurant on the evening of July 4.  The theme, ‘Celebrating the Global Jesus Movement,’ connected global mission with the ‘Jesus Movement’ theme that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has championed and that was echoed in multiple ways in convention legislation and rhetoric.

Those of us who are longtime mission activists enjoyed seeing lots of old friends, but especially encouraging were the many mission-engaged people who were new to us and who have not been part of GEMN in the past: Sister Sarah Margaret and several other members of the Society of St. Margaret, the oldest continuing Anglican women’s monastic order, who have long had important work in Haiti; Sister Ellen Francis Poisson of the Order of St. Helena, who has long been active in matters related to Iran; Deborah Parker of Stand with Iraqi Christians.  And there were many others.

Equally important, David Copley and Elizabeth Boe of Global Partnerships at the Episcopal Church Center ensured that a good number of the officially sponsored International Visitors – primates, bishops and provincial secretaries from Africa, Asia and Latin America – came to the reception before they were taken to a July 4 celebration sponsored by Global Partnerships and Virginia Seminary’s Center for Anglican Communion Studies.  All the international visitors were introduced to convention as a whole through an outstanding video of brief self-introductions that was shown to the House of Deputies and House of Bishops during the legislative sessions.

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This is the second in a series of blogposts on events and actions related to global mission at the 2018 General Convention, held July 3-13 in Austin, Texas.

Bottom line of the following fairly long article: General Convention approved but did not fund a Standing Commission on World Mission, so there won’t be one, at least right now, but the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) is in a good position to provide the missional overview and envisioning that an SCWM would provide.

As with the resolution exhorting the church to embrace global mission companionship (A207; see previous post), a resolution seeking to reestablish the Standing Commission on World Mission (SCWM) that was dissolved by the 2015 General Convention was initiated by the World Mission Legislative Committee at the 2018 General Convention.

The 27 members of the committee were disturbed by the relative lack of world mission vision and initiative coming from any canonical structure within the church, and they believed this lack stemmed from there no longer being a standing commission specifically tasked with examining and envisioning the church’s global mission.

Committee members were very aware that the dissolution of most of General Convention’s standing commissions – small groups of 12 specially appointed people to deliberate about different areas of the church’s work during the three years between conventions – was a result of the structural streamlining recommended in 2015 by the Taskforce on Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC), which also sought to reduce the church’s operating costs.  Instead of standing commissions, which by definition endure over long periods of time – there had been an SCWM for about 50 years – the 2015 General Convention put in place a number of task forces with specific time-limited mandates.

Knowing all this, World Mission Legislative Committee members nevertheless felt that global mission is a special case because the church’s international work tends to be eclipsed by its work within its own dioceses.  So a small subcommittee was asked to come back with a proposal, and I was the principal drafter of what was submitted as Resolution A208.

The committee was delighted to find that another initiative to reestablish the SCWM had been submitted from another quarter.  Because that resolution focused on the change in the canons that would be required, it was substituted for the committee draft, but with the specific commission mandate that we had articulated, and we were happy with that.

Significantly, the resolution was adopted by both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, so Resolution A208 is an official action of convention.  But: the $90,000 requested to fund the commission – travel and meeting expenses – was not included in the budget adopted by convention.  The net result is that as of right now there will be no Standing Commission on World Mission.

How can this happen? you might ask.  One could say that convention agreed that an SCWM would be helpful and useful, but in all the horse-trading that goes on among various priorities, not everything can be funded.  Moreover, the Program, Budget & Finance Committee explained that in its budgetary deliberations it rejected numerous requests to reestablish various standing commissions both because funds are limited and because it felt it should honor the streamlining decisions of the 2015 General Convention.  That is a reasonable argument, and I respect it.  The continuing membership decline of the Episcopal Church has financial consequences, one of which is we can no longer afford the generously funded structures to which we had become accustomed.

So what now?  There may still be an effort to secure funding for the SCWM that was approved in principle.  Equally important, the Global Episcopal Mission Network – the church’s voluntary and freestanding network of mission-activist dioceses, congregations, mission organizations, seminaries and individuals – is well positioned to provide much of the overview and envisioning that an SCWM would be tasked to do.

GEMN’s membership is substantial and growing.  Its annual conference is a major networking event for global mission, with speakers and workshop leaders who are recognized churchwide.  Its website (www.gemn.org) provides a wealth of resources, and its Mission Formation Program is well respected.  GEMN submitted a number of resolutions to this General Convention, and that advocacy role will grow.  GEMN hosted the Global Mission Reception at this convention, reviving the World Mission Reception that the Church Center used to host in the 1980s and 1990s, and about 150 people attended this inaugural event.  As president of GEMN and a former SCWM chair, I believe it is possible for GEMN to offer much that SCWM used to provide.  We don’t have a canonical role, but the current and future energy of the church is increasingly found in networks such as GEMN.  So I am hopeful.

Below are two texts: the original text of A208 with its explanation, which details much of the rationale, and the brief final version, which was adopted but not funded:

A208 Establish a Standing Commission on World Mission

Original version

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 79th General Convention recognize that mission engagement with the peoples and cultures of the world beyond the United States of America is inherent in the purpose of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society as it seeks to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention lament how inward concerns of the church and inter-Anglican conflict have reduced the Episcopal Church’s engagement with sisters and brothers in Christ around the world, yet rejoice in how many global relationships have continued or been renewed; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention recognize that dioceses, congregations and freestanding mission organizations carry out much of the church’s global mission work alongside the Global Partnerships Office, Episcopal Relief & Development, the United Thank Offering and other agencies of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, and that the Global Episcopal Mission Network assists with networking and mission formation; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention recognize the important monitoring of DFMS’s global mission work that is carried out by the Executive Council’s Standing Committee on World Mission; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention amend Canon I.1.2(n) to establish a Standing Commission on World Mission; and be it further

Resolved, That the mandate of the Standing Commission on World Mission shall be to identify the global mission work carried out by the DFMS, dioceses, congregations and mission organizations throughout the church, to consult with them to envision future directions for the church’s global engagement, and to develop policy proposals for consideration by General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on World Mission shall include six laypersons, three clergy and three bishops appointed by the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies to serve staggered six-year terms, with half of the membership initially appointed for three-year terms; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to give consideration to the appropriation of $90,000 to fund the work of the Standing Commission for the 2019-21 triennium.

Explanation

The 78th General Convention removed many standing commissions, including the Standing Commission on World Mission, from the interim bodies of General Convention. This action was taken in view of financial constraints and the streamlining recommendations of the Taskforce for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC). It also occurred at a time when inter-Anglican conflicts had eliminated or reduced many missional relationships around the Anglican Communion.

The legislative Committee on World Mission of the 79th General Convention believes strongly that the General Convention needs the in-depth understanding and creative visioning that is brought to world mission issues by a standing commission whose members are experienced in world mission and who are focused on the church’s multi-faceted engagement in the global dimension of God’s mission.

Such understanding and visioning is especially urgent as many missional relationships are being re-energized, many dioceses and congregations would like to expand their companionships around the world, and freestanding Episcopal mission organizations are multiplying in education, healthcare and sustainable development.

The legislative committee is grateful to Executive Council’s internal Standing Committee on World Mission for its report in the Blue Book for the 79th General Convention. Yet we recognize that the many responsibilities of Executive Council mean that such an internal committee must focus on responsible monitoring and may be limited in its ability to undertake creative visioning.

The legislative committee also recognizes the contribution of the Global Episcopal Mission Network that brings together DFMS agencies, dioceses, congregations, freestanding mission organizations and seminaries for mutual learning and mission formation. Yet we recognize that, beyond generating resolutions, such a freestanding network has no direct avenue for offering in-depth reflection to General Convention.

The requested budget of $90,000 will fund three in-person meetings of the commission during the 2019-21 triennium, including one in a diocese of the Episcopal Church outside the USA.

 

A208 Establish a Standing Commission on World Mission

Version adopted by General Convention, but not funded.

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That Canon I.1.2(n) be amended as follows:

(3) A Standing Commission on World Mission. It shall be the duty of the Commission to:

 (i) Identify the global mission work carried out by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, dioceses, congregations and mission organizations throughout the church.
(ii) Consult with the above bodies to envision future directions for the church’s global engagement.
(iii) Develop policy proposals for world mission for consideration by General Convention.
(iv) Discharge such other duties as shall from time to time be assigned by the General Convention.

And be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to appropriate $90,000 to fund the work of the Standing Commission on World Mission for the 2019-21 triennium.

 

 

 

Posted by: Titus Presler | July 27, 2018

GC2018: Church exhorted to embrace global mission companionship

This is the first in a series of blogposts about events and actions related to global mission at the 2018 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held in Austin, Texas, July 3-13.

A remarkable aspect of the work of the World Mission Legislative Committee at the 2018 General Convention of the Episcopal Church was that the committee itself generated resolutions instead of confining itself to the customary role of receiving, holding hearings on and editing resolutions submitted from around the church.

A major impetus for this effort was the fact that the dissolution of the Standing Commission on World Mission by the 2015 General Convention, which also dissolved most of the other standing commissions, meant that over the past three years there was no deliberative body within the church structure generating resolutions to move the church forward in global mission.

Sensing this vacuum, the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) – the church’s voluntary and freestanding network of mission-activist dioceses, congregations, organizations, individuals and seminaries – had put forward five resolutions for convention’s consideration, but happily the World Mission Legislative Committee wanted more!

And its first instinct was to go global – not only in the literal sense of world mission but in the metaphorical sense of exhorting the church as a whole to reorder its priorities to place the international aspect of mission higher on its agenda.

So a drafting team of half a dozen committee members got to work.  As a deputy from the Diocese of Vermont I was a member of the 27-member legislative committee, but I was not on this particular subcommittee – because I was working on another resolution!  What the subcommittee came up with received a good deal of editing by the committee as a whole, but here is the version that went up to the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, both of which passed it, so it is an official act of this General Convention:

Resolution A207: Encouraging Mission as Part of the Beloved Community

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 79th General Convention reaffirm that “being a beloved community” means being members of a global community honoring our full name: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention affirm that in baptism we are called to companionship, which means standing with, traveling with, and sharing bread with another; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention continue to repent of colonialism and recognize that the work of mission is a Christ-centered, mutual undertaking, which is most effective when the traditional roles of “giver” and “receiver” are discarded, and the gifts of all are accepted, welcomed, and utilized; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and mission organizations to establish productive, mutual relationships with other outreach communities that have similar intent, but may not be part of the Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention urge dioceses, congregations, and individuals to pray regularly for specific dioceses and congregations and individuals with whom they are in companionship; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and individuals to form one-to-one relationships through social media with individuals and congregations with whom they are in companionship.

Here are some highlights to note:

  • The first resolve reflects committee members’ concern that the foreign as well as the domestic side of the DFMS’s mission work be emphasized, that is, the international and cross-cultural aspect of the Episcopal Church’s participation in God’s mission.  The committee discussed the negative connotations of the word ‘foreign’ but recognized that it is indeed an antonym of ‘domestic’ and that that was how the church talked in 1820, when the first version of the DFMS was founded.  Since DFMS is actually the entity under which the Episcopal Church was incorporated in the state of New York, we kind of have to live with that terminology!

 

  • Companionship in mission is emphasized, and it is articulated as standing with, which connotes solidarity; traveling with and sharing bread (presumably both literal bread and eucharistic meals), a point often made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as they explain their missional emphasis on accompaniment, obviously a correlative of companionship.

 

  • Partnership does not appear in the resolution because mission partnership tends to emphasize doing rather than the being in relationship that companionship emphasizes. Further, some companions in the Majority World (Africa, Asia and Latin America) have felt that partnership in mission, despite being a paradigmatic Anglican category since 1973, has over the years tended to devolve into a business relationship around projects.

 

  • Legacies of colonialism and imperialism are repudiated. In the same third resolve the text challenges traditional missional roles of givers (in the Atlantic West) and receivers (in the Majority World) and thereby implicates such roles as neo-colonial. The still almost universal assumptions in Episcopal dioceses and congregations about ‘helping’ and ‘doing for’ are similarly challenged.  Whether intentionally or not, this language of the resolve echoes that of the Anglican Consultative Council in 1973: ‘If we once acted as though there were only givers who had nothing to receive and receivers who had nothing to give, the oneness of the missionary task must make us all both givers and receivers.’

 

  • Ecumenical and secular cooperation in mission is encouraged by the fourth resolve, thereby reminding us that God works through multiple avenues, not only through the Episcopal Church, and also beyond all churches.

 

  • Praying in mission companionship is highlighted in the fifth resolve, reminding us that simply praying for and praying with are vital in mission.

 

  • Social media are noted in the final resolve as a resource for building relationships in mission. Concerns about privacy violations and trolling abuses are dampening people’s enthusiasm for social media – witness yesterday’s record-breaking drop in Facebook’s stock value over such concerns.  Yet social media are certain to be with us for a long time to come, and they’ve been important in cultivating many missional companionships.

 

Altogether A207 is a helpful and important resolution, and it deserves to be highlighted by dioceses, congregations, mission organizations, the Global Partnerships Unit at the Episcopal Church Center – and by the Global Episcopal Mission Network, which includes them all.

Yesterday, Good Friday, I received the regular daily email from Heidi Schmidt, a missionary from Queens who is serving among people in a remote area of Argentina alongside fellow missionary Monica Vega.  This is what Heidi shared:

Yesterday was so full of so much…Alicia, a Guarani mother who lost her 14-year-old son (his name is Jesus, really), so much grief, so much pain, so much of what it really is to live on the margins. We arrived and there was Alicia, in the midst of a whirlwind of life still going on, wood burning fire with a huge, blackened pot cooking away, children running about, baby crying, grungy stray dogs barking, searching for scraps … and while holding her to share our condolences she let out a deep wail, a cry, from the deepest depths I have never heard before, ever, and there I knew Christ, and such a heavy cross she carried.

Walking the journey with Jesus today, with Alicia, with all those I don’t know by name who carry their burdens, their cross, as I am able, with all my heart.

How far to follow?

‘We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit . . . intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words’ (Romans 8.26)

What did Jesus the Christ do for us on the cross?  The whole Jesus story is the drama of God reconciling humanity and the cosmos to God.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘In Christ, God was reconciling the world to God.’  The focal point of that reconciliation is the cross on Good Friday, the event of what has historically been called the atonement.  But how did Jesus work such reconciliation?  By being punished in our place?  That’s one traditional view that is supported in scripture, and it is certainly part of the picture: God in Christ suffering for us.

An equally important mode is God in Christ suffering with us.  At Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus wept.  When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.  ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  As the writer to the Hebrews says, we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who was tempted in every way as we are.

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Posted by: Titus Presler | April 14, 2017

Freestanding darkness: Good Friday

A re-posting from Good Friday 2015:

From Jane Butterfield’s Good Friday homily today in Trinity Church, Shelburne, Vermont:

There is something in the human soul that needs to feel the absence of God.

We need to feel the depth of the emptiness that God fills.

God took the risk of absence, the risk of powerlessness.

God entered the darkness, that we might know our own darkness.

We are used to the notion of God in Christ sharing our journey, sharing the suffering of the human family. Striking in Jane’s reflection is the recognition that Good Friday deepens our awareness of the suffering of the human family. It pushes out the boundaries of the wasteland. As Frederick Faber wrote in his hymn “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”:

There is no place where earth sorrows

are more felt than up in heaven.

Our prayers often have the subtext, “God, don’t you realize how painful this is?” In fact, God knows the pain more deeply than we do because, unlike us, God doesn’t push the pain away. In the cross God helps us realize just how much we need saving. The fact that God experienced degradation helps us see just how deeply we’ve degraded the human situation.

Two bits of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion are especially vivid in this regard. At the opening of Part 2 the soprano sings:

Ach! mein Lamm in Tigerklauen!

Ah! my lamb in tiger’s claws!

And, as religious leaders and thieves reproach Jesus on the cross, an alto sings:

Alas, Golgotha, hapless Golgotha!

The Lord of glory

must wretchedly perish here;

the blessing and salvation of the world

is placed on the cross like a curse

(Wird als ein Fluch ans Kreuz gestellt).

Making God into a curse. We’re familiar with that from the inclusion of God’s name and Jesus’ name in expletives both casual and passionate. At Golgotha God was willing to be regarded as a curse and to become a curse as a life-and-death matter. Actually, a death matter. Dying.

The scandal of the cross is the scandal of particularity, the contraction of the universe’s spiritual and moral structure to a wretched and disgraceful episode on a Friday outside Jerusalem. Yet that is where God engaged the darkness and became its victim.

We have a few desolate words from Jesus on the cross. Psalm 22, which we recite on this day, elaborates eloquently the inner desolation.

The latter part of Psalm 22, beyond the Good Friday lection, anticipates the missional reach of redemptive suffering, a missional reach that fulfills God’s promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall bow before him. . . .

My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.

They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.

May it be so.

What I add in 2017 is reference to the link between forgiveness, which is among God’s gifts to us from the cross, and powerlessness, on which Rowan Williams  meditates in his recent book Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life:

To forgive is to share in the helplessness of God, who cannot turn from God’s own nature: not to forgive would be for God a wound in the divine nature itself.  Not power, but the powerlessness of the God whose nature is love is what is shown in the act of forgiving.  The disciple rooted n Christ shares that powerlessness, and the deeper the roots go the less possible it is not to forgive.

Palm Sunday’s attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt should prompt Christians in all places to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith in Christ and to advocate on their behalf.

The attacks on St. George’s Church in the northern city of Tanta and on St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, the ancient seat of Egyptian Christianity, left 44 dead and 126 wounded.  In December an attack on the Coptic cathedral in Cairo claimed 30 lives.  All the attacks were claimed by ISIS and its affiliates.

The website of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt, which also oversees Anglican work in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, does not yet include news of the Palm Sunday attacks.  But a blogpost by the Grant Lemarquand, area bishop for the Horn of Africa, includes this reflection on Christians’ response to the December attack:

The Coptic Church, joined by other Christians in Egypt, responded, yes with grief, but (as usual) without calls for retaliation. Outside of the Coptic Cathedral protesters and mourners shouted. For those who don’t know the language, the sight and sound of thousands of young men chanting loudly and strongly in Arabic might strike fear into the heart of many westerners. But listen more closely … they are chanting the Nicene Creed.

Yes, it was defiance. “We are Christians. We are here. We, too, are willing to give our lives; willing to be martyrs if need be.” But it was non-violent defiance. Here were Christians in the streets of an Islamic country openly and loudly proclaiming their belief and trust in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For me the response of most Christians in Egypt was remarkable, but not really a surprise. Yes, there is anger. Yes, there is terror. But there is also an amazing trust. And, even more amazing, almost a sense of thanksgiving. I heard Christians saying that they were thankful that God had, once again, counted the Egyptian church worthy of gaining more martyrs, more ‘witnesses’ to the suffering love of God expressed in the suffering of his faithful people. I heard some say how wonderful it was that those who died went to church to have Communion with God, and found themselves continuing that Communion in God’s immediate presence.

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Posted by: Titus Presler | April 8, 2017

Evil in Holy Week and the vocation of mission: A meditation

Evil in the world.  Suffering among the poor, the drought-stricken and famine-stricken.  Agony among people on whom is inflicted excruciating death.  Betrayals on personal, social and global scales.  Gratuitous cruelty in families and neighborhoods.  Outrageous grabs by the powerful who disenfranchise, oppress and impoverish the less powerful.

We see all this around us – locally, regionally, globally.  The headlines need no recitation.  There you have it – evil.

In this world-scape, human-scape, suffering-scape people often ask – in puzzlement, despair or rage – ‘Where is God in all this?!  Where are you, God – that is, if you even exist?!’  And when they’re calmer and more analytical, many conclude, ‘Look at all this!  Obviously  God doesn’t exist, or if God exists God doesn’t care!’

On the eve of the Sunday of the Passion of Jesus, and so also on the eve of Holy Week, a very different conclusion emerges.  Where is God in the suffering?  Well, right here!

The story of Holy Week is a disgraceful story of jealousy, rage, conspiracy, manipulation, violence, slander – and then condemnation, cruelty, mockery, torture, abandonment and, finally, excruciating death.  The story is dark and shameful.

At the center of that story is Jesus – Jesus to whom all that happens, Jesus on whom all that is heaped, Jesus who feels it all so keenly that he cries out in desperation from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!’  That cry resonates with the cry of so many who ask, ‘Where is God in the suffering?’  The Jesus who asks that question with us was a human being like all of us, yet at the same time the very being of God become flesh and living among us as one of us.  He lived among us, yet without any of the prerogatives of God and thus without omnipresence, omniscience or omnipotence.  So Jesus was genuinely alone, authentically vulnerable as he gaped into the darkness.

We often see ourselves on pilgrimage into God.  The Incarnation was God’s pilgrimage into humanity.  The primary mode of that pilgrimage was sharing – God sharing our life, God sharing our weakness, God sharing our anxiety, God sharing our unknowingness, God sharing our vulnerability to contingency and catastrophe.  Solidarity is a fancier name for it, properly popular in mission discussions, but ‘sharing’ says it more simply.  As Eucharistic Prayer A has it, Jesus was sent ‘to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.’

Jesus was sent first to share our life – that was his mission, his sent-ness.  Yes, there were the mighty words and the mighty acts, the preaching and the healing, yet Jesus could not preach to everyone, nor could he heal everyone.  The words and deeds were harbingers of a cosmic healing yet to come.  Underlying his ministry was sheer presence – Immanuel, God simply with us, the sharing.

And that turned out to be costly, as sharing always is.  Where is God in the suffering? – Well, right here in the midst of it.  A task in Holy Week is simply to contemplate God’s sharing the human journey.

Another meditation on evil on this Saturday before Passion Sunday comes from Scott Simon, the host of National Public Radio’s ‘Weekend Edition.’  After describing how the Syrian government’s chemical attack in Idlib Province prompted him to think again about evil he had this to say:

I’ve interviewed Romeo Dallaire, the former Canadian general who commanded U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994. General Dallaire discovered Hutu soldiers were getting ready to massacre Tutsi civilians. But he was prevented by U.N. leadership from using his troops to try to stop the murders before they could take place. More than 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans were then slaughtered over three months.

Romeo Dallaire said that what happened made him believe in evil, and even a force he called the devil. “I’ve negotiated with him,” he told us, “shaken his hand. Yes. There is no doubt in my mind …. and the expression of evil to me is through the devil and the devil at work and possessing human beings and turning them into machines of destruction. … And one of the evenings in my office, I was looking out the window and my senses felt that something was there with me that shifted me. I think that evil and good are playing themselves out and God is monitoring and looking at how we respond to it.”

God monitoring and looking at how we respond.  Yes.  And after the Christ event, God looks and monitors from the perspective of having been inside it and suffered its extremity of degradation.

God shared our condition, walked alongside us, suffered within our tormented situation.  Living out the Christ event in our own lives means that we share the suffering of others, walk alongside them, suffer within their torment.  That’s mission, our sent-ness.

A 2017 Lenten reflection program based on the Anglican Five Marks of Mission is being offered by the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), the Episcopal men’s monastic community based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Anyone is welcome to participate in the free program, whether individually or in groups.  Sign-up is readily accessible at the series website – just name and email (no user name, password or address needed).  When you sign up, you receive an email making the 14-page workbook downloadable for printing.  You also begin receiving daily via email a 3-minute video reflection by one of the SSJE brothers that you can incorporate into your daily devotion.

Groups can meet weekly to share responses to the videos and the workbook, which, after the first week’s introductory chapter, is organized according to the Five Marks of Mission.  In northern Vermont, for instance, participants from a number of Episcopal congregations are participating online, with those able to meet in person gathering at one parish on Wednesday evenings and others logging in live to that meeting online.

By yesterday morning, 2,222 people around the country – maybe around the world as well – had viewed the morning’s video on YouTube, which indicates that the series is garnering a good deal of interest.  The introductory week began this past Sunday, Feb. 26, but one can join the series at any point, and all the videos are listed on the series website in case you get a late start or need to catch up on any you miss along the way

Outstanding from a missional point of view is that the Five Marks of Mission are being highlighted this way for an extended Lenten program of reflection.  For those not so familiar with the Five Marks, here they are:

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  • To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.
  • To respond to human need by loving service.
  • To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Read More…

Lost in the din emanating from the daily absurdities and outrages of Donald Trump’s presidential administration is his Feb. 2 proposal at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington to ‘destroy’ the so-called Johnson Amendment that prohibits USAmerican non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates or making financial contributions to political campaigns.

The Johnson Amendment is named after then Texas senator Lyndon Johnson, who later became vice president and president, and it was inserted into the Internal Revenue Code in 1954.  It applies to all organizations registered under the non-profit 501(c)(3) section of the code, so it includes not only churches but thousands of foundations, educational institutions, and charities.

Repeal of the amendment should be vigorously opposed, for it could result in a radical distortion of the mission of Christian churches in the USA.

Churches with a partisan itch would doubtless jump into the political fray, opening a floodgate to partisan political activity.  Most of that would probably be right-wing, the sector that Trump was recklessly pandering to at the prayer breakfast.  Churches that would wisely hang back in ordinary times might be tempted to join the fray lest ‘Christian political positions’ be stereotyped as right-wing.

The Christian gospel does have political implications – indeed, strong ones – for God’s revelation in the Jewish and Christian scriptures sets forth clearly lots of principles of personal morality that should be lived out in public as well as in private life, and lots of principles of social ethics that guide how we should live as communities.  Both the personal and the social dimensions should guide us in our political life.

Instances are too numerous to catalogue, but a few should suffice.  Topics of some of the Ten Commandments – for instance, the Sabbath, murder, theft, adultery – have affected civil and criminal codes – yes, with many details debated, but the effects are plain to see.  Jesus’ Beatitudes highlight personal qualities, yes, but peace-making, for example, has political valence.  Jesus’ central preaching of the Kingdom of God had political implications, as we see in his many condemnations of callous wealth and neglect of the poor.

The overwhelming biblical witness, in both the Old and New Testaments, in favor of justice for the poor, mercy for the condemned, hospitality for refugees, care of the sick, and compassion for the debt-ridden have clear implications for the body politic.  Underlying this witness is the generosity of God showered equally on all of us, a generosity that we are to reflect in our stance toward our fellow human beings, all of us equally created in God’s very image. Read More…

‘Have been hoping you might weigh in on the Muslim ban,’ a friend wrote to me last week.  The issue has naturally been of intense interest to me, given my background in Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, and I’m grateful to my friend for prodding me to share reflections in this space.

Much of the public response to President Trump’s executive order on immigration has been influenced by his disgraceful campaign rhetoric about banning all Muslims from entering the USA and his over-heated presidential assertions about the threat of terrorist attacks from the seven countries from which immigration, even for refugees, is banned under the executive order: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Widespread protests against the executive order have rightly decried the appearance of anti-Muslim bias, the precipitous and slipshod rollout of a sharply disruptive policy, the blatant fear-mongering that Trump regularly trumpets in support of it, his callous disregard for the plight of refugees worldwide, and his vicious attacks on judges who have challenged the order on the grounds of constitution and law.

As many know, I have my own story of arbitrary and prejudicial visa treatment – as a foreigner serving in higher education in Pakistan.  In one instance, a valid work visa was withdrawn without explanation for a period of months and then reinstated, also without explanation, after many representations by leaders of the Church of Pakistan.  In another instance, renewal of a work visa was delayed for months, without explanation, and then granted only after similar representations.  Finally, agents of the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency physically beat me, threatened me with death if I didn’t leave the country, and ripped the work visa out of my US passport.

The reasons for this treatment were religious – a Muslim desire to limit Christian influence in the important sphere of higher education.  The provincial government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa wanted to control Edwardes College, an institution founded, owned and operated by the church, and diminish the church’s role in the college’s planned charter as a university.  Realizing it had no basis for its position in constitution, law or history – after all, Pakistan’s constitution provides that all religious groups shall be free to practice and propagate their religion and manage their own institutions – the government resorted to threats and violence to enforce its will.

So I naturally empathize with people whose legitimate visa status is suddenly questioned and changed.  In the current USAmerican situation, there is no justification for barring people who already hold visas for study or work from returning to the country.  After all, they have already been vetted for security and financial viability, and it is specious to bar them on the pretext of unsubstantiated additional suspicion. Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | January 3, 2017

A New Year’s Day prayer

You, O God, are beyond time, yet you have placed us in time, a dimension of the cosmos you created.  At this transition from one year to another, we thank you for the gift of time: for the infinite moments in which you invite us to be fully present, for the gifts of memory, and for the perspective that experience brings.  We pray for the grace to be thankful for time and to steward wisely the time you give us.

Lord, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

We thank you, generous God, for the year that is past: for the blessing of your presence throughout that year, for the joys of family and friends, for the satisfaction of vocational accomplishments and artistic, musical and literary engagement.  We pray for the grace to cherish the time we’ve been given and to avoid the pretense of insufficient time.

Lord, in your mercy,

        Hear our prayer.

We lift up before you, merciful God, the sorrows and frustrations of the past year: our grief for those who have passed from this life into the life to come, our anger at those who may have hurt us, our shame for how we have hurt others, our frustration at opportunities lost or never offered.  We pray for the grace to be joyful in who we are, where we are, and what we have; to find your presence in all that has happened; and to be reconciled with those from whom we are estranged.

Lord, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

From beyond time, eternal God, you have shown your love for the human family through engaging us in time through words of wisdom and acts of compassion.  Thank you, God, for entering space and time in Jesus, a human being who, like us, grew through time and experienced the fears and hopes that are creatures of time.  We pray for the grace to join you in your mission in the world of time through bearing witness in word and deed to your compassionate and saving love.

Lord, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Walk with us, Friend Jesus, as we journey through time.  Help us to rejoice in discovery, heal from hurts, and open ourselves always to your presence in our present moments and our unfolding future.  May your Holy Spirit quicken our spirits to be fully alive in you, the source and destination of life.  Amen.

Conversion was the theme for about 180 scholars of Christian mission from around the world as they gathered in Seoul, South Korea, for the 14th Assembly of the International Association for Mission Studies (IAMS), August 11-17.

It was the first time that the association had focused on the theme, the full title of the conference being ‘Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change.’  This was striking, given that it was through conversion that Christianity grew to be the world’s most populous religion, a development catalyzed by mission initiatives from the Jesus movement’s earliest days to the present.

In introducing the conference theme, IAMS President Mika Vahakangas of Lund University in Sweden declared that the call to conversion is inherent in Christian mission, that conversion is both individual and social, and that spiritual, social and political conversion and transformation go hand in hand.

Plenary presentations addressed conversion from diverse standpoints.  Christine Lienemann-Perrin, retired from the University of Basel in Switzerland, offered a historical review in her address, ‘Configurations and Prefigurations of Conversion in the History of World Christianity.’  She noted the permutations of conversion in the Christian movement’s parting from Judaism, the medieval church’s encounter with Islam, the rise of denominationalism in Western Christianity, and the interplay of change and continuity in the reception of Christianity in China and Africa.

On the basis of his fieldwork among a remote group in Papua New Guinea that converted to Christianity without any external stimulus of colonialism or modernity, anthropologist Joel Robbins of Cambridge University suggested that the answer his title question, ‘Can there be conversion without cultural change?’ is both that conversion inevitably prompts cultural change and that changes often reflect significant continuities as well.  ‘People experience their Christian life as requiring a dialogue with culture,’ Robbins said.

Hyung Keun Paul Choi of Seoul Theological University discussed the decline of Christianity after explosive growth in South Korea and the strengths and weaknesses of Korea’s megachurches, which include the largest churches in the world, such as Yoida Full Gospel Church, which claims a membership of 800,000.  He suggested that Lesslie Newbigen’s classic question, ‘Can the West be converted?’ should be applied to Korea as well.  He called for an end to a mentality of Christendom in Korea and for the replacement of an ethos of ‘leaderdom’ with an ethos of servanthood.

Read More…

The phenomenon of religiously motivated violence is much on the minds of religious people around the world, whether in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, or the USA, where it has become a major theme in an unusually vitriolic presidential campaign.  Non-religious people have also been considering it, often concluding that religion itself is the problem.

One fruit of my reflection is the essay, ‘Terrorism and religion: A link we must acknowledge, not deny,’ that Episcopal News Service published on its blog today.  I take on two denial reflexes that many people have, especially if they are religious and want to detach religion from the violence committed in its name.

Bottom line: The link between religion and violence is real, and we in the religions need to wrestle with it.

‘The Key’ exhibition is the latest offering from Caravan Arts, a remarkable ministry initiative in interfaith understanding and reconciliation led by Paul-Gordon Chandler, an Episcopal priest and missionary.

Here’s an excerpt from the latest newsletter from Caravan Arts:

During this time of increasing discord, misunderstanding and apprehension between peoples and cultures in our world, especially between the Middle East and the West, and also during the recent unease caused by the UK’s Brexit vote, Caravan has the privilege of focusing on the critical need of harmony through The Key exhibition in the heart of London at the historic St. James’s Piccadilly, a beautiful Sir Christopher Wren building near the Royal Academy of Arts.

The Key exhibition, following its March premiere in Cairo, Egypt, opened on June 15 in London. Running through August 15, the exhibition showcases the work of 40 premier and emerging Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Western artists and uses the world’s most ancient symbol of harmony and pluralism, the Egyptian Ankh, the hieroglyph that reads “life” (often known as the “Key of Life”), as a message of hope toward seeing a world that embraces religious and cultural diversity.

The Key will open at Riverside Church in New York City on Sept. 21, the United Nations International Day of Peace, so stateside people will have opportunity to view it soon.

The work of Caravan Arts is unusual in addressing current religious and cultural discords through art, and it’s probably unique in offering its art exhibitions on a traveling basis intercontinentally.  Caravan Arts is vitally important, and I salute Paul-Gordon and Lynne Chandler for their vision and dedication to this avenue of reconciliation in our riven world.

While The Key exhibition may seem a bit esoteric in focusing on an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph, Caravan’s other offerings are more accessible in highlighting contemporary artists from multiple religious traditions who seek understanding and reconciliation between cultures and religions.

‘The Bridge’ exhibition is a good example as it now concludes, in the USAmerican Northwest, an 18-month international tour.

Paul-Gordon Chandler and his wife Lynne have been missionaries of the Episcopal Church.  I participated in their orientation to Episcopal Church missionary work in the early 2000s, and in 2007 was able to visit them during their ministry at St. John the Baptist Church in Maadi, Cairo.  Earlier in their ministry Paul was rector of St. George’s Church in Tunis, so the work of Caravan Arts arises out of long and intense life and work in the Muslim world.

You can subscribe to the Caravan Arts newsletter here.  Read and be encouraged in a time of discord and discouragement in inter-religious relations around the world.  Better yet, go to an exhibition if one is near or your travels take you near one.

 

 

 

A Muslim immigrant from Pakistan on the national stage! – I was delighted to see that last night at the Democratic National Convention.

As has been widely noted, one of the convention’s high points was Khizr Khan’s talk about his son, Humayun Khan, a captain in the United States Army who was killed in 2004 after heroically stepping forward to question a suspicious-looking vehicle in Iraq, upon which those inside blew him up with their suicide vests.

Khizr Khan delivered his remarks with intensity and dignity.  Their major import was to highlight the contribution and loyalty of Muslim Americans in the face of skepticism and hostility, especially as voiced by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“Tonight we are honored to stand here as parents of Captain Humayun Khan and as patriotic American Muslims – with undivided loyalty to our country,” he said, with his wife standing sorrowfully beside him.  His scolding of Donald Trump was well deserved, but I was especially glad about his self-presentation as a USAmerican Muslim.

As soon as Khan began speaking I was certain the family was originally from Pakistan, despite commentators’ comments, true, that they had immigrated from the United Arab Emirates.  And, sure enough, it turns out that they are originally from Pakistan, and it seems they must have arrived in the USA in about 1979.  Many Pakistanis do move to the UAE, sometimes for long periods of time, sometimes briefly as they prepare for a permanent move elsewhere.  The Khans, obviously, followed the latter pattern.

Khizr Khan presented himself very well as a Muslim USAmerican citizen, and he spoke movingly about the patriotism of his son Humayun.  His witness was a powerful antidote to the anti-Muslim sentiment being stoked by many.

Pakistan frequently comes in for similar suspicion and hostility, partly for the extremist violence with which some in Pakistan express their Islam.  Khizr Khan’s words were a good antidote to that hostility as well.

I was glad for the Muslim testimony.  I was proud that it came from a Pakistani.

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