Suzanne McDonald: The Power of Real Ecumenism

Last year ACT3 hosted the Lausanne Movement’s Catholic-Evangelical Conversation in Mundelein, Illinois. We will host this same event again on September 2-5 this year. During our meeting last year ACT3 hired a videographer to film each of the participants talking about the power and importance of unity. A few weeks ago I posted a segment of one of those interviews with Dr. Suzanne McDonald, theology professor at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Today we hear the second of her excellent two-part response.

These interviews capture the heart and soul of the mission of ACT3 Network.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, Unity of the Church | 1 Comment/Like

What Conservatives Do with Government

imagesLiberals and conservatives are waging, it seems to me to the bitter end, a constant debate about the role of government. Conservatives generally do not trust government and want to see it decreased. Such conservatives often call the other side a bunch of socialists while Liberals say the conservatives are heartless and greedy business owners. “Conservatives do not care about the poor or the well-being of society,” they tell us.

Last year I heard a noteworthy conservative say that the problem with most conservatives is they end up turning modern government into a “private sector bidding war.” The result, he added, was that they gave us: “Government by entrepreneurship.” That was one of the most honest reflections on the dangers of conservative views of modern government that I’ve heard. One can hope that both sides would learn to see their own weaknesses and then learn how to work for the common good. So far I’ve not seen much of this since the 1970s. I’m not holding my breath but I am hoping for better leadership, eventually.

Posted in Ideology, Politics | 8 Comments/Likes

Jeff Gokee on Christian Unity and Why It Matters

One of my very best friends is Rev. Jeff Gokee, who serves PhoenixONE and is a recent addition to the ACT3 Network board of directors. Today Jeff speaks about the power and importance of Christian Unity.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 7 Comments/Likes

A Liberal Confession that Conservatives Can Affirm

Lescalleet (Dave)Today’s Guest Blogger: Dr. David Lescalleet

There was an interesting recent editorial on dailybeast.com entitled:  Why I’m coming out as a Christian.  Columnist Ana Marie Cox who has written for a number of periodicals and has quite the following on twitter (1.3 million and counting) wrote the article.  I heard about it today when Ms. Cox appeared on the cable morning show Morning Joe on MSNBC and talked about the reasons she chose to ‘come out’ of the religious closet.  A week ago the news cycle had picked up on a comment made by Governor Scott Walker who was questioning President Obama’s Christian faith.  Ms. Cox, a liberal commentator and obvious supporter of President Obama, opined if the President wasn’t a Christian than what did that make her?  In her television interview this morning she did a decent enough job in trying to explain her own Christianity (enough for me to hunt her article down anyway and read it for myself), and what I found was a testimonial mixture of both good and bad.  I don’t mean that as a criticism of Ms. Cox or what she wrote, but merely an observation.  Who amongst us has a testimony that isn’t mixed with both good and bad?  Who now wants to share that testimony with 1.3 million people?  Ms. Cox did and what she wrote was powerful.

Of course her article is laced with the usual double-standard when dealing with conservatives and liberals.  She writes:  I know that when conservatives talk about Obama’s faith, they are also talking race, fear, society, and status, as well as winning elections. Obama’s Christianity—or lack of it—matters to them only to the extent that it proves an existing hypothesis about who he is at his core.

This kind of comment doesn’t surprise me especially from one leaning to the left and who is paid to write about politics.  One could easily substitute the word ‘conservatives’ with ‘liberals’ and attach the moniker to a Republican darling and appeal to the other side of the aisle just as easily.  But looking past the politics for a moment and just focusing in on her confession, one finds much to admire.  Cox writes:

Here is why I believe I am a Christian: I believe I have a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior. I believe in the grace offered by the Resurrection. I believe that whatever spiritual rewards I may reap come directly from trying to live the example set by Christ. Whether or not I succeed in living up to that example is primarily between Him and me.

The pastor in me would want to nuance that last sentence and encourage Ms. Cox that there is no such thing as an ‘individual Christian’ and that we are saved into a Body of believers.  St. Paul writes:  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (I Corinthians 12:27).  So no, it’s not just between you and Him and yes, your ‘living up’ does have corporate and communal ramifications.  It’s a slight nuance but an important one.  But the rest of her confession is as orthodox and Christ-affirming as anything I’ve read from any political commentator working from either side of the aisle.  One wishes that our President (and all of our politicians!) would be just as a clear.

I especially like that Ms. Cox goes out of her way to demonstrate what she doesn’t believe as well:  To be clear, I don’t just believe in God. I am a Christian. Decades of mass culture New Ageism has fluffed up “belief in God” into a spiritual buffet, a holy catch-all for those who want to cover all the numbers: Pascal’s wager as a roulette wheel and not a coin toss. Me, I’m going all in with Jesus. It’s not just that the payoff could be tremendous—it already has been! The only cost is the judgment that comes from others, from telling people that my belief has a specific shape, with its own human legacy of both shame and triumph.

To that I also offer a hearty, ‘Amen and AMEN!’  Is there a better way to describe what Ms. Cox identifies as the ‘human legacy’ than one of both shame and triumph?  That certainly describes my own life.  But there is even more.  Ms. Cox goes further to write about the ‘artifact of ego’ and that there will be the temptation to make this confession solely about her:  A liberal who is a Christian.  She points out that not only is that kind of thinking foolishness (Ecclesiastes agrees with her, identifying it as vanity) but more importantly that is not what God is looking for.  I love this line she wrote:  God does not see charming dissonance in being a liberal who follows Christ; He’s not looking for that New York Times Style section trend story.  No He is not indeed!

In the end Ms. Cox sums up the message that she hopes her readers take to heart:  What Christ teaches me, if I let myself be taught, is that there is only one kind of judgment that matters. I am saved not because of who I am or what I have done (or didn’t do), but simply because I have accepted the infinite grace that was always offered to me.  

Agreed!  We cannot earn our salvation.  It is the free act of grace.  Ms. Cox writes, ‘they’ll (Christianity) let anyone in!’  She is absolutely correct!  Confession aside, I’m sure that culturally and politically, Ms. Cox remains a mixed-bag (i.e. holds opinions and views that run contrary to Scripture).  She admits as much in this article.  Like all of us she is in the long journey of living in both the ‘already and the not yet’ and will find that life and sanctification between the Advents is messy.  But as she grows in her confession I’m confident that God will work all of that out for His good pleasure and in His good time.  He certainly does that with me—and if His grace is sufficient for big sinners like Ms. Cox and me, His grace is sufficient for all who call on His name.

Guest Author

Since 2006, Dr. Dave Lescalleet has served as the lead pastor of City Church in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, Whitefield Theological Seminary (M.Div), and Knox Theological Seminary (D.Min).  At Knox he consulted formally with Dr. John H. Armstrong as an advisor on his doctoral writing project. In addition to his pastoral work, Dr. Lescalleet also serves as a chaplain for Christus Spohn Hospital and is actively involved in helping churches prepare for transition in pastoral leadership.  You can follow Dave on various social media. You can also learn more about his vocation through his website at pastortransition.com and his personal blog: Corpus Christian. You can find David and his church at https://www.citychurchcc.com and his Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/dave.lescalleet.

 

 

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Discipleship, Evangelism, Faith, Gospel/Good News, Missional Church, Personal, The Church | 14 Comments/Likes

Two Modern Films That Define Us as Americans, Part Two

11181470_oriIn complete contrast with American Sniper the new film McFarland USA is a Disney movie. It is also based on a true story. It is an against-all-odds story of the 1987 McFarland high school cross country team in an economically challenged community in the central valley of California. Some reviewers think the film is “corny” and hopelessly romanticized. I found it pure, unadulterated inspiration. Kevin Costner plays the lead role as a high school teacher and coach who is stuck in a small town with a largely Hispanic population of poor immigrant farm workers. (The issue of documented or undocumented people never arises in the movie but reality says both kinds of immigrants are in the story!) The story revolves around a family of four moving to this small California farm town of McFarland, which really is the name of the town. (McFarland is about ten miles from where one of my best friends lives, Rev. David Moorhead. David a Reformed Church in America church-planting pastor in Shafter.) Costner’s character takes a job as a science and physical education teacher at the local high school. He spots some natural talents and persuades eight boys to help him launch a cross-country team while he and his family adjust to the new town and life. (He desperately wants to get out of McFarland as soon as possible!)

Yes, McFarland USA is another Kevin Costner film about sports, 128735_orithough this film and his performance is nothing like Bull Durham, Tin Cup or Draft Day. This is another inspirational sports-minded film based on a true story which appeals to the entire family. This film is really worth going to the theater to see and feel. I dare you to not shed a tear or two.

So why do I review these two movies side-by-side?

  1. Many (the majority) of conservative Christians I know support almost all US combat missions while they oppose Hispanic immigration, especially if it involves poor Mexican farm workers. These movies allow you to see these two contentious issues without focusing on the issues per se.
  2. These films both work to tell powerful stories. One feels awful and the other inspires you.
  3. Neither film is overtly political in any way. Both contribute to our political and cultural dialogue about who we are as a people.
  4. I left American Sniper stunned into silence and deeply concerned. I left McFarland moved to joy by courage, grace, love and how community, and sport, can change lives wonderfully. McFarland shows the best of America. American Sniper shows the courage of many military people but it also raises a hundred questions about what we are asking of you men and women in uniform.
  5. Christians talk a lot about culture and culture wars. McFarland inspires us to see Hispanics as people just like us. We see immigrants as people who want to provide for their children, find true community, enjoy the basic parts of the American dream and achieve success. American Sniper portrays courage under fire but it celebrates our darker instincts to kill or be killed. It causes us to cheer, as I experienced in the theater when I saw the movie. McFarland made me call Pastor David Moorhead as soon as possible and thank him for his amazing work in Shafter, California, a town so much like McFarland. When David told me he saw the film on opening night and he and his wife were inspired and filled with joy it moved me. I told him, “David, you are my pastoral hero. So many pastors are lauded for great feats but you are living in a mostly Hispanic community and serving the poor and making disciples for Christ!”

128727_oriI encourage you to see both movies. The American Sniper is not for the faint of heart of for anyone 12 or under. (Maybe even 16 or under.) McFarland USA is for the whole family. See it and tell your family why immigrants should be treated with love and respect and the issue is much more complicated than building a wall. Celebrate our cultural and linguistic diversity and then welcome the mission of Christ that friends like Pastor David Moorhead are sharing with the fastest growing (and largest) group of new immigrants in the USA.

Posted in America and Americanism, American Evangelicalism, Culture, Current Affairs, Immigration, Personal, Politics, Poverty, Race and Racism, The Church, The Future, The War on Terrorism | 20 Comments/Likes

Two Modern Films That Define Us as Americans, Part One

11180834_oriI have not reviewed a movie here for many months, maybe for a year or more. I am not sure why this is true. I simply lost interest in film reviews I suppose. I’ve also seen some fairly bad movies in the last year. I think the Academy nominees for this year included some of the weakest films and performances in years. But I have not lost my interest in film.

In the first few months of 2015 I have seen several films that I enjoyed. Today I’d like to compare and contrast two films that capture something of the spirit of America. One is being deeply debated, American Sniper. The other film, McFarland USA, is not so well known but should be. (I will give the compare and contrast part of my blog in tomorrow’s post.)

American Sniper is a critically acclaimed movie that is debated left and right. It features Clint Eastwood’s sure-handed direction and has a gripping central performance from Bradley Cooper, who plays the lead role as a sniper in Iraq. It is tense, violent, and uses terrible language. It is a most vivid tribute to its real-life subject, Texan Kris Kyle. Kyle was a U.S. Navy SEAL who was sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” (It is said he had more kills than any sniper in US history!) However, Kyle’s reputation also grew behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family back at home, Kris Kyle serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq. Kris became emblematic of the SEAL creed to “leave no man behind.” But upon returning home, Kris discovered that he can’t leave the war behind. As most of you now know Kris, and a good buddy, were shot and killed by a troubled ex-military man that they were trying to help deal with his PTSD. The recent trial of Kyle’s killer has been in the daily news for several weeks.

127999_oriKris Kyle’s biography is gritty and hard to watch. He is a rather profane man, deeply scarred by his relationship with his dad. He had a lot of emotional baggage even before the war. But American Sniper is not an uncritical testament to the might and right of the armed forces. Clint Eastwood delivers a complex, conflicted and profoundly moving portrait of the American military machine. He shows us the clear toll it takes on the soldiers who keep getting shoveled back into the fire. One reviewer, who I think gets this about right, said: “American Sniper possesses the sweep and scope of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, but very little of that movie’s romantic grandeur. Eastwood is after something smaller and more personal—while Cimino turned the Vietnam War experience into myth, here Eastwood undermines the legend of a contemporary American warrior even as he is creating it.”

127998_oriI was deeply moved by Kris Kyle’s heroism and courage. I am also more profoundly convinced that most of the American conflicts that we are engaged in at the present moment are pointless. Indeed, I am persuaded that they are actually harmful to our nation and people. There is room for honest disagreement about this conclusion. But there is really no room to disagree that American Sniper presents us with a shocking portrayal of the high cost of combat. It proves the central thesis of Christopher Hedges’ chilling tour-de-force, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003). I encourage everyone, pro-war or not, to read this indictment of how wars define us as a people in harmful and culture destroying ways. Christians, of all people, should become more astute about this issue rather than simply those who embrace every new combat mission the USA engages in overseas. One can be a patriot and not embrace all the combat missions that we have launched in the last fifty years plus.

Tomorrow: McFarland USA, a film in which Kevin Costner is in the lead role. This inspirational film is a “do not miss.” And it opens up some intriguing and important questions for the Christian church in America in 2015.

Posted in America and Americanism, American Evangelicalism, Film, Immigration, The Church, The War on Terrorism | 20 Comments/Likes

What’s to Celebrate in the Ecumenical Movement?

January2013_015 hi resSeveral years ago the late Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSC, the keynote speaker at National Workshop on Christian Unity in Arlington, Virginia, lifted up five things for which to be grateful in the church unity movement today.

At the top of the list, Gros, who was then professor of Church history at Memphis Theological Seminary (Tennessee), put the Methodist Statement of Association with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). The JDDJ, signed on October 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany, represents a formal agreement between the Catholic Church and Lutheran World Federation on the historically divisive issue of justification or how we are saved.

At World Methodist Conference in Seoul, Korea, delegates voted acceptance of the JDDJ as their statement, too, in a Common Affirmation. The result is a unique theological agreement in which a third partner has joined with two partners already in agreement.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, former President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, called it “a historic day”, and Dr. Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, said it was a “new ecumenical landmark for which we must thank and praise God together.”

A key phrase in the JDDJ is “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

In its Common Affirmation, after four years of seeking consensus within the World Methodist family, the World Methodist Council and its churches declared JDDJ’s understanding to be not church-dividing but church-uniting. It makes possible among Lutherans, Catholics and Methodists a common proclamation of the gospel in a deeper and more substantive way, and signals the possibility of additional movement towards the restoration of visible Christian unity.

Christian Churches Together, USA 

Second on Gros’ list of things for which to be grateful: Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT-USA). At a meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, national leaders from five Christian “confessional families”—Evangelical/Pentecostal, Historic Protestant, Historic Racial/Ethnic, Orthodox, and Catholic—made the decision to officially begin, culminating a process instigated in 2001 by Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore.

The official ceremonial beginning of CCT-USA took place February 6-9 in Pasadena, California, with a service of celebration and commitment.

At the core of CCT is the desire for a forum bringing a broader spectrum of Christian traditions together “to enable churches and Christian organizations to grow closer in Christ in order to strengthen our Christian witness to the world” (CCT Charter).

“This is as much a challenge as a pledge,” Gros told the 400 participants. “African American churches wonder whether this is the best way to spread their limited ecumenical resources. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches are inherently cautious and many will watch closely what the next decades bring before warming up to the idea.”

25 Years of Growth through BEM

Thirdly, 2007 was the 25th anniversary of the Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry document produced by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and commonly known as BEM, or the Lima document because it was released to the churches at the meeting in Lima, Peru, in 1982.

Virtually all the confessional traditions are represented in the Faith and Order Commissions’ membership which formulated the large measure of agreement on the three areas of doctrine and practice which effectively represent the scaffolding of the church.

The document’s preface said “That theologians of such widely different traditions should be able to speak so harmoniously about baptism, eucharist, and ministry is unprecedented in the modern ecumenical movement.”

They recognized we have not yet reached “full consensus,” but that such “can only be proclaimed after the churches reach a point of living and acting together in unity.” BEM was given to the churches for “reception,” an on-going process at work in the churches today.

“BEM has contributed to deeper levels of communion between churches and clarified the way to communion for those for whom it seemed impossible,” said Gros. “Some have expected too much too soon.”

Rich Resource of Dialogue Texts 

Fourthly, Gros observed, “some of the most polarizing issues in our society are beginning to be discussed among the churches. Church dialogue texts on abortion and euthanasia are helpful resources, as is the Faith and Order work in the U.S. on homosexuality, and that of the Vatican-WCC Joint Working Group on ethical issues.

“None of our churches,” he said, “have an alternate position, confessionally, to the common position on marriage; therefore we don’t have formal faith differences, only differences in practice.” Referring to the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s (ARCIC) 1994 common text on marriage, Gros said “it needs to be tested among all the churches of the Anglican Communion and in the Catholic community.”

Fifthly, Gros lifted up for celebration all the texts which have been produced by the churches in their dialogues with one another. They represent a rich resource for local dialogues, for preachers and teachers, and for personal spiritual nurture.

“To God we can be grateful,” Gros said, “for many signs of reconciliation which point to the ultimate goal of union in his Son, and to the penultimate goal of full communion by stages as we move forward in human history.”

Guest Author:

Fr. Tom Ryan is a member of the Paulist Fathers, a Roman Catholic community of priests founded in the U.S. in 1858 whose mission is expressed in evangelization, reconciliation, Christian unity and interreligious dialogue and collaboration. Tom directed the national Canadian Centre for Ecumenism for 14 years before co-founding and directing Unitas, an ecumenical center for spirituality and Christian meditation co-sponsored by 8 different denominations in Montreal, QC. In 2000 his community then called him to found and develop the work of a Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, DC., which is his ministry to the present day. Tom leads ecumenical retreats and co-leads Gospel Call with John Armstrong. He has authored or co-authored 15 books and over 150 articles in a wide variety of journals. His own quarterly journal/newsletter is Koinonia and he can be contacted via www.tomryancsp.org.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, Unity of the Church | 5 Comments/Likes

Sanctuary: An ABC Chicago Television Program on ACT3

A few weeks ago I learned that ABC Chicago wanted to air a thirty-minute program on Sunday, March 22, at 11:30 a.m. on Channel 7. The really cool thing is that this will not cost us a penny and it will help us spread the flame of missional-ecumenism widely in the region and beyond. After the show airs we should be able to show the program on the Internet. For now, if you live in Chicago plan to watch the program when it airs or set your DVR to Channel 7 (ABC) on March 22 at 11:30 a.m. and watch it later. Tell your friends as well. Please pray that this message will spread like a great virus throughout the hearts of God’s people in Chicago and beyond. This is truly a remarkable providence.

Posted in ACT 3, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, The Church, Unity of the Church | 19 Comments/Likes

Sameness vs. Individuality

DSC00542It is a healthy development to see growing concern for community and life together in the West. At the same time the hunger for life together can, and does, create some deep problems that are rarely talked about in the right way. My friend Monte Wilson recently captured my concern in a post that I believe is very important for Christians who have experienced deep brokenness and desire to be enfolded into a deeply Christian family or small group/church.

Ultimately everything depends on the quality of the individual, but our fatally short-sighted age thinks only in terms of large numbers and mass organizations…
― C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self

Sameness – Where every one looks alike, talks alike, believes the same (what they are told to believe), goes along to get along; is brought about by the belief that the judgment of others is more important and more valuable then his or her own evaluations; lives based on fear and self-distrust. Synonyms – Cookie-cutter, boring, mindless, asleep at the wheel, dishonest, robots

Individuality – The product of a relentless pursuit of truth; the result of the belief that one’s life is a gift to be stewarded before the Gift Giver; a person who holds to his or her own beliefs, values, truth, and vision, and respects the same in others; lives based on love and self-respect. Synonyms – Unique, interesting, engaged, responsible, real

Sameness is mindless imitation

Individuality is a commitment to one’s own path

Sameness is cheap, requires very little effort, and leaves one without a self to respect

Individuality demands a steep price but produces the priceless reward of self-respect

Sameness drives out creativity and leaves only dullness of thought and feeling

Individuality requires the use of the full range of one’s mind and senses for creating the noble, the sublime, and the beautiful

Sameness is encouraged by The Powers That Be because robots are easier to program and control

Individuality threatens Control Freaks and Power Brokers because they won’t be managed according to the blueprints of others

Sameness stands or falls before The Group

Individuals stand or fall before their own beliefs, judgments, and actions

Sameness only listens to parrots and robots: all others are categorized as “ignorant,” “foolish,” or “the enemy.”

Individuals listen for truth, logic, and wisdom.

Sameness goes along to get along, giving up individuality for “the common good”

Individuals unite for a common purpose and then integrate their uniqueness’ for the sake of that purpose.

Sameness only sees and groups people according to classes, races, religious groupings, political factions/ voting blocs

Individuals see … individuals: presently the smallest and most abused minority in our country.

Sameness sees the means of “salvation” as Group Think

Individuals stand on the wisdom of St Paul: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Author

Monte E. Wilson

Monte Wilson trains individuals, teams, and organizations to develop personal and team effectiveness. His work has taken him around the globe and for 40 years he has trained thousands of international leaders in the fields of communication and persuasion, education, and non-profit organizations. As a Corporate Trainer and Life Coach, he has specialized in working across cultural lines throughout the world to establish and sustain successful businesses, both large and small. ESPN, ABC, United Technologies and Best Buy.

As an authority on leadership development, Monte has worked with men and women across five continents, teaching them how to reinvent themselves, their communities and their organizations.

One of Monte’s greatest passions is Stopping Traffic, International: a charity dedicated to rebuilding the lives of children rescued from sexual slavery and slave labor. Please visit Monte’s mission and support his worthy cause.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015

Posted in ACT 3, Culture, Current Affairs, Discipleship, Leadership, The Church | 8 Comments/Likes

A Short Documentary: The ACT3 Conversation on Christian Unity

Last Monday (February 23) I reported to you about the ACT3 Network Conversation on Christian Unity that I conducted with Fr. Robert Barron on Monday, February 9, at St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois.

One of the very best ways to see and feel such an event is to watch a documentary-style report. Our ACT3 videographer, Tim Frakes, once again made an extremely good (short) video about this gathering. The entire dialogue will be available very soon on YouTube broadcast. For now please share this documentary video with your friends and encourage them to help ACT3 reach the church and her leaders with this vital message of missional-ecumenism.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Evangelism, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 3 Comments/Likes