“….encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you are doing.” —1 Thessalonians 5:11
When these weekly posts began, none of us could have imagined that our world would still be locked in. Locked in a struggle with an ever evolving virus. Locked in a struggle for resources. Locked in a struggle for vaccines. Locked in a struggle with the tremendous and extant oppression of colonialism and greed the pandemic has made painfully obvious.
But here we are in Christmastide of 2021. And Christ is born. Christ has died. And Christ is risen. So, those of us who believe, are not locked in. We have the abundance of the Spirit and the shared community in Jesus’ global church to sustain and supply us.
However, we are weary. Bone weary in many ways. Spirit weary in our human spirits. And wondering, with varying degrees of hope - depending on the day - what will happen next to call on us to dig deeper into the reserves that our faith provides.
For many weeks and months, there have been dozens of CANAAC members who have contributed thoughtful, theological and hopeful words of encouragement from the “front lines.” As one of those who has organized the publication calendar, I want to say a sincere word of thanks for the efforts of laypersons, clergy, students and educators who have taken precious time and talent to write. Many thanks, too for the help of Phil Tanis in organizing the translations and postings. And to those who have translated from Spanish to English and English to Spanish - many thanks.
It now feels like the time for something to change in the way we meet one another. Hopefully, we have gotten to know one another more through our weekly postings. Perhaps it is time to build upon this fledgling relationship to dig a bit deeper into things that we need to build one another up. True things. Things that may fill us with joy and encouragement. But also the hard, historical, ecological, climatalogical and theological things that exist among us. The question is, how can we best “build up one another in love” ?
CANAAC Moderator Angela Martins and I have talked very briefly about some possible answers to that question. And in the new year expect to hear a bit more from her about what will come next for CANAAC.
For now, we will suspend the weekly posts. But this is not the suspension of our connection and encouragement.
May Christmastide and 2022 be filled with all good things.
Peace to you and love.
Rev. Anne Weirich is retired from pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church USA. She lives on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and is a member of the Federated Church (UCC) of Orleans, MA and the Presbytery of Southern New England. She serves as a volunteer administrator for CANAAC and on the PCUSA General Assembly Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Relationships.
I concluded the last devotion I wrote with these words Joseph Drexler-Dreis’s Decolonial
Love, “Decolonizing is thus a fundamentally different project than ‘opening’ particular disciplines or ‘diversifying’ Western thought systems; the goal in projects of decolonization is to transcend Western thought systems. This requires a different eschatological imagination.” I was wondering what a new thought system might look like when I came across Paget Henry’s book, Caliban’s Reason.
In it he writes, “With the continuing production of new forms of poverty, new forms of liminal othering, spiritual and ecological crises of major proportions, it looks more and more as though the project of Western humanity is founded on the blind pursuit of a bad infinity. In the words of Adorno, it is “self-assertion gone wild.”…Foucault sees the reassembling of the mythic forces that will contain this pursuit and correct its hubris.”
Henry’s book is an attempt to ask why, even in the works of Caribbean thinkers and activists, are African and Indigenous ways of knowing downplayed or ignored? Why do non-Western pursuits still base their thought in a Western reason that is responsible for so much (neo-)colonial destruction and racist othering? Henry, too, recommends a “different eschatological imagination,” a “return of the gods” that will change the way we look at the world and at one another.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Psalm 82 and its vision of the Most High in the divine council, in the midst of “the gods.” We learn that they are “children of the Most High” and they are failing miserably in the task that the Most High has given them to do; judging unjustly and showing partiality to the wicked rather than giving “justice to the weak and the orphan” and maintaining “the right of the lowly and the destitute.”
The story goes like this: as humanity was growing in its hubris, striving to make a name for themselves (self-assertion gone wild!), the Most High saw fit to scatter them abroad, “Come let us go down and confuse their language.” So, Deuteronomy 32:8-9 says that the “when the Most High apportioned the nations,” God did so “according to the number of the gods.” (NRSV; your Bible might say ‘sons of Israel’ but that doesn’t make sense). The Most High, the Lord, “fixed the boundaries of the peoples,” took Israel for his own, and delegated the nations to the gods, the “children of the Most High.” Sadly, these gods lead humanity astray and the prophets see how “all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god” (Micah 4:4).
I believe that Luke has all of this in mind as he tells the story of Jesus’s birth, putting in the angel’s mouth this announcement: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” For Luke, the Most High “made all the nations…allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the place where they would live” (Acts 17:26). But, there was an underlying desire here: that these same nations “would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him” (Acts 17:27), fulfilling the words of the prophets that “many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… he shall judge between many peoples…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’” (Micah 4:2-3). For Luke, the Most High has “fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31).
Acknowledging the presence of “the gods” is a “different eschatological imagination” for many people (and an uncomfortable one). But, here’s the difference it makes: it reveals to us that each ethnic/national identity, every people, that is trying to assert itself cannot claim to be serving Christ. What sets the Most High apart from the gods, what makes the Lord “God of gods” is a fervent desire to “execute justice from the orphan and the widow, who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.” (Deut. 10:17-18). What makes Jesus unique among the “children of the Most High” is not a self-focused assertion, but an other-focused compassion that brings “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). And, when Christ returns to judge in righteousness and the nations are gathered before him, the criteria for judgment is clear: rescue the weak and the needy (the “least of these”?); deliver them from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 82:4)
The history of colonialism is a history of one ethnic/national group seeking to assert itself over and against another; nation lifting up sword against nation. It is a history of “self-assertion gone wild” as Western European peoples sought to make a name for themselves, trampling over land and people, claiming them all as property. Western theology asserted a singular sovereignty to justify their exploitation. This history of dehumanization and destructive extraction was carried out in the name of Christ, but a different eschatological imagination leaves us wondering if all the peoples were actually walking in the name of their own god. Still today our (neo-)colonial hubris leads us in a “blind pursuit of a bad infinity.” Simply put, a decolonization that transcends Western thought will lead us away from a self-focused assertion and toward an other-focused compassion. We know that we will have found the Most High, that our search will be complete, that we will have become children of the Most High, when we are found to love our enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35). Then, and only then, will we be walking in the name of the Lord our God.
Let’s pray for a more transcendent Advent this season: Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you! – Psalm 82:8
Rev. Peter TeWinkle is a pastor for Oakdale Park Church (CRC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. He is also a partner and a parent who is inspired by the prophets and is studying what it means to decolonize Reformed Christianity at Claremont School of Theology
(World Council of Churches Conference on Word Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania, 2018)
I greet you in the name of the one who has called us to the life of discipleship!
Animating the Arusha Call
Some persons who are reading this reflection would have been present at the gathering of some 1000 persons which took place in Arusha, Tanzania, from March 18 to 20, 2018. The participants were drawn from persons engaged in mission and evangelism representing many Christian denominations from across the world.
Some of you may not have been there physically and some may not have heard about the conference at all. It is therefore my pleasure to spend a few minutes reflecting on a small aspect of the Arusha Call (the full document is to be found at https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/the-arusha-call-to-discipleship). The link to the Arusha Call has been provided so that you may either begin or continue to study and live out the call in your journey of discipleship.
We who have been with Christ have elected to be disciples. We have been called into a life that is both a ‘gift and a calling.’ We now have an active role to play in changing the world; in transforming the world. We no longer have an option to stand by as idle, helpless, hapless onlookers on the sidelines. The Arusha Call tells us in part that “We are called to follow the way of the cross, which challenges elitism, privilege and personal and structural power.”
“Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. “ (Luke 9:23)
Jesus spoke to ‘them all.’ Jesus spoke and speaks to us. We are disciples once we accept the call to discipleship. Attending the conference gave me the opportunity to consider discipleship more deeply and my own place in this company. I looked again at the meaning of We. I am called; we are called. Defining We, Merriam Webster notes: “I and the rest of a group that includes me: you and I : you and I and another or others : I and another or others not including you —used as pronoun of the first person plural.”
We are composed of a collection of us. I am called upon to isolate and to own my call to discipleship and then further to commit my life in total surrender to Christ and even further to become an active part of the movement of discipleship. This thought makes me a little dizzy but I know that Christ has called me; has called me to a major task of challenging many ills so that others may have a taste of the fullness of life for which Christ came. In a similar vein Christ calls all disciples.
Being a disciple is by definition to be a follower of Christ. Christ left us in no doubt that to follow Him calls us into the work of mission and evangelism. As odd as this may sound to some, we who are disciples are duty bound to align our full life and work to mission and evangelism. This claim has a ring of idealism to it, yet it is or calling.
May you, may we all surrender to the call.
Jennifer P Martin
Education in Mission Secretary
Caribbean and North America council formation