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One Church, indivisible: Aimee's blog from Crete

Once every five years or so, a group of about 120 men and women, pastors, laypersons, academics, and church leaders get together to talk about the issues that still divide the churches. It's called the Faith and Order Plenary Commission, and its next meeting will take place at the Orthodox Academy of Crete, Greece, 7-13 October 2009.oac

This year, I've been invited to go. 

And I'm writing a blog.


The Big Crete Meeting

  •  Closing thoughts

    Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009

    I'm back in the Denver airport where I spent my first layover on this adventure, and now my last.

    We didn't fully accomplish Christian unity in Crete, or in Chicago. But I will say that each time I meet with these wonderful folks, I am convinced that we need each other. We cannot be not whole without each other, and our dividedness keeps us broken.

    Come Holy Spirit!

    I look forward to carrying on these conversations in person - hello again, Santa Clara!

  •  Quick quotes

    Friday, Oct. 16, 2009

    Last night, we had a panel discussion about ecumenism and justice. The three panelists were from Garrett-Evangelical Seminary where we're meeting, and each had a unique perspective on the question. I'm not going to go type up the whole thing, so here are some quick quotations from their presentations:

    "What if church unity and diversity were like a musical fugue, a combination of singularity (one theme) and plurality (overlapping harmonies)? What if the church were more about texture rather than form?"

    "African-American churches taught the world to fight evil with non-violence."

    "What do we do for people who are born into pain?"

    "We need conversation between the sinner and the sinned against."

  •  Too much of a good thing

    Friday, Oct. 16, 2009

    So, I’m pretty fried.

    I love Christian unity, I love being with great people from all walks of life and from all parts of the church, and I love talking theology.

    But I’m really, really tired. And it’s not just jet-lag. These topics are complicated and require a lot of brain power, and I don’t have much brain power left.

    This is an important reality in ecumenical dialogue: how tired we are, how much we have going on in our lives, the difficulties we face in our own contexts – all of these can enhance or inhibit our ability to listen and to understand each other.

    Folks from parts of the world where war or conflict or poverty are the norm often have little extra energy or time in own lives to sit and ponder abstract theology. Staying in a hotel in Chicago and spending three days thinking about the church is a huge gift – one I’m both blessed and humbled to receive.

    But tonight, I’m just tired.

  •  Lost in translation

    Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009

    In our last two sessions in Crete, my small group had an extended digression about translation.

    The Nature and Mission of the Church document we were studying was translated into French, German, Spanish and Russian, all languages that originated in Europe. Translating is expensive and difficult, especially for highly technical theological jargon. The truth is that the World Council of Churches doesn’t have the money to translate the document into every language on the planet.

    But, reflected some friends from Africa and Asia, we need to recognize that even the languages we choose to offer send a message about who’s important and who’s not, who’s valued and who’s not, or even who’s a priority and who’s not. When we translate documents into European languages alone and then ask the world community to respond, it can feel like the people who speak those languages are the ones we want to hear from most.

    At these global church meetings, we often have conversations like this – about how to widen the table, how to invite more people into the conversation, how to make sure information is available to everyone and that everyone’s voice is heard.

    This morning, I saw on CNN that a pastor in North Carolina is planning to burn Bibles that aren’t the King James Version (one of the earliest translations of the texts into English).

    I wonder if he knows that all around the world people have been translating the Bible into all kinds of other languages, from Armenian to Zulu, for centuries.

    Yep folks, there’s still work to do.

  •  Faith and Order, Chicago-style

    Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009

    The next few days, I’ll be at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary north of Chicago, Illinois, with the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches of Christ (U.S.A.).

    As I’ve said, it’s a parallel group to the folks at the Crete meeting, except for it’s in the United States and we meet twice a year instead of once every seven years (which means, among other things, that I know these people better).

    We’re broken into three study groups:

    • Unity in Mission: how can mission – or a common understanding of mission – help build the unity of the church?
    • The Nature and Mission of the Church: yep, the same topic as the global version
    • Justice and Salvation: How is personal salvation related to the transformation of the whole world? How is justice related to justification? How might we bridge the gap between churches that focus on social justice and those that focus on individual salvation?

    I’m in this last group, and we’ve been studying this topic for five years already. It’s complicated.

    For more details, click here. Or watch this space.

  •  A big-enough boat

    Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009

    On Monday, we took a group photo. Someone had used chalk to draw the outline of a huge boat on the ground, and we were supposed to stand within it.

    But it wasn’t big enough for all of us.

    It was a funny moment when, at this meeting promoting Christian unity, we discovered there wasn’t enough room in the boat for everyone to fit. We made a circle instead.

    Here’s to the day when we truly have a boat big enough for everyone.

    (And here's the photo - just click twice on the left-hand arrow. I'm dead center.)

  •  Storm at sea

    Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009

    The last day we were in Crete, the storm clouds rolled in. The wind picked up, the skies darkened, and late afternoon the rain came down in sheets. I was in a windowless room when it happened, but we could hear the rain pounding on the roof. We dashed out to witness the downpour and the roiling seas crashing against the rocky shore.

    It was just a passing thunderstorm. An hour later, the ground was wet and the sky was gray, but the storm had dissipated. But that brief tempest gave me a new appreciation of St. Paul’s travel to Crete, and of all of Paul’s journeys by boat in stormy seas.

    Every time I travel, I’m reminded of how much we are shaped by our environment and what’s familiar. Anyone who grew up in Crete would likely have a completely different understanding of the stories of the New Testament than I do having grown up it the United States, thousands of miles from the geography of the Bible.

    What is familiar to us can define what we are able to see.

    So one of the most important reasons to meet people from other Christian expressions in other parts of the world is because our vision of how God works will always be more limited if we don’t.

  •  Faith and Order, Part II

    Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009

    Well, it's been about 22 hours since I got up this morning in Crete. I'm now safely in a hotel in Chicago, and about five minutes from pajamas and and a full night's sleep.

    The next three days, I'll do the same ecumenical work again, only this time with the Faith and Order Commission in the United States. We'll have neither the weather nor the food of Crete here in Chicago, but I think I'll probably get more rest than I've had the past week.

    On my flights today, I've tried to write some more blog entries to sum up the Crete part of my adventure. I have about four different beginnings, but no conclusions yet. I'll continue to post about the Chicago meeting, but I hope to do some further reflecting on the last days in Crete, too.

    Thanks for reading!

  •  Looking back

    Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009

    We’ve heard that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

    Christians, though, repeat history on purpose in order to remember it.  We tell and retell the story of Jesus – including, for some of us, an actual recreation of Christ’s sacrifice – on a regular basis. And we do it because we believe we’ve been told to, as Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

    One of the conflicts among the churches has to do with preservation of the faith from the earliest days of the church. We all agree that we want to live lives as close to that of the first disciples as we can, following in the footsteps of those who knew Jesus. But which ways of worshiping, praying, serving or organizing our communities of faith are the most true? What elements of their common life are the most important? 

    On Sunday morning at the Orthodox worship, I couldn’t help but wonder if Jesus himself would recognize the proceedings. But that's a Protestant perspective. The truth is, Orthodox Christians believe they have upheld the traditions of the apostles from the beginning. So do Roman Catholics, though with some variations from the Orthodox. Protestants believe the church strayed from its original faithfulness and needed to reform, but would now claim their way of understanding Christianity follows the traditions of early church, too.

    Who’s right? Are we all right? Are some more right than others? Are none of us right?

    It is clear that all of us seek to be faithful, that all of us want to follow Jesus, and that none of us is above error and correction. At the very least, the fact that each of us is equally convinced of our faithfulness should evoke one quite particular response.


  •  Picture this

    Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009

    One of the presentations we heard was given by a man from Samoa who projected photos of Pacific island nature while he spoke. He wanted us to see images of his homeland, which he clearly loves.

    He was the only person who used Powerpoint simply to show us beauty.

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