October 9, 2020 WEE Forum: Race, Politics & Hip-Hop

A Christian Perspective On Racial Justice, Lyrically Stated

Caleb McCoy, Rapper, Musician and Producer

Caleb has branded his distinctive style as OAK music. The OAK–the One of A Kind–is a commitment to artistry with a message that is deep rooted, unique, and prolific. Caleb is also the Development Manager at the Emmanuel Gospel Center. Whether making music, or engaging the nonprofit sector, Caleb takes his skills, experiences, and emotions, and puts it through the lens of his faith. Caleb has several albums available on all digital retail platforms.

Caleb will be with us on October 9, beginning at 7pm on Zoom (also his second time presenting at the WEE Forum), to lead us in a discussion of the current racial and political climate and their impact on the cause of justice for the Black community.

Please register above on the WEE Forum drop-down menu. Only those registering with an email address will receive an invite to the forum.

This Far Away

With each passing day of this tumultuous year, it becomes clearer that no one really knows where this is going, and by “this” I mean pretty much everything. I was talking to a young man recently whom I know well–he has just graduated from high school and will be attending (such as it is) St. Anselm College in New Hampshire this fall. This young fellow is impressively level-headed for his age and quite intelligent, and here he was saying that he and his friends don’t have much confidence that there is any real future for them. He said, in fact, there is some doubt as to a ‘future’ happening at all. What a crazy thing to say.

And yet, crazy or not, my young friend and his peer group are not alone in their sentiments–their perspective is shared broadly among Gen. Z’ers and Millennials, and has some resonance, too, among older folk like me. Global pandemic, distrusted social systems, economic uncertainty, massive debt loads and increasing levels of alienation make for a nasty stew.

So what is a Christian to do in a time such as this? Being true to what we believe is probably a good place to start. If we’re followers of Jesus Christ, what should we be saying right now? What should we be doing right now? Whatever that is, this is a fitting time to start saying it and doing it, if we haven’t already. We’re running out of reasons to wait for tomorrow.

For me, it is to acknowledge the failure of the institutional Church, and Christians generally (I include myself and most everyone else in this number) to teach, without apology or compromise, what it means to live as a Christian in this world. How many times have I read the following: “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” (Philippians 1:21-24)

Do we really live as if dying is gain? Does the Church really teach this? With a few notable exceptions, I don’t believe the Church has taught this ‘next life is gain’ doctrine for about 1700 years–that’s about the time (early 4th century A.D.) the Church ascended to political power and subsequently lost a great deal of it’s mojo. And far from such a doctrine of ‘next life is gain’ making Christians ineffectual and complacent, such a confidence in the gain of death would actually induce a courage, boldness, justness, affection and compassion that would be world-changing because we would see this life as it should be seen–as a place to share Christ in word and deed and not to seek ‘happiness’ in family and career.

One of the notable exceptions where the Church has indeed taught, and lived, the ‘next life is gain’ doctrine is found, not surprisingly, in a period of the Church’s history that is often referred to as the ‘Great Awakening’. John Wesley, in a journal entry dated August 8, 1738, and giving an account of his visit to a Christian community in Dresden, Germany, called Herrnhut (German for ‘The Watch of the Lord’), shares the following:

“A child was buried. The burying-ground (called by them Gottes Acker, that is, God’s ground.) lies a few hundred yards out of the town, under the side of a little wood. There are distinct Squares in it for married men and unmarried; for married and unmarried women; for male and female children, and for widows. The corpse was carried from the chapel, the children walking first; next the orphan-father, (so they call him who has the chief care of the Orphan house,) with the Minister of Berthelsdorf; then four children bearing the corpse; and after them, Martin Dober and the father of the child. Then followed the men; and last of all the women and girls. They all sung as they went. Being come into the Square where the male children are buried, the men stood on two sides of it, the boys on the third, and the women and girls on the fourth. There they sung again; After which the Minister used (I think read) a short prayer, and concluded with that blessing, “Unto God’s gracious mercy and protection I commit you.” Seeing the father (a plain man, a tailor by trade) looking at the grave, I asked, “How do you find yourself?” He said, “Praised be the Lord, never better. He has taken the soul of my child to himself. I have seen, according to my desire, his body committed to holy ground. And I know that when it is raised again, both he and I shall be ever with the Lord.’” (Christian History Magazine, Vol. 1)

How far away are we Christians from living as we ought to live–as Christ would have us live? How far away from proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ with unbridled love and joy? How far away from truly doing justice for the oppressed? How far away from privileged Christians actually sacrificing our privileges? How far away from true mercy? How far away? For my part, I say that plain man, tailor by trade, is the measure.

July 24, 2020 WEE Forum: The Ethical Police Officer

The Struggle for Equity and Justice in American Law Enforcement

Eric Fair, Author

Eric has previously served as a police officer with the Bethlehem, PA Police Department, as an Arabic linguist in the U.S. Army and as an interrogator for a private military contractor. His 2012 essay “Consequence,” which was published first in Ploughshares and Harper’s Magazine, tells the story of his experience in Iraq in 2004, and is now a book of the same title. His op-eds on interrogation have also been published in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Eric will be with us on July 24 (his second time at the WEE Forum) to lead us in a discussion assessing the current state of American policing, it’s failing of Black and Brown communities and how it must change for the better.

Please join us, Friday evening, July 24, beginning at 7pm on Zoom.

Please register above on the WEE Forum drop-down menu. 

Who Needs a Church?

Lots of paradigms are shifting these days as our world comes to terms with a new world unfolding before us, a world of increased sickness and death, but also of increased simplicity and community–forced as it may be by our present circumstances. I’ve heard it said recently that God is making us to lie down in green pastures, that God is compelling a ‘Martha’ world to become a ‘Mary’ world.

In this world of changing paradigms, perhaps it’s time that we look anew at our bricks and mortar church buildings and consider whether there is a new and better purpose for which they can be repurposed. Many are understandably eager to return to their buildings while others are marveling at the deeper and wider connections happening through technology platforms (Zoom, in particular).

First, it’s worth noting that the Church had no buildings for the first two centuries of its existence and did quite well meeting in believers’ homes. By all accounts, the first church building didn’t appear until sometime between 233 & 256 A.D. (in Dura-Europos, Syria). Church buildings didn’t appear in any significant number until the reign of Constantine in the early 4th century A.D., and, yet, somehow, the Church experienced a period of growth rivaling any in it’s 2000 year history…in the century before all the buildings arrived! The 3rd century A.D. is a wonder of Christian expansion–no political power, no buildings, and yet increasing from a population of 200,000 (200 A.D.) to 6 million (300 A.D.) in the Roman Empire. How did they do this? They loved well and courageously and they proclaimed the Gospel unapologetically.

Now, back to the buildings…here’s a proposal: the Church goes back to it’s roots and begins to meet again in the homes of it’s members, 10-15 at a gathering (when the time is right, of course, and socially distanced, if necessary…we can figure this out…in the backyards, whatever). Further, many of our gatherings continue to meet on Zoom and by way of other technologies. And, lastly, and most magnificently, our buildings are converted to mission centers…they become shelters for those without shelter, they become food pantries and job training sites…they become beehives of love and courage in action. I imagine a proposal such as this might face a few hurdles, but we’ve got a big God.

Back To The Future Of Faith

As we continue to look about for hope and direction in the midst of this present global health crisis,  we would do well to train our eyes on yesterday–in particular, on the ways of the early Church in their own time of plague. Hebrews 12:1 tells us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

Among those in that holy cloud of witnesses, we find Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, and his fellow Christians of the middle third century A.D., who lived in a time of pestilence and disease not unlike our own, except worse. From 249-262 A.D., the Mediterranean World experienced plague on a massive scale. For a stretch of time, it was reported that 5000 people a day were dying in the city of Rome. The Roman Empire itself was badly shaken and nearly brought to its knees.

Strange thing though, the Church experienced extraordinary numerical growth during these years of plague and, specially, in the years immediately following. Why did the Church see such growth when there were so many other religions throughout the Empire to choose from, not least the gods of the Romans? Largely because of how the Christians tended to the sick and the dying. The pagan Romans, and plenty of others, were so moved, even overwhelmed, by the love and courage of the Christians, that they began choosing the God of the Christians for themselves–and doing so in droves–to the point that the great persecutions of the Christians, that would soon follow under the Roman emperors of the late third and early fourth centuries, were seen as necessary to put an end to the ‘Christian plague’ that was taking over the Empire. (Best estimates are that in the year 200 A.D., there were 200,000 Christians in the Roman Empire, or less than 1 percent of the Empire’s overall population; by 300 A.D., however, there were 6 million Christians, or 10% of the Empire’s population). 

But enough of me giving account; here is Cyprian: “How pertinent, how necessary, that pestilence and plague which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the righteousness of each one, and examines the minds of the human race, to see whether they, who are in health, tend the sick; whether relations affectionately love their kindred; whether masters pity their languishing servants; whether physicians do not forsake the beseeching patients; whether the fierce suppress their violence…These are trainings for us, not deaths: they give the mind the glory of fortitude; by contempt of death they prepare for the crown.” (‘The Treatises of Cyprian’)

Not to be overlooked in Cyprian’s instruction on faith and crisis (given while Christians were dying right alongside non-Christians) is his determination that what is not visible to us is that which is ultimately real. This is a determination as true in 2020 as it was in 250–that ultimate reality is not a thing of science, but rather a thing of faith. In these days when we blindly defer so quickly to science, it is, in fact, faith in God and the ascendant place of the soul that is paramount. We will wait in vain for the day when science can, in any way, approximate Cyprian’s knowledge–that death is not death but rather training–training that is preparing us for a crown. 


Artists Cry Out

Hello Friends,

The Institute for Christian Unity enjoys a great friendship with Emmanuel Gospel Center (EGC) of Boston. EGC has served the Church in Boston (and beyond) since 1938. That’s 82 years of being a light for Christ in the city and equipping Christian leaders to serve the Church well.

Of late, in addition to being a center for leadership training and resources, EGC has become something of a gathering place for exceptionally talented artists. Please check out the below music video produced by EGC as an encouragement to the Church and wider world in this moment of upheaval.

The musicians are Caleb McCoy and Jaronzie Harris. The video is directed by Elijah Mickelson. Caleb has previously presented at the Institute’s WEE Forum and Elijah has done video production for us in the past.

God’s Peace to you this Holy Week, Matt

Christ In Crisis: Grace To Courage To Freedom

No one wants the moment in which we now find ourselves, yet this moment was made for true Christianity. This moment was made for remembering that Christians are followers of a leader who initiated a religion by means of an extreme act of sacrifice and suffering—sacrifice and suffering that did not end with what our leader, Jesus, had to endure, but continued on in the abuses suffered by Jesus’ apostles and disciples, and not just for a little while, but over the course of a large part of the next three centuries. The persecutions of Christians under the Roman emperors in those first three centuries after Christ were sometimes severe, sometimes not, however, when they were severe, as they were in the latter half of the third century and beginning of the fourth, the suffering of Christians was pervasive and without mercy, unless one recanted one’s faith.

Of the persecution inflicted by Emperor Diocletian (reigned 284-305 AD), Church historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette, writes, “The storm was Empire-wide, from Britain to Arabia, but was particularly severe in the East, where Christianity had its chief numerical strength. It lasted more than a decade and endured longer in the East than in the West. Apparently the death penalty was inflicted only as a last resort, but torture was freely applied to induce the victims to recant and through it many perished…On occasion there was wholesale slaughter. Thus in Asia Minor a Christian town was surrounded by soldiers and burned, together with its inhabitants…In Rome the property of the church was confiscated and many of the members perished. In Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, the persecution was renewed again and again in the vicissitudes of the political situation and did not die out until the defeat (about 323) of the last of the persecutors.” (‘A History of Christianity: Volume 1’)

Recalling the history of our forbears in the faith occasions a question that may soon be ours to answer: Will we, if present and soon-to-be circumstances dictate, be ready to respond to our new reality as so many of the early Christians did to theirs? Will we be able to set aside our utterly reasonable fears and live heroically, forgetting the plight of our own well-being, and even that of our loved ones, and render spiritual care and material comfort to our neighbors with a courage born of grace, pointing directly to the power of God? A call to action such as this is not a call to recklessness, but rather a call to confidence in the Word–that the Word is true where Jesus challenges, “Do not fear those who kill the body (coronavirus included) but cannot kill the soul,” and Paul assures, “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (Matthew 10 & 2 Corinthians 4).

Releasing our grip on the benefits of this earthly life, placing ourselves wholly in the hands of God and accepting a possibly immanent death, we find ourselves set free from covering up, and, instead, empowered by the Spirit of God to live in true freedom and with immense courage and love. None of this is easy but all of this is attainable, by grace through faith, from our God made fully known in Jesus Christ.

Christian Unity The Old Fashioned Way

There’s something to be said for bringing together Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical/Pentecostal and Mainline Protestant Christians without even having a strategy to do so…just happening organically as you go about your business. Such unplanned ecumenical witnesses are inspiring and they happen more often than we might think. One such witness is presently taking shape in Newton, MA and goes by the name of Kataluma. This Christian mission, offering hospitality and welcome to refugees, has found active, substantial support across the spectrum of Christian traditions, not least in the provision of volunteer hours and financial assistance. The Institute for Christian Unity is one friend, among many, happy to share in their work. Please check out the two minute video below for an update on Kataluma’s progress as of this past fall. Much more to come on what’s happening with Kataluma as well as another like-minded Christian mission organization, Hospitality Common,  in the coming months.

November 30, 2018 WEE Forum: The Christian and The Refugee

The Story of Two Refugee Homes Opening in Boston and Boston Metrowest in 2019

Gary Moorehead, Director of Kataluma Refugee Reception Services 

Mr. Moorehead, who has spent the past 15 years serving refugees in the U.S., Canada and the Middle East, including 7 years in Afghanistan, will share the good news of two homes being founded in the Boston area over the next year to serve as transitional housing for refugees and asylum seekers.

Please join us Friday evening, November 30, beginning at 7pm in Boston’s South End at Emmanuel Gospel Center (2 San Juan Street, Boston).

Please register above on the WEE Forum drop-down menu. There is no cost to attend, however seating is limited.