Good definition of vision: A picture of the future that produces passion in you. Here’s a picture of the future that’s currently producing a lot of passion in a group of Boston Christians.
What do U2’s Bono and Fuller Seminary’s David Taylor have to do with Christian unity? They tell of the end we all share in Christ which is no end at all.
A few years back, in 1647, a group of Presbyterians composed a little instruction booklet which they called, “The Shorter Catechism.” This booklet was composed for the purpose of instructing Christian youth, as well as newer Christians of any age, in the basics of the Christian faith.
Essentially what this Presbyterian working group did was to explain the Christian faith using the construct of 107 component parts–a series of 107 questions and answers bringing clarity and definition (so they hoped) to the faith. We may agree or disagree with the whole of the Christian faith being organized in such a fashion and at such a number, but it worked for them. (And, by the way, it continues to work for Presbyterians today as this catechism remains a part of the principal teaching documents of the Presbyterian Church, enshrined still in their ‘Book of Confessions.’)
What should catch one’s attention about this particular presentation of the Christian faith is what this Presbyterian working group of 1647 chose as the preeminent component part of the faith (#1 of 107 questions & answers); it is the following: “Q: What is the chief end of being human? A: The chief end of being human is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever.”* In other words, the meaning of life–of our human lives–pertains to glorifying and enjoying God.
Glory as a word and concept is somewhat abstract and can often strike us as being a bit ‘up in the clouds,’ but here the takeaway is straightforward: giving glory to God is a really big deal. The ‘New Dictionary of Theology’ defines the glory of God in this way: “Excellence and praiseworthiness set forth in display.” Now, follow me to John 17 where Jesus prays for his disciples and all who would follow him. In John 17:1b, Jesus begins his prayer to the Father, saying, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Jesus is speaking of the Cross. Thus, we can make the following and certain translation: ‘Father, make me excellent and praiseworthy in my humiliation, so that I may make you excellent and praiseworthy.’ Or: ‘Father, make me excellent and praiseworthy in my abandonment (remember, Jesus cites the psalmist, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?), so that I may make you excellent and praiseworthy.’
Our Christian faith stands on this point, on this paradox, on this upside-down truth, like a chorus of angels on the head of a pin. The power of the Gospel is concentrated here in this single point, not unlike the power of the universe being concentrated in a single point of immense and immeasurable density and heat some 13 1/2 billion years ago that proceeded to explode into Creation.
And all of this brings us to the work of Christian unity; John 17 is the biblical text of biblical texts for practically all practicing ecumenists. We shouldn’t miss that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for his disciples, and for the unity of his disciples, is founded upon glory–the excellence and praiseworthiness of Jesus Christ actualized in his suffering and then in his overcoming; the glory of God in the torment, death and resurrection of Jesus being the foundation of all true Christian unity.
The glory of God was preeminent for those 1647 Presbyterians and a pretty good starting place for us as well.
Institute for Christian Unity
*I have taken the liberty here to update the text a bit, making it more gender inclusive.
About six months ago or so I attended a presentation by a well known Christian author and speaker. In the course of his presentation he shared a story about how one of his neighbors had approached him to ask his counsel about what to do about Christian radio. The neighbor had been listening to some Christian radio programs and had become distressed at the amount of bigotry and ignorance exhibited by the programs’ hosts and callers.
The speaker’s reply to his neighbor was to say that he, himself, chose not to listen to Christian radio for just those reasons and that he encouraged others to do the same–to not listen to it, to turn off Christian radio. As I sat there in the audience that day listening to the speaker’s story, I thought to myself, ‘Wow.’ The speaker’s counsel to his neighbor was certainly understandable, but it was also certainly representative of where we are today both in the Church and in society at large.
Rather than doing the more difficult and often emotionally disagreeable work of separating the good from the bad in the world of Christian thought and practice, we simply ‘turn off’ that perspective to which we are disinclined. (It goes without saying that we see this same dynamic at work–at jet engine levels–in our present political situation.)
Scott Peck, in his celebrated book, ‘The Road Less Traveled,’ said the opposite of love is not hate but laziness. In large part, this is where we are today; absent the love to keep the radio on and get in there with our scalpels and separate out the worthy from the unworthy, the mercy-filled from the unmerciful.
With respect to the content of Christian radio these days, the well known Christian author and speaker was right to acknowledge the bigotry and ignorance (and general foolishness) often found there. However, he left unacknowledged the goodness and grace that is often found there as well–on those same Christian airwaves; people who genuinely love God, who offer genuine encouragement and hope to many who are in need of just such a word and who inspire listeners every day to live a more compassionate, Christ-like life.
So, what is our work here? Our work is to do what not too many seem to be doing at the moment…take the time to really understand what the other is saying and why they’re saying it. To affirm what we can affirm and critique what we believe should be critiqued. And this can only happen if we keep the radio on.
Institute for Christian Unity
The Institute for Christian Unity exists for the purpose of bringing Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical/Pentecostal and Mainline Protestant Christians into closer proximity with each other–toward a truer, more recognizable oneness in our common faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ. By the grace of God, good things have happened as we’ve been about our work. Here are a few of those good things that have come to pass in 2016:
+A regional Catholic-Evangelical Gathering hosted and facilitated by Scott Brill, one of our co-Directors, October 24-25, 2016.
+Bi-monthly forums (the WEE Forum) that bring Christians of all traditions together regularly and locally to engage subjects that stir thought & action.
+Conversation re. expanding the WEE Forum to Newport, RI. One United (a RI non-profit) would like to present the forum in Newport.
+The Institute’s participation in the National Workshop for Christian Unity held in April 2016 in Louisville, KY.
+Christian unity ‘101 classes’ beginning December 2016 in local congregations here in the Boston area led by our co-Directors.
On behalf of our co-Directors, Dr. Vito Nicastro & Scott Brill, I thank you for your friendship and prayers on behalf of our efforts in the direction of one Church witnessing to our one Lord!
Wishing you peace & a joyful Advent!
Christian unity–the unity of the Church–comes in more than one stripe. Most often, when Christian unity is discussed, the conversation regards the unity, or desired unity, of the great church communities, traditions, denominations.
But there is another Christian unity–another unity of the Church–equal to or greater than the unity of church communities, and that is the Christian unity of colors, races and ethnicities.
Last summer, in New York City, an evangelistic outreach was held, and, as part of the outreach, there was a concert in Times Square. Matt Redman and his band performed (see below) and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a color, race or ethnicity not represented in this moving and inspiring moment on behalf of the living Christ.
Hard to argue with the forthright logic of Chiara Lubich, founder of Focolare, a unity movement of the Roman Catholic Church. Sometimes we just need to be reminded!
The following is an excerpt from an article appearing in the current issue of Living City magazine, a publication of the Focolare Movement. The article quotes Lubich by way of her participation in an interdenominational conversation dating to November 1988. Her logic is just as persuasive today as it was 28 years ago.
“Though we continually assume that God wants it, we cannot see in detail what a united world would be like…nor can we see when this united world will come about. But some things are certain.
“First of all, I am convinced that Jesus wants it, because he said to his apostles, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news’ (Mk 16:15). Therefore, everyone is a candidate for unity, for the Gospel, for a united world–all are candidates. So the first thing that we can be sure of is that Jesus wants it.
“Secondly, we know for sure that Jesus prayed for unity. He prayed, ‘May they all be one’ (Jn 17:21), which means everyone. Since the Son of God prayed to the Father for this, I think it will have to be granted, because it is impossible for the prayer of the Son of God not to be granted.”
Lubich’s logic here is simple and strong–Jesus’ command to make disciples, and his prayer for the oneness of the Church, incite encouragement and confidence, because it is, after all, Jesus making the command and praying the prayer! May our time be God’s time for the fulfillment of his Beloved’s request.
A Story of Grace and our North Star for the Journey
[The following account was presented by CBS News in 2013.]
It’s been seven years since Terri Roberts’ life changed forever.
In October 2006, her 32-year-old son Charlie walked into an Amish school in Lancaster County and shot 10 young girls, killing five of them before killing himself.
“I heard the sirens and heard helicopters,” Roberts said. “My phone was ringing and it was my husband and he said, ‘You have to get to Charlie’s right away.’
And I looked at my husband with these sunken eyes, just saying, ‘It was Charlie.’ “It could not be,” she said, shaking her head and with tears in her eyes. “It truly was. It was our son.”
Roberts’ initial reaction was that she had to move away. But the Amish came to her the night of the shooting to say they wanted her to stay.
Some of the victims’ families attended her son’s funeral. “There are not words to describe how that made us feel that day,” said Roberts.
“For the mother and father who had lost not just one but two daughters at the hand of our son, to come up and be the first ones to greet us — wow. Is there anything in this life that we should not forgive?”
Roberts now shares this message with those who have experienced trauma. And every Thursday, she cares for the most seriously wounded survivor of the shooting, who is now 13.
Everyone on the fourth floor knew Maria. She was always rolling herself back and forth down the hall, babbling incoherently. She had lost, among many other things, the ability to speak English and Spanish. One can imagine how much distress and loneliness this caused her, so it’s no surprise that her babbles would sometimes become screams. The funny thing was, no one seemed to mind the noise. Her very presence had a way of causing people to open their hearts.
When I first started visiting, she generally recognized my presence and even was attentive when I would pray with her. But as her condition deteriorated, she was more and more withdrawn. The screaming became more and more frequent. She was obviously in great distress, yet no one was able to help her.
For a few weeks, she was in the hospital. I was worried that she had passed away. Eventually, when she came back, it was clear that she was not long for this world.
There she was in the hallway, screaming as helplessly as ever. She didn’t recognize that there was another person next to her. I tried to just be with her, to witness her pain. I hoped that she might recognize my presence, so that we could pray together. But she kept screaming just as before.
So I pulled the only trick I know for such situations: I just started the prayers of the rite. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +” Instantly she was silent, in rapt attention. So placing all my hope in God, I continued: “Our Father…”
It’s significant that I don’t remember what language I said that prayer in, English or Spanish (or some other language?). At that point of real communion of God, real prayer in the Spirit, different languages melt together anyway. It becomes not our own words in our own human languages, but truly the Lord’s prayer – the prayer of the Lord Himself, speaking within us both. The Lord was so clearly present in that prayer we shared. And at the end, she pronounced a hearty “Amen.” The first intelligible word I had ever heard her say in all my time of knowing her.
Then I presented the Host for adoration. “Behold the Lamb of God…” Her eyes were half as wide as her face, entirely fixed on adoring her Lord. At that moment it felt like the Lord was already present in her. “Holy things for the holy,” indeed. When I said the response “Lord, I am not worthy…,” I felt like I was speaking not for her but for myself.
She wasn’t able to actually receive communion, because she didn’t have enough coordination to open her mouth. I left, though, feeling as though she had shared communion with the Lord. I certainly had.
The next time I saw her, her condition was much worse. She was lying in bed. There happened to be a mat by the side of her bed, a sure invitation to kneel. Was I kneeling in recognition of the presence of the Lord in my pyx, or in recognition of the presence of the Lord in her person? I wondered.
She wasn’t able to remain focused in prayer this time. But I knew the Lord was with her. As I got up to leave, she grabbed my hand. I couldn’t easily pull myself away, so I knelt back down. A few minutes later, I tried again to leave, and she grabbed my hand once more.
It was so difficult to pull myself away as she screamed in some terrible agony – yes, physically difficult because of the unexpected strength of her grip, but even more difficult psychologically and spiritually. Still, I knew I had to leave (there was another miracle waiting to happen down the hall). My solace was this: she wasn’t really holding on to me, she was holding on to the presence of Jesus in me and on me. It is, after all, His ministry. It is really Him who visits every person and remains in them long after my body and spirit have left the room (if my spirit was even there in the first place).
Even if she couldn’t recognize that His presence was abiding in her just yet, I sure could. In that moment, perhaps the deepest that I had yet entered into her suffering, I was also sharing in the abiding presence. Praise be to You, Lord, with us in the lows just as much as in the highs.
The next time I visited, Maria did receive Communion (although she wasn’t able to ingest the entire Host). This gave me great satisfaction. After all of the deep communion with God that she had experienced, she had finally received Him in His fullness. “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace…”
I felt as if I had been dismissed in peace. Even the need to reverently dissolve the regurgitated portion of the Host could not make me anxious or distract me from the eternal praise of God. Apparently she too was dismissed in peace, because a few days later she was called from this world. May she who bore the Lord’s sufferings in this life share in His glory forever. Rest in peace, Maria +