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"Can the West be converted?" PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 02 July 2008 15:22
Written by Joe Waters
Sherry drew our attention yesterday to an interesting article from the most recent issue of Lausanne World Pulse, an evangelical journal dedicated to the study and discussion of world missions. As I was perusing this issue I came across a very interesting question that the great missionary and theologian Leslie Newbigin posed upon his return from the mission fields of India: "Can the West be converted?" Embedded in that question, of course, is not only the can, but also the how.

The whole bit:

Over two decades ago Lesslie Newbigin asked a question that has yet to be sufficiently grappled with. Returning from India (where he had served as a missionary) to his home in the United Kingdom, he discovered that the Western world was just as much a valid mission field as the India he had departed from, and that Christians needed to be thinking missionally in the Western context just as much as outside of it. This prompted him to ask the question, “Can the West be converted?” a query that has consumed the thinking of increasing numbers of church workers in the Western world. Sadly, as Newbigin surveyed missiological literature for application to the West he concluded:

The weakness, however, of this whole mass of missiological writing is that while it has sought to explore the problems of contextualization in all the cultures of humankind from China to Peru, it has largely ignored the culture that is the most widespread, powerful, and persuasive among all contemporary cultures—namely, what I have called modern Western culture.

With the global shift of Christianity’s growth from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, and the increasingly pluralistic and post-Christian nature of the West, the presence of the new religions and subjective life spiritualities may provide us with a context by which we can work through answers to Newbigin’s question and experiment with the development of new approaches at contextualization and new theologies for the rapidly changing Western world.

The whole article is here.

The Saint of Hawaii PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 02 July 2008 11:40

Blessed Damien, the apostle to the lepers of Molokai, is going to be declared a saint. He was the Mother Teresa of his generation and famoux for the same reason.

The canonization will take place in Rome, possibly at the end of next year, with celebrations in Belgium and Hawaii.

I find it odd that the Hawaii media story says that they are sending to Belgium (where most of Blessed Damien is buried) for a relic. The reality is that there is a wonderful storehouse of relics in the islands.

Specifically the tiny labor-of-love "Damien museum at St. Augustine's parish on Waikiki in Honolulu (right on the beach and with a great view of Diamondhead - what a location!). This museum was run by a husband and wife team and contained nearly every existing relic associated with Damien: his pipes, chasubles, the prie dieu he built with his own hands and used for his own prayer.

I am told that a ceiling leak several years ago forced the collection out of that location and that it is now scattered. This will make the local Church wake up to its treasures, I hope.

I remember kneeling beside the saint's prie dieu (covered in plexiglass). I sensed, I felt the presence of the numinous, the presence of God in that place. Not only had Fr. Damien built it with his own hands but no doubt poured his own fear and pain and loneliness to God after contracting leprosy himself.

I also experienced something very similar in the historic parish Church in Lahina on Maui. As I walked down the aisle I was suddenly overcome with a utterly unexpected joy. I sensed that there had been some kind of struggle or tragedy in that place which was now being redeemed and restored. "Weeping endures for a night but joy cometh in the morning." was the verse that flashed to mind.

As I have learned to do when I have these experiences, I asked a local: "Has something wonderful happened here lately?"

He thought for a moment and then said "Well, the pastor, who was greatly loved, was recently removed because of a sexual scandal" and that was very hard on the congregation. But we've just been assigned a new pastor: one of Mother Teresa's priests, of the Missionaries of Charity."

"Ah" I thought "I'm picking up the presence of a saint."

But our guide went on: "And of course, Fr. Damien used to serve here as well."

The presence of two saints, it seems.
Walking Through the Fire PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 02 July 2008 11:22
Oh my.

You must read/listen to this NPR piece on the power of God to heal a broken heart and a broken life.

Kim Phuc is best known as the little girl in the famous photo of a Vietnam War napalm-bombing attack near Saigon. She now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children. Her organization, Kim Foundation International, aids children who are war victims.

She was 9 on the day in 1972 that the now iconic picture was taken. She spent 14 months in a hospital and had 17 operations.

"I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.

In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn't happen in a day and it wasn't easy. But I finally got it.

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.

Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful."

All I can say is "Blessed be the name of the Lord" and "God bless and keep you Kim Phuc for responding to the mercy and grace of God so generously."

As Corrie Ten Boom observed of her experiences in a Nazi concentration camp a generation before:

"This is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still."
African Led Christianity in Europe PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 02 July 2008 09:26
The July Lausanne World Pulse is out again and, as usual, is very stimulating. The topic this month is the new missionary movement from the Global south, especially Africa.

From an article by Dr. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu of Ghana.

Here are some snippets:

Today, some of the largest congregations in Europe—Western and Eastern—are either founded by Africans or are led by people of African descent. Discussions on African immigrant Christianity usually focus on churches whose memberships tend to be constituted by Africans or people of that descent. A good example is the Kingsway International Christian Center (KICC) in London, led by the charismatic Nigerian pastor, Matthew Ashimolowo.

My research has taken me to the doors of another type of African-led church whose membership is entirely European. This means the designation of these churches in the diaspora as “African churches” is no longer tenable. For example, Sunday Adelaja’s Church of the Blessed Embassy of the Kingdom of God for all Nations is based in Kiev, Ukraine. Founded some fourteen years ago, it has a membership of approximately twenty-five thousand adults.

African members of mainline denominations in their home countries initially joined similar denominations in Europe, particularly in the UK and Germany. With time, many have pulled out of these communions and throughout Europe today, one encounters Ghana Methodist, Nigeria Anglican, or Ghana Roman Catholic churches operating under the pastoral leadership of their own kind often posted from the home countries. The meaning of this development is that Methodism, Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Presbyterianism have all, in African hands, acquired new ecclesial identities, liturgical structures and styles of worship that differ markedly from those inherited from nineteenth-century missionary endeavors.

To quote Jehu Hanciles:

In Western Europe, the rise of African immigrant churches and other non-Western Christian congregations has been dramatically visible because of the stark contrast between the dynamism of new immigrant Christian groups and the often moribund tone of the traditional churches.5

Painful experiences notwithstanding therefore, African Christians and African-led churches in Europe interpret their presence in terms of a call to mission and evangelism. In his book, The Go-Between God: The Holy Spirit and Christian Mission, John V. Taylor defines mission as “recognizing what the Creator-Redeemer is doing in his world and doing it with him."10 I have often revised this definition to read, “knowing what the Creator-Redeemer is doing in the world and allowing him to engage you in the enterprise.”

And there is much more. Read the whole article. The subject of African led Catholic parishes in Europe is fascinating.

Any readers have knowledge or experience of an African led parish in Europe?
Beatitudes and Baptism - part 3 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 02 July 2008 04:42
These are brief reflections on the beatitudes I made while preparing a homily for a little girl's baptism.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Meekness is not a characteristic we think of in a positive way, but Jesus does. In our age of self-promotion, won't a meek child, especially a girl, get lost in the crowd? Not get asked to the dance? Not pursue the Stanford scholarship? But if we think of meekness as a type of humility, we can discover its blessing. A meek and humble person can get out of the way in a conversation, for example, and really listen. Everything doesn't have to be about them. In fact, nothing has to be about them, nor do they get all tied up comparing themselves to others. They don't have to be number one, they don't have to win the argument – they can actually engage the other as "other," – "not like me" – and delight in the difference. They can experience life, people, creation itself, all the graces God offers us daily, as an unearned gift – which is the nature of an inheritance.
"Personal Relationship" and Real Presence PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 01 July 2008 15:12
There have been some discussions about the possibility of a personal relationship with God on this blog and others recently. Part of it was re-ignited by the recent Pew Forum Report on Religion in America that indicated that 29% of Catholics believe God is simply an "impersonal force," while 60% of self-described adult Catholics can clearly affirm that they believe in a personal God with whom they can have a relationship. Unfortunately, as has been pointed out in comments made on this blog, we have no idea what other factors led to their responding as they did.
Nor do we know how many of those who don't believe in a personal God actually attend Mass regularly, what education level they have, or how their response to that question correlates with other questions on the survey.

Various commenters on this blog have proposed that Catholics responded negatively to the question of a personal relationship with God because:
1) Catholics hear "personal relationship" as Protestant, especially Evangelical, language, and thus choose another response;
2) "personal relationship" implies a "me-and-Jesus" approach to faith which denies the need for community, sacraments, priests, the Church in general, and so some Catholics would not respond positively to a question about personal relationship;
3) a Catholic might read a question about the possibility of having a personal relationship with God and want to know, "just what do you mean by the phrase 'personal relationship'?"
4) Catholics hear in the words, "personal relationship" that Jesus is just another person, like Bob or Mary, yet a good Catholic realizes that He is so much more (fully Divine, too, I presume the commenter meant).

These are nice, optimistic speculations, and I hope they are true for some of the respondents on the Pew survey. But there are other statistics available that lead me to suspect that the respondents were actually telling the truth. 40% of the Catholic respondents were unable to affirm that they believe in a personal God with whom they can have a relationship. Interestingly enough, in February, 2008, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) out of Georgetown University published a survey on the belief and practices of Catholics regarding the sacraments. In it, 43% of the respondents claimed that at Mass, bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present. The responses varied according to how often the respondent attended Mass. Among those who attend Mass weekly or more frequently, 91% believed in the Real Presence, while 65% of those who attend less than weekly but at least once a month believed in the Real Presence. Only 40% of those who attend a few times a year or less believed in the Real Presence.

What about other indications that might point to a personal relationship, like prayer, or reading Scripture? In the same Pew Forum survey, 42% of the Catholic respondents reported that they pray a few times a week or less. Only 58% claimed they prayed daily. 57% reported that they seldom or never read Scripture outside of religious services.

So let's look at a few numbers...
40% of adult Catholics do not believe a personal relationship with God is possible
43% of Catholics polled do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
42% of adult Catholics pray a few times a week or less
57% of adult Catholics seldom or never read Scripture outside of religious services

I'm more and more inclined to take the Pew Forum numbers at face value. One commenter noted,
How can a Catholic NOT think they have a personal relationship with Christ when one considers the incredible intimacy in receiving the Holy Eucharist inside oneself? What could possibly be more intimate than that?
She's right, of course, but perhaps it's possible that the same 42% who seldom pray and the same 43% who believe the consecrated host and wine are just symbols are the same folks who don't believe a personal relationship with God is possible. I don't know that for sure, of course, because I'm looking at two surveys, and there wasn't a correlation made in the Pew Forum between prayer and the relationship issue. But at least one could argue that at least 40% of Catholics are behaving as though they believe a personal relationship with God is impossible.
Beatitudes and Baptism - part 2 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 01 July 2008 15:01
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Mourning hardly seems like a blessing, but any parent has an insight into how mourning can be a sign of blessing. When a child asks for something that you know isn't in her best interest and you deny it to her, she cries. We live in what's been called a therapeutic society, where the goal is to never mourn: to have all that one needs, to be independent. But there is a terrible cost to self-sufficiency and complacency, even constant pleasure. We forget God, and we forget our neighbor. We are already living in hell, a small little world, though we don't know it. We will mourn then, because our hearts long for so much more than things, but there'll be no one to comfort us in our solitude. So blessed are those who give themselves to others in love. They are guaranteed to mourn whenever someone they love is hurt or suffering. But there will be those who love them, who will act as God's agents and offer comfort. And the Comforter Himself will be there in their deepest need, if they invoke Him.
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