Communion Matters VI: Movie Night

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Or better yet, I am referring to movie nights! How does the one and constant Gospel come to have expression in a myriad of cultures across centuries and cultures? We may think of this as a modern preoccupation, and so it is. But it was not invented so recently, and some of the most creative answers came about at the very dawn of the modern era, in the 17th century. I have in mind the Roman Catholic order of the Jesuits. They were so deeply and thoroughly formed that they carried their monastery on their back, and could try some bold experiments in adaptation. They were not beyond criticism, but they always stirred up though reflection on the challenge of the Gospel.

I want to begin my description in the mode of movie and book reviews. The most famous is ‘The Mission’ with the remarkable soundtrack. The ‘kingdom of the Guarani’ was an indigenous Christians in present-day Paraguay, apart from the depredations of the Spanish and Portuguese colonialists. It embodied Francis and liberation theology at once. At roughly the same time, in present day Canada the mission to the Huron people led to torture of the missionaries, who thereupon struggled to return to their flock. They embodied missionary identification. The movie ‘Black Robe’ renders that world hauntingly. More recently the movie version of Endo’ ‘Silence’ presents the martyrs’ history of the Jesuits in Japan and raises deep questions about what fidelity looks like.

To this we could add Jonathan Spence’s ‘The Memory Palace of Mateo Ricci.’ Ricci took the road of slow adaptation wherein the missionary inhabited areas of common faith until the host culture was ready for the shock of the cross- other Catholics objected strongly! Ricci in his topknot and silk could quote Confucius with the greatest local scholar in perfect Mandarin. To this we can add Peter Phan’s ‘Mission and Catechesis’, a study of Alexandre de Rhodes’ work in Vietnam, where he used the local philosophy as toeholds into explanation of Christian doctrine, from most to least accessible.

These are settings far afield, and yet the very question that lie before in this altogether changed circumstance.



Communion Matters V: Amazing Grace

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We all enjoy this hymn, and hear it at a multitude of settings, public, funereal, etc. But we do well to recall its author, John Newton, was both an Anglican cleric, and in the first generation of evangelicals in our tradition. The emphasis on grace was of course the bass-note of the Reformation. Of course in our time we imagine this to be one kind of Episcopalian, in contrast, say, to an Anglo-Catholic or a Social Gospeller. But what if we think harder about that hymn and its author?

  1. If you haven’t seen the movie ‘Wilberforce’, i recommend it to you: Newton will appear in it. This reminds us that the context of the hymn is his renunciation of the sinful practice of the slave trade, systemic racism and structural sin if there ever were such. He was committed to the imperative of racial reconciliation, which for him bound up with the conversion he underwent. His subsequent ministry was a ‘holistic’ summons to both, and so ought ours to be.

  2. But there is yet more to say. Out of these commitments came the Church Missionary Society, an Anglican body we will have more to say. They felt a burden to evangelize the freed slaves of today’s Sierra Leone. From this came missionizing across the globe, from which came indigenous Anglican. Churches across the globe, and from this, eventually came the Anglican Communion. The last is a profoundly catholic development, Churches bound together in Word, sacrament, and episcopal order across the world.

  3. I am writing this blog on the holiday that commemorates a Baptist pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. We as Anglicans have, in our DNA, a tradition at once evangelical and catholic, with a strong sense of our own call to do what we are given to do to be agents of racial reconciliation.




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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.