Saturday, November 2, 2013

It’s down to work at the Assembly

Day three begins with the beat of the drum

The drum is the symbol for worship today.  For many indigenous cultures the rhythm of the drum is in beat with the heartbeat of life linking people to one another and to the earth.  In the context of Asian religions the drum is an instrument of praise. Our praise arising from the heart builds a clear expression of hope.
The refrain for the prayer was: Let justice roll down like waters. The reading for the day comes from the prophet Amos 5:14-24 where the prophet invites the people to seek good and avoid evil.  Since Israel does not heed the prophet, Amos pronounces a hard word that threatens darkness and death.  Again through the mouth of the prophet God declares the sacrifices and assemblies of the people unacceptable since their lives are not conformed to seeking good..  The reading ends: “...I will not listen to the melody of your harps.  But let justice roll down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
This reading was developed throughout the day to the beat of the drum.  Evening worship ended with the plea to the Lord to come: Maranatha! In spite of the sufferings of the Asian peoples due to domination and because of wars and natural calamities hope remains firm.  The prayer ended with a remembrance of the victims of the 2004 Tsunami and these words:
Stay with us Lord, in the uncertain moments.
With you Holy Spirit raise us from our hopelessness,
wipe away our disbelief and strengthen our faith,
so that our hearts will burn to proclaim your resurrection,
the water of life springing forth and bringing hope.

Bible studies
Very interestingly the study today had a guest to be interviewed – the prophet Amos himself! The interview was crafted very cleverly allowing us to get to know what made this prophet tick and what was his problem with the situation of people today.

The process of contextualization that was used yesterday served the gathering by allowing us to understand the situation then and how it impacts on the situation now.

We talked in our small groups about who were prophets today and what were the issues that had to be denounced and actions to be taken.  A whole series of issues were named from unjust treatment of the poor to ecological issues that impact the whole earth.  There were many Pacific islanders in our group who feared that their islands were sinking because of the rise of the ocean. In the Asian context the constant fear of being overrun by dominating political forces or being used because of cheap labor costs and having its people sold as sex slaves or cheap laborers were identified. What Amos called for was justice. Justice is the framework that gives form and substance to the social life of the religious community. The ethical quality of right relationships with each other in our daily living is what justice looks like when it “rolls down”.  Consistency between our words and our deeds is what is demanded of us.

Asian Plenary
Today’s plenary was very interesting with the highlight being a presentation by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on "Christianity and peace building amidst conflicts over religious freedom".  He had three points to make:
● The theology of reconciliation means that the gospel of Jesus Christ is reconciliation. Reconciliation is not an aspect of the gospel, it is the gospel.  Reconciliation has at its heart the welcome of Christ, expressed by people taking time to welcome the other. Reconciliation has at its heart transformation, not conformity.
● Christian peace building seeks the continuation of difference without violence, not the suppression of diversity. It looks for a path that enables relationships to grow, not agreements to rule by law.  It is a gift of grace, not the imposition of conflict resolution.  Its essence is based in the Trinity, relational and not rule-bound.
● It is fundamental to the Christian calling to permit the Spirit of God to renew in us the love of Christ for our enemies.  This is especially true today, when the greatest challenge for Christian churches in terms of conflict is religious, especially when relating to Islam.  Christian peace building leads to inter-faith reconciliation and co-habitation, but not resolution.  It is not syncretistic but holds difference in love.

Archbishop Welby photo: Peter Williams/WCC

The remainder of the session dealt with the Asian context, its problems and its hopes.  The different parts of Asia presented some of the concerns that it had as it sought to move into the 21st century.  These issues revolved around the problems of women in trying to feed a family, attempting to better themselves through education and better health care, and teaching the values of the human person. One moving story was about an Indian woman who had twin girls who were joined at the chest.  Since they were girls they already had a mark against them and a second mark was because they were ill.  The elders forced the mother and her family to reject the children and left them to the hospital to care for.  Eventually these girls were separated and became beautiful children. Finally the mother, when she saw the love and care taken by the hospital staff and many other people that saved her children, she too wanted them back.  Unfortunately one of the twins died but the other was returned to the mother.  It was stories of solidarity such as this one that gives rise to hope and illustrates the need for justice in the social fabric to move people to act with coherence.

The program concluded with a contemporary ballet of young artists expressing in danse and song the plight and the hopes of the Asian continent.

Business Plenary

This session dealt with the unity statement of the assembly and the nomination process.  The Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vvolokolamsk addressed the assembly with a rather substantial paper.  This paper provoked some reactions from the meeting.  He presented the position of the Russian Orthodox church on sexual morality, the disintegration of the family with same sex unions, the adoption of children by partners in these unions, religious fundamentalism by some Muslim groups, and the persecution and plight of the Christians in the Middle East.

While no debate or rebuttal was allowed several delegates rose to speak against some of the his positions and some in support of the statements he made.  Since it was a listening session the moderator asked that any positions taken by delegates needed to be sent by e mail to the unity committee who would take them under advisement.  Following this discussion the meeting resumed with looking at the nomination process.

Concerning the plight of Christians, I had the chance to speak to a Friar Minor who lives and works in Istanbul.  He speaks about what the Franciscans are trying to do in Istanbul and how interreligious dialogue takes shape in a country where the Christians are a minority.

Ecumenical conversations
Since I am following the conversation on the church I cannot say much about the other conversations except what I hear from other delegates. Here is what happened in the ecclesiology conversation:

Confessional meetings
The day ended with an opportunity for all the Catholics who were at the Assembly to meet together and talk about various issues.  Card. Koch presented the Catholic delegated observers and then spoke about the activities of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.  This presentation was followed by a presentation of the Korean Catholics, there history, their ministry and their involvement in Christian unity and interreligious relations.  Similar meetings were held for the Reformed, the Anglicans, the Lutherns, the Orthodox and the Free churches.

Since we have the weekend off I will be doing some tourism with the Catholic delegations and then celebrating the Eucharist at the cathedral of Busan on Sunday.  Our Korean hosts promise some more traditional food – this should be interesting!
Peace and all good!