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Practical Dreamers
" What is it to be Christian in Today’s World?"

Dr John Salmon

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John was a Minister in this Parish in the seventies. Since then he has been largely in the teaching ministry and has been Principal of Trinity Theological College where Methodist minister in NZ are trained. . His address to the 2005 Methodist Conference has now become the focus of study by our own Explorer's Group. Here it is.

 

I have a question.

 

It is a question that I want us to keep in mind throughout Conference this year. It's a question that arises out of looking at what's happening around us: the news items, the state of the church, the results of an election, the implications of new generation cellphones.

 

It's a question that has bugged me, and generated my thinking, all year.

 

This year began with the unfolding news of the tsunami and its devastating destructive power. Then in the middle of the year we were aghast at the bombings in London; poverty in Africa took our attention; violence and death has continued in Iraq; hurricanes Katrina and Rita thumped the Gulf of Mexico; Pakistan was hit by a huge earthquake.

 

Many thousands of people have died as a result, the lives of hundreds of thousands have been devastated, and communities are still struggling to survive. In the wake of such happenings, people began to ask God-questions – 'how could God do this?'; 'what are we being punished for?'; 'where can we find God in all of this?' Questions to challenge all religions and forms of spirituality… And other questions came up, too – 'why do we take so much more notice of the white skinned victims?'

 

Questions like these are worth close consideration, as they focus us on key issues for today, for people who seek to live lives in response to God.

 

In the face of all the fear, conflict, and pain, I struggle with the question, "What does it mean to be Christian and Church in this kind of world?"

 

I want to keep that question in front of us as we take part in this Conference. It seems to me to be a denial of the gospel to engage in 'business as usual', to focus on our internal churchy stuff and make the same old assumptions about Christian life and faith, in the context of the world we live in today.

 

As President this year, I aim to set out some key components of my view of how church might be in the world, and of what being Christian might be like today, as these have arisen out of my reflection on the question, "What does it mean to be Christian and Church in this kind of world?"

 

My view of the church is of a movement of people engaged with their world, interacting with core issues in ways that contribute to the shaping of change, and providing visionary and persuasive leadership that keeps hope alive.

 

I see this as a response to that challenge to Jesus' followers – to be yeast, leaven, salt in the world – making a difference in the place where we are located. So: "What does it mean to be Christian and Church in this kind of world?"

 

Today's world is a constantly changing mix that includes: the interaction of global and local forces, an increasing recognition of diversity, the impact of a stressed environment, a variety of perspectives on truth, and new patterns of leadership and organisation.

 

Some commentators on the contemporary way of thinking and working highlight a broader range of key characteristics of our time, such as:

§      short time-frames for everything – we want it now,

§      fleeting television images and sound bites replacing in-depth analysis,

§      goods made to be replaced quite quickly and buildings constructed for time-frames of 10s of years, not 100s,

§      groups with short life-spans and few people wanting to belong in a committed way, preferring to come and go and choose what suits them now,

§      networking tending to take the place of traditional organisational structures,

§      difference and diversity valued rather than being seen as something to avoid or overcome,

§      language seen to be a major shaper of the way we view and understand things around us.

 

I am suggesting that all these movements, thought-patterns, and experiences impact on us, and push us to consider carefully what is happening around us and what difference that makes to us. What is it to be Christian in this world today? What does it mean to be Church in the face of all we see and hear and experience?

 

We do well to think deeply about all this, drawing on the heritage we have received from the past, but not blindly repeating the 'same old'. In the light of this new context, I plead for us to examine our ideas, the way we do things, and the way we understand ourselves and others and God.

 

 

Global and Local

 

We talk these days about living in a time of globalisation – in a world where the influence of decisions made in North America or China may be stronger than the influence of decisions made right here, in government or business or community – where we might be connected more strongly to people the other side of the globe than to those living next door.

 

We experience rapid and direct links across the globe by email and internet and television that make the world seem much smaller and more closely connected. Global economics impact on us all. The globalisation of a workforce (as has been identified with Nike, for instance), raises serious issues of justice in relation to certain parts of the world.

 

At the same time, there's a strong push towards the local. This is a push towards claiming for ourselves – here, with our particular cultural emphases – our viewpoint and values. Local voices are speaking louder and more clearly.

 

Indigenous people, for example, are claiming their place in many parts of the world previously colonised from Europe. Such people, including Maori in Aotearoa-New Zealand, are shaping values and priorities that respect their traditions in the face of globalising 'sameness'. Many people want to be heard for who they are, with their particular cultural or religious ways of life and views of the world.

 

Some local movements become so focused on their needs and the rightness of their way that they end up in conflict with other groups. Some forms of fundamentalism function like this, stressing the absoluteness of a particular view so that other views and voices cannot easily be heard. Unfortunately, experience shows that this too readily leads to violence. This is so especially when groups feel the global movements are alien to their way of life and those supporting global approaches are not taking account of their needs and views.

 

In our various groups, we might well consider the question, 'What are the values and priorities that we want to preserve amongst the pressures to conform to global norms?'

 

In this setting, I think we most helpfully see the global movement as representing an interaction between the global and the local, with each representing significant aspects of the current scene. Globalising and localising, as part of one movement.

 

Often the local and the global are set up as in opposition to each other. Yet it was the rise of global movements, transmitting ideas and consumer goods and information and cultural elements in to all corners of the world, that provoked the reactive emphasis on local needs and local culture. And the global economic environment needs the local and needs to take account of the local to be effective: so in this country even Starbucks has 'flat whites'!

 

The global and the local go together.

 

How do we respond as Christian communities?

 

It's time our voices were heard on this global-local tension. There has been much ideological position-taking, but little balanced public analysis. A key point is the 'identity-factor': recognising that local identity is very important to all of us – culturally, nationally, religiously – but that these identities overlap and form a global network of linked identities.

 

Central in the global-local context are economic factors, something we in the Church are loath to speak about publicly, afraid we will be put-down by so-called experts. But economic issues are the single most-mentioned social issues in both Testaments of the Bible. Preparing ourselves to engage effectively on such things should perhaps be core to our public presence.

 

In doing this, we could use material like that now being published on the differing perspectives of the United States on the one hand and Europe on the other.

 

The European Dream, by American author Jeremy Rifkin (noted at the end of this section), sets out these differences well, together with reflecting on the origins and implications of the different perspectives.

 

One of these perspectives tends to be individual and present-centred, the other more communal and future-oriented. One tends to seek independent world power, the other a network of alliances for the good of the whole. I tend to think the latter in each case rings truer to Christian and biblical principles.

 

In this complex global context, a private faith, with beliefs that help me only, is out of place. Is God really interested in helping me score a try? Is it really appropriate to thank Jesus when things work out well for me? Western protestant individualism needs a re-think in the environment we now live in.

 

At its heart, Christianity is much more communal than that, and today's world could do with Christian social values focusing on full life for all, on human flourishing, both local and global. Such an emphasis contributes to the possibility of hope. Hope that arises out of ideas that shape actions that provide the possibility of hopeful futures.

 

Let's work at contributing our Christian vision into the movements of local identity and global connectedness and influence.

 

Some resources:

Jan Aart Scholte, Globalisation: A critical introduction (Palgrave,

         2000)

Jane Kelsey, Reclaiming the Future: New Zealand and the global

         economy (Bridget Williams, 2000)

Rob van Drimmelen, Faith in a Global Economy: A primer for

         Christians (WCC/Risk,          1998)

Jeremy Rifkin, The European Dream (Tarcher/Penguin, 2004)

 

 

 

Recognising Diversity

 

An important characteristic within this world – globally and locally – is diversity.  We are aware of the global diversity, of course, but it is true locally as well. There are few communities today where everybody thinks the same, believes the same things, has the same base values, or even looks much the same. We are surrounded by difference.

 

More than in the past, this difference is being valued. Rather than trying to make everyone like us – a process of assimilation – or else getting rid of them – annihilation – we are prepared to respect difference and the diversity that results. Not always, but enough for diversity to be seen as a marker in today's world.

 

It is much easier for us to work with what we know and to be in places and groups that are familiar to us and where we feel comfortable. We tend to react to protect ourselves from the unfamiliar, the different. We feel uncomfortable, threatened, lacking in control when faced with different language, cultural expectations, or value-systems.

 

In the past, our ways of looking at the world have built in a response to this discomfort or threat by suggesting our way is right or best (for example, it represents what is 'civilised') and anything else is wrong or lesser ('primitive' or 'pagan'). This then gives us the right (so it is suggested) to treat different people as 'lesser beings'. We can then try to 'improve' them by making them like us – speaking our language, dressing like us, and so on – or we can justifiably push them away – making them our slaves, sending them to another place, even killing them.

 

Such a view created little problem most of the time when most people lived in villages or towns where people were very similar. Cross-cultural contact was limited. Religion was shared within a community. We lived as more or less homogenous communities.

 

But now we all have to face diversity. So our views have had to move towards seeing 'difference' as a positive attribute, not something to be scared of or to get rid of. Much of our theology is slow in catching up with this, still often looking for a common position. But we live in a world that recognises diversity and is trying to find ways of respecting difference.

 

As we think about being church in Aotearoa-New Zealand, the increasing diversity of this country provides a significant factor to be taken into account. Such diversity is based in ethnicity and culture, and also in historical origins, in ways of viewing the world, and in religious commitment. Our setting here is neither white nor Christian.

 

As I think about that, the bicultural partnership between Te Taha Maori and Tauiwi continues to be central for Te Haahi Weteriana. This partnership is an important aspect of our identity as a Christian community in this country. It reflects a core component of our local context in Aotearoa, and establishes respect for history and for justice in our midst.

 

At the same time, wider diversity presents a challenge today. This is especially so within the Tauiwi part of this Church. Acknowledging and respecting our differences and claiming our separate identities is important for us as Tauiwi. At the same time, it is important to be working out our inter-relationships, our ways of working together, and our shared points of identity. All of this is shifting, so we cannot remain in fixed positions as Pakeha-Palagi, as Samoan, Fijian, Tongan, or as evangelical or any other named theological perspective.

 

The Biblical tradition includes respect for the stranger, the one who comes from outside our group. As we continue to reflect on being Church, on being Tauiwi in Te Haahi Weteriana o Aotearoa, the way we work with both difference and commonality will be critical. Just as a core component of being Church and being Christian in today's world is to face and embrace the diversity around us and in our midst.

 

Some resources:

Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference: How to avoid the clash

         of civilisations (Continuum, 2002)

Seyla Benhabib, The Claims of Culture: Equality and diversity in

         the global era (Princeton University, 2002)

Charles R. Foster, Embracing Diversity: Leadership in

         multicultural congregations (Alban Institute, 1997)

 

 

 

Environmental Stress

 

We are surrounded, too, by a natural world under stress. We note that especially in climate change – with the projection that if the rate of this change, resulting from industrial emissions, for example, is not slowed in the next 10 years it might well be too late – for us and for the planet. The stress suffered by our natural environment is shown also in the number of endangered species, and in increasingly polluted air and water with their effects on health and quality of life.

 

There is a great deal being written and spoken about the changes in the world around us. Climate change is perhaps the aspect gaining the most interest. There are competing views about the extent of such change, about whether or not such change is caused by human activity, and about what can be done. Carbon credits and carbon tax represent one response. Looking closely at how we use fuel in cars, etc, is another. It is important that we keep up with the research and debates in this area.

 

But there are other significant issues as well. These include the loss of biodiversity, with the disappearance of species, and the health effects of changes in air and water quality. One view suggests that "water is the next oil" – that is, that before long clean water will be a sought-after scarce commodity.

 

In a variety of ways our earth and its protective environment is under threat, and along with it our health and future as human communities.

 

We say that creation is important to us as Christians. We have theological insights that suggest God's life and goodness is shown in creation. How do we keep on proclaiming that in this world of changed awareness?

 

We are gradually becoming aware that we humans cannot live on our own. We are part of our environment as organic components of an inter-connected system. Ecology is a crucial concern.

 

One aspect of current ecological interest is recognition that we humans have damaged our environment by the way we've used it for our own benefit. This has resulted in raising questions about whether it is right to consider human life as having priority over all other parts of the planet.

 

In fact, evidence is mounting that limiting our co-operation and respect to the human community is inadequate, and potentially very damaging. If we keep putting human life as the supreme value, then we humans are likely to destroy all life on this planet. It's more than ecology on its own, it's a matter of redesigning our core values.

 

As we humans do what we want, as we aim to make our life more comfortable, as we put human life in the centre of our value-system, we use more and more of the earth's resources and damage our environment, perhaps irrevocably. We just can't keep on exploiting this planet for our sole benefit.

 

That will mean some hard choices: wind turbines in our backyard, abandoning 4WDs with their high fuel consumption and damaging exhausts, re-thinking health priorities – including whether saving a human life at all costs is worth it.

 

I suspect our Christian doctrine of incarnation has something to answer for here. Does God really take flesh only in a human person, to save only human beings? We Christians could do with a much bigger vision than that, one that matches what we know is happening in our world today.

 

Sallie McFague's view of the world as God's body is one image that broadens the focus of God's incarnation or embodiment.

 

We do well to note also that the distinction between human and non-human is breaking down. It is no longer so clear that humans are different from everything else: we share biological characteristics, and lots of our bits end up being artificial, even electronic. Again, that suggests some re-thinking about the huge weight we put on being human, amongst other aspects of our faith.

 

What's happening in the ecosystem around us pushes us to re-think aspects of our Christian faith – for the sake of the planet. Our understandings of creation and of incarnation could do with a new look.

 

Some resources:

John T. Hardy, Climate Change: Causes, effects, and solutions

         (John Wiley, 2003)

Articles in such as New Internationalist and The Guardian Weekly

Neil Darragh, At Home in the Earth: Seeking an earth-centred

         spirituality (Accent, 2000)

Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An ecological theology

         Fortress, 1993)

 

 

 

Perspectives on Truth

 

Woven through all of today's world is change. That results in increased differences between generations, so we talk past each other, even in families. Some of the newer ways of thinking and working are hard for oldies to deal with: the language of text-messaging, for example, or the lack of people wanting to belong long-term to groups, or the sense that nothing's made to last long these days, or the way 'truth' has become everybody's own way of looking at things.

 

The move away from long-term committed belonging has been a major contributing factor in the drop in church membership, especially at this stage amongst Pakeha-Palagi. It's not just what we do or don't do, but a reflection of changes taking place in society.

 

Sometimes this is seen as a move away from religion, but probably it's more a move away from organised structures, while acknowledging and expressing human spirituality more than it has been for some time in the Western world. So spirituality is openly owned by more people in a society like ours these days, while regular church attendance or belonging to any defined religious group is not so popular.

 

How do you respond to this view of what is happening in our society? Is it only a Pakeha-Palagi issue?

 

The point about 'truth' as depending on a person's own perspective particularly impacts on us as Christians. We have understood ourselves as proclaiming God's truth to the world. Now we are being pushed to recognise that truth is very much related to various views of world and various action priorities, rather than being built into the universe by God.

 

That's a big challenge to our previous ways of thinking and acting… though it is perhaps closer to the approaches of the early church, with truth as that which touches life at depth.

 

Christianity and the Christian church has been constantly adapting to its cultural and social environment. This has not always happened in ways we'd be happy with, and often we don't acknowledge the changes that have taken place, but the Christian Church has adapted over time, making ongoing moves that link it with its context in different times and places.

 

The major difference in our time is that the changes have happened so fast – and are ongoing – that we haven't had the luxury of a period of slow reflection and debate, and many of us (both older and younger) don't recognise the extent of that change.

 

We Christians are great at looking over our shoulders – at our origins in Jesus or in John Wesley, at the church of our youth, at the way things were. And we're pretty good at looking ahead – to what we'd like to see, to our hopes for heaven or for God's action to change things. Yet this – this now – is where we have to live, where we have to express the gospel and try to make sense of being Christian and Methodist.

 

The past does indeed shape who we are, and provides ideas, experiences, priorities, and structures that we can't ignore. And the future calls us to vision, to set goals and plan for where we want to go. The whole of that needs to be held together: but – here, now, is where it needs to be acted out. What is happening in the world and church this week, this year, is key. The past remains a given, without preventing change; and the future draws us on, with all its challenges and possibilities.

 

These shifts happening around us impact on worship, too – on what we do when we gather together as church. How will our worship match the styles, needs, and expectations of people in today's world? Of people, that is, who have not already been part of this for most of their lives.

 

I wonder what young people, for example, brought up in the various youth cultures of today, make of what we do in worship. I wonder how carefully we think about what we do and why we do it, beyond some form of "it's what we always do". Mostly, I think, it's boring, and probably rather meaningless if you start thinking about what we say. The challenge is how to make what we call 'worship' relevant and meaningful in the kind of world we live in now.

 

How we do things in our gathering is part of that. And I'm aware of how a number of young people – like those gathered at this year's Youth Conference – are trying out other ways of expressing worship. There are other styles, more in touch with today's world. There are means of communication available to us that would enhance what we do and say.

 

But it isn't always easy to use contemporary approaches, especially when our spaces aren't designed for it. Take this place (Durham St Church). When we were planning for today, I wanted to have a series of moving images along with my words, but the difficulty of placing screens and projectors to make that work was finally too difficult. So buildings are an aspect of communication when we consider being church in today's world.

 

And what would it be like to preach in txt?

 

The catch here is not to confuse style with content. It seems to me that some of the creative things found in youth events or through the "Emerging Church" movement are different, contemporary in what they do, but very traditional and conservative in what they say. I suggest both the style of what we do and the content of what we say need to shift to connect with today's world.

 

This is a matter of drawing on our core values and ideas to engage with others over major issues in society. In post-Christian society in Aotearoa-New Zealand, we cannot expect to be heard as of right, or to make a serious impact if we use traditional Christian language or ideas. We need to be able to use our Christian resources in new ways to argue a point of view. It's a matter of persuasion.

 

That means we have to have constructive things to say, of course. Will we express significant Methodist positions on social questions through our Conference decisions? If so, will they be in a form that will enable us to make a difference in our world? Can we do the yeast, leaven, salt thing?

 

The faith we express needs to make an impact in our world, an impact for good. That means we have to identify how what we say will make a difference for people and for our society as a whole.

 

Rather than seeing faith ideas and values as true because they come from God, our world today looks for truth in ideas that are relevant. We need to show that what we have to say is relevant for a particular context and helpful in enabling positive things to happen. Showing relevance and positive helpfulness is a way of testing whether the things we say will indeed make an impact for good.

 

The very core of our Christian message is challenged by today's diverse ways of understanding 'truth' and the changed role of the Christian church in society, and it's up to us to respond.

 

Some resources:

J. Richard Middleton, Truth is Stranger than it Used to Be: Biblical

         faith in a postmodern age (InterVarsity Press, 1995)

Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church (Zondervan, 2003)

 

 

 

Leadership and Organisation

 

There is a shifting view of the way organisations function well today, with a move away from management as the key focus to a concern for effective and visionary leadership. Structures are less hierarchical with a greater emphasis on teams, each with their own linked leadership roles. Networks are given priority in many situations, rather than tightly ordered organisational structures, and our Methodist Connexion can helpfully be understood in this way, as a network, which makes it very relevant in today's world.

 

Leadership is understood to have various functions and styles, which will vary according to the kind of setting in which it takes place. For the church, the task is to assess which of these are most likely to lead us into the future. Leadership in ministry – whether ordained or lay – will require hard thinking, and inevitably means moving away from the patterns we've been familiar and comfortable with. 'Tradition' won't necessarily help us here in a changing world.

 

It is time, I think, to address carefully and bravely the roles of lay people, deacons, stewards, presbyters, and superintendents. Maybe the time has come to ask serious questions about ordination itself. Is that a model of leadership and of ministry that will take us into the future or enable us to respond to today's world, where structured leadership based on status or institutional authority is less valued? I suspect Paul's view of ministry as based on our personal gifts and skills and shared by everyone in the community can come into its own again.

 

At the earliest biblical level, 'ministry' was equated with 'diakonia', diaconal ministry. This was probably not a separated role so much as describing an activity of service. Then a range of other activities were identified (as in 1 Corinthians 12), which Paul sees 'gifted' (or 'charismatic') activities within the life of the community.

 

Separated ministry roles or positions seem to come later, and ordination later again. In fact, it would seem that ordination is linked with Roman military practice, 'ordering' the troops. It is not clear that John Wesley intended leaders in the Methodist movement to be ordained (although he assumed the presence of Church of England priests).

 

The changes in church and society, in employment practice, and in leadership needs could mean this is a good time to re-think the way we 'order' our life. Even the concept of 'ministry' might have had its day.

 

I talked about "visionary and persuasive leadership that keeps hope alive". The concept of hope is back in public consciousness in this difficult and dangerous world. Christian attitudes to the future suggest that could well be one of our major contributions: how might we be 'agents of hope' in today's world? The church's 'body language' is true to its message when it ensures persons and communities can see signs of hope. That seems like a powerful and relevant role for engaging with this world.

 

For many people, lack of hope is caused by being dominated by others, a dominance that constricts their life experiences. A starting place in ensuring our patterns of organisation and leadership do not result in domination is to make sure that the words and images we use cease to be dominant in form.

 

Terms like Father, Lord, King all carry those ideas, and help to cement them into social relationships.

 

The Latin for Lord, dominus, provides us with the term 'domination', for example.

 

Such terms reinforce male power and traditional forms of dominance, and validate the exercise of these within the church. So let's stop using them. Other traditional Christian ideas – like the crucifixion as source of salvation – contain the seeds of violence, which is even more damaging. Today's world needs images and messages of co-operation and of respect for others, not of hierarchical power or violent death.

 

We do well to examine our church organisation, our leadership in ministry, and the images we use in speaking of God. This will help us avoid hierarchical structures and violent or dominating styles on the one hand, and promote visionary and creative leadership on the other. It will help us relate Church to today's world and its emphases and priorities.

 

Some resources:

Gordon P. Rabey, Workplace Leadership: Moving into

         management today (Dunmore Press, 1997)

Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A journey into the

         nature of legitimate power and greatness (Paulist Press,

         2002)

Letty Russell, Church in the Round (Westminster/John Knox,

         1993)

 

 

 

Identity

 

A key issue in relation to all the areas we have touched on is identity. This includes for us the question of what it means to be Christian. It includes questions about how we understand ourselves in a globalising world; questions about our ethnic and cultural heritage in relation to present experience; questions about the kind of world-view we are committed to and how that can remain relevant.

 

Identity is a deep issue for many people today, especially as they move into new cultural settings or face situations of conflict. A number of writers and researchers are grappling with questions surrounding identity and can help us as we look at some of the issues. One significant book is In the Name of Identity by Amin Maalouf (see details below), exploring the impact of both core personal identity-markers (religion, ethnicity, etc) and those aspects of identity we share with others.

 

The question of identity in relation to faith (but not necessarily organised religion) is identified by Muslim political scientist Heba Raouf Ezzat in talking about the significance of interreligious dialogue. See Methodist Mission and Ecumenical Occasional Paper, August 2005.

 

As we think about identity, I'm convinced that what is significant today is be on the margins between different identity-points. Such margins include those between cultures, or between theological perspectives, or between generations. The people who will help us move into the future are those who sit – uncomfortably – across such margins rather than sitting safely in one place. We need to learn to value such people, even though they often make us uncomfortable.

 

I, certainly, find it hard to move across cultures. I have lived most of my life in a Pakeha-Palagi world, with English as my only effective language. I'm conscious that that won't do for the future. People who already have to make cross-cultural moves, in family and at work, are more likely to help us as we move ahead. That's the case in the Church, where understanding the different cultural groupings and being able to move across the margins between them will be crucial for our future as Te Haahi Weteriana.

 

And there are other margins, too, like those between theological perspectives. Holding tightly to one viewpoint, without being able to hear and converse with others, will only make the future more difficult. Our diverse setting calls for an ability to move across points of difference, rather than staking everything on our own personal or group view.

 

That requires acknowledging multiple identity. Rather than claiming one defining characteristic (like Christian), it is more helpful to recognise that each of us is identified in multiple ways: Christian, female, Samoan, mother, NZ resident, and so on. No one aspect of who we are portrays the wholeness of our identity, and we share many components with other people – some of whom will be very different from us in other parts of their identities.

 

This is an important part of Maalouf's position. He writes as a Lebanese Christian living in France. His concern is for the Muslim-Christian relationship, as well as for other points where conflict arises because of deeply-held single identities – national or religious or political. He makes a clear case for owning the various identities we have, and seeking to find the points of connection with the identities of others, rather than focusing on points of opposition and separation.

 

The focus on one identity alone creates fanaticism. That is the root of the fundamentalist attitude of the terrorist or the warmongering leader or the corporate raider. Claiming just one aspect of identity leads quickly to prejudice and to violence.

 

Recognising that we share identity-points with many other people, different from us, is – I believe – a key way towards overcoming inherent mistrust and violence between individuals and groups.

 

During this coming year, let's take time to explore more about being Christian and Church in the world of today. Such thinking could well cluster around the key issue of identity.

 

As Christians, our heritage and our identity is about making a difference in the world.

 

As Methodists, we have focused much of our energy in transforming the lives of persons in their world.

 

As Te Haahi Weteriana o Aotearoa, we can claim our identity and our place as Church as we grapple with that question: What does it mean to be Christian and Church in today's world?

 

Some resources:

Amin Maalouf, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the need to

         belong (English Translation: Arcade, 2000)

T.J. Gorringe, Furthering Humanity: A theology of culture

         (Ashgate, 2004)

Bill Ashcroft, Post-Colonial Transformation (Routledge, 2001)

 

 

 

Focusing Our Reflection

 

I hope we can focus in three areas as we keep thinking:

 

§      One has to do with our way of being church: how do we respond to questions of structure and internal relationships and our general understanding of what 'church' is and can be? In other words, what is the appropriate way of sustaining the identity of church – for us, Te Haahi Weteriana?

 

§      Another is about engaging with the world, observing what is 'out there', analysing that, and reflecting on what is happening from a Christian perspective. How do our identities as Samoan or Maori or Pakeha interact with our identities as rural or urban; as having access to adequate financial resources or always struggling on the edge of poverty; as living in and part of Aotearoa-NZ or conscious of our global connections?

 

§      A third focuses on thinking our faith, on the ways we understand and express our faith in God, and Jesus, and the life of the Spirit. How do we express our Christian identity through values and beliefs and theology in interaction with all these other questions of identity, and in relation to the complex world in which we live?

 

In everything is the question: What does it mean to be Christian and Church in the kind of world we face today?

 

 

 

John Salmon

November 2005

 

 

 

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