Friday, June 30, 2006

Senator Barrak Obama on Faith and Politics: A Must Read

I have known Barrak Obama since my community organizing days in Chicago when he was an Illinois state senator. We made him the "champion" of our legislative team to get equitable school funding legislation through the Illinois senate. I've always known Senator Obama to be a man of strong faith and courageous action, even though some of his recent vacillations on crucial issues leave me disappointed.

The linked speech made at Call to Renewal's Pentecost 2006 is a powerful articulation of the connection between Faith and Politics. A must read for anyone standing in that intersection.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Future of Mission Seminar at Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia

Future of Mission
300th Anniversary Commemoration of Lutheran/Protestant Missionby Batholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau

Co-sponsored by the Multicultural Mission Resource Center of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia & the ELCA Department for Global Mission

Kudos to the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and its Multicultual Mission Resource Center headed by Dr. H.S. Wilson on an informative conference commemorating the 300th anniversary of Lutheran/Protestant mission in India. The event held on June 1st and 2nd, brought together several theologians, missiologists and students.

Prof. Andrew F. Walls, former Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World at the University of Edinburgh in a key address spoke of the history of missions as a set of volumes. Now it is time to start a new volume in the history of missions, he said. In my response, I suggested several questions that we should consider as we begin to write that new volume. My comments follow:

A New Volume in the History of Mission

Professor Walls has presented the history of Christian Missions as a set of volumes. He has also suggested that the new context we are in at the beginning of this next millennium with the demographic and theological shifts he alluded to must indicate the beginning of the next volume in mission history.

What I would like to do is simply to articulate some questions that we might consider as we begin writing that new volume. I want to say that I come to this not only as a theologian but as an organizer and activist.. I am also an ecumenist – or as some say an ecumaniac – so I try to bring that perspective as well.

1. I want to begin with the question “What is Mission?”

I am sure each of you sitting here will have a very good and detailed answer, so I am not going to ask you to respond to that question. But I want us to recognize very clearly that this is not just a Christian question. In fact let’s recognize that “Mission” is not a Christian word, but an English word.

  • Yesterday, I had a conversation with someone who said that he was coming to see me from Pakistan’s “Mission” to the UN.

  • When President Bush went flew in triumphantly in a fighter pilot’s jacket to the aircraft carrier to proclaim to the world that the war was won, the sign above him read – “Mission Accomplished!”

  • Any business worth its salt would have in the front of the brochures and literature their “Mission Statement”

But not only that, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and others also have “Missions” and do “Missions,” and it is time we engaged with them in that conversation.

2. What is the purpose of mission?

If you ask specifically about Christian Mission – most people would say it is to “save” people. From what, you might ask. Most people would say from sin, hell, evil, degradation and dehumanization. To what, you might ask. Most people would say, to a new relationship with God, heaven, an abundant life, fullness, wholeness – to salvation

Leave aside governments and businesses for a bit – if you ask Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and other religious people to define their mission, they might use different words and concepts but they will describe their mission in somewhat similar ways. The difference of course, is that we are right, and they are wrong!

3. We need to broaden our understanding of our mission of “saving” people.

At our Interfaith Relations Commission meeting this past February, we, as a small part of the Ecumenical movement, had a dialogue with theologians at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, a small part of the Evangelical movement. After a couple of presentations to explore the theological struggles of each of our traditions as they sought to engage with people of other religions, having acknowledged that interfaith relations is one of the places where Ecumenical and Evangelical Christians have diverged, we divided up to small groups around tables. Our task was to come up with theological questions that should be on the agenda of a continuing Evangelical-Ecumenical dialogue. There were very good questions raised, but one groups questions remain in my memory. They had three.
1. Does God want all people to become Christians?
2. Can only Christians be saved?
3. What is salvation, anyway?

If we say yes to the first question, I must say we are doing a really poor job of evangelizing the world. Professor Wall reminded us that the world’s population is now at 6 billion people. But many Christians say no to the first question, and accept that God created us, human beings in great diversity just like the rest of creation, and like the rest of creation, God wants us to be in relationship to each other.

But there’s a disconnect. We don’t know how to be in relationship. Because western theologies still rooted in old paradigms haven’t figured out how to take religious pluralism seriously. My Interfaith Relations Commission has begun to seriously address this question, by undertaking to host a Special Topics Forum at the American Academy of Religion entitled Christian Theology’s Engagement with Religions Pluralism. We had such great interest in the topic last time that AAR has invited us to upgrade to a Program Unit. This is not just a missiological question. It is a question that the discipline of theology must take seriously. A colleague of mine, Prof. Anant Rambachan, a Hindu scholar at St. Olaf College (a great Lutheran institution!) speaking last year a conference of religious leaders in Geneva entitled “Critical Moment in Interfaith Dialogue” asked particularly of his Christian colleagues this important question: “What theological need do you have of me?” Then he added “If Hinduism was not in existence, how would Christianity be impoverished?”

What is salvation anyway?
Back in 1972, there was an answer from the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME). Their Bangkok conference produced a document called “Salvation Today.” I think this is still a critically important document. It was based on the 1971 booklet by MM Thomas entitled Salvation and Humanisation. These documents suggest that salvation is about individuals and communities reaching up to their full humanity, to wholeness or (in other words) holiness. Although for a variety of reasons the ecumenical movement has not followed through on this theme broad understanding of salvation, I believe it is critically necessary.

Christians are not the only ones concerned about salvation. Other religious communities are also concerned about this and many non-religious people are interested in it particular if we think of salvation the way M.M. Thomas articulated. Can you see a conversation starting?

Can we invite Jews to begin to interpret the Exodus narrative more broadly, Muslims to think about salvation more broadly, even Buddhists and Hindus? Can we see a conversation starting on mission?

4. Who’s at the table?

At the Edinburgh 1910, World Mission Conference out of 1200 delegates all but 17 were European or North American and there were few women in leadership. At the San Antonio 1989 Commission on World Mission and Evangelism conference some 70% came from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Caribbean or Eastern Europe. Significant leadership was in non-European/North American hands. 44% of the conference was women.

Now we need to think about other people at the table. The questions of Mission, particularly if we are talking about individuals and community searching for full humanity, wholeness or peace with justice, are also questions of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and for other people of faith, who may not necessarily subscribe to a particular religious tradition. “Mission” that we will attempt to do by ourselves will end up being insular and will necessarily prove offensive to our colleagues from other religious traditions.

5. Rather than a “grand narrative” we need to look for localized narratives.

In 1910, there was a tremendous sense of optimism. They saw a time when the whole world will be evangelized. There was a “grand narrative” that motivated them. “We have heard from many quarters of the awakening of great nations. The next 10 years will be in all probability constitute a turning point in human history – if rightly used they may be the most glorious in Christian history.” Today there is no such optimism of evangelizing the world. Rather, we need to promote localized narratives. We need to look for real human stories of struggle and pain as well as courage and hope in the local context. Our theologizing must begin there.

6. The post-colonial context.

With the dismantling of colonialism the state sponsorship of missions ended, so did missionary support for colonial statecraft. We need to look critically at the new mission movement that seems to usher in a new permutation of this old alliance of church and state, and that is corporation and state. Critics of the new missionaries in third world countries point out that what the new missionary movement is doing is nothing short of priming the pump for economic globalization..

7. Post-modern context

In the post-modern context elites find it hard to control information. There’s an information democratization. This is leading to alternative narratives/histories. So, rather than the grand narrative, we need to look for local narratives. But, we still can’t hear the voices of the sub-altern communities. They don’t have access to computers, they speak in vernacular languages and their communication symbols are very foreign to us. How do we hear their stories?

8. There’s an intense consciousness of religious plurality.

This was true in Asia for centuries, but the west is just waking up to the fact of pluralism. Today the U.S. is the most religiously diverse country in the world. This has caused a great deal of anxiety among Christians who don’t have the theological tools to deal with this phenomenon, because Christian theology has not comprehensively addressed the question of religious plurality.

9. We need to deal with the culture of fear and polarization

At the National Council of Churches, we have said that as against Fear, Fundamentalism and Fox (TV), our emphasis is on Peace, Poverty and Planet Earth. We need to address the continuing polarization in the world today. The recent cartoon controversy, immigration battles and empire building advance the polarization. We need to work together with people of other faiths to stand against this.

10. We are not alone in this quest.

Indeed, not only religious communities, governments and businesses are interested in this conversation. The United Nations is calling religious leaders together in an initiative called the “Dialogue of Civilizations.” The governments of the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Jordan among others are very interested in promoting this conversation. Business leaders are asking questions like: how can we reduce extremist rhetoric in the media and how can we bring religious values to the market place?

Friends, the old paradigms are gone! The “grand narrative” is over. We need to make new alliances, bring new people to the table – both at leadership levels and in local communities. And unless missiology is able to deal with these new realities as it writes the new volume, we’ll be totally irrelevant.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Urgently Needed: A Counter-Spirituality of Non-violence

I regularly read Gershon Baskin’s commentary from the Jerusalem-based Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. His analysis is often politically astute and thought-provoking. To his column today calling for a bilateral ceasefire entitled “The use of force has not proven itself effective,” my response is, was it ever. It may have proved effective if the purpose was to exploit and colonize. But if the purpose was a just peace, I contend, the use of force has never been effective.

His article comes on a day that yet another act of arbitrary violence has taken its ghastly toll in Sri Lanka. Sixty one people are reported killed in a landmine blast that blew up a bus in the ancient capital of Anuradhapura. Click here for the BBC report. Although the Tamil Tigers are denying responsibility the Sri Lankan military began retaliatory attacks on rebel-held areas in the north.

Back in January of this year, Sri Lankan church leaders issued a statement in which they confessed that they have not been able to foster a “counter-spirituality” of non-violence. At a theological consultation in Sri Lanka later this month, I will present a paper that speaks to that question. However, this is not a question for Sri Lanka alone. Developing a counter-spirituality of non-violence must be an urgent theological concern for churches in the United States and elsewhere.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

In Gaza, Sri Lanka, A Horrendous Weekend of Violence

This has been a bad weekend for innocent families who've been in the vicinity of violent conflicts.

First, an Israli artillery fire killed seven members of a Palestinian family as the death count at the time of writing stands at twelve with many injured. Palestinians on a Gaza beach including members of one family. Incredibly, there was no condemnation from the US government. Despite the massacre of innocent civilians US State Department spokesman offered the tired old line about Israel having the right to defend itself. The strike prompted Hamas to end a sixteen month long ceasefire with Israel. Read the story from the Boston Globe.

Second, a Tamil family in Mannar (Northwest Sri Lanka) was massacred yesterday. The LTTE (the Tamil terrorist organization) claims that it was the work of the Sri Lankan Army. Click here for the story from Tamil Eelam news (caution: the pictures are gruesome).

Meanwhile the government run Daily News puts the responsibility for the massacre squarely on the LTTE. A portion of their report (since it cannot be directly linked) follows:

"A family of four have been hacked to death by the LTTE in Vankalai, Mannar around midnight on Thursday, the Media Centre for National Security said yesterday.

The entire family had been close to the Security Forces and cooperating with them, defence sources said. The deceased were identified as Sinniyah Moorthi Martin, 38, (father), Anthony Mary (known as Chithra), 27, (mother), Anne Lakshitha, 9, (daughter) and Dilakshan Anpiya 7 (son).

Mary has been brutally raped before being murdered. The police are investigating the massacre, sources added.

The killing of four members of the same family is clearly an act of the LTTE according to intelligence reports, said Defence Affairs Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella. He said this was part of the LTTE's strategy to divert the attention of international community from their unilateral withdrawal from Oslo talks.

The Army denies all the charges and accusation made by the LTTE in connection with this killing, Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe told the Daily News. It is clearly the work of the LTTE, he said.

Investigations revealed that the LTTE cadres were behind the massacre. The family had returned from India after living there as refugees. The family recently refused to return India although they were forced to do so by the LTTE.

The family was associating with police and Army personnel in this area, which could have angered the LTTE to seek revenge from the family, defence sources said.

The father has been stabbed and hung in the living room, the children stabbed and hung in the front room and the mother has been raped and stabbed to death and left on the floor of the house."

When will they ever learn....!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Building Community that is Humane, Compassionate and Just: Puget Sound Interfaith Youth Camp

At YMCA Camp Seymour (in Pierce County, on the Sound -- since 1905, American Camp Association accredited)
August 27 to September 1, 2006

For boys & girls entering the 7th and 8th grades
Girls & boys entering grades 7 & 8
~10 Christians
~10 Jews
~10 Muslims
~20 kids of other faith traditions

~Men and women
~At least 18 years old
~Experience with children
~Multi-state background check required

With the goal of a more peaceful and just world, the camp will offer a safe place for youth from a variety of faith and religious perspectives to be themselves, have a great time in a beautiful natural setting, and discover more about their common humanity. Organizers hope that campers’ growing understanding of each other’s worldviews will result in greater respect, appreciation, empathy and compassion.

There is no charge to attend the camp.

SPONSORS: Associated Ministries’ South Sound Peace & Justice Center, Islamic Center of Olympia, InterfaithWorks (Olympia), People for Peace Justice & Healing, Temple Beth El, YMCA Camp Seymour

CAMPERS contact Kathy Erlandson, 360-357-7224 or

COUNSELORS contact Rabbi Bruce Kadden, 253-564-7101 or (18)
For general info, call Sallie Shawl, 253-383-3056, ext 105.

Friday, June 02, 2006

From Indonesian Council of Churches on the Earthquake

Church Leaders and the
Members of Congregations of the
CCI Member Churches and Ecumenical Partnership

Dear brother and sister,

The Communion of Churches in Indonesia (CCI) expresses its heartfelt sympathy and condolences on the earthquake experienced by our brothers and sisters in the Provinces of Yogyakarta and Central Java, Saturday, 27 May, 2006. The earthquake has taken victims at least 4000 casualties, thousands wounded, and thousands house buildings and public facilities are damaged.

We would like to take this opportunity to kindly request the CCI member churches, the whole members of congregations and the Ecumenical Partnership to pray and to help the victims hit by the disaster. Your aid can be transferred to the victims through the CCI account:
AC NO.: 001-7855.05.0

On behalf on the victims we thank you for the aid, which will enlighten their burden. May God grant them fortitude and strength both the bereaved families and the wounded.

Sincerely yours,

On behalf of
The Board of Executive of the CCI

Rev. Dr. A.A. Yewangoe Rev. Dr. Richard Daulay
General Chairperson General Secretary

From Presbyterian Missionaries Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta, faculty members at Duta Wacana Christian University in Indonesia.

Dear Family and Friends,

It is Monday, 5 AM. I've just been watching the fiery lava running down Mt. Merapi, north of Yogyakarta.

A massive 6.2 earthquake opened the swelling peak, allowing the lava to flow. The earthquake struck at 5:55 AM on Saturday.  Farsijana was out running and I was drinking coffee upstairs. The whole world was shaking, as if a giant picked up a baby and shook us as hard as it could.  Most things were thrown from our walls and our floor to ceiling bookcases toppled.  I made it out to the street where all our neighbors were gathered.  <

Farsijana said she heard a deep groaning noise from the earth and the earthquake seemed to go on and on for 20 minutes. Time is distorted.  Many people were in a state of panic.  Soon there were motorcycles passing with their riders screaming, "The water is coming! The water is coming!  Tsunami!"  I tried to reassure our neighbors that a tsunami could not reach Yogya, 40 km. from the South coast of Java.  In Aceh the tsunami reached only a few km inland.  Farsijana sent our neighbor to ask for official information.  He came back with a report that the water had already reached the edge of Yogya.  Still, we convinced our neighbors not to join the mass exodus of people fleeing towards the volcano.  Out of the frying pan into the fire.  It's hard to get information with no electricity or telephones.  It's hard even to think straight when the earth is no longer firm beneath your feet.I had a cold coming on and was exhausted from a week-long seminar, so I went inside to read a book.  But after a couple minutes I knew I could not escape that way.  At 8 AM I left on my motorcycle to find out the real situation. I rode around the city, seeing many collapsed buildings, wounded people and a few corpses.  However the tight social structures of the Javanese were also apparent.  Most people were in groups, caring for each other.  I headed south to see if our friends in a village on the coast were still alive. The further south, the worse the damage.  As I neared the coast, a farmer said the village was totally destroyed and our bungalow on the cliffs had collapsed.  To my amazement, our house was undamaged, guarded by a family of monkeys.  A huge boulder blocked the road to the village, but I squeezed by on my motorcycle.  Amazingly, the coastal village was still standing. 
Our good friend Tumijo's new house, just built after 10 years of saving and hard work, was severely damaged, but no one died.  I left them my meager supplies of water, bread and emergency lantern.  Everyone was outside, trying to find shade.  Everyone wanted to talk to me.  The houses were not safe. Aftershocks continued and a rumor claimed that another big quake was coming. I returned safely to our house, exhausted, at about 2 PM, with bad sunburn from 6 hours on the bike.Sunday morning we attended the 6:30 worship at our church and were reminded to give thanks in the midst of tragedy.  At home, with the help of two friends, we cooked from 8:30 AM till 2:30 PM, wrapping up over 100 meals of rice, vegetables and eggs.  The food was seasoned with our sweat in the hot kitchen.  I finally found an open gas station and after a long line, filled our tank. The main road to the South was clogged with emergency vehicles and people trying to bring help.  The rain began to fall.  As we sat in the traffic, looking into the faces of many people with injuries, I wondered if we were mistaken in joining this mad throng.  Our destination was a remote village with a home for children with disabilities that we heard was in bad shape and needed help.  We finally reached them.  They were so happy to receive the food, water and medicines we brought.  All the houses in the village had collapsed.  15 people died and many are injured.  They had no food. The rain poured down as they huddled under plastic sheets next to theruins of their homes. As a parting hunch, I gave them my favorite umbrella. They were delighted. It was the only umbrella in the village.

When we finally got home, we found puddles of water all over the house. Most of our clay roof tiles were displaced by the earthquake and no longer keep out the rain.  Still we are so thankful.  Our neighborhood was spared serious damage.  None of our friends were seriously hurt.  But not far from us, thousands have died and many more are without homes.  Our village is now mobilizing food and supplies for other areas.  Christian and Muslim students are seeking donations of rice and supplies for villages that have not beenreached.  Today we hope to take food to Prambanan, the famous, thousand-year-old temple site, where Farsijana's relatives live and many buildings collapsed.If you would like to help, please send a donation to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Central Receiving Service, 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY 40202-1396. Put this Disaster Relief number on the subject line of your check: DR000146.  If you want to send a non-tax-deductible donation for immediate food supplies for victims, please send checks, For Deposit Only, made out to Bernard Adeney-Risakotta, Account number, 040011515315, at Citibank, 2000 Shattuck., Berkeley, CA 94704.  Please send me an e-mail at  detailing how much you sent on what date.  We will make sure it goes for immediate relief of earthquake victims.  Thanks to all of you who called or sent e-mails.  We are so grateful for your loving thoughts and prayers.  Indeed we count on them.           

God's Peace be with you,           
Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta

P.S.  Sorry for the delay in sending this.  Somehow you got left out of my e-mail address book.  These last few days have been very busy.  We have hired village women to cook, along with volunteers, so our home has become a kind of public kitchen.  We've found many people still out in the rain, so we are buying tents.  Many people have not been reached by the official aid and we have an extensive network of contacts, so we are able to get basic supplies to many people who are in acute need.  It is wonderful to be able to help people personally. Yesterday a badly hit community near the Muslim university where I teach, asked Farsijana to help them set up a public kitchen in their area.  Pleasekeep us in your prayers.