The 26th annual CCDA conference opened last night just down the road in Raleigh. The highlight for Donna and me was a brief but rich visit with our beloved mentors John and Vera Mae Perkins. Being with them ignited wisdom they taught us in Mississippi about the true nature of deep leadership and change. At Voice of Calvary we claimed a poem which embodied this wisdom, written in 6th century B.C. by Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching:
“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.’”
These words inspire us as we think ahead to being with new companions in Northeast Asia with the Mennonite Central Committee. If I were to humbly suggest one addition, it would be “… Love them. Be loved by them.”
A friend who teaches political science once joked, “Chris Rice retreats more than the French army.” For me, at least, getting God’s love deep into my bones requires learning, as Mary Oliver writes, to “never hurry through the world, but walk slowly, and bow often.” Donna and I took a day at St. Francis Springs prayer center in northern NC to pray and prepare for our new call to Northeast Asia. Dedicated to St. Francis, the center is full of art which inspired us to remember as we begin this work, that the psalmist did not say “Be busy and know that I am God.”
Do you believe in miracles? I do. I have come to depend on them. Our decision to leave 14 years in Durham and begin a new chapter in Korea and Northeast Asia with the Mennonite Central Committee has tested my and Donna’s faith. But last week I walked down the street to church in the small Vermont town where my parents live. During the special music, an old friend asked me and my parents forward and dedicated this Matt Redman song to me and Donna, which he proceeded to sing. I hope these words of speak to you as well:
“Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did you leave us on our own
You are faithful, God you are faithful”
“Expect revelation,” said Madeline L’Engle; the words were exactly that.
Before departing South Korea after his visit last week, during worship, Pope Francis made a prophetic call to reconciliation (see full text). His homily made profound connections between peace and prayer, Jesus’ call to radical conversion and forgiveness (“impractical and at times repugnant”), resistance to social competition, active concern for the marginalized, and the power of the cross of Christ. The divide between North and South Korea is not natural or acceptable, he said. A few excerpts:
“Today’s Mass is first and foremost a prayer for reconciliation in this Korean family.”
“God’s gifts of reconciliation, unity and peace are inseparably linked to the grace of conversion, a change of heart which can alter the course of our lives and our history, as individuals and as a people.”
“This challenges each of you to reflect on the extent to which you, as individuals and communities, show evangelical concern for the less fortunate, the marginalized, those without work and those who do not share in the prosperity of the many.”
“In obedience to [Jesus' command to forgive 70 times 7] weask our heavenly Father daily to forgive us our sins, ‘as we forgive those who sin against us.’ Unless we are prepared to do this, how can we honestly pray for peace and reconciliation?”
“Jesus asks us to believe that forgiveness is the door which leads to reconciliation. In telling us to forgive our brothers unreservedly, he is asking us to do something utterly radical, but he also gives us the grace to do it. What appears, from a human perspective, to be impossible, impractical and even at times repugnant, he makes possible and fruitful through the infinite power of his cross. The cross of Christ reveals the power of God to bridge every division, to heal every wound, and to reestablish the original bonds of brotherly love.”
“Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people.”
”Becoming a guardian of justice means achieving solidarity with the people who live on the margins of society to make manifest our prophetic witness,” the pope said. “The Catholic Church has prospered in Korea. However, since the priests are living in the middle of a very secular and materialistic society, they are tempted to adopt lifestyles and patterns of thinking that imitate secular standards and corporate efficiency.”
At my first Mennonite Central Committee orientation last week, a lengthy brochure described their identity, purpose, vision, priorities, and approaches. Out of curiosity, I inserted this information in a word cloud program, and the result is depicted. Good news friends: God is bigger than MCC (!). So is Jesus. In the key words that popped up and the connections between them, if this is what MCC believes, I’m on board. An interesting experiment to test the organizations you work for and/or support around the language they use regarding what’s prominent, what’s missing. Language matters.
“Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has performed wonders” Psalm 98:1
After serving 10 years as Director of the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation, next week I take on a new title as Duke Divinity School Senior Fellow for Northeast Asia, to focus on the emerging Northeast Asia Reconciliation Initiative I have helped spearhead at Duke.
Then, in early October, my wife Donna and I depart the U.S. to serve a 5-year term with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) as MCC Country Representatives for Northeast Asia. We will be based in South Korea, in Chuncheon, near Seoul, and be responsible for MCC’s ministry in China, South Korea, and North Korea, including being in North Korea 3 to 4 times a year.
Why now? Why MCC? What will our work be? And what will happen with the Duke Center for Reconciliation? For more on our move see my letter Rice New Chapter.