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Is God Bigger Than Your Organization? A Simple Experiment

July 16, 2014
Literature about MCC values, depicted in a word cloud.

Literature about MCC values, depicted in a word cloud.

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.

Headed to Korea for a New Chapter

June 26, 2014

“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.


Western Guilt and Rwanda’s President

May 22, 2014

A chilling Wall Street Journal account of U.S.-backed Rwandan President Paul Kagame came across my desk recently.  I find this troubling as I think about my visits to Rwanda and the pervasive U.S. presence I’ve seen (social entrepreneurs, universities, NGOs, megachurch mission projects).


… Mr. Kagame, for all his “vision and ambition,” was “probably the worst war criminal in office today.” But 20 years after the genocide, Mr. Kagame … tours U.S. college campuses, where he receives honorary degrees and is toasted by the great and the good of the Western world.  Western sympathy and guilt over the genocide explain much of this, but Mr. Kagame also has excelled at conveying an image of Rwanda as something new to Africa: a capable, technocratic state dedicated to good governance, a regional financial hub and an Internet-for-all society. “They are extremely adept in speaking a discourse that Westerners want to hear,” said Catharine Newbury, a Rwanda specialist at Smith College.  Continue reading… 

An Odd Sight at the “Most Dangerous Place on Earth”

May 21, 2014
At the DMZ in Korea: participants in the Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia.

At the DMZ in Korea: participants in the Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia.

Bill Clinton once called the DMZ between South and North Korea the most dangerous place on earth.  Here is a glimpse of an emerging story of hope, gathered together at that divide:  the 45 participants in the first Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia.  This was our day of “pilgrimage of pain and hope.”  Over 5 days — as Christian church leaders, scholars, and practitioners from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and the U.S. — we worshiped and ate together, engaged a Scriptural framework of peace and reconciliation, and engaged challenging problems in the context.  Personally, my life journey has gone “full circle,” from upbringing in Korea, to Mississippi, to Duke and our work with colleagues in East Africa, and now a ministry beginning in relationship to the place I (still) feel is most “home” (the MK DNA is deep).  These strangers are becoming companions together, being formed into a new Christian “we” pursuing peace across the us/them divides of Northeast Asia and its history.  What a joy this emerging gift is!

Doctoral Thesis: Recovering “Faith” in Faith-Based Organizations

May 13, 2014

Grateful to Donna for all her support, here with son Christopher.

What a joy to receive a Doctorate of Ministry Saturday at Duke.  I particularly enjoyed the fresh learning from my thesis work on the above theme. If you are interested in a 1-pager on what I wrote and why, see Chris Rice Thesis Abstract. I’m grateful to Luke Bretherton and Craig Dystra who served as my thesis supervisors.

Placing Yourself in the Minority

August 15, 2013
Rev. Sekita during our 2012 meeting

Rev. Sekita during our 2012 meeting

In 2012 I met a pioneer in Japanese-Korean reconciliation, pastor and theologian Rev. Sekita Hiroo.  Yoko Sato, a Japanese friend and composer, recently sat in on a remarkable sermon and lecture by Rev. Sekita, and reports the following nuggets:

The title of his sermon was “In the beginning was reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:16-21) derived from John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word.” He quoted Genesis 3:21 “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife, and clothed them.”

He said, “The story of Adam and Eve describes the essential nature of the human being. God did not blame them who were trying to hide their shame with the leaves. God forgave their sins and provided them “garments of skins,” so that they can live wearing the garments. Since then, human has lived wrapped in God’s mercy. This action of reconciliation was initiated by God at the very beginning of human’s history.” 

Pastor Sekita also commented on Matthew 22:34-40:  “If you do not love your neighbors, it does not mean that one loves God. In order to love both God and your neighbors, you need to bring your body. By bringing your body, you will able to accumulate the facts [of love] little by little. Jesus brought his body to the cross, which is the fact of God’s love.”

After the worship service, he spoke about his reconciliation ministry in [a Japanese community where Korean immigrants lived at the margins]. Pastor Sekita emphasized the importance of placing yourself in the minority. “If you place yourself in the majority, you would not be able to listen to their cries. Reconciliation will be realized when we step into a common burden by sharing pains.” 

Chris Rice is director of the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation and works in the field of peace, justice, reconciliation, and Christian life and mission. His books are Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He blogs at Reconcilers.

The Prophetic Invitation of “Moral Monday”

July 29, 2013
Moral Monday crowd heads into legislature building.

Moral Monday crowd heads into legislature building.

When I went to Mississippi for short-term grassroots work in the early 1980s, I still believed Washington DC was the center of what matters. I left 17 years later transformed into a disciple of subsidiarity: what can be handled by the smallest, most local, or least centralized authority capable of addressing that matter effectively, ought to be (not ceding to government what family, marriage, church, neighborhood does best). But Mississippi also taught me how history matters, how moments of reckoning come when larger authorities seize too much power, with too narrow an interest, without regard for the vulnerable, and present the church with a moral crisis which cries out for communal discernment and public witness.

I believe such a crisis has emerged in North Carolina. Last week, next to the legislature building in our nearby capital of Raleigh, I attended “Moral Monday” for the first time. About three thousand people from all walks of life, a richly interracial and intergenerational crowd (my 19-year old daughter joined me), gathered for week twelve of a growing public outcry opposing drastic legislation by the state legislature. Since the first week when 17 were arrested, over 900 have conducted civil disobedience, including a number of pastors and colleagues I know.

Moral Monday protesters have diverse motivations. As for me, I am an independent voter. I am concerned by the fundamentalism of the left as much as the fundamentalism of the right. But for several reasons, I see in “Moral Monday” a fresh prophetic moment.

Political extremism is not the North Carolina way. This has long been a moderate Southern state (major caveats needed here, symbolized by long Senatorship of Jesse Helms). That has been rejected by a new Republican-dominated legislature winning majorities in the General Assembly, and a new Republican governor who has quickly turned from bipartisan to extreme. What matters is not that they are Republican but the policies they have unleashed and their means of pursuing it: swift draconian attacks (often without proper process and public debate) on support for the jobless (the state has the nation’s fifth-highest unemployment rate), health care for the most vulnerable, and last week’s alarming attack on voting rights. A New York Times editorial put it succinctly: “North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build.”

Rev. William Barber (left)

” Rev. William Barber (left)

The pastor leading “Moral Monday” casts a vision for a new multiethnic reality and a politics for the most vulnerable. William Barber, the state director of the NAACP, locates Moral Monday not in the terms of resisting an era of segregation, but in a fresh time of hope: the emergence in America of a new multicultural time. Barber, an astute reader of history, sees a “Third Reconstruction” rising, the first being after the Civil War (which was undone by Jim Crow), and the second being the 1960s civil rights movement:

“[Along with] the election of President Obama [you] get a break from the so-called “solid South.” In Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina, electorates come out that don’t look like anything the South has ever seen. And that’s a signal that we are in the beginning of the Third Reconstruction. So the pushback of the ultraconservatives is not because they are winning, but because of the changing demographics of the nation and the South and people working together. They know that a new and board community and electorate are coming forth, a new form of fusion politics that they can’t stop … This is almost like a last ditch-effort to hold on to their nightmarish, homogenous vision of the past, because they are afraid of this heterogeneous future that’s being ushered in. They know their time is limited. They know that a narrow-minded agenda is not going to work much longer, even down here in the South, which they’ve always thought they could count on.”

I hear in Rev. Barber a vision for a broad and diverse coalition to pursue justice for the most vulnerable across lines of race and class and political party.

People I know and deeply respect have had the courage to be arrested. Each is committed to their local circle of subsidiarity as well. The night before he was arrested last week, Reynolds Chapman led a Durham vigil to remember the shooting death of a 19-year old student who attended my children’s high school. Rev. Bill Turner may be the greatest master of the pulpit I have ever encountered as shepherd of Mount Level Missionary Baptist Church. Steve Schewel not only serves on the Durham City Council, but coached my son’s middle school soccer team. Willie Jennings teaches a course on race and theology at Duke Divinity School that has changed the lives of hundreds of students (his rationale for resistance emerged from studying the Book of Acts). Jonathan and Leah Wilson Hartgrove live in the new monastic community of the Rutba House, in deep friendship with their neighbors in a historically-marginalized community.

There is alarming pain in America today: an epidemic of violence in marginalized communities; a blurring of what is legal versus what is just (see Zimmerman verdict); a disturbing and growing class divide, even increasing among white families. But fresh hope is also happening, seen for example in emerging criticism from both left and right of America’s systematic massive incarceration. “Reconstruction” moments are times of both great opportunity and great danger. I do not agree with every aspect of the Moral Monday platform. But when the cry of the “least of these” is hidden and unheard, when the blood of those who died for the power to vote is disrespected, it is time to cross lines of ethnicity, class, and political party, join those our Catholic friends call “all people of good will,” and shed light into the darkness.

Links to learn more about Moral Monday:

Chris Rice is director of the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation and works in the field of peace, justice, reconciliation, and Christian life and mission. His books are Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He blogs at Reconcilers.


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