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A Gathering of “Earthen Vessels”

May 29, 2010

This week several guests will be posting here on “Reconcilers” from our Duke Summer Institute – including Chris Heuertz, Peter Cha, Laura Truax, and that gentle force Sister Evelyn, a friend from Uganda.  First, my feelings as the institute approaches.

Wonderful phone conversations this week with Virgilio Elizondo in San Antonio and John Perkins in Mississippi have gotten me energized about the second annual Duke Summer Institute which begins Monday evening in Duke Gardens – “The Ministry of Reconciliation in a Divided World.”  Elizondo is considered the “father of Hispanic theology” and is bringing a message of God’s future of “new mestizo.”  JP (as I affectionately call him) told me, “The further I go, I engage more pain.  But reconciliation comes out of our pain.”  Yet his spirit of joy and hope is so visceral.  The two of them opening Tuesday morning will be such a gift.

Last year we had 100 participants, this year 150 plus a wonderful faculty of Christian practitioners, theologians, and scholars.  Significant cohorts are coming of senior leaders from Inter Varsity, the Evangelical Covenant Church, several colleges and universities, and leaders from grassroots to congregations to international organizations.  I’ve never taught with JP, it will be a joy to co-facilitate a week-long seminar cohort with him.  And my co-director colleague Emmanuel Katongole will be facilitating a strategic time with eight east African leaders and partners to take the African Great Lakes Initiative (GLI) to the next level.  From Duke Divinity faculty to IV to CCDA to the GLI —  plus companions like Celestin Musekura from our 2004 Lausanne group in Thailand six years ago (where this holy madness all began, really) — connected for five days in ways we never could have planned or imagined.  What incredible intersections, what space to be formed into God’s “new we”!

This reminds me of a central theological truth: the chief actor in reconciliation is God, not us.  In preparing for my plenary presentation on “A Spirituality of Reconciliation for the Long Haul” – a meditation on Paul’s vision of the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians – the “ministry” is not released through powers of control and competence but strangely and scandalously:  through perseverance, sacrifice, fragility, serendipity.  Paul boasts of his inadequacy, his suffering. God’s divine power is carried in “earthen vessels.”  God chooses to release power amidst our faithful presence and fragility within the gaps of division and brokenness.  This is the mystery we will engage this week, made visible in the companions gathering who were once strangers.

We learned what an institute can be last year.  2009 became a holy ground of transformation.  Pray with us for the same this year, to be nourished and taken to a fresh place in this strange and powerful and transformative “ministry” which begins and ends with the Spirit.  We will begin by gathering in a garden, a place of creation, fall, and planting in hope of the Spirit’s work of “new creation” in Christ.  A good place to start.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

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