From Oprah to Belhar: The “Why” behind the “What”

o_mag_april_oprah_b27e2e4df334aabaa9315b0853282468-today-inline-largeI’ve made a big deal lately about supportive partnerships and their power to sustain spiritual, physical, and societal transformation. I realize now that I’ve written and spoken about the “what” without saying too much about the “why.” So, I thought I’d take a moment and give you a glimpse into my thought process, as orthodox as it may seem.

When I reflect on our mission on earth as disciples and congregations, I think most about the beautiful, mysterious, and life-giving community that exists between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This triune God, along with accomplishing many other wondrous things, provides the way for us in Christ to enter into this community, and then, for us, in turn, to be an expression of God’s redeeming love, reconciliation, and justice for the whole world.

That’s why, in this new season of mission and transformation in our presbytery, I’ve spoken and written so much about friendships and partnerships. Without these, it seems like any anything we wish to accomplish will be counterfeit to the joyful community that God enjoys within God’s headship and wants to extend to all creation.

At our presbytery gathering in September, commissioners were exposed to the potential of, and the threats to, this joyful community. In my presentation, I reflected on Oprah Winfrey’s battle with weight loss as a symbol for how supportive friendships are the foundation of any behavioral change. (Tom C’s PowerPoint Presentation with Notes) She recently purchased a 10% share of Weight Watchers which has stimulated what she calls a “Weight Watchers family evolution.”

I also reminded the presbytery of how supportive partnerships are at the center of our mission design called Odyssey. Indeed, one of Odyssey’s original authors commented, “Partnerships are our most potent resource.”

14232028_682118645296865_6387334751542535756_oAs to threats to God’s joyful community, pastor of Laguna Presbyterian Church, Jerry Tankersley, facilitated two Open Spaces and gave a presentation in the business meeting celebrating the addition of the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions.

(1) Text of the Confession of Belhar

(2) “Why Belhar, Why Now: Belhar in the U.S. Context.” 

In those presentations, Dr. Tankersley revealed how Belhar calls the Church with unprecedented clarity to unity, reconciliation and justice in the face of conflict, division, and injustice from both within the Church and outside it. As one participant observed during an Open Space session, “I think the affirmation that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is found at the end of Belhar because only after you have confessed the essential meaning of the gospel—unity, reconciliation, and justice—can you say with integrity, ‘Jesus is Lord.’” Heady stuff from one of our commissioners.

Throughout the scriptures, faith is always about “being a person in community with others,” and, quite literally, for others. When Jesus constituted the New Israel in himself, he commissioned the Church as a life-giving community for the sake of all the other communities on earth.

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Round Table Discussion on Belhar

Put another way, central to accomplishing God’s mission on earth is the relationships we share with other individuals and communities, and maintaining those relationships when the going gets tough. As our Stated Clerk Forrest Claassen preached, our sanctification comes from staying in relationship with each other even when people behave like “jerks.”

So we live in this time of incredible promise as well as threats. Essential to our work is the community modeled by the fellowship of a personal God who is one, yet three. Everything we do should flow out of that essential relationship.

As we begin to break down our work as a presbytery into bite-size pieces and ask penetrating questions about our effectiveness as God’s ambassadors and co-workers, it will be good to remind ourselves regularly that our “partnerships are our most potent resource,” not because we have anything special to offer of ourselves but because we are an expression of the community that already exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To God be the glory! “Strategies in Plain Language”

Bottom two photos by Erin Dunigan

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