Maybe because Judy arrived in Havana today, Cuba has been on my mind. In any case, here's how our Friends meeting in Moscow took that text and turned it into a Bible study:
Everyone already had the text a week earlier, either the paper copies I had printed or via links we'd sent out by e-mail. Three of us had read the text carefully ahead of time, marking the places that seemed intriguing from the point of view of our group. In preparation for our discussion, we had Bibles ready for use in looking deeper into the biblical linkages asserted in the declaration. During the discussion, each of us three took turns proposing paragraphs for reading and discussion.
We spent the longest amount of time on paragraph three:
By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the "Old World", we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). [Hyperlink added.]First of all, we noted the freedom implied by the first words of the paragraph. What made Cuba a better observation point for understanding the urgency of these times? More importantly, what exactly is our hope and how do we intend to explain it to the world? (Surely this task is for us Friends, too.) The one word that would best summarize our discussion is "reconciliation," with each other and with God, but what interested me was how rarely we seem to grapple with this Scripture, as important as it is, potentially, in shaping our mission. How would your meeting or church answer these questions?
We touched on paragraph five but ended up not giving it much time. I'm personally intrigued that this paragraph refers gently but directly to one of the main scandals that led to the separation of Eastern and Western Christianity: "We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Then (as now), the enmeshment of theology and politics -- an enmeshment that nobody seems willing to unmask -- makes rupture seem so much easier than reconciliation. What lessons are there for our fragile yearly meetings, in which the most publicly righteous among us always seem to assume that repentance is someone else's task?
Are there conflicts in your circles? Have you been able to tease out the historical factors, the faultlines that go back generations, the cultural misconnections that masquerade as theological differences?
As we surveyed the paragraphs (8, 9, 10, 11) that focus directly on the Middle East, we were lucky to have our clerk, Misha Roshchin, able to give us historical background as a longtime scholar of Islamic movements and regional politics. We prayed for the success of the current ceasefire efforts.
We noted that the declaration highlighted several controversies that are often raised when churches seek closer ties in order to confront the supposed rising tides of pluralism and secularism. (Examples abound: see paragraphs 15, 16, 19, 20, 21.) One sentence in paragraph 21 provoked a fair amount of discussion in our group: "We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God." We asked: How is it possible to reconcile the scriptural doctrine that we are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) with designer babies and other scientific interventions?
Two other questions took up the remainder of our session:
First, what does it mean to challenge our young people with the words, "Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming"? (Paragraph 22.) Do we realize that sometimes people who "go against the current" may choose targets other than the ones we're urging them to confront? When those in power try to enlist young people for agendas that are not transparent, "going against the current" may mean opposing unworthy leaders.
Does this dilemma ever arise in your church or denomination? Do your young people always go only against those currents that they're told to oppose? Are they taught genuine discernment or just the old formulas?
Finally, we looked at the paragraphs (24-28) that touch on the sorest points between Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches: allegations of proselytism. Here's an endlessly fertile conversation: how do we distinguish evangelism from proselytism? Isn't there an internal tension in these lines from paragraph 24 --
Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.-- and how can we make this tension productive and creative instead of a source of political one-upmanship, turf fights, and bondage?
Friends House Moscow has produced a Russian translation of the epistle from the Friends World Committee's recent international gathering of Friends at Pisac, Peru. This document, too, may become the springboard for a Bible study in our meeting.
A "Study Koran"? Here's the Daily Beast article, and an additional commentary. And then Micael Grenholm, with his usual directness, addresses Muhammed's biggest mistake.
Antislavery propaganda from 1846, along with many links. Try to read some of this and be unmoved.
If you read this article, you'll understand something important: Russia is far bigger than its wretched politics.
Spotlight and the future of religious journalism.
How can you recognize abusive counseling?
A passionate, profane, and very timely rant about the healthy role of skepticism in the USA and Russia. The main point: "The more false things you believe, the lower your quality of life will be." What do you think: has he made his case?
At our last student tea, we talked about the use of washboards in music. Enjoy...