Belated Post eMo 2006.5 Notes

*warning* – Long post ahead ..

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I thought I better quickly put down my thoughts before it’s too late:-) Alwyn has already captured his angle of the meeting in Four Portraits, One Lord, I think it’s worth while to re-post in full (BTW, emo = emergent open meeting):

“Saturday’s EMO meeting started with Kia Meng taking the platform to lead the worship. I haven’t heard him sing and play the guitar since college days – I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that all of us haven’t heard him lead worship enough. Period (smile).

Then came our four views of Jesus.

Collin presented his conviction (heavily resonant with Roman Catholic teaching) that an encounter with Jesus begins with the Eucharist / Holy Communion. In this sacrament of grace we partake of and be joined in remembrance with Jesus the bread of life, Jesus the bread for the poor, Jesus the bread for others, Jesus the wine of His saving blood. The Eucharist is a constant celebration and a proclamation of the gospel, a sending forth in service and love to the outcasts and marginalised.

It was quite extraordinary to witness the abundance and richness of practical other-centered theology flowing out from the meal our Lord gave us. How we need to listen more carefully to what Jesus’ Roman Catholic disciples can teach us.

David’s address was a welcomed reminder of the key tenets of evangelicalism and its portrait of Jesus, also my own tradition ever since I can remember. His ten minutes or so could’ve passed as a summary of just about every sermon I’ve heard (and/or paid attention to!) in the past 15 years. Jesus is worshipped as a grace-giving Lord and Saviour, He is either Lord of all or not at all, an understanding not only in continuity with history but also generative of deep intimacy with Christ. The Jesus of our faith encompasses both the sacred and secular and resists/transcends our attempts at compartmentalisation.

I laughed at David’s take on the popular evangelically-inspired “hierarchy” of professions (from the most respectable to the least), beginning with Missionary, then Pastor, following by Full-Time Worker all the way down to Lawyer and Jazz Musician! We were also told that among evangelicalism’s ugliest sides was the use of social action (and even personal friendships, I might add) as a means of evangelism, in addition to an over-emphasis on an overly private faith perhaps tempting the evangelical to leave one’s convictions publicly irrelevant.

(Speaking from within this tradition too, I’d like to add the little nuance that maybe it’s an individualistic faith that we must guard against even as we seek to grow in [private] intimacy with our loving Father. Maybe evangelical Christians require a more community-oriented praxis and theology.)

This was the first time I’ve heard David speak and I must say I appreciated the short hour-plus of warm-hearted sharing, honest challenging and (of course!) hearty laughter (*big grin!*).

Pastor Raj (who replaced Pastor Luke, who couldn’t make it) then gave us a snapshot of his experience pastoring a Pentecostal congregation. He noted how he would like to see more Charismatic leaders and churches talk about the humanity and suffering of Jesus, to complement their emphasis on His power, victory and gifts in/of the Spirit, especially speaking in tongues. He also alluded to an extreme form of AOG-ism in which the sick are told that their healing is guaranteed, failing which the fault must lie with them.

Nevertheless, the experiential, viscerally impacting and ultimately life-changing dunamis of the Holy Spirit is something our Pentecostal brothers and sisters are leading the way in. We would look to them for more learning of and partaking in this power.

I then took the soapbox in a rather rough tumble of a summary of N.T. Wright’s historical/eschatological Jesus (I can barely imagine how Wright would feel if he could hear what I half-shouted in a mega-hurried manner). How do you condense an ocean into a pond? I’m making it worse by summarising my summary(!), but for what it’s worth:

Wright portrays Jesus as a prophet who believed that he was embodying and bringing in the kingdom of God which connotes the victory of God over His (and by extension, Israel’s) enemies, the return from exile of Israel and the forgiveness of her sins. He attacked Israel’s cherished symbols (Temple, Sabbath, Land, Family, etc.) and sought to replace them with redefined ones. He wanted to reconstitute Israel, invite people to be part of the “new Israel” with new badges of God’s people (cf. the Sermon on the Mount), a new praxis. Jesus went to the Cross, then, as the ultimate act of God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies, Israel herself and His triumph against suffering via suffering. The Resurrection was God’s vindication of Jesus and the confirmation that God’s new world has come, a new dawn was breaking through the darkness.

We, as God’s true humanity, are then called to reflect the glory of Jesus by 1) telling the story of Jesus, 2) challenging the ways and symbols of false humanity and 3) subversively and lovingly issuing a counter-empire declaration to the world that “Jesus is Lord!”. That is what the Gospel means.

Sivin then closed us with a worship celebration of the Lord’s Supper, a fitting (and embodied!) ending to the meeting, a worship service with a difference.

And maybe that was the best point of all: That our theologies and our perspectives find harmony, meaning and validity in our worship and coming together as a people, as a family.

So when’s the post-modern Jesus making His appearance?

We didn’t have a big crowd (as usual *grin*) plus some regulars couln’t make it. But we still had a good mix (and a number of first timers). There was a comment we are still very much male-dominant (which we need to work on for the next meeting!)

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I think it was good to “jump start” our open meetings again. We’ve been laying low for a while partly because of the crazy schedules of the coordinating group. 🙂 I think it was one of our most focused meetings and most worshipful ones as well. When Yew Khuen and I were finalizing the contours for this partcular meeting with the title “The Jesus we never knew” both of us had a strong desire to see us move beyond just having some “conversations” (which I think we do well), we wanted to have a “worship” dimension to it (thus integrating spirituality intentionally in our meeting). Thus the opening with liturgical and praise elements and closing with Holy communion.

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I was delighted by the fact that those who spoke on the respective Jesuses – Roman Catholic (Collin Nunis), Evangelical (David Chong) and Pentecostal/Charismatic (Raj – when are you going to start a blog?) were speaking from within these traditions.

In hindsight it’s humorous too as Collin read from his script (quoting S.J behind the names of some authors he highlighted, while mentioning Ireneaus, Cyprian, Tertullian here and there with ease), David used powerpoint (with Bible references under the relevant propositions) and Raj (who was a replacement last minute) happily took the microphone and speak spontanously (admitting his lack of preparation due to a crazy schedule) 🙂

There was plenty of giggles and laughter (which I later felt I needed to clarify especially for the newcomers less they think we REALLY are a bunch of crazies!). Now, none of the above claim to be experts and none are scholars. They are regular guys whom responded to our “call”/invitations to share – of course, Collin is really close with a number of Jesuit Fathers, David is a key initiator in the Agora Ministry, and Raj the pastor of Christian Life Gospel center. So, they are people deeply engaged in ministry as well.

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What I liked about the whole exercise was not only were we give a glimpse as much as possible the more obvious distinctive views of how their respective traditions viewed Jesus (and thus the Christian life etc). There was a humility to acknowledge the “at our worst” moments (weaknesses?) as well. E.g. it was interesting to hear of Collin talk about Vatican I and Vatican II and how different catholics would respond to the initiatives arising from the second council, David mentioned the danger of Evangelicals when emphasizing the personal relationship with Jesus easily falling into the temptation of privatising him as well, Raj candidly shared about the lack of emphasis on suffering and the amnesia in terms of church history and continuity of the Spirit’s work.

After some Q & A for the 3 guys above Alwyn stepped in and attempted to give a “condensed” version of his more than 1000pages of N.T Wright reading moving us from the more confessional stance above to a more historical/biblical appreciation. I could sense many in the crowd wanted more. I thought placing his presentation at the end this way was a good move … because indirectly, we were challenged once again to look at the Biblical material and appreciate the 1st century historical context. For me, it helps to not only have the Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus in mind (which often is the first impression maybe to some), we now have moved to first widen our perspectives and then move back to the “roots” (thus a little Historical Jesus exercise).

Time wasn’t on our side, and I think that’s why for our upcoming open meeting there are voices calling us to continue on where we left (partly because we couldn’t work on the discussion questions given – and that would have been even better).

Ending with Holy communion was a wonderful climax, and in many ways a wonderful picture of what the Eucharist does for us … bringing us together as a family and as a body of Christ. It became a time of prayer, thanksgiving, and sharing which is not bound by our opinions and theological articulation or spiritual expressions. We were united in our worship of the Triune God – Father, Son, Spirit. We stood in a circle receiving bread and wine. The presence of God was at the center. We were bound together with a common mission of being sent back into our worlds to share the love of God and be a blessing to those around us. And with hands joined together, we were blessed and sent once again.

The conversations would continue (I heard there were some eureka moments for some), others would be serving in their churches, many went home with new questions and fresh answers, I was encouraged that we had a good “jump start” again. There’s a long way to go …

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