CANA Initiative: An Initial Response

I was invited by my friends and fellow co-conspirators (Transform) of goodness Steve Knight and Holly Roach to a gathering called the CANA Initiative. The CANA Initiative is being framed as a ‘network of networks’ or a ‘meta-network’. A meta-network seeking to be a hub for collective action and collaboration. Stephanie Spellers, one of the initators holding the space, presented on the last day a promising initiating collaborative description or edited conversation starter for future collective action:

What is CANA?

A collective of Christian leaders, organizations and networks across the United States who collaborate to embody and act on a courageous, liberating and compassionate faith.

There were many individuals and networks present for this gathering. Many important conversations and issues raised by folks like Alexia Salvatierra, Lisa Sharon Harper, Peter Matthews and Brian McLaren around this question:

Who is not here for this initial gathering and conversation?

While there were many great people and networks present and issues raised (I hope to talk about that in a subsequent post) this became one of the dominant themes of the gathering for me. And a big takeaway that must be resolved if we are to truly represent a new Christian wineskin in the United States. In asking that question we were confronted by a deep and long history of white supremacy that has been in existence for several centuries. A white supremacy that has morphed in each generation (think: transatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, etc.). It is a history that must be worked through, processed, repented of, becoming more self-aware of and not simply dismissed as playing identity politics (a sign of privilege) or by saying I have a few non-white friends. You will know if Mista Charlie is present by who is in the room, who you are speaking on behalf of, and by what you are saying. Don’t be offended by that last statement. It is true.

There was tension in the room when it became apparent that this issue might get skipped again and not addressed in a meaningful way by all the stakeholders present Yet, we broached the issue. I sensed it was uncomfortable for many. You could feel it in the room. While there was a tension there was a very pronounced presence of the Holy Spirit in the room (When Lisa Sharon Harper testified about her work on immigration reform and the impact this issue is having on many of our immigrant sisters and brothers). We almost quenched the Spirit by moving too quickly from Lisa’s testimony. We persisted. I suspect that there is a good reason to be hopeful due to the enormous goodwill and sincerity that was present. However, the next stage will be crucial for this embryonic meta-network. We must attend and intend to how we carry this space from here on out. We can’t jump the track of American history ignoring the necessary deep ongoing work of racial repentance.

We also encountered our own exceptionalism by initially attempting to speak on behalf of the planet by saying we were wanting to be a global meta-network. A globe that was not present at the gathering. By the grace of God and the past spiritual-cultural work of many present we were quickly unblinded by our own global privilege by naming and lovingly owning our own location as the locus of our work: the United States of America.

We were reminded by our brother, Gareth Higgins, that many of us tend to hold the United States at a critical arms length (for often good and honorable reasons) rather than learn and practice a deep love for, be a redemptive presence within and be prophetic voice and witness to the United States. Basically, we must love our country as God loves it yet be prophetic to it as God is wanting more from it than war, inequality and our participating in and complicity with the destruction of the planet.

These are my initial thoughts of the CANA Initiative itself nowhere near an exhaustive commentary. I do want to give a shout out to my new friends Christy and Bryan Berghoef for their hospitality for letting a few of us stay with them in their home for the duration of the gathering. Beautiful folks doing beautiful kingdom of God work in Washington DC. Also, special thanks to the Washington National Cathedral for letting us convene in their space.

Thankful for the leadership of Stephanie Spellers, Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt in giving the rallying call for this much needed meta-network.

There were so many friends present and new friends made. Many great networks present bringing their full attention into the space. Forgive me for not mentioning you and the good work you are doing.

I asked this question during the gathering: what do I tell my friends back home when they ask “who showed up at the table?”

This will be my response: I believe the Spirit showed up in the midst of a well intentioned group of sincere and loving network of people answering a call to be present in the United States as a courageous, liberating, prophetic, justice-seeking and compassionate Christian social witness.

The next step will be crucial…

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Future Letter To The Last One

This is a fictional letter written to a Christian in the distant future. It was inspired by the book project Letters to a Future Church that is hosted by IVP-Likewise books and Patheos. Please check out some of the great letters composed by thoughtful voices in North American Christianity. Here’s my contribution:

Future Letter to the Last One

Dear Rosa Watkins,

I hope all is well with you. I’ve been wanting to write to you for a while. I’ve been waiting for all the media flurry to subside. I can’t imagine how you emotionally survived the overwhelming attention of being the last professing Christian on our dear planet. I was amazed by the coverage and numerous documentaries of your own spiritual journey and how this ancient faith sustained you to its very end. Are you saddened or thrilled to be the last one? I cannot imagine the emotions you are experiencing as you remain the last disciple of a religious tradition that has existed for several centuries.

I’ve had the coveted opportunity of pouring over global archives on the Christian faith. It appeared to be, and I’d add remains to be through you, a resilient faith for centuries. It had its up and down moments. Seasons of complicity with political and social oppression and exclusion. Missed opportunities to be welcoming to all only to give in to harmful and violent human tendencies. In spite of those less than glorious moments in history it still gave witness to a profound counter-instinctual social and political witness of love in a dying world that was plagued by political, social and religious instability. Your faith survived what many call the Circling. When we all nearly brought our small fragile planet to the brink of political and ecological oblivion.

I came across a sermon written by your now deceased pastor, Reverend Josiah Lee, that talked about the completion of what your tradition called the Great Commission. While you have the distinction of being the last Christian, he, of course, has the honor of being celebrated as the last Christian pastor. He said, in his last recorded sermon, that all the nations now follow the teachings of the revered Jesus. I felt a chill down my back when I read the ancient teachings of this person and considered how it has become a vital part of our global socio-political DNA.

Because of this profound Christian witness the global-state we are both privileged to be a part of can not imagine a world where every human being is not given loving dignity by all for all. We cannot imagine a world where a disproportionate number of people live in poverty. In spite of your beloved Christian tradition’s aiding and abetting global injustices until the end of the Circling, the end of the 21st century, something happened.

Your tradition died and rose again in the beginnings of the 21st century to become a global leader to help facilitate what we now see and hear in this present global moment of peace. A world with no war. Where small provinces peacefully collaborate with larger provinces. A global space where we no longer kill each other for a god, a political belief or a natural boundary.

It seems as though Christianity has died and in its ashes the nations were healed. I thank you for your witness to that kind of faith. However, I am saddened by your being the last Christian. But I guess, as you said in a recent press conference, we do not need the Christian faith any longer. You said that Christianity has finally made its calling and election sure. That it has prayed and bled heaven onto the earth for its perpetual healing.

Blessed Memories,

Anthony

Hopes for Big Tent Christianity


September 8-9 is Big Tent Christianity right up the road from us in Raleigh, NC. There will be some great panel discussions and I’m sure challening/inspiring side conversations. Friends connecting again that haven’t seen each other in a while. There will be a wide array of Christian bodies and traditions represented. Everything from Storefront Pentecostals (like myself) to Mainline Protestants to Catholics. This will be an opportunity for us to practice the hospitality we see exemplified by Jesus. I’m pretty sure popular issues of the day will be debated, discussed, and side-lined (e.g. sexuality, race, poverty, et al.).

I’m schedule to be a panelist on the discussion about Justice. Not sure what I’ll say yet. I’m sure I’ll be throwing racial justice into the mix along with justice issues related to doing ministry in the margins. We’ll see. I grow weary of talking about race. The only cure I’ve managed to see for racism is friendship. Everything else is coerced diversity and tokenism.

My passion these days is doing ministry in the margins. I’m learning how to see Jesus at work in the forgotten places in my community. Here is where I’m finding my calling to live justly. I’ll talk more about that at Big Tent Christianity.

My hopes?

1. Big Tent Christianity will be one more prophetic catalyst in bringing about North American Christianity’s shift from an absolutist religion to an embodiedment of the life of God we find in Jesus. What does that look like? I hope that Big Tent Christianity will help give us some starting clues.

2. Big Tent Christianity will help Christians find friendships of virtue centered around a more minimalist understanding of Christianity (Love God, Love Neighbor). A Christian minimalism set within the context of a wider range of issues than the normal left-right issues that carry the day.

3. Big Tent Christianity will challenge, deconstruct, and provide theological/ecclesial re-toolings to reconstruct my (our?) understanding of God, how God works in the world, and how God expects us to participate in this redemptive work.

Here are the hopes/expectations of others (synchroblog) for Big Tent Christianity.

Happenings

Scot McKnight recently spoke at the Westminster Theological Seminary Student Association Conference An Eternal Word in an ‘Emerging World’? His talk, entitled “What is the Emerging Church?”, is available in its entirety in PDF format for download here.

Recently gave a talk with my good friend Rod Garvin @ Davidson College in Davidson, NC on October 26th.  Titled: Living in a White World.  In it we discuss part of our faith testimony; how we became “racially conscious”; the way in which black music has captured the African-American experience; and the on-going challenges of being black in today’s society.  Listen here.

Last week.  Got a chance to see Brian McLaren deliver a sermon @ Wake Forest University.  Briefly dialogued with Brian afterwards.  Talked about some of the exciting things happening globally in the church.   

Dialog: The Gospel, Social Injustice, and War

From my brother Rod Garvin over at Soul.  He has enaged a black Reformed brother on the relationship between the gospel, social injustice, and the role of the church in the midst of these realities.  Great discussion taking place.  Here’s an excerpt from the post:

I have been having a very stimulating and enlightening conversation with Thabiti Anyabwile, one of my Reformed Christian brothers, over at Pure Church. His post entitled, “‘This Day and Age’ and the Church” served as a starting point for the dialog. I welcome you to read the original entry, as well as the comments below and weigh in on the very important questions that we both have raised during the course of the dialog.

I believe this to be an important discussion for black Christians (any Christians actually…for this seems to be a discussion taking place everywhere…it seems) of whatever tradition to have.  The black Church’s tradition of prophetic witness and social justice is waning, in my opinion, and is becoming overtaken by more insidious forces such as American Individualism and Consumerism.  I look forward to seeing these brothers (maybe some sisters can chime in as well) dialogue.  I have joined the fray as well.

Say what?

Cruising through the blogsophere I happened upon this post from Thabiti Anyabwile from the Reformed side of things.  He blogs at Pure Church.  I find the growing number of blacks in the Reformed tradition intriguing.  While I disagree with much of his description of Kingian leadership and message I do believe that it is important to have these kinds of discussions.  This gives further credence that black Christians are not a monolith.  A good thing to be sure. 

Dr. King Is Not the Right Model for Black Preachers

excerpt:

The African-American church needs leaders that are not as concerned with political wars and public policy as much as they are concerned with a faithful proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mid-term elections pale in comparison to the serious assaults committed by the enemy of our souls against the church and African Americans. While the church has given its brightest and best in the cause of social justice, she has suffered a significant drain on her leadership resources and her primary mission of making disciples. Consequently, today’s Black church may in many ways be weaker than the church in 1830!

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