Unity in Christ’s Mission

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This past summer at General Assembly (GA) in Pittsburgh, I served as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate (TSAD) representing Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) in Charlotte, NC.  One of the highlights of GA for me was getting to meet both outgoing moderator, Cindy Bolbach, and incoming moderator, Neal D. Presa.  Neal later contacted me about serving on GA committee looking at the Belhar Confession (Belhar)[1] which I was unfortunately unable to follow up on because of my commitment to finish seminary.

Belhar arose as the South African Churches began to reflect on their role during the apartheid years (1948 to 1994).  The confession remarkably anticipated the abolishment of apartheid rather than simply ratified it. The Dutch Reformed Mission Church formally adopted Belhar in 1986[2].  By contrast, the secular response to Jim Crow legislation (the U.S. template for apartheid) was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which the PCUSA ratified in the Confession of 1967.

Reflecting on Belhar, the question arose.  What are the core principles of the PCUSA and how would Belhar enhance them?  Core principles normally reflect one’s deepest, jointly-held convictions. The Confession of 1967 guides our reflections on questions similar to Belhar. Does putting forward Belhar again suggest that we should amend the Confession of 1967?

The real story in South Africa is not that white churches adopted a confession; the real story is that they threw their doors open to all of God’s children.  What led these churches into revival?

Part of the South African revival story is a mission story.  A recent book by Rollin Grams, Stewards of Grace:  A Reflective, Mission Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962[3] documents part of this story.  Rollin is an NT scholar at GCTS and the son of Pentecostal missionaries, Eugene and Phyllis Grams, who labored most of their careers in South Africa among the black townships before it was politically safe to do so. Rollin writes their story in their own words. The book is, however, more than an oral history or a travel diary. Salted throughout the book are asides (he calls them capsules) to explain to a non-Pentecostal audience what is going on.  Far from dry, Rollin poses a sense of humor that makes the stories come alive.

An absence of priorities, not confession refinement, remains the PCUSA’s biggest challenge. Our membership is growing older and our young people are not joining the church.  Furthermore, our members are mostly Caucasian and wealthy while the young people in our communities are increasingly multi-ethnic and poor.  In this sense, the journey of the white churches in South Africa is also our journey—even my own personal journey during seminary.  How do we move from ratification to reformation?  What will lead our churches into revival?

This month Centreville Presbyterian Church welcomed its new associate pastor, the Reverend Dr. Jesse Mabanglo.  Like Neal Presa, Pastor Jesse hails from the Philippines.


[1]Download Belhar at: www.pcusa.org/resource/belhar-confession.

[2]Belhar is now one of the standards of unity of the new Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa.  Closer to home, the Reformed Church in America adopted it as a confession in 2010.

[3]Rollin Grams. 2010.  Stewards of Grace:  A Reflective, Mission Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962.  Eugene:  Wipf and Stock.

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Cloud: Reclaim Life, Achieve Success

Henry Cloud, One Life Solution

Cloud: Reclaim Life, Achieve Success

Henry Cloud.  2008. The One-Life Solution:  Reclaiming Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success.  New York:  HarperCollins.

Reviewed By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I cannot ignore any book by Henry Cloud. Back in 2003, my pastor preached a sermon based on Cloud’s earlier book called: Boundaries. The sermon interested me enough that I bought and read the book. Applying prescriptions from the book to my life led me to perceive my call into pastoral ministry.

Introduction

The One-Life Solution is a book focused on constructing and developing better boundaries at work (19). Cloud observes that most people get caught up trying to control the things outside their control. Things like other people, circumstances, or outcomes. Meanwhile, they lose control of themselves (22). In this context, Cloud defines a boundary as a property which defines where you end and someone (or something) else begins (25).

Six Key Areas

In a work environment, Cloud sees boundaries bringing order to six key areas: 1. Ownership, 2. Control, 3. Freedom, 4. Responsibility, accountability, and consequences, 5. Limits, and 6. Protection (25-30). Interestingly, these six areas do not lend structure to the discussion that follows. Rather, the book mostly focuses on applying boundaries to establish structure and reduce anxiety.

A Henry Cloud Audit

Cloud suggests that a good place to start is with an audit. The purpose of this audit is to measure where you spend your time, disconnects between time spent and personal values, and what personal issues contribute to the problem (69).  This method of analysis is reminiscent of what Miller and Rollnick (2002, 38) referred to as gap analysis–highlighting the discrepancy between present behavior and …broader goals and values.

Assessment

An important point in assessing books with the character of movie sequels is: does the sequel add value to the initial book? Here the answer is yes. Henry Cloud’s The One-Life Solution contributed real value to my understanding of boundaries. For Cloud the key was seeing examples of how to manage difficult office situation with tact and grace. My favorite example recalls an obnoxious CEO who laid into him everyday at his desk at 4 p.m., which ruined his evening as well as his day. Cloud (152) simply made a rule not to talk to him after 4 p.m. I had a supervisor very much like that.

References

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES; When to Say NO; To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Miller, William R. and Stephen Rollnick. 2002. Motivational Interviews: Preparing People for Change. New York: Guilford Press.

Also see:

Cloud and Townsend Set Limits; Heal Relationships; Gain Control 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Henri J. M. Nouwen.  2006.  Can You Drink the Cup?  Notre Dame:  Ave Maria Press.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When a friend of mine in Christ recommended this book, I was surprised and happy to take the recommendation.  I thought that I had read all of Henri Nouwen’s books. The book’s dedication to the l’Arche Daybreak Community here in Northern Virginia added special meaning for me because a friend of mine worked and lived there.

In this book, Nouwen talks at length about his personal history, particularly his ordination. From the age of six, Nouwen wanted to be a priest and he was ordained as Roman Catholic priest on July 21, 1957 in the Netherlands (16). As a gift for his ordination, his uncle gave him a chalice (20). “Can You Drink the Cup?” is a book structured around the metaphor of drinking wine.

The book starts with citing Matthew 20:20-23. In this passage, the mother of Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, comes to Jesus to request that her sons be given seats at the left and right of Jesus when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus denies the request posing a question: “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matt 20:22 ESV).

Nouwen sees the cup as a symbol of our life. He asks: “Can we hold the cup of life in our hands? Can be lift it up for others to see, and can we drink it to the full?” (24) Nouwen structures his book around these three themes: “holding, lifting, and drinking” (25).

Holding. Nouwen comments: “drinking wine is more than just drinking. You have to know what you are drinking and be able to talk about it” (29). (Now I know why I prefer beer!) In talking about this holding of the cup, Nouwen talks about the joys and sorrows of living and working with special needs people. Nouwen writes: “Joys are hidden in sorrows!” (56) In my own work with Alzheimer’s patients, I have come to know both the joy of walking with them and the deep sorrow, deep abandonment they feel.

Lifting. Nouwen writes: “Lifting up the cup is an invitation to affirm and celebrate life together” (61). The symbolism here is not only the toast and the word that are spoken, but the celebration, especially the celebration of communion. A toast is a blessing (68). In Spanish, a blessing is a good word (bendición) and a curse is a bad word (maldición). In the biblical world where worlds are created and destroyed by God’s word, one learns to choose one’s words carefully.

Drinking. Nouwen reminds us that offering a drink to a visitor is a basic act of hospitality (86). Being willing to share is another way of saying that one accepts one’s status in life. At what point do we reach that point? A resident of L’Arche, Gordie, asked Nouwen: “Why are people leaving all the time?” (93). This question cuts to the core of pastoral ministry. As an intern, I was happy to work with Alzheimer’s patients but Gordie’s question cut to core–could I, as Nouwen did, give up the fast track and just simply work in a home with Alzheimer’s patients? What level of sacrifice are we willing to offer? What about our families?

As a seminarian, I found “Can You Drink the Cup?” very convicting. Perhaps, you will too.

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