We often go to one of two extremes. Either we are so keen to live in the world that we imbibe non-Christian ideas and standards, and become conformed; or we are so keen not to lose our distinctive identity that we withdraw. The best way to avoid these two mistakes is to engage in mission. We are sent into the world as Christ's representatives, so we can neither conform to it (or we cease to represent him) or withdraw from it (or we have no one to represent him to).
The importance of St. Patrick to growing Irish self-confidence was expressed in 1921 by Seumas MacManus, author of the sentimental favorite Story of the Irish Race: “What Confucius was to the Oriental, Moses to the Israelite, Mohammed to the Arab, Patrick was to the Gaelic race. And the name and power of those other great ones will not outlive the name and the power of our Apostle.”
The irony of MacManus’ paean to Patrick as the emblematic Irish religio-political race warrior is that Patrick himself was a “Brit,” born into a Christian family in the Roman colony of Britannia. Even though the Britons and the Irish shared a Celtic cultural heritage, they were historical enemies who raided each other’s territories and enslaved the vanquished. Young Patrick was such a slave. He escaped from an Irish master after six years of harsh servitude. Later in life, as a Christian priest, he returned to Ireland to share his faith as a missionary.
Why did a former slave risk his life to teach his captors what he believed about God? How did he become the beloved St. Patrick, the “Apostle of Ireland”? Why would the Irish—or any other group of people, for that matter—accept a former slave in their midst and then be willing to be transformed by his message? These questions uncover an essential, and paradoxical, lesson about the practice of Christian mission. The more deeply Patrick engaged the particularities of Irish culture and identified himself as Irish, the more authentic and believable was his expression of the ideals of a universal community in which there is no longer “Jew or Greek,” “slave or free,” “male and female” (Gal 3:28). . . . The paradox of St. Patrick’s Day is that in celebrating the creation of Irish identity, it also commemorates the incorporation of a particular people into a vision of universal and multi-cultural community.
[Some doubt] whether it’s even possible to achieve the goals of a real encounter with poverty in a week to 10 days. According to Crouch it is—if the trips are radically different. He suggests three ingredients for trips to have an impact:
1. Make trips a part of a lasting, organization-level partnership: Many youth groups feel they have to go someplace new each year to interest participants. Visiting the same place year after year allows the Americans to begin building more of an understanding of local context and needs, and increases the likelihood that the “help” they offer is actually helpful.
2. Properly set expectations: The more a trip is described as a learning experience rather than an opportunity for an unskilled teenager to “help”, the more likely the trip is to have an impact.
3. Small is beautiful: if personal contact is the sine qua non of such trips, they have to be small enough to allow actual personal contact between Americans and their counterparts.
Still, Crouch doubts that one trip can make a difference:
“The trips only make sense if they are part of a comprehensive program of changing people’s attitudes and behaviors. Evidence is shockingly clear that a single trip has no impact. No matter how well you do a trip, especially when you’re talking about teenagers, they are at such a high-velocity developmental stage that I don’t think any single experience is going to have an ‘impact.’ . . . The organizations that have thought about this the most and are doing the best job are making these trips part of a much longer engagement with the issues. For instance, there’s one organization that requires a year-long commitment and the trip occurs in the middle—they meet just as often after the trip as they do preparing for it. . . . The grooves in our culture are too deep for us to escape without that level of commitment.”
Just as Jesus the Messiah of the Jews plausibly became Christ the Greek philosopher, just so as the Lion of Judah (Hos 5:14) could he become the Maasai Warrior. In a revealing testimony, a Maasai elder assured Donovan that the Maasai people did not search for him as a priest to come to them. Donovan came to them and followed them into the bush, into the plains, into the steppes where their cattle were, into the hills where they took their cattle for water, into their villages, and into their homes. Donovan told them about the High God, and about how the Maasai must search for Him and try to find Him even if that meant leaving their land and their people.
At this point the elder came to the punch line: it was not the Maasai who had searched for God, but God who had searched for the Maasai. He continued: God “has searched us out and found us. All the time we think we are the lion. In the end, the lion is God.”
“Love your neighbour to the point of denying yourself” is the ethical core of the Gospel. “Fight selfishness; serve the people” is the ethical core of Mao Tse-Tung Thought. “By their fruits you shall know them” is the decisive criterion of the Gospel. Marxism has sworn by the same test of “fruits” or “practice,” and in the case of China at least has both preached and practiced “continuing revolution” in its name. . . .
The social and political transformations brought about in China through the application of the Thought of Mao Tse-Tung have unified and consolidated a quarter of the world population into a form of society and life-style at once pointing to some of the basic characteristics of the kingdom of God. . . .
Christians . . . have to free themselves from the parochial Western context in which many of their Churches have developed and realize that the Gospel might be more powerfully expressed and fulfilled in the new type of society which is promoted in China.
The courageous if forlorn career of Dr. Albert Schweitzer . . . is testimony to the reach as well as the gulf of advanced technology and cultural sophistication. The author of the highly influential study, Quest of the Historical Jesus, and the recipient in 1952 of the Nobel Peace Prize, Schweitzer propounded a New Age philosophy of “reverence for life” that took little account of African ideas of God or of the Africans themselves, whom he kept at arm’s length though he lived among them. . . .
The strange controversy that Schweitzer represented happened to be perfectly consistent with the European idea of religion as reason unimpeded by intercultural understanding. Schweitzer did not believe in evangelizing Africans, only in doing good for them and being somewhat indifferent to their homage and gratitude. For him, Africans lacked the capacity for abstraction . . . and it was the duty and mission of Europeans to remedy that cultural inadequacy without requiring Christianity. It was a strange idea for him that Africans could become Christian without being European, or without possessing the European capacity for universal rationalization. . . . In effect, Europe’s high intellectual tradition was not transferable even by proximity, and so the very idea of Christian mission was an oxymoron. On the other hand, colonialism might bestow upon the tribes the benefits of modern science and technology without superstitious religious distractions.
Schweitzer’s lean prescription of religion as reverence for life—free of creed and sacrament—appealed to the modern mind because of its elegance, its clinical brevity, its inclusive simplicity, and its self-direction, but it left him with no obligation to learn from Africans. It is little surprise that Africans could not otherwise claim him, though they respected him and protected him as a stranger among them.
The explosion of maritime exploration, which Catholic Spain and Portugal led, to be joined later by Protestant England and the Netherlands, created the shift from land-based power to sea-based power. . . .
The social revolution attendant on such a major shift of power arrangements brought into play a new mercantile class whose entrepreneurial spirit sent them looking for wealth and profit in hitherto unknown or unexplored lands. As one such adventurer expressed it, they crossed the seas “to serve God and His majesty, to give light to those who were in darkness,” but most emphatically “to grow rich, as all men desire to do.” Or, as Columbus expressed it, “Gold, what an excellent product! It is from gold that riches come. He who has gold can do whatever he pleases in this world. With gold one can even bring souls into Paradise.”
The possession of sacred Scriptures made of [Christians] a potentially worldwide “textual community.” The reader should meditate (as I have often done) on the implications of those humble fragments which show the same book of the Psalms being copied out, at the same time, as a writing exercise by Christian children, both in Panjikent near Samarkand and in northern Ireland. The basic modules of Christianity, also, were remarkably stable and easy to transfer—a bishop, a clergy, a congregation . . . and a place in which to worship. Such a basic structure could be subjected to many local variations, but, in one form or another, it travelled well. It formed a basic “cell,” which could be transferred to any region of the known world. Above all, Christians worshipped a God who, in many of his aspects, was above space and time. God and his saints could always be thought of as fully “present” to the believer, wherever he or she happened to be. In God’s high world, there was no distinction between “center” and “periphery.” In the words of the modern inhabitants of Joazeira, a cult site perched in a remote corner of northwest Brazil, Christian believers could be sure that, even if they lived at the notional end of the world . . . they had “Heaven above their heads and Hell below their feet.”
Tell Augustine that he should by no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.
Further, since it has been their custom to slaughter oxen in sacrifice, they should receive some solemnity in exchange. Let them therefore, on the day of the dedication of their churches, or on the feast of the martyrs whose relics are preserved in them, build themselves huts around their one-time temples and celebrate the occasion with religious feasting. They will sacrifice and eat the animals not any more as an offering to the devil, but for the glory of God to whom, as the giver of all things, they will give thanks for having been satiated. Thus, if they are not deprived of all exterior joys, they will more easily taste the interior ones. For surely it is impossible to efface all at once everything from their strong minds, just as, when one wishes to reach the top of a mountain, he must climb by stages and step by step, not by leaps and bounds….
Mention this to our brother the bishop, that he may dispose of the matter as he sees fit according to the conditions of time and place.