If churches and mission agencies can learn anything from the Madonna-Malawi flap, I think it’s this: people in the poorest countries that rely heaviest on aid are human beings—quite often, very thoughtful human beings—with equally valuable and important places at the table of God’s mission in the world as anyone else. To refuse to engage with them as such, while demanding to be treated as more important, to assert that our agenda for them is superior to their own, is to deny their full humanity and equality before God and, often and unwittingly, to engage in a kind of benevolent oppression. Jesus was not known as one who dished out meals to prostitutes and other vulnerable sinners. He sat with them and ate with them. Doing mission, then, probably needs to look more like a shared meal than a soup kitchen, with none of us bound in gratitude except to God alone.
It’s a constant struggle to maintain a personal relationship with God in a place that is so relentlessly public, to wrestle with deep concepts of the eternal in an arena whose daily pulse is the here and now. It can be exhausting, and many of the people I spoke with said they failed at that intellectual and spiritual challenge more often than they succeeded. But still, thousands of believers in Washington keep at it most days—away from the cameras and well out of view.
Small wonder, given the harrowing times recently, that news about a long-running property fight over a picturesque church in northern Virginia escaped most people’s notice. But the story of the struggle over the historic Falls Church is nonetheless worth a closer look. It’s one more telling example of a little-acknowledged truth: though religious traditionalism may be losing today’s political and legal battles, it remains poised to win the wider war over what Christianity will look like tomorrow.
4. Tools of the trade
The legendary singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn (who recently agreed to this photo) has announced he’s donating his archives to McMaster University in Canada. Among the items are “notebooks, musical arrangements, gold records, letters, scrapbooks, nearly 1,000 recordings, and even three guitars.” Here’s what Cockburn had to say about the decision:
These are my tools, my rough drafts, my mementoes and my trophies. Together, they form the roadmap of my working life. I’m pleased they will have a safe and permanent home in a place where they may be useful to others.