“Hope is Resistance and a subversive action. It is the expression of the reversal of society and not the reaffirmation of the status quo” opined by Rev. Philip Peacock in his keynote address on “Healing: Hope in action” during the Pre-Assembly Orientation Programme for the East and South Asia regions of the CWM held in Bangkok, 27 February to 1st March, 2016. He pointed out that Hope as a theme has been neglected in Christian vocabulary and is also not found within the context of popular cultures in the present. This neglect has resulted from living life amidst times of despair as there is lack of justice for the many and a lack of meaning for the privileged few. In such a context of despair, how we really think about hope is a challenge that confronts the church. It is this despair that makes Hope all the more important for the church and ecumenical organizations. In order to highlight the message of hope, Rev Philip reflected on the Christological theme of eschatology.
He argued that hope encompasses the entire Christian experience and it is the foundation of the faith of the believer. He brought out a comparison on how dominant and the subaltern have reflected on eschatological understanding. The dominant understanding privileges’ ‘righteous’ elect are over the unrighteous sinners. It reinforces status quo as righteous elect are seen as the honoured ones. They do not seek to change unjust social relations but instead reinforce them; on the other hand, eschatological visions from the subaltern perspective, justice is a strategy that provides hope in midst of suffering.
Therefore, hope is nothing less than an expectation offered by faith as it is based on the promise of salvation to all of humanity. It is A Covenantal Relationship between God and Humans, it is the promise of obedience to God on our part, it is the sustenance of faith and it is actually faith in action. In this sense hope in action is tautology; Hope implies action.
Hope is rooted in the cross as it enables us to find meaning in suffering. It is a protest and resistance to suffering; it is the envisioning of an alternative reality and an opposition to the sin of despair. In the face of oppression we should be determined to change things for the betterment of all. Hope sees God in the here and now as God is present in time and not outside of it. Hope is thus sacramental, as it is a sign of what is to come using something from the material present. Through hope comes healing, as healing calls us into a righteous anger against the causes suffering. It also calls us into the restoration of a society that is broken. Healing disrupts, disturbs and subverts dominating power. He concluded his presentation by making two assertions. First, Hope is healing because it is not an empty striving for what is not, but it is a passionate action towards what is not yet. Second. As a community of faithful we are called into a healing of the brokenness of the world through hoping into an alternative reality.
The programme began with an opening worship service in which Rev. Dr. D.R. Sadananda reflected on Luke 18:35-43. He stressed that coming together for the pre-assembly has specific meaning and stressed that all those who had gathered here had come together for a common purpose. The gathering which was both an inter and intra-regional dialogue is essential as the conversations and talks facilitate the exploration of new possibilities and it further extends itself to recognize ideas that have been neglected for effective policy formulation. It is a process though which everyone takes part in the process of decision making.
Reflecting on Luke, chapter 18 and forming his message on the theological importance of ‘small talk’, he pointed out that chapter 18 had five instances of small talks that bring forth significant theological perspective. Reflecting on the passage and especially the conversation between Jesus and the blind man, he brought out a few theological observations that explicate the importance of healing, hope and action. In this passage, Jesus let the blind man set the agenda for his interaction with Jesus, by asking the blind man what he wanted him to do for him. This was explicitly visible throughout his ministry as we see Jesus being involved with issues and concerns at the grass-root level. In Jesus’ ministry it was the grassroots that set the agenda of His mission and therefore Jesus’ message and responses addressed them, challenging the Empire. Adopting such an approach, Jesus never overlooked the agency at the grassroots. In Jesus’ ministry where the powerful were building barriers, he got involved in the ministry of reversing this dominant approach by highlighting the significance of subaltern agency. This was evident from the cross, resurrection and all the conversations of Jesus recorded in the Bible. He stressed that we should engage in small talks because they always bring forth new ideas through which the mission of the reign of God becomes a reality.
The Bible study was led by Sophia Bodegon, reflecting on Isaiah 43:1-7 she highlighted the significance of hope and healing in the mission of God. Through this interactive bible study, participants were engaged into discussion and interaction which explored the meaning of hope and healing within their own local context. In a context that is marred by discrimination, hope becomes an agency that challenges suffering and the sufferer. She stressed that whatever happens around us, leaves a deep impact on our lives. The Church should also reflect critically on being a community of God’s people amidst tensions and challenges and how well it can transform itself as an agent of Hope.
Rev. Julie Sim led the second Bible Study, she used the definition of Healing from Hasel “Restoration of the broad state of well-being and peaceful relationship to God, self, fellows, and environment embraced in the Old Testament’s holistic concept of health”. She reminded the attendees that the stories of Jesus welcoming the children in Mark 9:33-37 and 10:13-16 demonstrated how He radically challenged and deconstructed the social system that excluded the weak, the vulnerable and the marginalized in a society.
She argues that Jesus’ gesture in welcoming a child who embodied symbols of economic and social vulnerability demonstrated that His Kingdom belongs to the weak, the poor and the vulnerable. He created alternative social space in which the weak, the poor and the vulnerable were welcomed, embraced and restored fully to the life of the human community. His action of reordering the social relations not only benefits those who are considered “outsiders” or “less-privileged”, it also offers healing and restoration to those who are viewed as “insiders” or “privileged” because the patriarchal social boundaries had painfully destroyed the essential human relationships necessary for full participation in community and life. Using the ‘child’ as a metaphor, Jesus challenged such patriarchal social boundaries of power and hierarchy. He established new social relations based on love, acceptance, hospitality and care for the socially and economically vulnerable in the human family.
Dr Huang Po Ho delivered the other key note address on the topic “A Covenant For All Generations To Come Healing Toward Future: Hope For Tomorrow. Reflecting on Genesis 9:8-17, his paper was built on the rationale that it is not just the present generation that requires healing but also the future generations that are yet to come. Building on the theological significance of covenant and its relation to future, he pointed out that God’s covenant with his/her people is not established in a business model assigning responsibilities but a divine promise based upon the creation order and also the grace of unconditional love of God. However, located in the theological ideology of anthropocentrism, Christian understanding of Biblical covenants has concentrated on human interests and has thus overlooked the roles of creation and the generations that exist after it. Consequently, social justice has been stressed over eco-justice, and generation justice. He stressed that it is generation justice that serves as a spiritual criterion to the enhancement of social and eco-justice. He thus called for, Self restraint from unlimited exploitation of the earth, more investments to the weaker parties in the society and Creating a better, inclusive and friendly life circumstance for the generations to come. Therefore, Christian mission corrects the chaos of the past and is also responsible to provide hope through creating opportunity for the future. The Christian mission is a challenge to go beyond traditional ways of mission to a mission of healing towards future and to declare Hope for and of Tomorrow.
The other session was on CWM’s new administrative structure and logistics for the main assembly in Jeju Island; necessary inputs were taken from the participants. The program concluded with a worship conducted by Church of North India in which Rev Samuel mall pointed out that to better understand the healing aspect of Jesus’ death, one needs to view His death from the perspective of the message of reign of God, which formed his mission manifesto. This would enable us to see that Jesus was executed because he talked but reversal of social order so that future generations live together based on principle of equality and justice becomes a lived experience. However, the powerful Empire rejected this message and executed Jesus. Therefore, the death of Jesus identified with efforts of justice that people engage in for making the kingdom of God a reality here on this earth.