Yesterday I made the rather bland observation that I had been gone for a while. The best way to put it is that for a long time I have been wrestling with the effects of not having a full-time job. By that I mean not a full-time job in academic theology, but any job. I have not had a full-time job since July 2010; I have had less-than-part-time employment here five out of the last six years. If you have been unemployed or underemployed for a longer period of time, perhaps you know the shredding, crushing effects such an experience can have on things like self-confidence, and the dusty cloud of depression that can settle over all of life. After a while, one can begin to feel that everything that has befallen one is one’s own fault: it is too easy for shame at one’s situation (and indeed, shame in oneself) to insinuate itself into one’s outlook on the world, shutting one off from friends and possible ways out  of the darkness.

That wrestling has affected my writing, among other things. But recently I have come to see that the way forward sometimes is simply to do, to reach out, and not worry beyond that. I’m taking small steps in that general direction now. Thank you for your patience with me.

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As I said in yesterday’s post, last fall I was elected to the board of directors of the international aid, development, and missions agency of the Orthodox Church of Finland. A month or so after that, I was appointed as a representative of the church (one of two) to the national Faith and Order Commission here in Finland. As you may know, Faith and Order deals with outstanding theological questions separating the churches.

The task of reconciling the divided, sometimes alienated, members of the body of Christ has been a passion of mine for a very long time. A couple of my earlier posts here expressed my frustration with the current state of the ecumenical movement. So much seemed on the cusp of happening in the 1970s and 1980s. We have incredible, mind-blowing agreements on issues that once bitterly divided churches (for example, the Catholic-Lutheran joint statement on justification). Perhaps more obscure, but no less earth-shaking, changes have been taking place in sacramental theology (for example, the affirmation by the Catholic church that the celebration of the Eucharist using the Anaphora of Saints Addai and Mari, which contains no institution narrative, is sacramentally valid). Huge changes have been taking place. Most recently, Pope Francis’s emphasis on his title as Bishop of Rome and his reaching out  to us Orthodox in the ways he has since the start of his pontificate have game-changing potential in the fraught area of Catholic-Orthodox relations. (In saying this, I don’t intend to take away from the fact that Pope Benedict XVI also emphasized Catholic-Orthodox relations, and showed a deep knowledge and appreciation of of Orthodox theology and liturgical practice.)

But on the ground, as it were, what fruits do we see of all these encouraging developments? Let’s be honest: there isn’t a lot to see. Reconciling the body  of Christ remains the pastime of professionals. Our talk is good, and important, and it does not cost us much.

We need something new. A new way forward.

If you read about the history of the ecumenical movement, you will see that friendships across ecclesial traditions played a large role in the formation of what would become the World Council of Churches and other organisations devoted to reconciling Christ’s body. This is no less true today than it was eighty years ago.

But today we need more. I find it difficult to believe any longer that in my lifetime there will be a radical reconciliation of churches at the level of common ministries, shared structures of common life, a shared Eucharist or baptism. The world and its powers (in a Pauline sense) have too thoroughly found a home in our ecclesial hearts. Of course we must still work toward that reconciliation, in spite of the seeming futility of the task. It’s not optional. It’s an obedient response to the Lord’s prayer that all his followers might  be one.

What might this “more” be? We need individuals who are called to the work of transgressing the boundaries we have set up over the course of our history. We need people with the courage not only to think, but to live in terms of crossing the boundaries that keep us apart. Perhaps you could call this a prophetic stance; the difficulty with putting things this way is that it is all too easy for prophecy to become grandstanding.

This is where I think the idea of kenosis could be especially useful. Some (not all!) strains of Orthodox theology have emphasized the self-emptying of Christ (see Philippians 2) as a central, organizing motif for Christ’s followers. Think of the icon of Extreme Humility. Kenosis is transgressive.

Paul says to the Philippian church that they should have the same mind that was in Christ, who did not think equality with God was something to be grasped at, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant. To have the “same mind” as Christ’s in this way gives us the necessary antidote or counterbalance to the dangers and pitfalls of prophecy alone.

This is what we need: prophecy and kenosis made tangible in real, complex, faithful people motivated by love to act in new ways not simply for the life of the church, but for the life of the world.

I know this all sounds vague, theoretical, perhaps even ethereal. But ethereal it is not: we know that Christ’s self-emptying was anything but theoretical. If this vision speaks to you as well, come help me flesh out its meaning for our lives here and now .

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