Michael Gunton reviews a practical guide to a living ecumenism.
[New City Magazine – July 2015]
This is a remarkable book! It’s short enough to be read through in under an hour, but full of ideas which can be reflected on and returned to again and again.
The five ‘steps’ are entitled:
- See the Need: Why Bother?
- Find the Way: Who Should Rebuild?
- Construct the Building Blocks: All the Little Things
- Listen to the Silent Third: Our Travelling Companion
- Overcome All Obstacles: The Strength of Weakness
Each of the chapters begins with a short reflection and concludes with a ‘real-life story’. The authors of the reflections and the real life stories come from many different countries and different Christian traditions.
For me the key word in the title, as I read the book, was ‘living’ – ‘living Christian unity’, each of us, here and now. A few points stand out for me:
- Whatever any of us can do, however small we may feel it to be, it is yet an ‘indispensable part of God’s plan’, and ‘each tiny act of love is thus limitless in value’. We can all do something.
- When we meet people from other traditions, rather than seeing our differences, we could accept each other as we are, from the outset and decide to love one another. Then our discussions would be totally transformed.
- Sharing even our small experiences can build bridges in a way that swapping facts and doctrinal statements can never do.
- Truth is not an idea or a doctrine – Truth is a person. When we are open to each other, we open to ‘what is wholly Other’, and it becomes Jesus who can act through us: ‘At the same time, he is not only outside of me. Since he is the reality of all things, he is the reality of me too, and in finding him I am finding my true self.’
Of course, there will always be difficulties. But here too we are not alone ‘If I, as an individual, accept whatever pain and darkness I go through, embracing it fully, letting the agony happen, then I find not the agony but the one who fills it. I find Jesus. This is his triumph in me.’
‘5 Steps to Living Christian Unity’ is practical and down-to-earth throughout, and Callan Slipper shares many personal experiences to illustrate the points he makes. At the same time, in many places he opens the discussion up in ways I found mind-blowing. As I read the book, I began to see that, in fact, he is not just writing about ‘living Christian unity’: the five steps he explores are as relevant in the family, at work, in politics, and so on. They are the keys to dialogue, in whatever sphere of life. I shall be returning to this little book for a long while.