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"Stimulate Progress, Preserve the Core"
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By Haydn Jensen

Reflecting on Lorna Dueck's Recent London Prayer Breakfast Address Perhaps it doesn't matter whether you're a deep-thinking Christian academic, a leader in Christian ministry or a regular pew-sittin' workaday Christian—or perhaps not even a Christian at all—Lorna Dueck's message provided a challenge for everyone.

A little context. Between 400 and 500 people attended the 2013 London Christian Prayer Breakfast on May 16 to eat breakfast, pray together, and also to receive insights and a kind of call to action by TV host, Lorna Dueck. Lorna is the host and executive producer of Context with Lorna Dueck, and president of Media Voice Generation, the Canadian charitable organization that produces the weekly broadcast. Context with Lorna Dueck explores current affairs from a Christian perspective. Presenting "life beyond the headlines," the half-hour television program airs on seven TV networks including Global and CTS.

"Stimulate Progress, Preserve the Core" was not only Lorna's title for her address but her key challenge to everyone throughout the talk. Simply put, the mandate is to work hard for beneficial progress while holding fast to what is absolutely core to our purpose and identity. Although she originally took the concept from an examination of what gives the most successful businesses their staying power, we found the idea transferred well to church, family, religious expression, and how we as Christians involve ourselves in community life.

Here are some key points Lorna offered. They're well worth thinking through, discussing with others (with God, your family, your church, your neighbours and so on), and acting on together. As a side note, I love the fact that we get to think through this in a publication like Christian Life in London—what a perfect setting!

City and church together
Lorna shared how she was led to a career in news commentary from a faith perspective when she first noticed how there was nothing about God in newspapers. The question that moved Lorna to action: "What kind of difference would it make if the truth and love of God were to enter conversation in the media?" Speaking to Christian ministries and churches gathered at the London Christian Prayer Breakfast, Lorna challenged us with a similar sort of vision. She suggested we think about how to protect and grow our faith community in London by picking a big goal and then making changes, responding to our changing community environment and seeking change in a way that preserves the core for which our Christian organizations exist. What kind of difference would that make?

Do Christians have a voice in an increasingly secular world?
The Supreme Court of Canada says so. Lorna shared that in a 2002 ruling, secularism was defined as "everything that goes on in the public sphere, including the religious community." We were urged that our contribution should not be to control secular life but to speak prophetically into it. In Lorna's words, "Religion is not brought in to rule, but it is also not to be ruled out." We have a voice and should use it. By speaking words of spiritual truth, Lorna pointed out that we are also in step with how Jesus himself engaged in community during His earthly ministry.

Does what we have to offer make a difference?
Absolutely. Cities are starting to take note that they need more help than the tax base can give them. We can be an enormous source for goodness. For example, we learned that Calgary's recent 179 page city plan at first left out all mention of religious groups entirely. After some significant lobbying and negotiating took place to help politicians and church leaders come to a better understanding it was later revised to include the economic and social benefits of local churches. In a Princeton study examining twelve Philadelphia congregations with an average size of 150 members, it was found that each church provided around $1.4 million annually in economic benefits to the city through income generated and money saved. Add to this the less measurable human benefits of personal time spend caring for individuals and families in need and the high value of church involvement in community becomes clear.

Do we need to water down our spirituality when providing practical community care?
Lorna spoke specifically to the civic leaders present: "Do not expect Christian leaders to cut back on the message that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. That is what these churches exist for—that is their core they are going to protect." And, speaking to Christian ministries, Lorna was just as clear: "If we cannot retranslate the power of the cross into the changing nature of our society that interacts with us on a daily basis, we are not preserving the core." Remembering part Pope Francis' speech at his installation, she commended his words, "If all we are going to do is feed the poor and care for the sick, we will be nothing more than an NGO." So, the message was clear from Lorna's perspective that if our faith is integral to who we are, then it must also be integral to what we share and what we do.

From another point of view, sharing faith views openly not only maintains our integrity as people and as the Christian church, but also injects some restorative health into our community. Lorna argued that God has always been central to shaping our moral fabric. Yet, she fears, this is the first generation that is going to create values and ethics without reference to the transcendent. The basic cultural assumptions of right and wrong—standards that we used to take for granted as understood—these are crumbling before us. Although some might argue that values are private matters to be left for individuals to choose on their own, Lorna argues that they are very much public. Using one example value of "kindness to others", she reasoned that we can teach it to a child personally but it will inevitably become a public expression. What we learn affects our actions and our actions affect our environment. Given the need for God in our public morals and values, Lorna then asks, "How do we re-enter and come alongside others in our communities, bringing values into the Canadian culture that came from the heart of God's good intent for us?" She suggested we take the responsibility of modelling God's love with one another unselfishly and sacrificially as we engage in society.

Religion Cooperates
Thinking again of the Supreme Court ruling which defines secularism as including religion in the public sphere, Lorna offered a perhaps radical idea: "In true secular life, religion cooperates." I take the idea "religion cooperates" to mean that we as spiritual people need to be open to having a two-way conversation with our neighbours, especially if we have opposite views. I am quite sure Lorna is not advocating that we should stop opposing wrong practices and policies. Stimulating progress often requires pointing out mistakes. I know I'd rather have my mistakes pointed out by a caring friend who has my best interests in mind than by anyone else. This brings to mind Lorna's previous encouragement that we model God's love with one another unselfishly and sacrificially. Sounds more like cooperation to me.

For as much as I like thinking with you through these big, abstract ideas and such, Lorna did offer something very simple as well. Take the event of a community prayer breakfast. She described it as a place to meet your neighbour and ask, Who are you? How are you? What do you do? How can we work together to build London? In a way, I like the idea of people in all the church congregations in London asking each other these questions and really listening to the answers. Thank you, Lorna for getting us thinking...and talking...and doing.