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Up the Yangtze Movie review

Up the Yangtze Movie review

New Movie Review:
Up the Yangtze
Winter 2009 | Volume 32, Number 1 | Features

Reconciliation, and the Church:

Toward a “Heavenly Unity”?

Eugene Peterson

Here is what I do. For years, when I have to deal with questions of division and unity in the church, I go to the John Seventeen Prayer Meeting (John 17:1–26) and take my place there as Jesus prays to the Father “that they may be one, as we are one.”

In this long prayer, the longest recorded prayer of Jesus that we have, he repeats that intercession six times. Within an hour or two, Jesus is going to be taken from his disciples and they are going to scatter: “they all forsook him and fled” (Mark 14:51). I stay there in that prayer meeting for as long as I am able, present to Jesus as he prays for me and all my scattered brothers and sisters. For we have it on good authority that Jesus “always lives to make intercession” (Hebrews 7:25).

I have been going to that prayer meeting for a long time. Divisions in the church are nothing new, and I don’t know what to do. Sitting in the presence of Jesus as he prays that I and my brothers and sisters in Christ “may be one, as we are one,” I don’t so much find out what to do, but what not to do.

Many of us, impatient with what we perceive as the inefficiency of Jesus’ prayer, walk out of the prayer meeting and solve the problem of division by the imposition of unity, unity by coercion. The style is hierarchical. The methods are bureaucratic. Any person or congregation who refuses to conform is excluded: anathematized, excommunicated, shunned. Unity is preserved by enforcing an institutional definition.

Others of us, also impatient with Jesus’ prayer, solve the problem by schism. We reduce the scale of unity to what can be managed by gathering men and women of like mind and temperament. Often, there is a strong leader who shows up to define the reduced parameters of the so-called unity. If persons or groups find that they no longer fit into the theological or worship or behavioral style that defines the unity, another schism is always an option — simply split off with others of like mind and spirit. Unity is preserved by amputation.

But when I begin to see Jesus’ prayer for me in the context of Jesus’ way with me, it is clear that neither imposition nor schism is Jesus’ way to becoming “one as we are one.” If, and only if, I stay in the room with Jesus as he prays for me and my friends, do I find myself able to embrace all the baptized as brothers and sisters. It requires patience. Jesus doesn’t take shortcuts. It is slow in coming, but eventually Jesus’ prayer does have its way with me.

Eugene PetersonEugene Peterson ’54 is a former Presbyterian minister, and award-winning author of more than 30 books and the paraphrasing translation of the Bible, The Message.

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