Rest and renewal are hard to come by for any leader.
As such, there’s a week that I treasure each year for providing me with the deep replenishment I need to keep me going as I lead international creation care ministries. It may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but for me it’s a balm that picks me up like no other—Duke Divinity School’s annual summer institute hosted by the Center for Reconciliation.
The first time I attended the institute in 2010, I limped in like a spent marathon runner crossing the finish line. After successfully rising to the challenges of the recently ended academic year, I was bone weary from the demands of leadership and ready for a week of recuperation and rejuvenation.
I was looking forward to being with like-minded leaders who implicitly understand my mission to educate Christian university students to “be agents of, and participants in, God’s shalom,” soaking in the wisdom from long time heroes like John Perkins, and participating in my selected creation care track led by Duke Divinity’s Norman Wirzba.
I was expecting something special, but internally I was hedging from being disappointed by yet another overhyped Christian event that falls short of its promise.
I’ve participated in three summer institutes now, and I will keep going back because the institute lives up to its life-giving aspirations. It’s not slick, prepackaged, or pretentious; rather, it’s grounded, focused, and moves day to day with the measured tempo of a spiritual pilgrimage where God can not only lead the gathered assembly, but also meet each journeying individual personally.
In 2010, for example, we were learning about the discipline of Christian lament from the Center’s directors:
“[We are] grounded in a call to see the encounter and the rupture of this world so truthfully that we are literally slowed down. We are called to a space where any explanation or action is too easy, too fast, too shallow—a space where the right response can only be a desperate cry to God…Lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and cost of seeking peace…Lament teaches us to look to God for the resources to go on.”
For a crowd of activists whose typical reflex is to spring into action in response to the wounds of the world, learning that Christian lament— along with hope and agency— is part of the warp and weft of Christian reconciliation was an epiphany.
It turns out that outside our classroom an ecological and human catastrophe was unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. Men had lost their lives in a deep water oil drilling explosion, and thousands of barrels of oil were spewing in the ocean unabated.
The multi-faceted devastation we were witnessing tore at our hearts, and we were deeply worried about long-term harmful impacts. Rather than being sucked into despair, cynicism, or defeatism, the summer institute community as a whole intentionally lamented through song (including a mournful rendition of “Blind Man” that I’ll never forget), liturgy, and other means of expression for the affected creatures, people, and communities suffering from the BP oil spill.
Focusing unflinchingly with God on the human, ecological, political, and social realities of this tragedy we were eventually comforted by God and deeply fortified and buoyed by Christian hope to push on as God’s agents of reconciliation in a broken world.
What I learned and experienced in 2010 is still being worked out and applied to my life and ministry. A year later, the core leadership team from Belize, New Zealand, and the U.S. of the Creation Care Study Program (CCSP) that I direct assembled at the 2011 summer institute. We were there to review our ministry with the help of Bill Lamar who leads Duke’s Divinity School’s Leadership Education initiative.
After a week of intense evaluation and discussion we made some minor, but very significant revisions incorporating lament and reconciliation in our mission statement and educational practice. Knowing the power and significance of the summer institute, the Center for Environmental Leadership (which I also direct) helped co-host this summer’s creation care track, and in early fall we are also co-hosting a symposium on food during the Center for Reconciliation’s annual Reconcilers Weekend on September 21-23, 2012.
From my perspective, Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation is a hidden treasure. My prayer, and the reason for writing this blog post, is to help the Center become better known so it can attract many more Christian leaders who need what the Center offers.
Like me, you’ll know the beckoning call. With InterVarsity, the Center published an incredibly helpful book series on reconciliation. You can read them if you can’t make a summer institute, but mark your calendars and come join us next year if you can (and read the book series afterwards).
For information on attending the summer institute go to this link.
To read the reflections of another attendee at this year’s summer institute, read Jason Fowler’s post Towards Eden: A Vision for the Exiles.
Chris Elisara, Ph.D., is the visionary educator and founder of the Creation Care Study Program (CCSP), Center for Environmental Leadership, and the award-winning production company First+Main Media. He also leads the World Evangelical Alliance's recently formed Creation Care Task Force.
Creation care image, LilKar / Shutterstock.com