When I contributed to the “Week in the Life” series a year ago, I wrote about projects related to the restructure and administration of my organization, the National Council of Churches, as well as the program tasks related to the specific content of my work. These tasks were writing theological pieces, convening ecumenical and interfaith dialogues, giving speeches, advocating on particular justice issues, and traveling to facilitate all of these. It just so happens that this week – actually last week, this week and next week – I happen to be doing all of these in a serious exercise of multi-tasking.
With regard to administrative projects, now that the restructure is finished and we are living into the new structure, one task is to evaluate how we’re doing. This is a long-term task, and, in my opinion, for the most part we set things right. A few things understandably need tweaking, as is customary in reorganization efforts, and so my staff colleagues and I, along with representatives from the member churches, are attending to those tweaks. In terms of regular management tasks, these couple of weeks I’ve found myself coordinating board committees and drafting agendas for upcoming meetings, especially with regard to membership matters. I know it sounds rather sleepy, but in fact the theological issues that impact these discussions make these tasks rather interesting.
Now to the program tasks. This week I travel to Chicago to meet with other planners of the national Muslim-Christian dialogue co-convened by the NCC. Our aim is to design a large dialogue meeting for 2015, in which we will explore issues of importance to both the Muslim and Christian communities in the US. Certainly religious intolerance is to be on the list, from such things as persistent anti-Muslim sentiment here and increasing anti-Christian persecution abroad. Another issue is mass incarceration, with its disproportionate impact on minority communities.
Also on the dialogue front, this week I’m working with my co-convener from the Jewish community to finish the agenda for the upcoming national Jewish-Christian dialogue on pastoral issues. This meeting’s theme is on how our respective communities welcome the “other,” however the other is defined or perceived. This has intersections with many of the issues facing our country as a whole these days, including (but not limited to) immigration and same-sex marriage. If these issues are on the front pages of our country’s newspapers, you know they’re affecting local congregations, hence the theme for this dialogue.
In terms of writing, this week I finished the text of an address I will be giving in a couple of weeks. On the ecumenical imperative to seek unity and witness to justice in the context of a fractured society, the jumping off point for my remarks is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and the focus of my talk will be on issues related to mass incarceration, which is a huge issue these days for the religious communities as well as other sectors of society.
I’ve also just written a concept paper on how the churches might be convened as they seek to respond appropriately to the Ebola crisis. Many of the churches that are members of the NCC have churches in West Africa, as well as missionary and humanitarian aid activity there. All of the churches have congregations in the US with members who are growing more and more worried by the day about the spread of the disease here. There is a need for the churches to get up-to-the-minute briefings, disseminate the facts, and share best practices when it comes to the pastoral needs of their members.
I’m turning next – after writing this blog post – to a concept paper on how various sectors of civil society can foster a worldview contrary to the destructiveness of ISIS. I serve on a US State Department committee looking at the intersection of religion and policy, particularly having to do with conflict and peacemaking. While there are obvious immediate needs in the fight against ISIS ideology and extremism, there is also the need to diminish its appeal among marginalized groups and individuals that seem to be drawn to it. While this would admittedly be a long-term initiative, it nonetheless could have implementable short-term tasks associated with it.
I’m still amazed at the breadth of issues on which I get to work. As a “PhD at work” in a setting other than academia, I’ve found that this work can be fulfilling indeed. And as a theologian, I am grateful that this work intersects with the important issues we read about, and live with, every day.
Start from the beginning – Read Tony Kireopoulos’s “Week in the Life”