Louis Weeks: Things to share with all the world

What are the things every Christian should see before they die? What do we wish we could see that we now cannot?

A recent visit to the remarkable Ethiopian monastery of Debre Libanos led me to begin a “bucket list for Christians.” I want all Christians to see those buildings and hear those stories of the work of these monks, their hermit colleagues in the caves above, their defense of theological education over the centuries, their suffering during the fascist occupation in 1937, and the revival of interest and vocations there today.

The visit reminded me just how broad and deep the Christian faith is. Ethiopian Orthodoxy professes a double lineage from both from King Solomon’s court and from St. Phillip’s witness (Acts 8). It boasts liturgies as long as seven hours, marked with chants and drums and other percussion instruments. Let’s just say it’s a tad different from most heritages that spark Sunday morning worship services in America.

There began my bucket list for Christians from my experiences over the years. It quickly grew to unmanageable proportions. It is a big world out there.

1.      A village at worship in Congo, with a shaman cheering the Christians on.

2.      A Christian pastor and a Muslim cleric sharing prayer responsibilities as a village votes in Ghana for political officers.

3.      A 4:30 AM prayer service at the Myung Sung Church in Seoul, with 2500 attending. These have to leave quickly for another 2500 to have a service at 5:30 AM.

4.      Worship in a rural church where a young man in a wheel chair, restrained and bearing evidence of severe cerebral palsy, participates freely in the singing, praying, and even preaching.

5.      Christians both Anglo and Latino sharing a leadership seminar and worship at the Crystal Cathedral.

6.      People of many traditions worshiping together at the Tokyo Union Church in Japan, with some members interrupting their worship to care for the homeless men who wander in from time to time.

7.      If our list can include travel back in time, let’s include African American children singing “Jesus Loves Me,” facing crowds of racist onlookers as we enter Montgomery, having come from Selma, in the company of civil rights leaders who lead us toward the Capital.

8.      Worship in a Presbyterian Church on a Sunday morning when the regular church services have been cancelled because of a snowstorm. The only worshippers are the homeless people who didn’t get the memo.

My bucket list grew to include Christian events and sites I would love to see before I die:

1.      A major evangelical Protestant repenting for his collusion with African dictators, which he admits he entered to fund his university and television empire.

2.      A female Pope (really just some women priests would be a good start).

3.      Christian fundamentalists taking the Bible seriously.

4.      Another Christian-based movement for peace and reconciliation, with partners from many religions and non-religious leaders as well. It would be like our Civil Rights movement, or the peace movement in Northern Ireland, or the push to end apartheid in South Africa.

5.      A visit to Lalibela, Ethiopia, where stone cutters fashioned a New Jerusalem in the 12th and 13 th centuries.

As my bucket list grew, I realized I could never have envisioned seeing the Christian worship and witness I now wish everyone could share. My list of remaining things includes some I shall not be able to see. Other Christians led me to every one of the marvelous events and sites I have enjoyed, and the Holy Spirit leads us all to experiences we cannot predict or even imagine.

I realized further that my dreams might be the nightmares of some other Christians. The faith is that broad and deep. Christians do not have to share my views and aspirations. Indeed, one marvelous thing about our shared faith is that we differ so remarkably in perceptions of the Gospel and interpretations of the Bible.

So I invite colleagues through “Call and Response” to suggest your “bucket list items” for others, or perhaps something on your own Christian bucket lists.

Louis Weeks is president emeritus of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, and author, most recently, of "To Be a Presbyterian" (Geneva).