“It is a kairos moment for the Church in Europe,” my Bosnian friend said to me. I found something rising up in me at this statement. Yes, I thought. In fact, when the crisis first hit Croatia, I wrote an impassioned appeal along these lines.
But he said these words two weeks ago, before the horror that pummeled the streets of Lebanon and Paris.
Kairos: The right or opportune moment; an appointed season
Over the last couple of months, around 370,000 refugees have passed through Croatia. The early days of this crisis showcased a mixed response from the Christians in Croatia: from a fervent passion to serve, to fear and worry, to a seeming indifference. Questions abounded: Were ISIS agents infiltrating? What does this mean economically when I cannot even find a job and I worry about paying my bills and feeding my own family?
These kinds of questions have faded into the background as the government gained control over the situation, building a new winterized camp, and providing an increasingly smooth train transport system stretching from Croatia’s border with Serbia to Slovenia.
ISIS has viciously lashed out in the last couple of weeks: A Russian airplane, Lebanon, and now Paris. The world is shocked, grieving, and angry. And rightly so…the loss of life so indiscriminately taken should be named and resisted as evil.
And now what?
Some have written thoughtful reflections appropriate and timely regarding the tremendous loss of life. Others have sharply critiqued the seeming priority given to Parisian lives as opposed to Arab. And still others have felt their fears justified about the unrelenting flow of refugees throughout Europe and are demanding a change of policy, closing of borders, and some hateful sentiments that don’t warrant further exposure.
Which way will the continent’s attitude turn in the ongoing refugee crisis, even as many of the refugees are fleeing the very people responsible for the attacks?
And if national sentiment turns against the refugees, what will the Church’s response be?
Paul Tillich, German philosopher and theologian, re-appropriated the concept of a kairos moment as being a time when something new and unexpected begins—a time which calls for creative action and “must be interpreted with a prophetic spirit.” ¹
He came to this interpretation by living and fighting through World War I, a daily confrontation of death and suffering which irrevocably changed him, as he wrote to his family: We are experiencing the most terrible catastrophes, the end of the world order…it is coming to an end, and this end is accompanied by deepest pain.” ²
In the spirit of Tillich, it seems that we are indeed in the midst of something new which requires creativity and a prophetic spirit—rather than a spirit of timidity or fear.
These questions must be sourced in Missio Dei—the mission of God—who is actively at work in the world to reconcile all things to himself.
The terrorist attacks have not changed this kairos moment for the Church—if anything, it has sharpened our prophetic focus that is discerning the times. Are our churches more nationalistic or Christocentric? Are we more apathetic or action-orientated? Are we driven by love or fear? Are we rutted in ineffective well-worn paths or open to creativity?
And yet, Jesus did not intend for us to be naive (Matt. 10:16). Action also requires reasoned reflection, an awareness of world events, the possibilities—both dangerous and hopeful, and a theological and missiological grounding.
But still I say, this is our time.
For some ‘reasoned reflections’ on ISIS, check out this article by Dr. Martin Accad, Director of Institute of Middle East Studies in Lebanon: Beating Back ISIS
- Wilhelm and Marion Pauk 1976 Paul Tillich: His life and thought, Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers 2. Pauk, pg. 51