Inspire 2017 opened on Thursday evening, Aug. 3, with soaring music and familiar songs such as “Be Thou My Vision” resounding through the Renaissance Ballroom at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, Mich.
As the event began in the heart of the city, the Detroit River rolled along outside and the glittering lights of Windsor, Ont., shone and sparkled on on the rippling water. Truly, Inspire was a new kind of event — a time of “sacred conversation” that drew people from both sides of the Canadian/U.S. border.
It had a spark that marked the presence of something important, said Richard Mouw, a former Calvin College philosophy professor and Fuller Seminary president emeritus, who gave the opening presentation.
“During the 1970s and early 1980s, I served on the Synodical Committee on Race Relations. What we've seen here tonight is already more than we could even have dreamed about back then,” he said. “This is a wow moment!”
What helped make it so good, he added, is that he was with so many friends.
“I’m grateful to be together with so many Reformed Christians for whom, in the midst of so many complexities and difficulties in the world, we all have this precious truth — we know that our world and our life belong to God.”
In addition to that, said Mouw, “We belong to the God who created the whole world out of love and wants us to take part in this.”
One of the many parts of his presentations that drew laughs and smiles and applause had to do with his grandchild, whom Mouw said he likes to set on his knee.
One time, Mouw said, he made a funny face, and the child burst out laughing and, delighted, asked to him to do it again, which he did — and the child repeated the request again and again until Mouw, but not the child, had had enough of making the face.
“God is like that. He never gets bored. He delights in the world he created,” said Mouw. “Every day, God says to the sun, ‘Do it again.’ He says to the moon, ‘Keep shining.’ He wakes us up and says, ‘Do it again.’”
Roaming from side to side of the stage draped with liturgical banners, Mouw used his presentation to offer comfort to participants, reminding them of the faith they share, and yet also to remind them of some of the difficulties they must confront.
Abraham Kuyper reminded us that there is not one square inch about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, “This is mine,” said Mouw.
“God grieves over those square inches,” he added. For instance, there are environmental concerns that need our attention.
“The creation in which God takes such great delight is not doing so well,” said Mouw. “We need a spirituality of creation in which we put more emphasis on non-human creation, the deer and the daisies, the trees and water (and other aspects of nature).”
Mouw said it is important to keep in mind that Genesis points out that humans were created only after God had separated the light from the darkness, after he had created the mountains and valleys, the oceans and deserts, the trees and vegetation and all the animals.
“God took delight in all of this well before we showed up,” he said.
In realizing that God created the world out of love, Christians should also be aware that God wants us to restore it out of love. “God’s delight must also be our delight.”
In listing concerns, he also said there is the reality of a humanity broken by suffering, violence, and strife, and by relationships that are severed by sin.
As Christians, he said, we are asked to look beyond ourselves to see others for who they actually are, to set aside our arrogance and to seek humility.
“Our relationships with other people ought to include our appreciation of them as a child and a work of God. . . . We need to see each other in a very special way.”
Mouw offered an anecdote, recalling a factory job he had while attending Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich. He was working for an auto parts supplier and inspecting mirrors that would be attached to vehicles.
Every hour he had a 10-minute break, during which he would do homework. As he did, a janitor would often stop by and want to talk.
But Mouw said he pretty much ignored him, wanting instead to use those few minutes to study Greek, church history, and other subjects, until one day the janitor commented: “You like to read, don’t you?” Mouw mumbled a response, only to hear the janitor say, “Ernie liked reading too.”
This grabbed his attention, and Mouw asked who Ernie was. It turns out the janitor was talking about the author Ernest Hemingway.
Mouw explained, “He used to be Hemingway’s hunting and fishing guide, and said that when they got into their tent at night, Hemingway would read. He’d wake up, and Hemingway would still be reading.”
Drawing a laugh from the crowd, Mouw said, “That sure changed things for me. Suddenly I was interested and wanted to learn more about the janitor and his experiences with Hemingway.”
For him, Mouw went on, that was humbling; it reminded him that each person has experiences that make them special, and we ought to pay attention and get to know them better, “to consider who is this person in the eyes of God,” said Mouw.
An important theme of Inspire was to enhance the ministry lives of participants as well as to offer people new ways of thinking and confronting a world full of change, struggle, and questions of how religion fits into the lives of people today.
While others at Inspire addressed strategies and approaches to respond to such issues as declining membership in CRC congregations, Mouw pointed listeners to maintaining their belief in and appreciation for the death of Christ on the cross.
All answers reside there, he maintained.
“We don’t have to solve it all. We have a Messiah so that we don’t have to be messiahs,” he said. “God just calls us to be faithful in the little things that come our way.”
And so, said Mouw, even though the good creation is suffering and there is so much grieving and suffering among people in the the world, we have hope that comes from the “cross of Calvary.”
We know that God loves us and, through his resurrection, is leading us toward the final time when we will all gather as one people and sing in one voice to praise and glorify his name, Mouw said.
Keep in mind, he added, that we are called to work and love here on earth while at the same time looking ahead to “when God will gather us in the heavenly realm and see him in his fullness. We will rejoice in that unity and diversity into which God has been calling us.”
Reaching his hands out to the people in front of him, Mouw said, “This gathering, Inspire 2017, is a wonderful preparation for what we will one day experience — when he will set all things right — and we will face that day without fear.
“Jesus will come again, and it will not only be well with our souls, but it will be well with all of creation.”