just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Change of address...

I've decided to move to a new platform for this weblog. Here is the link to the new just an apprentice.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Women's Ordination...

Here is an essay by Frederica Matthewes-Green expressing an Orthodox perspective on the ordination of women.
The words that jumped out of the essay for me were these:
"I don’t mind if Protestant denominations want to ordain women. Many times, this just means allowing them to do things Orthodox women have always done."
I am intrigued by one thing in the conversation that has been taking place in LMC regarding this issue. It seems that we have leaped over a more fundamental theological issue in the conversation. That is, what is the theological significance of ordination? Since the word is not used in the New Testament, what sources are we drawing from to guide our thinking on what the meaning of ordination is? I have heard the pragmatic answers, but I have yet to hear a deeper engagement with Scripture and Tradition.
At the LMC Leadership Assembly, time was spent considering what missional authority might look like. A question for me is this--what is the relationship between missional authority and ordination. I would assume that one could have missional authority without being ordained. What then is the authority that comes with ordination and how is it distinct from missional authority?

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

True religion...


Here are some pics from our trip to Kansas. More can be found here.

Went to Reading this afternoon to tape a show for BCTV at the invitation of Ira's cousin, Calvin Kurtz. Father Demetrius and I talked about the dialogue three weeks ago and the ongoing conversation between Mennonites and Orthodoxy.

Monday, March 26, 2007


We celebrate Communion once a month at SMC. We made the transition from Communion two times a year, to once a month almost eleven years ago. Some might question whether the increased frequency might detract from the depth of the meaning. I have never heard that question asked about singing or sermons--that we should not have these pieces every week out of a concern that they would become commonplace, lacking a meaning.

Yesterday, I came to the table with a deep sense of my need of God. I came with a hunger for the forgiving, transforming, empowering work of grace. The Eucharist is a sermon unto itself, for in this meal the Gospel is proclaimed. I came with a deep awareness of my need to listen and to receive from Jesus.

I came with an acute need of Jesus...the Bread of Life. I came needing the cup to penetrate every area of my life.

We use grape juice in our communion service at SMC. In this way we follow the broader evangelical shift that occurred over the last 100 years stemming from the prohibitionist era.

Yesterday my thirst for Jesus, out of the dusty clay of life, seemed to crave something stronger than unaged grape juice--the child's drink. The complexities of life, the brokenness of the world and the neediness of my own soul yearned for something that would burn away my ennui, my will to wallow in sadness and laziness.

The physical mediates the spiritual. Wine burns as it goes down, it penetrates and lingers. This is the way I was yearning to encounter Christ. This is not to say that grape juice is not useful as an element in communion, but I merely give expression to the spiritual yearning that needed to be slaked at the table which Jesus has prepared for us.

Jesus met me at table and in the listening presence, laying on of hands, annointing, and prayers of the Body of Christ.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Nelson Kraybill paper...

Trinitarian missiology. A must read paper (11 pages) by Nelson Krabill, presented for Allelon Missional Schools project.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The companionship of the dead...

Working on the sermon for Grandma Unruh's funeral on Sunday. In my preparation, I came across these beautiful words by Henri Nouwen. I am being stretched more than ever before, but with it comes a deeper appreciation for the spiritual community I am a part of--those living and dead.

As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us. It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved. Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives. They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys. Parents, spouses, children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died. Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life.

Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship.

Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

This life...

The First Green of Spring
David Budbill

Out walking in the swamp picking cowslip, marsh marigold,
this sweet first green of spring. Now sautéed in a pan melting
to a deeper green than they were alive, this green, this life,

harbinger of things to come. Now we sit at the table munching
on this message from the dawn which says we and the world
are alive again today, and this is the world's birthday. And

even though we know we are growing old, we are dying, we
will never be young again, we also know we're still right here
now, today, and, my oh my! don't these greens taste good.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

the missional church...in a post-Christendom world

"There is a fundamental schism in American cultural, political, and economic life. There's the quicker-growing, economically vibrant...morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation...and there's the small town, nuclear-family, religiously-oriented, white-centric other America, [with]...its diminishing cultural and economic force.... [T]wo nations..."
Michael Wolff, New York, February 26 2001, p. 19

The LMC Leadership Assembly is going to provide opportunity to interact with an artical by Tim Keller--The Missional Church. This theme should generate a healthy and necessary time of reflection and discussion. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend because of school and leaving for Kansas in the afternoon.

The article by Keller effectively surveys the landscape of culture in an increasingly post-Christendom context. Wonder what church would look like if we fully acknowledged that the Christendom footing is crumbling....

Love these points made by Keller in the article:

  • The missional church avoids 'we-them' language, disdainful jokes that mock people of different politics and beliefs, and dismissive, disrespectful comments about those who differ with us
  • The missional church avoids sentimental, pompous, 'inspirational' talk. Instead we engage the culture with gentle, self-deprecating but joyful irony the gospel creates.
  • The missional church avoids ever talking as if non-believing people are not present. If you speak and discourse as if your whole neighborhood is present (not just scattered Christians), eventually more and more of your neighborhood will find their way in or be invited.

Let the re-orientation continue...

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Alef, bet, gimel...


Sunday, March 11, 2007

February sunset...

The Screwtape letters revisited...

The following message is republished here from the blog of a catholic priest who is known to stand on his head. The excellent work done by this subversive counter-intelligence agent has filtered out, de-coded and translated the exchanges between the Inquisitor and one of his minnions--Hogwart.

While these messages have been merely reproduced here, there are some indications that new messages are being intercepted and translated from a different source. The message republished in this post, while broadly relevant to the Christian community, is seemingly addressed to a minnion who is assigned to torment our Catholic brothers and sisters. We are working on decoding other messages that are being intercepted from other frequencies. Until then, here is the first of the messages that have been decoded:

...the new technologies of communication are to be exploited for our own ends. However, now that they have developed all these invisible means of communicating with one another they may soon start thinking that extra sensory perception or intuition is possible.

You will naturally want to encourage this, because you will think that from such interests you will be able to lead the gullible brutes into the delightful labyrinth of spiritualism, theosophy and the occult proper. This is just what I would expect from a beginner. Let me warn you most firmly not to follow that path. If they start to imagine that invisible means of communication are possible they may very well start to take prayer seriously. The next thing you know your patient will be doing something disgusting like praying the rosary, and that will lead to (horror of horrors!) a serious attempt at fasting.

Instead of the obvious route of tempting them into the occult (that so lacks subtlety my dear Hogwart) simply get them obsessed with the cleverness of their new playthings. In time you may get the females in your ward to use the internet for high speed gossip and endless shopping. Use the technology to lure young men into an addiction to pornography or role play games. With a little bit of finesse dear Hogwart, you will be able to lead the women into a delicious level of vanity and pure spitefulness, while you lead the men into a fantasy world that is only one step from the warmth of our eternal home.

Finally, be on your guard dear Hogwart. This is the season the enemy call Lent. Despite our successes in turning this into a time for 'sharing with others', some of the enemies agents still take prayer and fasting seriously. Watch out for them. The simpering self righteous little cretins make me want to vomit up all the exquisite bile I have been imbibing. Step on them Hogwart. Crush the vermin.

...should any of the vermin attempt to fast during this period they call Lent, you may think it right to tempt them with the thing they have vowed to give up. Sometimes this works, but more often it is counterproductive. Remember Hogwart, while they are disgustingly physical, you should not mistake their repulsive hairy physicalness with stupidity.
Should you tempt the patient who has given up chocolate with chocolate fudge cake with hot fudge topping he will probably spot it straight away and sidestep. If he gives in and eats the chocolate cake you will feel pleased with yourself. Don't. Your patient (if he is even the tiniest bit serious about fasting) will instantly realize he has broken his vow, and repent. Any repentance is to be regretted enormously, but your amateurish attempts will actually be counter productive because not only will your patient repent, he will turn back to his fasting with renewed determination.

Try instead to focus his mind on the actual process of fasting. Remind him all the time that he actually is fasting, and how difficult it is. With luck he will focus so much on fasting that he will forget to pray. If possible get him to tell others about his fast. Get him to compare his austerities with theirs (and for badness sake, don't allow him to compare with someone who actually fasts more rigorously than he does or you might spark off the beginnings of humility in your patient). As you keep his mind on his fasting, remind him how good it is to concentrate on what he's doing. With some patience you will soon be able to develop the beginnings of some nice self righteousness, and with skill over time you may be able to develop your patient into a full blown Pharisaical prig. There is no harm in him fasting twice a week on bread and water if you can get him to be proud of it. Ah, the bittersweet taste of really good self righteousness! They never make a main course, but they do make a very fine dessert.

...to be continued


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Constructive Dialogue...

I came across this blog post by Jim Wallis yesterday and this one by Brian McLaren that preceded it. I am thinking about the need for Christians to enter into dialogue with those who see things differently. I am thinking about the tone we use when engaging those who use different words and a different configuration of values when talking about Christian faith.

I am cautiously hopeful that the ferment afoot in the evangelical Christian community represents a real shift taking place in the theological moorings of the movement. The ways the Gospel of the Kingdom speaks to human issues is being expanded to encompass both personal and social dimensions, both future and present realities, both spiritual and material issues.

One of the things I have deeply appreciated about Brian McLaren is his irenic spirit--a graciousness, a Christ-like humility that enables him to engage even his antagonists with kind, respectful words and tone. He has been a mentor for me in this way. How do we avoid polemical language and harsh tone as we engage the positions of those who see things differently than we do? How can we avoid attempting to sway the tide of public opinion (or those within the evangelical community) by means of attack and name-calling.

I think it begins by treating those with whom we disagree respectfully. I hope that James Dobson responds to the invitation of Brian McLaren to engage in constructive debate, face to face. It is necessary to bring our differences into the context of face to face dialogue--especially in the community of Christ. I pray that Dr. Dobson is open to consider that those who see creation care, poverty, and peacebuilding efforts as moral issues along with abortion, integrity of marriage, and teaching children sexual abstinence are not expressing a counter-message.

Dr. Dobson has attacked and called for the resignation of Rich Cizik, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, because he is broadening the scope of issues to which the Christian message must be applied (i.e. global warming). I would hope that this tact would be set aside and a constructive dialogue might take place in the evangelical Christian community. A constructive debate on what are the great moral issues for (evangelical) Christians?

Without a constructive approach to dialogue we miss the opportunity to engage "the other" as a valued person, who is speaking and acting with honorable motives (albeit many times with different assumptions). Without a commitment to constructive dialogue in the community (of Christ and the human community) we often see relationship damaged through language that comes from a posture/position of superiority (moral high ground). Often there is an attempt to exclude those who see things differently, either through polemical rhetoric ("if you don't see things the way we do...you are against us--the enemy") or divisive actions. We see this played out in many different ways.

At SMC, the January/February issue of the Missional Compass included a story of healing by Leon Miller. The language and perspectives that were represented in his story raised questions for some (many?) within our Mennonite community. What will we do with those questions? How can we engage in constructive dialogue in a spirit of humility, mutual respect, and Christian love?

The recent vote in Lancaster Mennonite Conference expresses that there are clearly diverse perspectives present in our community on the question of the ordination of women. How will these tensions be handled? How will we nurture a constructive dialogue? How will we avoid the pitfalls of using political leverage, passive aggresive patterns, name-calling (if not voiced, perhaps in the form of judgements we make in our mind) and other means to bring about the desired end we believe is right and true?

The Mennonite/Orthodox dialogue that took place on Saturday, I believe, represents a healthy expression of constructive dialogue. Face to face. Acknowledging differences. Mutually respectful. Considering issues and questions in the context of relationship.

O God, you have bound us together in a common life.
Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth,
to confront one another without hatred or bitterness,
and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(from the Book of Common Prayer)

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Story we Find ourselves in...

Here are some photos from the Mennonite/Orthodox dialogue on Saturday.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mennonite/Orthodox Dialogue...

We had a good afternoon at Annunciation for the Mennonite/Orthodox dialogue. You can download the paper I presented here. It is not perfect, but it is an iteration of how Anabaptists read and interpret the Bible. I think the part on how authority is expressed in the Mennonite (and more broadly the Protestant/Evangelical stream) is particularly important to understanding the contemporary situation in Western Christianity.

How is the way of Christ revealed? And what value (authority) do we give to the Apostolic "mindset" that is represented in Tradition as a way we discern Biblical faithfulness to Christ? I suggest, that what we tend to see expressed in the modern approach to Scripture, particularly in American Christianity, is an individualistic engagement with the Gospel--private, subjective interpretation, un-accountable to a broader (Apostolic) mindset through which the Christ of Scriptures is crystallized and expressed. Grenz and Franke offer this critique. I included this critique in the paper, but skipped over it in my presentation, because of time constraints.

I'm thinking about starting another blog that is a forum for ongoing converstation between Anabaptism and Orthodoxy. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Prayer for Lent...

Lord and Master of my life,
Take away from me the will to be lazy and sad,
The desire to get ahead of other people,
And to boast and brag.
Give me instead a pure and humble spirit,
The will to be patient with other people,
And to love them.
Grant, Lord, that I may see my own sins,
And keep me from judging the things other people do.
For you are holy, now and forever,
And to the ages of ages. Amen.
--St. Ephraim the Syrian, "the harp of the Holy Spirit"


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Amazing Grace...

Went to see Amazing Grace this afternoon on a date with Heather. It is well done. I highly recommend it. Inspiring! A clear witness for Christ his Kingdom breaking in.