just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Living with the questions

Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves.

—Rainer Marie Rilke

These are beautiful, grace-filled words. They speak out of a wisdom that holds together Truth and Love.

I will remember these words as I enter a new year on this journey, as I seek deeper communion with God, my family, the Church, the world, and creation.

I will try to love the questions, and be patient toward all that is unresolved in my heart. I will attempt to speak with truth and love as I am real with others.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
for the living of these days.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Nativity of our Lord

"But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman...." (Galatians 4:4)

This is the first time since Christmas of 1992 that we will not be travelling to Louisiana. I went to pick Heather's dad up at the airport last night. Matt and Margo are here in PA with Matt's family for a few days then they will come over and join us. Ryan and Suzanne are in Kansas and will be unable to join us in PA (Ryan has just started a new job in Boulder).

Christmas and New Year (for different reasons) are always a contemplative time for me, a time of reflection, of being drawn into the great mystery of the Incarnation, of life, of looking inward, looking outward, looking forward. What we celebrate today and every year is a miracle beyond comprehension. Emmanuel, God with us!

Here is a poem by Denise Levertov entitled, The Mystery of the Incarnation.

It's when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind's shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 24, 2005

O Holy Night

There has been a bit of a stir even in mainstream media this last week about the question of whether or not Christian churches will be open for worship services on Christmas day (which falls on a Sunday this year). NBC nightly news reported that many mega-churches, like Willow Creek, will be closed on Christmas day. Around Lancaster county several of the mega-churches will also be closed...Worship Center, LCBC.... In the various soundbites from pastors who are closing for Christmas day, I hear an attempt being made to meet our culture where it is at, to accomodate to the lifestyles of the unchurched whom they are trying to reach.

I think this is where we get caught up in the never-ending vortex of relevancy. Worship on Christmas day is about recognizing what God is doing in the birth of the baby in a Bethlehem manger. For God, this involved quite a bit of inconvenience (Philippians 2:5-11). The incarnation, taking on flesh, identifying with our weakness to the point of becoming a vulnerable, dependant baby. This should inspire our never-ending awe and worship. Let us come into what God is doing, not try to fit him into our desires and wants.

Yet, much popular evangelical worship has drifted so far into the waters of relevancy that worship is highly shaped by secular influences, and church is steeped in the drug of Modernity--individualism. We plan our worship around the market, the consumer, rather than around God. Since many stayed at home on Christmas day in 1994, we make adjustments to accomodate the lifestyle of our culture. Is that what our sin-sick, self-obsessed culture needs, even the Church to send the message that you (the individual) are number one. I don't care what spin you put on it, this is not the direction we receive from historic Christianity.

O, come let us adore him.

Here is a poem by St. John of the Cross entitled, The Incarnation:

Then He called an Archangel, known as Gabriel,
and sent him to a Virgin known as Mary,
at whose consent the mystery took place,

in whom the Trinity clothed the Word with flesh.

And although three performed the deed,
it was done through the one;
and the Word lived
Incarnate in Mary's womb.

And He Who had only a Father
now had a Mother too,
but she was not like others
who are conceived by man.

From her own flesh
He received His flesh
so He is called the Son of God
and of man.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Feliz Navidad

More evidence that the world is flat. Today was our annual "cultural experience" day for Navidad. My students did an amazing job of bring in a wide range of cultural dishes (see more pictures in photo album).

Now back to the evidence. I decide yesterday that I would contribute my little bit of culture to the occasion--Turron. I wanted to stop by the little store on S. Duke Street that sells products from Latin America. Ran short on time yesterday. So I got up a bit early to make a stop on my way to Ephrata. Now where could I stop at 6:30 AM and find a product from Spain that is ubiquitous during the Christmas season. Walmart of course. On the aisle with other products from the Spanish-speaking world, straight from Alicante, Spain. Isn't it amazing that I had little doubt in my mind that I would find this specialized item right here in Lancaster on my way to work at Wal-mart.

And another aspect of the flat world in which we live. I invite students to bring in foods that are a part of their family/cultural heritage. This morning I ate fried noodles, spring rolls and peanut sauce, egg rolls, pula (Finnish bread), Mexican rice, cheese danish, Marzapan, Tirimasu, German chocolate cake, tortilla española.... Not all these dishes represented the cultural heritage of the student, but some did. Amazing work by the students! We then went over to my colleague's German class to sing a few Christmas songs in Spanish. The returned the favor with a few German carols.

I'm off to try to get Gulya enrolled for English classes at HACC starting in January.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tuesday Night Christmas Program

What an awesome time we had tonight. Darryl and Janice and friends helped the children from Tuesday Nights to put on a Christmas play for family and friends. It gave me chills to see what was going on. This ministry continues to blossom and grow under the leadership of Darryl and Janice and all those who come and hang out and provide support in various ways.

Missional church has a face, a place, and love. Relationships. Pushing through sickness to give to others. Helping discipline with love. Each one has a part. A festive spread of treats. Meeting new friends. Gifts given and received. The Bethlehem story retold.

I have included more pictures from tonight in my photo album.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Laurel Street Christmas Program

We had a cool time last night at Laurel Street. The first time our little SMC orchestra hit the road. Laurel Street Mennonite Church had their Christmas program and that little building was full. Janet told me there were 93 people present. About 25 of those were from SMC, with the orchestra and others who came along. Our orchestra includes piano, keyboard, bass guitar, three acoustic guitars, flute, violin, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and our fearless conductor/vocalist.

They did a neat thing with the 12 days of Christmas, exploring how that song was actually used by the early Church as a part of the catechism. It was great to see Frank Albrecht again. Janet had a great meditation reflecting on brown paper packages wrapped with strings and there was a wonderful little choir from Laurel Street as well. Also, had a good time riding over from SMC with Dean and Ben.

I was excited to play my new trumpet. It was delivered on Wednesday, so I had a chance to use it after Christmas caroling Wednesday night at our practice. I remembered a couple things after our program last night. It takes more air and a stronger chops to get a nice sound out of a trumpet than a cornet. That's why beginners often start with a cornet and then move to a trumpet. It also takes more air to play with the mute in and keep the sound on pitch and pure. Now, I might actually have to go digging in the crawl space for my old trumpet books to build up my chops.

Our family has been looking forward to today. We are going to the Fulton to see The Music Man. We are using the gift certificate that SMC gave us for pastor appreciation. What a wonderful gift! Mackenzie and Jansen are thrilled. The have watched the movie version with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones many times and have the music CD.

Good night ladies...pickalittletalkalittilepickalittletalkalittle...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Mary Ann Evans

Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling
safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts
nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as
they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a
faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is
worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness,
blow the rest away.
George Eliot

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Prepare the Way of the Lord (continued)

If we are going to see the true meaning of the Babe in Bethlehem, we must confront this out of the way messenger, calling us to repentance. And if we respond to his message, we will be a people like planted oaks—strong and graceful for his glory. God’s reign of righteousness will sprout up in our lives. His just reign will come and it will be good news to all nations.

I was moved this last week by the need for this reign of righteousness to take root in our lives and for each of us to respond as God gives us opportunity.

Pakistan- 80,000 people died in the October 8 earthquake. EMM teams responding, people giving.
Bud to Lousiana, Mike to Florida
December 14 prayer vigil in the Rotunda of the capital in Washington to

Confronting the messenger in the wilderness, the preparer of the Way, will help us see the true meaning of Christmas. We too are being called to prepare our hearts for the coming reign of God, the power and presence that came to earth in a little baby, born in Bethlehem.

John calls us to repentance; to turn away from the old world and toward the new thing God is doing down in Bethlehem. Only by being willing to turn away from the old world and toward God’s coming reign of justice, generosity, and joy, are we ready to kneel before the babe in Bethlehem, who is the incarnation of God’s reign.

Repentance is the preparation for Christ’s coming. Repentance is the way in, and the way on. Repentance—the door and the path of salvation. Repentance is much misunderstood. It is seen as negative, a beating our breast in grief and shame. John in Luke portrays repentance negatively; giving up something: wealth, violence, privilege. But it is in anticipation of the new that is coming. Repentance can have the character of excited anticipation, like the joyful turning toward the birth of a new child, with its accompanying change in priorities and lifestyle, or the expectation of receiving an inheritance with new possibilities, or a new job with new challenges.

John’s call to repentance in Luke’s Gospel gets very specific. He calls for us to adopt a new source of identity. Some who heard the call toward the new world assumed their citizenship was secure because of birthright. Their identity was rooted in their ancestors. They saw no need for repentance. After all, “we are children of Abraham.”

Or maybe we would say—“I grew up in a Christian home,” “I was baptized when I was younger,” “I am an ethnic/cultural Mennonite” or “I’m an American.”

But, “God is able to raise children of Abraham from these stones.” You must turn away from trusting your labels and pedigrees, your social standing, or your citizenship in the lone superpower as sources of identity. The babe in Bethlehem is your new source of identity.

New community is coming into being. It is a community in which other’s needs become connected with ours. It is a community in which we give to those who have need. It is a community that seeks to rebuild the ancient ruins, to repair cities long ago destroyed. It is a community caught up in God’s purposes for the world. As John said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” A new ethic is coming into being—no manipulation and coercion, no violence.

On November 29, a well-known nationally syndicated radio host read an Associated Press report about the apparent kidnapping of four Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) activists by an Iraqi insurgent group. The radio host announced that "part of me likes this." He explained: "Well, here's why I like it. I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality."

Addressing the kidnapped CPT activists, he said, "[Y]ou've met the bad guys, and you tried your technique on them, and now you're blindfolded in a room with guns pointed at you and knives at your throat. I don't like that." He then added, "But any time a bunch of people that walk around with the head in the sand practicing a bunch of irresponsible, idiotic theory confront reality, I'm kind of happy about it, because I'm eager for people to see reality."
A new community is coming into being. Violence and cruelty must be shunned. The way of Jesus—loving our enemies, serving the poor, and working for peace and justice for all, may seem idiotic, irresponsible, and out of touch with reality to some, but since when has following Jesus been about conventional wisdom, political expediency and popularity.

For Norman Kember, Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney, and Tom Fox. the call of Christ has meant being willing to walk in solidarity with people whose land had been invaded and occupied by our nation's military.

The question comes to us that kidnapped peacemaker Norman Kember expressed: am I willing to take the same risks for peace that those in the military take for war?

This One whom we worship, born in Bethlehem, is calling into being a new community of justice, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. Those committed to hoarding, self-preservation, manipulation and violence will either not recognize who Jesus is or they will outright reject him. If we don’t visit John at the Jordan, we may very well make Jesus into a champion of our greed, a protector of our privileges, and supporter of our violence. We may pay him temporary homage, our hearts warmed by the annual visit to Bethlehem, but continue to perpetuate our exclusiveness, our injustice, our cruelty.

Paying attention to John the Baptist, however, will confront us with the radical new reality coming into the world in Jesus Christ. Nothing less than the realization that a new world is dawning. A world in which identity is based on the one to whom we belong; a world of justice and sharing for the poor, and a world of generosity of spirit and love. This is the new world the Babe in Bethlehem is bringing.

Only by wading out into the Jordan and drowning our sins, our false identity, our injustice and selfishness, our commitment to violence, will we recognize and worship the One who is coming to Bethlehem. As disturbing and inconvenient and disruptive as it may be amid the glitter and gaiety of this season, stopping by the Jordan to hear John the Baptist, wading out into the river between the old and the new, and drowning our sins in the waters of repentance are all necessary if we are to know the identity of the One whose birth we are on the way to celebrate.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Prepare the Way of the Lord (Dec. 11 Sermon at SMC)

He shows up every year on this Sunday of Advent. If we are honest, his appearance in Advent feels like an unwelcome intruder. He just doesn’t fit the season. His smelly clothes of camel skins and diet of locusts and wild honey are out of place in this dress-up season of festive parties and fattening food. He doesn’t sing Christmas carols. He is more into rap—“Repent! Repent! Repent!”

John the Baptist just doesn’t seem to belong in the Christmas story. Have you ever received a Christmas card with John the Baptist on it? Maybe you have driven by one of those houses with the eclectic portrayal of Christmas characters. There is Santa Claus, Rudolph and the other reindeer, Frosty the Snow Man, Mary and Joseph beside the manger, surrounded by plastic sheep, watched over by plastic shepherds. Angels are represented, as are the wise men perched on their cardboard camels. You might even see the oversized glass globe, complete with falling snow on a Currier and Ives winter scene. But no matter where you look; there is no John the Baptist. He just doesn’t seem to belong in Christmas.

The Gospel writers, however, are convinced that if we don’t stop by the Jordan and confront John the Baptizer, we will not know who the baby down in Bethlehem is. We will go to Bethlehem, kneel piously before the infant Jesus, sing a few carols, unwrap a few gifts; and return to the routine—unchanged.

Only by going out of the way, making a trip over to the Jordan, listening to the call to repentance and wading out into the cross-over river between the wilderness and the promised land will we be ready to visit the Babe in Bethlehem’s manger.

John, the forerunner, the preparer of the way. He knows who Jesus is—really knows. He knows there is more to who Jesus is than meets the eye. If we don’t listen to John, we will miss the divine presence, the radical implications of the birth in Bethlehem’s barn.

John knows that the baby in Bethlehem’s manger is the firstborn of a new creation. God, through the babe of Bethlehem, is bringing a new world. This trip to Bethlehem is no sentimental annual pilgrimage to a shrine of the past. It is no mere birthday celebration of a historic figure. It is the preparation for a new heaven and new earth that God is bringing. The reign of God, the power and presence of God, the purposes of God are coming toward us.

God is bringing a new world. It is a world without barriers among people. In this one who lay in a manger in Bethlehem the dividing walls of hostility are broken down. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male or female, but all are one. The world that is coming is a world in which all people are claimed as beloved children of God. No longer will worth and value and treatment be based upon pedigree—“we are children of Abraham”—but on the one to whom we belong. The world that is coming will be a world in which justice and righteousness reign. The exalted will be brought low and the low will be exalted. Greatness will be in serving—not being served. The last will be first and the first will move to the back of the line. Love will characterize all relationships; and the power of love will replace the love of power.

A new world is dawning. With the birth of Jesus, hope for transformation is born. Beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. Isaiah prophecies about the powerful beauty and grace of God’s Kingdom breaking in—and the people like planted oaks—strong and graceful for his own glory. And again the fertile image of His coming reign of righteousness being like a garden in early spring—a planting of the LORD, to display God’s glory.

Friday, December 09, 2005

December Snow

Snow days are awesome! Joe Zehr used to give me a hard time (in good fun) about how easy I had it as a teacher. 3 months vacation, working inside on cold winter days, snow days.... Hey, there are some definite perks. I may go out and split some wood just for Joe.

We had our second orchestra practice last evening. It is actually pretty amazing that we can pull together a 15 member orchestra for a church our size (150). Some of us are past our prime, trying to get the most out of our out of shape chops, hoping that we recover in time for the next practice or performance. It has inspired me to go ahead and use some of my Christmas and birthday money to purchase a trumpet. I sold my trumpet in college, thinking I would never play again. And you know how desperate college kids are for money. Kevin Smoker is good enough to let me borrow his cornet each Christmas and Easter for the church orchestra. I thought having one around the house will encourage the children's interest in music.

May Sarton wrote a great poem for days like this one, entitled December Moon.

I have yet to turn in my registration for the Jingle Bell run on Sunday. I'm trying not to pay attention to the voice in my head that is telling me to forget about it. I'm not worried about keeping up with Sally anymore (those days are long gone), I just don't want to disappoint her by not running!!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Voice of One in the Wilderness

During Advent, the Church remembers with thanksgiving the life and ministry of John the Baptizer, cousin of Our Lord and the promised messenger of His first coming.
The Divine Hours
, Phyllis Tickle

I picked up the December 6, 2005 issue of The Mennonite and was skimming through it on Monday. The first thing I read was the editorial by Karl McKinney, "Race-ism is anti-Christ." Somehow I had missed the comments made by former drug czar, Bill Bennett, on September 28. McKinney reports that Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, said on Sept. 28, "But I do know if you wanted to reduce crime, you could--if that were your sole purpose--you could abort every black baby in the country, and your crime rate would go down."

I don't have the context in which this statement was made. But context or no context, these words come across as insensitive and inflammatory and I believe McKinney is right to call them "race-ist." McKinney also makes note of the fact that within a week of making these comments, Bennett appeared on Focus on the Family with his friend James Dobson. During this show, McKinney reports that Dobson "affirmed Bennett's prolife stance yet ignored the Hitler-esque nature of Bennett's adjacent point. Not once did Dobson challenge Bennett's assertion, the factual basis underlying that assertion and the assumptions that Bennett must hold to propose such a hypothesis."

McKinney calls upon Mennonites to "write to Dobson and Focus on the Family and to tell them you think they should have taken Bennett to task for his blatantly violent and factually inaccurate hypothesis. Tell them they missed an opportunity to exalt Christ above whiteness, even as they responded to Bennett's need for support as a prolife spokesman. Point out you find it morally reprehensible that the abortion of babies in the wombs of black Christian mothers would contribute to the reduction of the crime rate."

I am deeply troubled that such views would go unchallenged by Dobson-- someone who is looked to by many evangelical Christians as a spokesperson for values and what it means to follow Christ. I pray that Christians will hear the prophetic voice of our brother, Karl McKinney, and be troubled to the point of repentance.

May God have mercy on us and forgive us for the things we have done and the things we have left undone that have contributed to oppression and injustice in our society.

Kyrie Eleison

Friday, December 02, 2005

Jim Wallis speaking in Lancaster

I am looking forward to hearing Jim Wallis speak in Lancaster on Tuesday evening. He will be giving a lecture at LMS Fine Arts Center followed by a time of question and answer.

Helen Colwell Adams wrote an article in June on the great divide that exists among Christians in their political views. I hope this event draws Christians from all across the spectrum in their political views. It will undoubtedly be a stimulating evening of considering how Christians should speak to government and on what issues.