just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Monday, January 30, 2006

State of the Union

I had a lively exchange with a student in homeroom today. Actually, we had an assembly, so during the hour that our homeroom was not at the assembly we got into it (like we have on various other occasions this year). The topics we have discussed usually are either related to politics, economics, or religion.

I mentioned the interview of Tim Russert with Bill Frist yesterday on Meet the Press. I mentioned the excellent editorial in today's Lancaster Intell by Tom Friedman entitled, The State of the Union. I expressed my agreement with Friedman's point, that we need visionary political leadership to help move the United States away from oil dependency. The same oil dependency that is helping to fund the very countries that are seedbeds for the militant strain of Islam that is lashing out against the West and American Imperialism.

We talked about the impossibility of imposing democracy and free-market capitalism from the top down through pre-emptive military strikes. Democracy and the fundamental narrative that drives a country must come from the bottom up, from within, from the grassroots and from the soul of Arab countries. I believe much of the war on terror is an misguided attempt to build a wall high enough (like the Berlin Wall in another era) that will keep the terrorists out.

I believe we need a different kind of vision for the role of the United States in the community of nations. Friedman outlines what such a vision might sound like in his piece.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

God's Wise and Loving Providence (cont.)

Hall (Learning Theology with the Church Fathers) says that many modern discussions of the problem of providence and suffering follow an inductive approach. That is, we first inductively weigh the evidence--apart from prior presuppositions about what we should or should not encounter--and then make philosophical and theological decisions about the viability of traditional understandings of God's character and God's governance over creation and history. Modern realities and events such as Auschwitz seem ipso facto to refute an understanding of God as omnipotent and loving.

Chrysostom's approach takes the opposite methodological tack. It is deductive rather than inductive. He accepts by faith certain revelatory truths, whether found in nature, Scripture or history, as fundamental presuppositions for a correct understanding of providence. Among these fundamentals is God's love for humanity. The love of God for us must be a primary interpretive grid for making sense of the empirical data of our lives.

God allows sickness to strike or an accident to take place. Does this occurrence indicate that God does not love us, does not possess knowledge of the future or has lost control of history? No, Chrysostom insists. Because Chrysostom accepts by faith God's love as a fundamental datum for interpreting human experience, any interpretation we give to the data of our lives, no matter how inexplicable or harsh our circumstances might be, must be framed within the context dictated by divine love.

A faulty conception of God's love and goodness poses a serious roadblock to our acceptance and praise of God's providence. C.S. Lewis warns against attaching a trivial conception to the word love. We do so, for example, when we equate love and kindness. Lewis explains:

By Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness--the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, "What does it matter so long as they are contented?" We want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven--a senile benevolence who, as they say, "liked to see young people enjoying themselves," and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, "a good time was had by all."

Much the same could be said of a misconceived notion of God's goodness. Frequently we ask the question in the midst of our suffering. How could a good God allow this to happen? Chrysostom would encourage us to answer our question in light of two further considerations: (1) God has embraced our suffering in the incarnation of his Son; and (2) the final goal God has in mind for his creation governs how divine goodness and mercy manifest themselves in corporate human history and in the narrative of individual lives.

If, as both Chrysostom and Lewis point out, all God's purposes and actions for humanity could be summed up in the phrase "human contentment," most of us would remain happy indeed. We long for a God who will meet our needs as we define them but who will also leave us alone, to ourselves and our own devices.

But this is exactly what the divine love refuses to do. God discerns our illness even though we believe we are healthy and will take whatever steps necessary to restore us to full health. These steps often involve pain, just as the lance of the surgeon's knife and the aftermath of the surgery entail suffering. The ultimate outcome of the pain suffered is the restoration of health with the eradication of sin's infection, the very goal God pursues in history through his providential actions.

Divine love, then, will often be a painful love, one Chrysostom describes as fiery, precisely because the disease love is acting to heal can only be conquered through pain and death. Hence, the incarnation and cross serve as fundamental paradigms for interpreting how God's love and goodness are presently operative in history.

Morning Prayer

O Lord, open my lips.
And my mouth will proclaim your praise.
O Light shine on our senses and dispel the sleep of our soul, to you before all else let our voice resound, and let us pay our vows to you. Amen
Oh, what joy for those whose rebellion is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of sin,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
When I refused to confess my sin,
I was weak and miserable,
and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide them.
I said to myself, "I will confess my rebellion to the LORD."
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
Therefore, let all the godly confess their rebellion to you while there is time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of deliverance.
Francois Fenelon
How can we expect to find Jesus if we do not
seek him in the states of this earthly life, in
loneliness and silence, in poverty and suffering,
in persecution and contempt, in annihilation
and the cross?
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Father of all humanity, you call your children
to walk in the light of Christ. Free us from
darkness and keep us forever in the radiance
of your truth, until we come at last to live
with you on high. We ask this through our
Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God
forever and ever. Amen

Friday, January 27, 2006

God's transcendent providence

Is God truly in control of human history? People living at the beginning of the twenty-first century might well have their doubts. Theologians, pastors and laypeople continue to ponder, and at times struggle mightily with, the question of God's goodness and power as manifested in the midst of the unprecedented suffering and evil of our century. Modern horrors such as the Holocaust, the violence in Darfur, the death of millions in Cambodia, Rwanda and Kosovo, and the more recent destruction of the World Trade Center towers silence any flippant responses to the question of God's control and governance of human history.

Each of us has at one time or another asked the question why. Whether we have encountered or experienced an accident, sickness, natural disaster or war with its accompanying horrors, the question wells up within us--Why? Why didn't God protect us? Why couldn't circumstances or timing have been different?

excerpt from Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, (Hall, 2002)

I have been learning theology with the church fathers. I have been impressed with a number of things in my reading. In his treatise on the providence of God, Chrysostom continually exhorts his readers to learn to think and live like a Christian. The one who has learned to think like a Christian, the one whose thinking has been shaped by the gospel and the realities it represents, will not judge God's providence by appearences. Instead, genuine believers will remain sensible and vigilant, wary of making a premature judgment concerning God's actions or permission. They will understand that the events of this life in themselves are indifferent matters and take on the character of good or evil according to our response to them.

By way of contrast, those who are "worldly, difficult to lead, self-willed, and utterly carnal" will continually misread God's providence because they lack the eyes to see him at work, a vision that only comes to those who are actively exercising faith, that is, allowing their perspective to be shaped by the gospel and acting accordingly.

The believer who possesses a deeply grounded Christian disposition will experience pain and grief on his journey home, but never harm." (Hall, p. 170)

It's the age old question: "Where is God when it hurts?"

The other great idea taken from the chapter entitled, "Christ Divine and Human," is how the church fathers developed a theological framework to "explain" this ineffable mystery. Much of the controversy in the historical era is reflected in the exchanges between Bishop Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius. Basicly Nestorius watered down the incarnation by thinking of it in terms of God exalting the human, Christ, through an indwelling association. But it was not God taking on flesh in the fullest sense.

Cyril finds fault with the methodology of Nestorius. As far as Cyril is concerned, Nestorius is fundamentally a theological innovator. Cyril is convinced that Nestorius has ignored the previous theological reflections of the church in the construction of his theological proposal regarding the relationship of Christ's deity and humanity. Cyril argues, "he innovates as seems fit to him."

Hmmm. I ponder the implications of the methodology one uses in interpreting Scripture. How one views the Apostolic Tradition will impact the way in which we approach the Scriptures and interpret it. As Mennonites, how is theological innovation a part of our tradition as we read and interpret the Scriptures?

The early church fathers would tell us that the reality of the incarnation simply refuses to fit within an entirely coherent logical framework. Cyril would encourage us to think concurrently, holding seemingly contradictory thoughts side by side and allowing the tension between them to remain rather than attempting to resolve the tension through a premature rationalistic maneuver.

In the twentieth century Robert Oppenheimer advocated much the same methodology, but for use in a different discipline, contemporary physics. Why is there a need for occasionally logical inconsistency? Huston Smith notes the presence of "many findings in contemporary physics that refuse to be correlated in a single logical framework." Hence, Oppenheimer's proposal that physicists employ a "Law of Complementarity as the basic working concept in the field, meaning by this (in part) that opposing facts must be held in tension even when logically they are at odds if they can help account for phenomena observed. In more than one field, it seems, reality can be more subtle than man's logic at any given moment." (Hall, p. 96)

I find this analogy very helpful. This model allows for us to acknowledge the mystery of our faith that does not fit nice and neat into the containers, and the narratives of Enlightenment rationalism. It also strikes me as possible language to describe how it is possible to say that the Body of Christ is manifested on earth in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church despite the messy, confusing evidence that would seem to counter this confession.

On Tuesday I begin the course Conversations with Anabaptist Theology Today, taught by Brinton Rutherford. I am looking forward to exploring these questions and many others during this course.

I was thinking about the challenge of raising children in a time of war. This post is already very long so I will save this for another time.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Midday Prayer

O God, come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me.

Come, Creator Spirit, Paraclete, gift of God most high, visit the souls of your people, and fill with supernal grace the hearts which you created. Amen

I call with all my heart; answer me, O LORD, and I will obey your decrees. I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes. I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. Hear my voice in accordance with your love; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your laws. Those who devise wicked schemes are near, but they are far from your law. Yet you are near, O LORD, and all your commands are true. Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever.

Let your mercy, O Lord, be upon us.
As we have hoped in you.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Our Father, who art in heaven....

Lord, hear my prayer.
And let my cry come unto you.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
May divine help always be with us.
And with those who are absent from us.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


I am looking forward to hanging out with Melissa, Brandon, Mike and Kevin (and others?) on Sunday afternoon. We will be playing Settlers of Catan. I will get smoked. I think I have yet to win this game--at least when Dean and Doris, Rich or Bonnie are playing.

The image I have that describes my journey right now is that there are a few significant eggs I am sitting on, keeping warm, waiting for them to hatch. Don't worry, I'm thinking about theological eggs, vocational eggs, and that sort of thing. I trust this metaphor is not too disturbing! Ha, ha, ha. We will explore this further in the coming months.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Yesterday would have been Onietta's 62nd birthday. We honor her memory and think about how special she was to us. We miss her.

Mackenzie wrote a book, memoirs of her Grandma Loewer. She did this Sunday evening as we were having some Daddy/Mackenzie time. She wants to publish it. We'll see. For now we put together a rough manuscript using desktop publishing.

The picture in this post was taken when we lived on Pine Street. Onietta came to visit and brought along a little project she did with Mackenzie--making and painting birdhouses.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


As a life-long fan of the Dallas Cowboys, I find it odd that I am rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers in this year's playoffs. I love the team unity, the smart, and tough football they play. I love the fact that they have stuck with Coach Cowher for 14 years, through thick and thin. What a motivator. What a jaw.

So I hope this turns out well for all my Steeler loving buddies--Doug, Jon, Phil, Dan. And all their offspring who are taking up the Terrible Towel. At least Jansen and I are rooting for the same team now that both our teams are out of it (Jansen has been sucked into the Eagles madness that is so rampant around here).

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Archbishop Oscar Romero

These words by Oscar Romero were posted on this blog last August. They are so good that I wanted to post them again.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom of Heaven is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow, we water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are the workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

May that future be filled with grace, peace and hope.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin Luther King Jr.

Tonight I listened to the "I Have A Dream" speech again. Every time I hear it it gives me chills. What a courageous, prophetic voice Martin Luther King Jr. was. An amazing model of what it means to speak to government with integrity of words and actions. We do well to honor his legacy both as Americans and as Christians.

Here are some of his words which ring in my ears:

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.


I've decided that I'm going to do battle for my philosophy. You ought to believe something in life, believe that thing so fervently that you will stand up with it till the end of your days. I can't make myself believe that God wants me to hate. I'm tired of violence. And I'm not going to let my oppressor dictate to me what method I must use. We have the power, power that can't be found in Molotov cocktails, but we do have a power. Power that cannot be found in bullets and guns, but we have a power. It is a power as old as the insights of Jesus of Nazareth and as modern as the techniques of Mahatma Gandhi.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Prayer of the Church

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, I pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.