just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Friday, June 30, 2006

Spain photos

More photos from the Spain trip are here.

Truth fears no questions

I saw a t-shirt in the Madrid airport yesterday that caught my attention. The shirt said, "Truth fears no questions."

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Truth as revealed in the Christian worldview should be open to engaging any questions. Christianity should also be open to accept (at least not kill--Crusader model; or ridicule) those who reject the way of Jesus. Or, as is more common in this day, those who reject the Church and organized religion as the primary (or even a necessary) agent of Jesus on earth.

Most of Spain is agnostic (according to our tour director). Spain has lived through the harsh, repressive dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Following the Civil War, 1936-1939, until the death of Franco in 1975, Spain was a fascist, totalitarian state.

After the fall of Madrid he began his personal campaign to unite all of Spain under his personal rule. By assuming the identity a pious and virtuous man, even going so far as to command his own priest for daily masses, he created a religious fervor that held sway over the minds of the people and blinded them to the events around them.

The practicality and foresight in this was a stroke of genius. He could simultaneously guarantee the Catholics of Spain that they would not be persecuted as they had under previous rulers, he could create enthusiasm for his regime and he could seek the approval of the Church so necessary to his success.

So generations grew up with a view of the Church that iconed an angry and violent God. Many lost faith in traditional Catholic faith. They rejected the form of Christianity embodied by a Church that supported the violence and repression of Generalissimo Franco.

The fruit of this history is an agnostic Spain. The Catholic Church is scrambling for a footing in the culture, where the new Zapatero government has introduced many new reforms that have helped women. Women had very little power or voice until very recently. Along with the reforms are increasing freedoms--including abortion and gay marriage. The vast majority may maintain some ties with the traditions of the Church--baptism, first communion, but for all intents and purposes this is just an exercise in social tradition. The abuses of the past, with the Church alligned so closely with the Fascist state of Franco, have hampered the Church's witness in an increasingly secular and agnostic culture. The hope of the younger generations seems to be englightenment humanism, mixed with an eclectic spirituality that draws from eastern traditions such as Buddhism and pre-modern peoples such as the Mayas and Incas.

The truth of history is hard to avoid. The truth of historical events such as the bombing of Guernica is difficult to categorize. It defies trite explanation. The depth of human suffering cries out from beyond the borders of our Homes and Gardens lives. Christianity that is True must be willing to confront the world with more than pat answers in the face of hypocrisy and evil.

Pablo Picasso (not a Christian) helps shine the light of truth on the ghastly reality of the horrific bombing of Guernica with his masterpiece.


Someone sent me this article reviewing a new book by Randall Balmer. Dare I express so openly my own misgivings for the trajectory of the Evangelical Right? My own misgivings are several. How does the Gospel not avoid the questions of history? How is the Truth of the Gospel reconciled with the neo-crusader mentality of Pax Americana? How is the Truth of the Gospel expressed by coercive means. Isn't that the lesson of the Crusades, of Franco's Spain. How can Christians enforce the values of the Kingdom of God through the mechanisms of the State?

I am deeply appreciative of the freedoms of democracy. The vision of the United States has created a stable society with admirable ideals. Yet, I am very aware of the plummeting respect for our country around the world in the wake of Iraq and the war on terror. I read an editorial in the Spanish newspaper ABC yesterday. The piece was called, "With America, against Bush." It was representative of a broadly held belief that America has lost its mooring, that America has strayed from its core values of goodness and decency. That the vision of the world must be more nuanced than, "if you are not for us you are against us" kind of rhetoric.

Franco used the Church. He postured himself as a pious man committed to Catholic traditions. Yet history tells another story. Truth is full-orbed. It is not just the facade. It is that which goes on behind closed doors. It is not spin. It is not easily explained with words. There are no words that can capture the atrocities of the bombing of Guernica. But Pablo Picasso has spoken with brush and canvas. I am not afraid to listen.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Continent

Going to visit Spain. Strolling Las Ramblas. La Sagrada Familia. Buying water bottle at Corte Ingles. Overnight train from Barcelona to Malaga. Costa del Sol. Day 5 visit to La Alhambra Palace in Granada. Day 6 bullfight in Sevilla. Stopping at Cordoba and Toledo on the way to Madrid. Museo del Prado and Reina Sofia. Round of 16 Spain match in the hotel lobby.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Gutsy Performance

What incredible resiliency...a courageous effort...a result that allows us to hope. What jubilation when Beasley's shot found the back of the net... I could not believe it... A man down... 9 v. 10 and they pressed the attack relentlessly...The scoreline showed 2-1 U.S. But wait...it can't be...the goal is called back...O heartbreak.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Spanish Masterpiece

4-0. The new Spain. No longer the perennial underachiever. Not allowing referee mistakes to determine their fate. A goalfest. 4 balls in the back of the onion bag. A fantastic result. Something to build upon. This team showed promise of making some noise beyond group play. I will wear the jersey with pride.

It is almost comical to observe the tact of American sportscasters and T.V. anchors (ESPN, etc.) as they report on the world cup. Granted, some are recognizing that something significant is going on and are earnestly respectful of the passion and history involved in the sport and this event. Some however do not mask very well their disdain for an intruder...a pretender that seems to be usurping the stage of rightful sporting fare.

I mean really...how could the Americans not even score a goal after preparing for 4 years. Such a comment belays an ignorance for the subtle drama that is not visible in the final scoreline.

It's not the fact that they were critical of the U.S. performance. That was well-deserved. It is the lack of sophisticated analysis that is irksome. As if the only thing that we know how to break down is the amount of goals scored. The more glaring weakness of the U.S. performance was the flat, non-aggressive style of play. They did not produce a quality of play that would lead to goals. They also were quite loose in their marking.

Where is Tommy Smythe when we need someone to really provide some knowledgeable analysis and savvy football perspective. I guess I will know that we have arrived as a soccer nation when we have the soccer equivalent of Darrel Waltrip and Larry Mac on the T.V. crew for U.S. soccer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Summer Bible School

I could go for a good crawfish boil right about now. It has been too long since I was in Louisiana.

We are having a great time with the middlers in T'Padro this week.

New pictures in the photo gallery on the SMC website thanks to Bev Beiler (VBS) and Starla's brother-in-law (baptism).

Monday, June 12, 2006

To the woodshed

Awakened by Hollyn's crying at 4:30 this morning, I lay in bed unable to get back to sleep. World Cup is underway, and I am a fanatic. The global spectacle that brings together countries and the world around the bounce of a round ball. It truly is a beautiful game. National Geographic has some great essays in the latest issue on why the world loves soccer.

So I couldn't go back to sleep as the adrenaline was building in anticipation of the USA v Czech Republic game. OUCH! What a deflating game for the US side. Nothing to match the magical opening game performance against Portugal in 2002.

I will be also pulling for the Spanish side throughout this Word Cup. It is always fun to be in Spain during the World Cup and taste a little bit of the madness that soccer is in the rest of the breathing world outside the United States. Every daily paper is chalk full of World Cup coverage every day. When Spain wins a game, the celebration pours out into the streets with flags waving by the reveling throngs in the fountains, plazas and intersections filled with singing and honking horns.

Friday, June 09, 2006

End of school, economics, and how we read Scripture

Yesterday was the last day of school. I had an interesting conversation with a student that was even more intriguing in light of the Scripture reading from yesterday morning’s office.

It was the last period of the year. Shortened periods…students signing yearbooks…a pervasive euphoria bubbling through the hallways and classrooms with summer freedom just minutes away. A dedicated remnant had made the trek to school for the last day.

I was taking this all in…sitting in the classroom of a colleague…hanging around until noon to go out for lunch with some colleagues.

Perhaps it was the giddiness of the day, or maybe just the natural propensity to talk of an off the charts extrovert…that led one of the students to strike up a conversation with me while she waited for Sr. M. to sign her yearbook.

“Are you still a pastor?” asked T., a gifted student and daughter of Russian immigrants, and most probably a Christian.


“If a student wanted to talk to you about Jesus Christ after class...could you do that?” she continued.

“Yes…I would…and have had conversations along that line. If a student approaches me or asks me a question about my Christian faith or about spiritual matters…I believe I have the freedom to share what my personal belief I don’t view this as inappropriate, nor is it proselytizing or imposing my faith on others. Separation of church and state does not mean that I have to hide my faith and how it influences my view of the world and issues, particularly when students open the door with their questions.”

From that exchange we somehow got on to the subject of economics. She reported that she had been to a Hugh O’Brien leadership conference and that three out of four speakers had been socialists. According to T., the only capitalist that had been invited was there so that capitalism could be denigrated.

She said, “All the socialist speakers were telling us how it was bad to accumulate wealth…that we needed to be using our money to help the poor…”

Later in the day I was thinking about this conversation and my mind went back to the Scripture I had read in the morning office—Mark 10:17-27. I mulled over the words of Jesus, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”

This passage is one that you would more likely hear on the “social gospel” side of the aisle. This is the stream of Walter Raushenbush, Muriel Lester, Martin Luther King Jr., Jim Wallis… This is not a passage that I associate with the likes of Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, and Richard Roberts….I say this in a spirit of love, without any delusion that I myself am living any more faithfully to the call of Jesus in this text. I just am making a point of how we read Scriptures and tend to focus on that which fits within our cultural context, our personal biases, etc.

If we are honest, I believe we have to acknowledge a tendency to read Scripture selectively. To give precedence to certain themes or interpretations based on many different things—not the least of which is our socio-economic footing. It is indeed tough to allow Scripture to speak and not reduce Christianity to the chamber of commerce…popular…feel good God talk that somehow avoids the more troublesome words of Scripture.

How do we read the Scriptures as capitalist Americans? Does our economic system distort our reading, or at the very least influence what sections of Scripture we focus on. In American capitalism, it is more common to focus on a reading of Scripture that honors the rights of the individual. Individual rights and freedoms is a big thing in our country. I’m not sure that the Gospel would begin with those as core values. So the health, wealth and prosperity reading of the Gospel in very individualistic terms is a distinctly American reading of the Gospel.

Christianity in the context of American capitalism is more apt to define and to judge sin in its private morality dimensions. Thus, we see the push to make the definition of marriage a political issue. It seems that in this latest round of debates in the political arena, the definition of marriage was used as a political strategy, and less as a theological issue. At the same time issues that Jesus talked about more overtly are not viewed as important issues where faith can speak to politics. Issues such as poverty, love for enemies, justice…

What does he mean when he tells the man of great wealth, “You need to do one thing more. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Why is it perceived as a liberal social Gospel to read the words of Jesus in the Mark text and take them seriously? Jesus says more about the poor, about peace, and about justice than he says about sexual orientation.

Is the American Church willing to apply this teaching of Jesus to economics? Is it possible to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God and embrace the laws of raw capitalism? Jesus’ call to the wealthy man in this passage doesn’t seem to flow too well with the principles of capitalism. Is Jesus advocating a socialist ideology—“sell what you own and give the money to the poor?”

The words of Jesus to the wealthy man in the gospel of Mark are difficult ones. They are difficult, because they inevitably will produce a tension between the radical call of Jesus to “sell all and give to the poor” and the conventional wisdom of capitalist economics. Can this teaching be put into practice today? If so…how?

Pure capitalism, as I understand it, seeks to take compassion out of the equation. People get what they deserve. You work hard, get a good education, or become a productive member of society…you should have a good life. I don’t disagree with the notion that free-market capitalism is the most productive economic system that also honors human freedom and ingenuity. However, I think we should also say that the Gospel does not always fit nice and neatly into the principles of this system. The Gospel takes a much broader view of the human condition, while at the same time seeking to uncover the spiritual (personal/systemic) dimensions that contribute to pain and suffering in our world.

Do I benefit from capitalism? Yes! Does the Gospel call me to seek more than my self-interests? Yes! Does a Kingdom perspective require more than the default mode of consumption and materialist values that drive our lifestyle choices in free-market capitalism? Yes. Can some of the conditions of capitalism be appropriated for Kingdom purposes? Yes, if we have our eyes wide open, use discernment, listen well to Scripture, and not hold any delusion that the principles of capitalism stand above the values of the Kingdom of God for a Christian.

So what is behind this post? I guess it is just how I respond to various stimuli in my life--Scripture, conversation with a student, observing Christians speaking to government on the marriage issue.... The underlying issue I am raising is the tendency to read, to hear, and to apply Scripture to our lives and to culture selectively.

Jesus calls the Church to live attentively to the living Word—to allow the story to continue to shape us as we listen well. May we have the grace to listen well. And may our lives be more and more like Jesus Christ in every way.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A conversation...

The afternoon sun spilled through the trees along the trail that ran beside the old mill creek. Pilgrim and Kevin had looked forward to this chance to continue their conversation about church, culture, and theology ever since the last time they met at the Dog and Duck Pub two months ago. That Saturday evening the ale and conversation had flowed deep into the night.

Kevin always looked forward to each meeting with Pilgrim, a retired educator who now worked as a freelance writer and photographer for a Christian NGO. This friendship was like an oasis for Kevin. The opportunity to talk about issues without fear of reprisal was a safe place. Kevin had come to recognize his need to be able to process the challenges of pastoral ministry with a friend who would engage him with wisdom, grace and humor. Pilgrim, was in many ways a spiritual director, a sage friend who offered a needed opportunity to learn the dance of community.

This early summer day a mild breeze rustled the leaves. The rippling water drifted along easily. The two friends walked along quietly, at ease with the silence. Kevin's thoughts drifted to the morning paper that had run a story on the big political issue being debated by state and federal legislators. The issue had become such a political hot button issue for the religious right and the liberal left--the definition of marriage.

"What do you make of this push by religious conservatives to 'preserve' the sanctity of marriage by pushing for a constitutional amendment?" Kevin's question broke the thoughtful silence.

Pilgrim's response was a typical one. "How do you see Jesus addressing this issue?"

Kevin chuckled, "Par for the course, you answer in the form of a question. Many in our congregation see the issue as a black and white cut and dried issue. They site the Scriptures that speak of homosexuality as a sin and hold strong convictions about the duty of Christians to fight for the "preservation" of God's design for marriage in our society. They see the state as the instrument by which we can preserve the moral fiber of our culture."

"And what do YOU think of that perspective?" asked Pilgrim.

"Well, I guess I see the motivation, but sometimes I wonder if the underlying assumptions are fully explored and acnowledged in light of the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament," Kevin replied.

"Say more," Pilgrim replied.

"When I read the New Testament, I clearly hear Jesus calling his disciples and the Church to be salt and light in the world. As I think about this issue of marriage, it's definition in society, and so on, I have thought about several ideas that come to bear on this conversation. I hear Jesus calling the Church to be his representatives in the world."

"You mean like when Jesus said that he was giving him and the Church the keys to the Kingdom," offered Pilgrim.

"That's right, and I wonder sometime if the Church is looking for the state to enforce the righteousness of the Kingdom of God as if Jesus was head of the State, rather than head of the Church," Kevin replied his thoughts beginning to roll.

Kevin continued, "I think that if marriage is a sacred institution ordained by God, then it is within the Church that this holy sacrament is performed. It is within the Church that Christian marriage is performed. The Church, with Jesus as the head, has been given the authority to bind and to loose. The Church has been given the authority to marry a man and a women in holy matrimony. I guess I wonder what is behind the fervor to push for government to legislate that which is of the Kingdom of God."

Pilgrim paused to pick up a long stick that lay across the trail. "I hear what you are saying. You are suggesting that the Church not the State is who defines what marriage is from a Biblical perspective. The culture is not living under the Lordship of Jesus. With separation of Church and State, the Church is asking the legislators to carry out a spiritual function--a pastoral or episcopal function. And you are wondering if this is blurring the line between Church and State. Is that it?"

Kevin's face wrinkled as he pushed his way through the underbrush of his mind toward the clearing he was searching for, "Yes, that's partially it. But it also has to do with how we see the righteous Kingdom of God coming into history. Is the Kingdom of God closer...is sin held at bay...if constitutional laws are passed making gay marriage illegal. Is this really dealing with the root issues of the heart? And is this really where the Christians should be concentrating their energies? How does the Gospel come to be expressed in a culture is it from the top down, or from the bottom up? Sometimes I wonder if we aren't looking at issues more from a position of fear than of love? How would Jesus speak to the issue? Would he really be calling the Church to lobby on behalf of legislation...so that then his Kingdom would come? I don't see Jesus doing much of that kind of thing in the context of the Roman empire in his day."

"You do have a point there." said Pilgrim.

"Yet some would argue that Jesus didn't live in an era of democracy, where government is supposed to be by the people and for the people," Kevin continued. "So should the Church remain silent on issues such as marriage, while society redefines the norms according to a secular, individualistic view?"

"I think you have hit upon a central question that has been before the Church for 2,000 years," Pilgrim replied. "How does the Church interact with culture. Is it Christ over culture...Christ against culture...Christ through culture...or Christ transforming culture. How does the Kingdom of God, the network of God's people, the revolution of King Jesus come to bear on the principalities and powers of this present age."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Open Letter to T.O.

Dear T.O.,

Glad to hear things went well on your first day of practice with the Cowboys. I do hope that the rocky road you've been down with San Francisco and Philadelphia has only served as important life lessons and character development.

As a life-long Cowboy fan, I want to say that we welcome you with open arms. We have done this before with other "problem" characters such as Charles Haley and Deion Sanders.

Have you talked to Deion yet? He has quite a story about how his life turned around when he met Jesus in a personal way. I was thinking that he (or Emmitt) could get you connected with a good church such as The Potter's House and Bishop T.D. Jakes. I think that would be a good fit in many ways--T.O.... T.D....

Anyway...keep working hard and make us proud.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Summer Reading

I am once again looking forward to summer reading and discussions with Duane, mein freund und lehrer auf Ephrata. Last summer we took on The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. I think he also read a few of McLaren's books I loaned him, discussion forthcoming. This summer we are going to tackle Ayn Rand and her objectivist philosophy.

What are the essentials of objectivism, you ask? Here is Ayn Rand in her own words:

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

Ayn Rand was once asked if she could present the essence of Objectivism while standing on one foot. Her answer was:

1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
2. Epistemology: Reason
3. Ethics: Self-interest
4. Politics: Capitalism

As a Christian, I am looking forward to engaging this humanist vision...this exalted vision of man as an end in himself. Roark's enterprise, philosophy and vision is that of deconstructing the alternate visions of religion and secular humanism. In her own words, "It is this highest level of emotions that has to be redeemed from the murk of mysticism and redirected at its proper object: man. It is in this sense, with this meaning and intention, that I would identify the sense of life dramatized in The Fountainhead as man-worship.

Anybody else interested in engaging Rand as a conversation partner?

We could form a book club...