just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The root issues...

I have been taking a bit of a break from blogging. Sensed a need for some space. Pruning away the urge to create something people will find interesting. Trying to write from a place of authenticity--true self. I sense that I need to do this regularly...take a break from the blog...fasting.

I recently read an article by Dennis Martin (now a Roman Catholic) published in the April 2003 Mennonite Quarterly Review. He was co-editor with C. J. Dyck of Mennonite Encyclopedia, Volume V, published I believe in 1990.

This article addresses the questions that have emerged out of my own journey. I attempted to write a paper this spring that worked with these questions and themes.

In my estimation, this article offers an honest engagement with these questions and issues by a worthy intellectual who has not limited where the answers could take him.

I will paste in three separate excerpts from this long article that particularly jumped out at me. The first excert deals with the issue of what guides our worship planning. The second addresses our polity and how we make decisions (i.e. Ordination of Women). The third excerpt addresses how those within the Anabaptist stream read history. I offer no commentary at this point.

I. When I offered this (liturgy) for use at our congregation (Belmont Mennonite in Elkhart), the committee planning worship for a given month or season made use of it or parts of it, but the next month's or season's committee did not. I realized that we would never find out whether it was good, because a liturgy needs to be used consecutively for at least six months until the newness fades completely and people experience it intuitively, at a deeper level of consciousness. Yet I suddenly also realized that it could never be employed that way because if anyone, whether the pastor or a worship committee, proposed its use for such an extended period, to the exclusion of other forms of worship, at least some members of the congregation would be disappointed, if not disaffected. At that point, the pastor (or committee, ultimately, with the pastor's backing) would have had to offend at least some of the congregation and force the liturgy's use. But the pastor (or committee) had no authority to do any such thing because the pastor (or committee) served at the pleasure of the congregation, the congregation no longer had any agreed-upon ways of worshiping, and thus achieving consensus on a single pattern was next to impossible. Once one destroys authoritative patterns that have developed slowly over time, one simply cannot put any single pattern that enjoys authority and wide acceptance in their place without driving away those who disapprove. In such circumstances, variety (chaos, divisiveness) in worship is crucial to avoid lasting division, and necessary to keep everyone at least partly satisfied. The pastor's role becomes that of salesman: he constantly has to convince his congregation that he has earned the right to lead them, and to do that he has to avoid offending any sizable portion of the membership. A "little of this and a little of that" becomes the only real solution. The pastor cannot lead on the basis of his authority but, rather, has to persuade dissenters to go along with the vague consensus and thereby keep the various tastes and conceptions of different portions of the congregation from leading to serious and lasting divisions.

II. And around none of this could a real hammer-and-tongs debate unfold. Observing how the decision to begin ordaining women took place among Mennonites in the 1970s and early 1980s, and watching discussions of women?s roles at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries during the 1980s, I realized that the vaunted "consensus" model advocated by the Young Turks of the Concern movement, according to which Mennonites surpassed Evangelicals and others who operated by oppressive hierarchy or crass majority vote, actually precluded debate. If decisions were made by consensus, then those who held a former majority position that was shifting by consensus into a minority position had two choices: they could, in persistent debate insist on their position and risk lasting schism, or they could fold their cards and submit to the emerging new consensus. The harder one debated an issue, the more one risked permanent schism. For the sake of unity, wise leaders and members who saw the consensus shifting against themselves censored themselves, and the debate suffocated in the middle of its own birth.

III. All this time I was teaching church history as well as helping to edit the Mennonite Encyclopedia, vol. 5. As I probed more deeply into the patristic period I was teaching, I realized that the Mennonite tradition rested on some fundamental misreadings of history and theology. Here is where my incomplete Mennonite socialization surfaced: had I been a dyed-in-the-wool, fully assimilated Mennonite, I might have been able to read the patristic and medieval evidence through Mennonite-focused binoculars, as other Mennonite historians did. But I was not equipped for doing so. I simply could not see my way clear to massage the patristic and medieval evidence into a Free Church model.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


i need fire,
to be inspired
i am overwhelmed,
yes and I am tired
to do the tasks of day to day
i've exhausted all the platitudes
the ones you gave to me
i need fire

i need truth,
for i am a liar
easily convince myself
to obfuscate desires
that come from God,
i do not trust
i will get just what i want
instead of what i must
i need truth
i need fire

i need breath
to fill my lungs
i'm winded from the consequence
of all that's come undone
clear my head, feed my legs
oxygen and spirit
wake me from the dead
i need breath
i need truth
i need fire

Tim Youmans

Came across this poem/lyrics on the blog-- anabaptist monk. May breath, truth, and fire come to us today.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Celtic prayer...

As I stir the embers of my daily fire, I ask you, living God, to stir the embers of my heart into a flame of love for you, for my family, for my neighbor...for my enemy.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Signs of the times...

Why do the nations so furiously rage together?
Why do the nations imagine a vane thing?

When the Son of Man returns...will he find faith on the earth?

What if all the Christians of the world would agree to follow the teachings of Jesus? What would happen if we would love our enemies? Some will say that is just too radical a reading of Scriptures. We have baptized Christianity in the waters of secular politics and the interests of power--at least that is how my Anabaptist tradition would teach me to tell the narrative of history as I read Scripture (Constantinian compromise).

Some would say the questions of peace and justice are just peripheral issues to the gospel. Some read a version of the Bible that diminishes the imperative nature of following Jesus in the way of peace. Just not practical in the real world. Is that the world over which Jesus rules? The world which was created in and through him?

In our day of fragmented, consumer-driven, individualized Christianity it would not surprise me a bit if we have two new versions of the Bible from Zondervan. We have the Bible for Teens, the Bible for the Spirit-filled believer and many others...Perhaps we shall see the Bible for Hawks, The Bible for Doves, The Bible for _______ you fill in the blank.

I will be fine. I just have to rant a little. I just don't want to be a part of a Christianity that makes the Gospel all about me...as McLaren says--"getting my butt into heaven"


Monday, September 04, 2006

Scattered and random thoughts on Ecclesiastes, war, and perspective

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. What can you point to that is new? How do you know it didn't already exist long ago? We don't remember what happened in those former times. And in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.
Ecclesiastes 1:9-11

Again I observed all the oppression that takes place in our world. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and the victims are helpless. So I concluded that the dead are better off than the living. And most fortunate of all are those who were never born. For they have never seen all the evil that is done in our world. Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

The word of the Lord...

We are a week away from the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On Friday evening, I watched On Native Soil: The Documentary of the 9/11 Commission Report. It is difficult to watch the disturbing images and relive the tragic losses of that day…to grapple with the meaning of what was unfolding.

Time moves on and history provides a different vantage point--PERSPECTIVE. I am so glad Ecclesiastes made it into the canon of Scripture. I think it is becoming one of my favorite books of the Bible. The savvy voice of the Teacher, King David's son, who ruled in Jerusalem provides a welcome reality check for any saccharin, rose-colored reading of history...for any simplistic formulaic answer to the human condition. Christianity preoccupied with the future and unwilling to look at the dark side of the human condition. No delusion here. No 10 step program to a better life. The Teacher sees past the facade, the spin, the appearances of things. He is willing to look at the tough issues.

Several news items have caught my attention in the last few days. The recent pentagon report that paints a gloomy picture of the situation in Iraq. The Sojourners feature article on U.S. Soldiers who have joined the growing movement against the war in Iraq.

I think back to the discussions I would have with students in my Japanese class in the run up to this war in Iraq. One student in particular who was confident that America would ride in on a white horse and clean up the mess (Saddam, WMDs, terrorist networks, etc.). And his usual sentiment was that if all else failed…we should just bomb them off the face of the earth.

I think about the holy war that dominated almost 800 years of the history of the Iberian Peninsula. Christian kingdoms agains the infidel Moor from North Africa. Then it was not Bin-Laden, but rather Ben Yusef.

Questions persist…

Is this nation more secure than pre-9/11? It seems like arrests are being made every other week involving would-be terrorist plots.

What about the situation in Iraq? Has the U.S. presence ameliorated or aggravated the stability of the Middle East and the stability of the world? What is the meaning of increasing sectarian violence and the looming possibility of a civil war?

What is the end-game? Was the U.S. approach to the Iraq war short-sighted and simplistic? When will we face the lessons of this tragic war?

It is not being disloyal to the United Stated to ask the hard questions. Asking these questions does not discount the good that has been done by the military. Humanitarian projects, strengthened infrastructure, a democratic form of government (one could ask however, if the conditions were right for this to be put in place).

Nevertheless, we cannot bury our heads in the sand, keep recited the same tired mantras, and believe that things will change. Rather, we need to look at the overall ineffectiveness of the war in achieving the original goals and ask...


Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world have mercy on us.
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world have mercy on us.
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world grant us peace.