just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

One, holy, catholic, apostolic...

Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
Matthew 16:18

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.
Ephesians 4:1-6

The Word of the Lord.

I am grateful for the meeting several weeks ago between Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. In recent days, Pope Benedict has traveled to Turkey. While his presence was met with protests and demonstrations from the Muslim community, it would seem to be an attempt to work toward unity, reconciliation and understanding with those outside the Roman Catholic communion. He met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. He also prayed with a Muslim cleric.

My hope is buoyed when I see a spirit of humility expressed in the Church, one that seeks reconciliation and healing for past wounds and divisions. I have come to faith in Jesus Christ and have been nurtured in the faith within a Christian faith tradition that does not arise out of sacramental union with the church catholic. Rather, our communion is based on the “believers church” model of those who have chosen to be baptized into Christ and are seeking to follow in the way of Christ. The restorationist ecclesiology is distinct from the sacramental one of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and mainline Protestant communions.

The sacramental center is not one that is created through our varying degrees of faithful response to the Gospel. The church is not as far removed from the world as has perhaps been envisioned by my non-conformed Anabaptist forbears.

In more recent months and years, I have grown to appreciate the ontological unity of the body of Christ that is expressed in the communion of saints and sinners throughout time and space. This is a mystery! At this point on the journey, I can say that the main tangible outworking in my own life is a deeper appreciation for the fullness of the Church—one, holy, catholic and apostolic. I am reticent to see myself as part of the true church over and against those who worship God and seek to follow him within other traditions. I am seeking to connect the faith and practice of my Anabaptist stream with the whole of Christianity. Anabaptist distinctives are only meaningful when connected to the unified whole.

The Church that I am a part of is not only that of my own faith tradition, but in some mysterious way…the church of Pope Benedict, Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop Rowan Williams.

I resonate with the wanderlust of the emergent church, with it’s missional quest. However, I have questions about the eclectic picking and choosing from the classical Christian tradition and contemporary, creative/innovative forms. While noble, this seems to be an attempt to recapitulate vintage pre-modern Christianity into the ethos of postmodernity, albeit sometimes without a rubric for discerning Biblical, historical patterns of worship. The starting from scratch mentality, like artists in a new era with a blank canvas.

Modernity squeezed Western Christianity into its rationalistic mold. The arts, mystery, the organic expressions of mission diminished in many places. I see the emergent church attempting to make space for worship, community and mission in line with Christian tradition, but with a high value on embodying the gospel in communal ways in a postmodern, post-Christendom cultural context. This is good as long as it is tempered by a humility that seeks to preserve the unity of the faith. Are there accountability points? Or is it just everyone for themselves.

I cringe at times when I pick up on a bit of a hubris towards the Church of antiquity (which for postmoderns, includes the modern era of denominations and generic non-denominational streams). I get the sense sometimes, that there is a patronizing view toward the church stuck in passé expressions of Christianity from bygone eras. “Last person out of the Church turn out the lights” becomes the de facto posture toward the establishment church. I am hesitant to see the Church segmented so easily. That is not the spirit I see represented in the prayer of Jesus in John 17, or the Ephesians passage on the unity in the body.

Dwight Longenecker has an excellent post (November 25) on the wisdom of expressing our voice in the affirmative, rather than the negative.

Is it possible to express our voice, our witness, our faith in such a way that honors the other parts of the body, beyond our tradition? May God give us the grace and courage to come to the table he has prepared for us in the Kingdom. May we have the courage to acknowledge our differences. May we be humble and gentle. May we be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults. And may we make every effort to keep ourselves united in the Spirit, binding ourselves together with peace.

For there is one body and one Spirit. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.


What is the basis of our communion?

To whom are we accountable in our faith and practice?

What is the test of our faithfulness to Scripture? It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us...but who all do we include in the "us"?

How big is our hermeneutical community?

What happens when we major on missiology and minor on ecclesiology?

For those in the "free church" tradition, what are the sources we look to in confirming our faith and beliefs?

Might the proliferation of independent groups, networks, and movements reflect an undercurrent of individualism that arises out of the Enlightenment? To whom are all these expressions of Church accountable? Just because I call myself an abbott, an apostle, etc. does that mean anything, if I am not in submission to the Church? The individualism that gives rise to "God told me" and that settles it is not the way we see the Church operating throughout history.

Or if we are postmodern enough to deconstruct all authority, what will guard us from falling into the abyss of subjectivism, looking only through the lens of our own experience, our reason, our democratic group processes that hopefully lead to consensus?

Enough questions for now...

I welcome your contributions.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

queso menonita...

morning commute
drivetime liturgy
npr, coffee

lourdes garcía-navarro
colony Mennonites
in Chihuahua

past and present
drift together
a rich
monk’s blend

overturned spade
loamy childhood subsoil

under the compost
I uncover…

los mochis
missionary exodus
powder blue Ford galaxy
cargo aboard the iron ship
ferrocarril del pacífico

train ride
nine year-old
eyes rapt in awe
copper canyon
carved out of

packed bags
traveling shoes

cuatemoc stop
overnight sojourn
strange colony
vaguely familiar
yet different

factory visit
wheels of cheese
queso menonita
tangy, pungent

Monday, November 27, 2006


I've added Bradley Wright to my links to blogs that I visit regularly. He has a good post on November 26 in which he writes about the characteristics of good blogging. How often should one blog. Quality over quantity and questions like that.

The Ground Truth...

What an overwhelming turnout to the showing of the film last evening. Stan estimated the attendance around 350! Where do we go from here? The planning committee and a number of others are discussing possibilities to continue the momentum and interest generated by this event. Because of the delay last evening (due to the high attendance that precipitated a move from the fellowship hall to the sanctuary) the discussion time was really cut short.

The powerful impact of the film needs to be processed. What are the voices in the film saying? How is the film calling us to respond? How is God calling us to respond to what we have seen and experienced?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Ground Truth

The Lancaster District churches of Lancaster Mennonite Conference are sponsoring an important event on Sunday evening at 7 pm. The Ground Truth is a film that features the voices of soldiers who have served in Iraq. I have previewed the film and would agree with the critics that it is riveting and intensely provocative. Out of their own experiences on the frontlines, the soldiers speak an undeniable truth about the human cost of war.

So why is a group of peace churches sponsoring this event? I believe this event at James St. Mennonite Church represents an attempt to bear witness to our theology of peace, while at the same time responding to those who have served in the military with compassion. The witness would be that it is not only innocent civilians who are the casualties of war. Just as we would advocate against the tendency to de-humanize “the enemy” we are seeking to be consistent with this ethic and not de-humanize those who for whatever reason have served in the military.

I believe the film challenges us to consider what it means as Christians to have a consistent ethic of life. To be pro-life covers a whole range of issues from the womb to the tomb. To espouse family values means we will also take into consideration the impact of our international policies and military campaigns on the lives of families in the countries of occupation.

As Christians in the Anabaptist tradition, we seek to apply the life and teachings of Jesus to real life. We are committed to the belief that Jesus’ words and actions are relevant to the real and complex issues of our day. So to be a follower of Jesus means that we will attempt to follow his teachings and example. So we don’t write off the Sermon on the Mount as impractical in today’s world. Jesus’ call to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us means that our calling as Christians will place us in some real tensions with the systems and powers of the world. Jesus’ life and teachings are relevant to the real issues of terrorism, sectarian violence, and insurgent attacks.

Yet, we do not view those who have sacrificed much—soldiers and other military personnel—as the enemy. As Christians in the peace tradition, I think we experience a real ambivalence when it comes to honoring veterans. We recognize the personal sacrifice and yet do not support the policies and methods of war. We reserve our allegiance for the Kingdom of God, yet we live as citizens of a nation-state which looks to military might as a primary guarantor of the American way of life. So what do we do with those who have left home and family to put their lives in places of dangers to do what their nation’s government says is right? What do we do with their willingness to lay down their lives? I believe this film is one attempt to listen to their voices. I believe the truth they speak of out of their experience should only increase our commitment to be peacemakers in a world gone mad with violence.

If we are going to be peacemakers, we must be committed to truth-telling. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, we must take seriously his words that call us to love of enemy and the way of the cross. This is not just an elective part of the Christian Way, it is the essential core curriculum for those who are seeking first the Kingdom of God. The Christendom model of Christianity is bankrupt. Let’s take the cross off our sword and shields (and the contemporary munitions). Let us stop killing in the name of Jesus. Let's take ourselves off the white horse bringing about the apocalypse through our righteous violence against the axis of evil. That narrative must be tested with Scripture and named for what it is--a counterfeit of the Christian understanding of sin and the human condition.

In previous posts I have acknowledged that I don’t expect the kingdoms of this world to appropriate the teachings of Jesus. But as a Church, let us at least recognize that we are called to be a counter-community—salt and light. Nevertheless, as we bear witness to a peaceable kingdom, we will engage the kingdoms of this world in a spirit of love and compassion. And we do not just remain quiet when our silence represents a complicity with failed policies and short-sighted doctrines of war. We renew our commitment to be ambassadors of a consistent pro-life ethic.

Keith Olberman is one voice who is raising questions about the way we read current events and history. Whether or not you agree with his tone, I believe the questions he raises are legitimate. The lessons of Vietnam were costly. Let us not reframe that tragic war in a way that blinds us from seeing the truth of the Iraq war.


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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Authentic Christian community...

The missiologist David Bosch described authentic Christian community in the following way:

The new fellowship transcends every limit imposed by family, class or culture. We are not winning people like ourselves but sharing the good news that in Christ God has shattered the barriers that divide the human race and has created a new community. The new people of God has no analogy; it is a "sociological impossibility" that has nevertheless become possible. ("The Structure of Mission: An Exposition of Matthew 28:16-20," in Exploring Church Growth, ed. Wilbert Shenk; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983, p. 239)

We had a feast at T.A.T.H. this week. Someone said there were 64 people present, not including the servers. This was a tradition worth starting. Thanks to Women's Fellowship, we enjoyed a sumptuous feast of Amish turkey stuffing, mashed potatos, gravy, green beans, corn, apple sauce, and rolls. This was topped off with a final course of pies (ala Dean), pumpkin roll, and ice cream.

Last evening at Life Group we were sharing stories of favorite Thanksgiving memories/traditions. I have to say that the feast on Tuesday night is right up at the top of one of my favorites. Hopefully it will become a tradition.

You can view more photos from the Thanksgiving feast here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Supper at Emmaus

The two paintings by Caravaggio are two versions of the Supper at Emmaus. Based on the episode recorded in Luke 24, both are examples of Caravaggio's virtuoso talent. They depict the meeting of two disciples with the resurrected Christ. Michael Frost comments on these two paintings in his recent book Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. I include an extended excerpt from this book and highly recommend that you go out and buy it. Both the analysis of these paintings and the entire volume capture the essential impulse of much of those who are on a quest to live as missional community in a post-christendom world.

Frost says, "The interesting thing about these two paintings is that they are composed in almost exactly the same way, with Jesus seated at the center, blessing the food, flanked by the surprised disciples. It's the slight differences that are most interesting."

In the first picture, the disciples look like ordinary laborers, one about to spring vigorously from his chair, the other waving his arms wildly, both of them amazed at the realization that they are sharing a meal with the resurrected Christ. Over Jesus' right shoulder, the innkeeper watches passively, observing the dramatic moment of recognition. On the table is an impeccably rendered still life of bread, poultry, fruit and wine.

Five years later (1606), during a particularly turbulent time of his life and after his rejection by many church patrons, Caravaggio returned to the same subject and virtually repainted it, this time creating an entirely different impression. A different theology is at work behind it. This painting is more restrained in color and action. The disciples, though still appearing to be surprised, are more reserved and natural in their reactions. the overall impression of the picture is more reverential, less symbolic and melodramatic than the first version. Instead of a sumptuous still life, the table is set only with bread, a bowl, a tin plate, and a jug.

Perhaps the major difference in the second picture is that it includes a new, fifth character. Behind the disciples and the innkeeper, positioned in the shadows, is an elderly maid, her face heavily lined and downcast. She holds an empty bowl and seems too preoccupied with her own thoughts to be paying the dinner party any mind at all. Her inclusion is strange. She doesn’t appear in the first version, and her presence in the upper right corner seems to unbalance the composition. The 1601 version is perfectly composed, balancing one of the disciple’s waving arms with the innkeeper’s passive stance. The 1606 version seems awkwardly composed. The maid’s upper torso floats at the edge of the action. She could be removed with no effect on the overall composition. Who is she, and why did Caravaggio include her in this second version? She has been the source of much speculation by art historians throughout the years…. Perhaps she is the prostitute from Simon’s table, or the tax collector Zacchaeus, or the shepherds from Bethlehem. Maybe she represents the unremembered, everyday people who seemed to find their way to Jesus’ table. Look carefully at the elderly maid. She seems burdened with a lifetime of woes. In Jesus’ time, it was definitely a man’s world, and she is a poor, elderly woman, a maid, perhaps with no family to care for at home.

The elderly maid represents the field of mission to which all of us are called. If Jesus is the locus of Christian mission, the maid represents its subject. In this savage, corporatized, militarized world she represents the people in occupied Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Tibet, and Chechnya. She might be the aboriginal people of Australia, or the Ogoni of Nigeria, or the Kurds in Turkey, or the Dalits and Adivasis of India. The worried maid represents the millions who are being uprooted from their lands by dams and development projects, or the poor who are being actively robbed of their resources and for whom everyday life is a grim battle for water, shelter, survival, and, above all, some semblance of dignity. She represents your neighbor and mine. She focuses my attention on the ostracized gay community, the homeless, the addicted, and all those who clamber at the margins of society and yearn for a place at Jesus’ table, though they might not yet recognize their desire to share Christ’s food.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Along with the regular fare of theology, culture, missional church this blog makes room for the occasional forray into the world of sports.

As a life-long Cowboys fan, I must take a moment to celebrate the win against the Colts yesterday. That is the previously unbeaten Colts. Finally, a big win. Two wins in a row. Can they make it three.

Tony Romo, I'm a big fan.

The stage is set for a run to the playoffs.

How bout them Cowboys!

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Friday, November 17, 2006

The little we know of God...

We must be prepared to find that the last step of our relationship with God is an act of pure adoration, face to face with a mystery into which we cannot enter.

We grow into the knowledge of God gradually from year to year until the end of our life and we will continue to do so through all eternity, without coming to a point when we shall be able to say that now we know all that is knowable of God. This process of the gradual discovery of God leads us at every moment to stand with our past experience behind us and the mystery of God knowable and still unknown before us.

The little we know of God makes it difficult for us to learn more, because the more cannot simply be added to the little, since every meeting brings such a change of perspective that what was known before becomes almost untrue in the light of what is known later.

Creative Prayer: Daily Readings with Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (London, UK: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 1987) p. 60.

The longer I am alive, the more I realize that I know so little about God. I am growing to realize that's okay. I am coming to accept that life is about a gradual discovery of God, who is mystery. Don't confuse me with those Christians who have God all figured out. But I am trying to stay on the way.

Jason Campbell, on staff at Trinity Vineyard in Atlanta, writes a wonderful piece on what it means to be human. The Christian truth makes a startling claim in today's world. The pinnacle of human life is not self-actualization--the autonomous individual living life, pursuing dreams, defining reality as one sees it through the subjective lens of experience. No, this is not the fullness of life that Jesus reveals. The fullness of life is only experienced in communion with others through union with God. It is only in relationship that I can even know the mystery that is personhood--who I am. I may hear God speak, reveal, uncover who I am in private ways, but it will always be sifted in the context of relationships with others. And my experience has been that it is through others, often in unspoken ways, that I come to know who I am...and the reality of God.

We see this communion as the ground of being present in the Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the eternal communion of love and goodness. We enter into our humaness more fully, not by becoming more independent, but by dying to self.

How hard it is to let go of the little we know, to embrace the more, the deeper. The post-modern response to the certainty of modernity has often taken the form of nihilism. The response of Christians has often been to dig in with an apologetic of certainty based on rationalism. Yet what we know about God is not even captured by the meager resources of human reason.

So the Christian worldview begins with the confession that the Word (the Truth) is not just an ontological category to name God, but a person, Jesus who bridges the gap between the transcendent God and the limitations of time, place and humanness. God embraces our humanness and makes it possible for communion with God and with our fellow human beings. The little I know about God begins with a confession that is beyond words. It is a yearning deep in my being. A yearning for God, to embrace God, to know and be known. And to be freed up from my pathos, my pain, my psychotic ways of coping with life and avoiding reality.

This is the truth that cannot be contained by doctrinal formulas, although they are a shadow of the reality. We live in the shadows and look forward to the day when all tears will be wiped away. And we wait patiently. Patiently. Not growing weary of doing good. Living with hope in the midst of questions--but not denying the questions. Not neurotic, just affirming the goodness of God amidst the pathos of the human story. Rejecting the neurotic compulsions of culture that emerge out of our human impulse to cover up our pain and shame.

We bring our full selves into the communion. And this is not an exclusive withdrawal from the world, but a move towards it even as Jesus did. Communion is both symbolic and real. To the extent that we are able to move from communion on our terms, to a letting go, we will know peace.

So we bear with one another in the Church and in the world. Even as Jesus walked with real people, sat at table, washed feet, laughed, drank wine at weddings...so even the spiritual dimension of life, of communion is expressed in the material world. Spirituality is not escape from the world, nor is it accomodation to the hollow, fragmented, destructive expressions of humanness. Jesus brings together the spiritual and the physical, in his very being.

So the Jesus we follow, leads us not only through his example, but by grace through a gracious invitation to union with himself and his body--the Church.

Heart with loving heart united, met to know God's holy will. Let his love in us ignited more and more our spirits fill. He the head, we are his members, we reflect the light he is. He the Master, we disciples, he is ours and we are his.

May we all so love each other and all selfish claims deny, so that each one for the other will not hesitate to die. Even so our Lord has loved us, for our lives he gave his life. Still he grieves and still he suffers, for our selfishness and strife.

Since, O Lord, you have demanded that our lives your love should show, so we wait to be commanded forth into your world to go. Kindle in us love's compassion so that ev'ry one may see in our fellowship the promise of a new humanity.

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Monday, November 13, 2006


Haven't had much time to blog lately. Ira is on sabbatical so I'm picking up with a few more things at SMC. Extra time given to refugee support as well.

Just haven't had any energy left for the blogging discipline. Blogging as a spiritual discipline for the Christian contemplative.

I have been thinking for some time that my blog could use a makeover. So Blogger put out a new version with some new features...so I took the plunge. Not sure I like the lime green. How is the feng shui on the new blog?

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Scattered thoughts...

Went for a hike at Governor Dick the other Saturday. Heather is responsible for the amazing photography.

I also got around to updating the SMC website. Some new pics and stuff. We had a great time at the 1st annual TATH talent shoe. Some good pics of that. Also cool shots of our friendship with and support of the Arabova family.

It was good to have Timm, Krisi, Katia and Thaniel with us at SMC on Tuesday night. Fun time with Kids and Cultures.

Looking forward to the Barn Party on Friday night.

Heard an interesting piece on how technology is pushing politics into new frontiers. One point was made about how the blogging, myspace phenomenon will force candidates to be more real. Using these mediums will not allow for as much canned presentation of candidates as was possible via television. An interesting analysis of how the transition from radio to television as the primary medium impacted politics.