The Hypocritical Pacifist: A Follow-Up

I knew that the post I published yesterday might generate some reaction from those who enjoy arguing about issues like this. I did not wish to engage in arguments of that sort, so I did not include a comments section following the post itself. I promoted the post on Facebook, however, and I knew that some might leave comments there.

One of my friends (a real friend, not merely a Facebook friend) saw the notice of yesterday’s post on The Relentless Pursuit’s Facebook page. He left a thoughtful comment there. I believe it deserves a thoughtful response. I know that most of my Facebook friends and most of my blog readers never see the FB page dedicated to this blog, so I decided to use this follow-up post to address the issues he raised in his comment. Continue reading

The Honest Confession of a Hypocritical Pacifist

I am a pacifist. I don’t say that very often. I am annoying in so many other ways that I try to avoid making an issue of my convictions in this area lest I provide people with either another reason to be annoyed with me or an explanation (at least in their minds) for why I am so annoying in the first place.

Once in a while I am pointedly asked, often as a result of something I have written, “Are you a pacifist?”. I usually obfuscate a bit in my reply, noting that pacifism is mainly a political position with philosophical roots. I prefer the term “biblical nonresistance,” since my objection to violence, including the violence associated with “justifiable” wars, is rooted in my understanding of the teachings of Jesus. Continue reading

Podcast No. 7

Vector Button PodcastPodcast No. 7 is now available. It is called “I Just Want To Go Home,” and it is about 10 minutes long. To download it as an mp3 file, click here. To listen to the podcast now, click on the button below. This podcast is also archived on the “Podcasts” page of this blog. Thanks for listening. 

There Is Still No Plan B

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a blog post in which I affirmed my lifelong belief that God had called me to vocational Christian ministry and repeated my intention to fulfill that call for the remainder of my life. I called that post “There Is No Plan B.”

Yesterday I published a post in which I described my current circumstances in stark terms. I laid out both the scope of my current ministry as well as the financial realities which my wife and I are facing. A few of my readers wrote to assure me of their prayers and to offer other expressions of encouragement.

Early this morning, after a mostly sleepless night, I sensed God sayingStarry night that I should re-publish that post from last February as a way of declaring, once again, that I am in this for the duration. I have edited that post a bit, adding some elements toward the end that reflect the current situation more accurately, but it is essentially the same content that I originally wrote. I meant it then. I mean it now. There is still no Plan B.

Continue reading

I Want It All

I’ve not had the best of luck with Facebook status updates lately (as I noted in my blog post of November 9). Still, I ran across a series of updates which I published last May (Yes, I keep a file. Do you think I take Facebook a bit too seriously?), and I felt they were worth repeating. In fact, upon reflection, I decided to use them as the basis for a blog post. They will help me say something I have wanted to say for a while.

When I wrote the status update which I published on May 3, I had no idea it would be the first installment in a short series. I don’t recall what prompted it. I only know that, over the course of a week, I published five status updates, all of which conformed to the same pattern.

That is, in each of them, I reflected on the ways my life had been affected by the qualities and characteristics of the major Christian traditions with which I had identified over the years. Instead of saying more about that series of posts, I’ll simply share them with you again, as they appeared on my Facebook wall from May 3 to May 10, 2012.

Continue reading

I’m Not Trying To Make Trouble

Tomorrow is my birthday. I will be sixty-three years old. Ever since I turned fifty, it has been increasingly difficult for me to believe that I am as old as my birth certificate says I am. When I was a kid (and this is probably true for everybody), a person in his or her sixties seemed positively ancient. A few years ago, the name of former President Lyndon Johnson came up in a conversation (don’t ask me how that happened), and I remember the shock I felt when it was noted that LBJ was only sixty years old when he left office. In my recollection, he was always an old man. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I do even now, how many people think of me as an old man.

For much of my life, or so it seems in retrospect, I was the youngest person in the room. My late November birthday meant that, from first grade through high school, almost all of my classmates were older than me, some by nearly a year. I was also a short, scrawny kid with limited athletic ability and crooked teeth. (In those days, dental insurance was unheard of, and there was no money for “luxuries” such as orthodontics.) But I was smart and could think fast on my feet. Perhaps that explains, at least in part, why some people say I was always on the defensive and ready to engage in an argument at the drop of a hat.

Life would have been far different for me if I had not been blessed (and I mean that sincerely) with a sharp mind and a gift for public speaking. Despite my obvious physical limitations and the fact that my family had little in the way of material wealth, I have never felt intimidated in the presence of people with money or power (and I have known some). I attribute that to my awareness, from an early age, that I had a good mind and could express myself effectively.

Continue reading

The Past Is Prologue (or How Anabaptism Continues To Influence This Anglican)

I’ve told this story before. A couple of years ago I took a graduate-level course in the history of Anglicanism. One day, well into the course curriculum, I found myself responding, yet again, to what I perceived to be an unwarranted and misguided criticism, from one of my fellow-students, of some aspect of the Free Church tradition, where I had spent more than thirty-five years in vocational ministry.

After several minutes of “spirited” exchange, the professor waded into the fray. After confirming that my learned opponent was indeed misguided in his critique, at least on that particular point, the instructor leaned across the lectern and looked directly at me. “You’re not an Anglican,” he said. It wasn’t a judgment or an accusation, and there was not one note of rancor in his voice. He was simply making an observation. “You’re not an Anglican,” he repeated. “You’re a liturgical Anabaptist.”

He later explained that he wasn’t challenging my commitment to Anglicanism nor suggesting that I should not be preparing for Holy Orders. Rather, he was voicing his opinion that my Anabaptist convictions were so deeply ingrained that they naturally informed my response to criticism of the Free Church tradition and infused it with passion. I have to say I think he was right.

Last winter I wrote a blog post called “My Debt to Anabaptism.” I meant everything I wrote there. Since that time, however, I have had occasion to think more about my quarter-century sojourn among Mennonite Anabaptists, the lessons I learned and the convictions I developed there, and the relationship of that chapter of my pilgrimage to my current identification as an Anglican priest.

One such opportunity was occasioned when I heard that Gene Herr had died. In response, I wrote a blog post called “Gene Herr Was My Hero” to express my appreciation for the testimony and example of a man who grew up as a Mennonite Anabaptist but was drawn toward the liturgical tradition later in his life. I admired his courage in following his convictions and his insistence that these two traditions could strengthen each other.

More recently I stumbled onto the online musings of Tim Chesterton, an Anglican priest in Canada, who developed an interest in historical Anabaptism and its contemporary expressions and drew conclusions similar to those of Gene Herr regarding the compatibility of Anabaptism with the liturgical tradition and the mutual benefit which he believed Anabaptism and his own Anglican heritage could be to each other. He spent a sabbatical studying Anabaptism and compiled his conclusions into a series of blog posts. I found them fascinating.

All of this convinced me that I needed to write another post in which I would update the conclusions I expressed in my earlier post. This, then, is that.

My professor was right. I am a liturgical Anabaptist. I might still be a Mennonite if I could have found a place, within the particular group of Mennonites with whom I was serving, where my growing convictions regarding the importance of the liturgical tradition would be acknowledged and appreciated. Finding no place like that, I had no choice but to turn in another direction. I became an Anglican with Anabaptist convictions instead of an Anabaptist with liturgical sensibilities.

I love Anglican worship, and I don’t think I could ever feel at home again in a tradition in which the celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) was not the pinnacle of the church’s corporate worship. At the same time, I miss a lot that I had come to love and appreciate as an Anabaptist. Yes, I miss the tradition of a capella congregational singing which some Mennonite churches still cherish. And, oddly enough, I miss the sense of “family-ness” which pervades much of the Mennonite community, even though I always felt that I was a guest at the table and not really a member of the family.

Here’s what I miss most about Anabaptism, however. I miss the serious conversation I used to engage in with other Anabaptists, many of them my colleagues in ministry, concerning the interface between the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, their interpretation by Paul and others in the NT Epistles, and their practical application amidst the contemporary culture. I didn’t always agree with my fellow Anabaptists, but I always respected their viewpoint (even though I’m certain that more than a few of them would be surprised to hear me say that).

Like most traditions, and like me when I was serving among them, Anabaptist Christians talk a better game than they play. But I miss talking that game with them, and I’ve concluded that, at least sometimes, the more you talk about something the more likely you are to do something as a result.

My experience among Anabaptists sharpened my sensitivity to injustice in the world and strengthened my convictions regarding “biblical nonresistance.” (See Matthew 5:43-48.) That is a perspective almost completely absent from the circle of colleagues among whom I move as an Anglican. I miss it terribly. (It is not absent from Anglican sensibilities altogether, however, as this quote by Desmond Tutu illustrates.)

So, in this update to my post titled “My Debt to Anabaptism,” I am going on record to declare that, whatever the context of my future ministry as an Anglican priest, I will be making it clear that the shape of my Anglicanism will be strongly informed by my Anabaptist convictions. And now that I know that men like Gene Herr and Tim Chesterton share my convictions in that regard and have left a written record to serve as precedent for me, I am even more energized and encouraged.

In The Tempest, Shakespeare wrote that “what’s past is prologue.” I don’t know how long I still have to serve Christ and His Kingdom, but whether it is two weeks or thirty years, I plan to serve it as an Anglican Anabaptist (or should that be an Anabaptist Anglican?). I am totally convinced that my pilgrimage has not been a series of disjointed meanderings. I feel enriched and empowered by my exposure to these two traditions—Anabaptism and Anglicanism—into which God has providentially guided me over the past thirty-five years. They are not mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, mutually beneficial, and I am grateful to God for allowing me to experience the benefits of both communions… separately in the past and blended in my future ministry.

For some specific descriptions of ways in which this union of Anabaptism and Anglicanism may manifest itself it my future ministry, stay tuned to my future blog posts. Thank you for reading, and as always…

Soli Deo Gloria.

Gene Herr Was My Hero

I don’t think I ever met Gene Herr, although our paths may have crossed many years ago, before I knew who he was and when I was even more of a nobody than I am now. Gene was a Mennonite, born and raised, who became a Roman Catholic in 2005 when he was in his seventies. Perhaps that sentence alone is enough to tell you why he is a hero of mine.

My wife assures me that I first learned of Gene Herr sometime in the late ’80s or ’90s, while he and his wife were living in Michigan where they had founded a ministry called The Hermitage. Located on 50+ wooded acres, The Hermitage was (and still is) a place for spiritual retreat and formation. When I included a description of the St. Patrick Center in the ministry prospectus which I wrote a year ago, The Hermitage was one of several similar endeavors which provided inspiration and a model for that vision.

Gene Herr died on January 1 this year, although I did not learn of his passing until today. The June issue of The Mennonite, the monthly organ of Mennonite Church USA, published a major article which assessed the impact of his life and ministry. Gene Herr actually was what I have aspired to be—a sacramental and liturgical Anabaptist.

The only personal contact I ever had with Gene Herr came about nearly two years ago, in August 2010. I had written a letter to the editor of the Mennonite Weekly (now World) Review. Gene read my letter and sent me a handwritten note of encouragement in response.

Here is part of what I wrote in that letter—

I joined the Mennonite Church in 1982 and for 26 years served in a variety of ministry roles, including 8 years as a pastor and 14 years as a teacher in a Mennonite Bible college not affiliated with MCUSA.  While teaching there, I came to appreciate the beauty and richness of liturgical worship.  Since I was unable to find a Mennonite congregation in that area which shared my convictions, I began attending an Anglican church, but I never abandoned or compromised my nonresistance convictions nor my commitment to kingdom living and radical discipleship. Still, because I no longer attended a Mennonite church, my teaching contract was terminated in 2008.

I am now preparing for Holy Orders in the Anglican Church in North America, not so much because I have uncritically embraced Anglicanism but because there seems to be more room for my Anabaptist convictions in the Anglican communion than for my liturgical sensibilities in Anabaptism.  I am less an Anglican than a liturgical Anabaptist.

Here is part of what he wrote in response—

My wife and I had a retreat place in southern Michigan. We began with strong Mennonite support with a goal of working at a spirituality to make possible what we have as a call to peace and justice. Our work became wonderfully ecumenical. …

In ’05, the 50th year of my ordination (as a Mennonite minister) at Scottdale, PA, I became a Roman Catholic. … I identify with your struggle and quest for a home. … Blessings to you as you live and serve between the traditions. I have many (Mennonite) friends and still am able to do some teaching in Mennonite settings.

And then, this from the article in The Mennonite, which I mentioned above—

In response to God’s call,… Gene, a lifelong Mennonite, was received into the Catholic Church (in 2005).

This step wasn’t a rejection of his Mennonite roots but the fulfillment of a lifelong faith as an Anabaptist, says Ivan Kauffman, who with Gene and others helped develop Bridgefolk, a movement of sacramentally minded Mennonites and peace-minded Roman Catholics who come together to celebrate each other’s traditions, explore each other’s practices and honor each other’s contribution to the mission of Christ’s church.

“Gene did not turn his back on his Mennonite heritage or on the Mennonite church,” Kauffman says. “He continued to serve the Mennonite community in various ways to the end of his life. What he did do was find ways to make the riches of the pre-Reformation spiritual tradition, out of which the 16th-century Anabaptist movement emerged, available to 20th-century Mennonites.

“He and … Mary did so in ways that were helpful to hundreds of other Mennonites. In the end, however, Gene came to believe he should not just borrow from the Catholic tradition [but] become a full participant in it.”

Gene testifies to this perspective in an essay he wrote: “I am a Roman Catholic not because I have a file folder full of arguments to prove this is superior to all other ecclesial groups but because this is a way of living into a tradition that connects me to God’s people in a fullness of faith, hope and love across millennia.”

That is very similar to the testimony I could give regarding my own pilgrimage from Anabaptism to the liturgical tradition of Anglicanism.

I did not grow up in Anabaptism, as Gene Herr did. And for nine years I was the face and voice of a group called Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship, which pointed out areas within contemporary Anabaptism (especially MCUSA) where we saw evidence of “doctrinal erosion” and a slipping away from the orthodox heritage of historical Anabaptism. For both of those reasons, my transition from Anabaptism to Anglicanism resulted in greater alienation between me and my former associates within MCUSA than was true of Gene Herr in his relationship with Mennonites after his conversion to Catholicism.

Still, even in his case, as the article in The Mennonite observes—

As (Gene and his wife, Mary) pursued their visionary calling, the wider church did not always understand or affirm the new territories they explored. Eventually, however, many pastors across the church came to appreciate the pastoral nurture they received from the couple at The Hermitage…

I was not fortunate enough to have benefited from the kind of face-to-face mentoring and spiritual support from Gene Herr which so many others experienced, but I was enriched and encouraged by my limited contact. That brief encounter was enough to let me know that, in Gene Herr, I had found a “kindred spirit.”

I have no idea what, if anything, will develop, in my case, as far as a significant ministry among Anglicans is concerned. So far, the landscape looks fairly bleak in that regard. But it may very well be that, through this blog and in other ways, I can still share with my friends and acquaintances in Anabaptism the reality which I have experienced through my encounter with liturgical Anglicanism.

I am not out to make Anglican converts of Anabaptists. In all of my life and ministry, my goal is to encourage believers to take seriously the call of Christ to be faithful citizens of His Kingdom. The rich heritage of the liturgical tradition has been a great help to me in my personal pursuit of that goal. Gene Herr was an encouragement sent to me from God, and one of these days I will be able to tell him that in person.

RIP, Gene Herr.