Author Archive: AlanS

John Chinaman

Reading old Newspapers can often be an exciting experience.  Especially in small town newspapers many editors were quite blunt and do the point.  Sometimes this makes for rather humorous descriptions of the rough and tumble life of early white frontier settlers.  Other times, their bluntness cut straight to the heart of an issue, convicting not only the readers of old but those who still gaze upon the articles today.  Recently I found such an article.

On May 18, 1888 the Harper Daily Sentinel in Harper, Ks published an op-ed piece about one of the Asian workmen who had left Harper to go back home.  While the wording grates on modern sensibilities, especially in the final sentence, the point comes across loud and clear.

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Mennonite justification for removing prayer from public schools

Some people find it odd that I am both a pastor and against having mandatory prayer in the public school system. After all, didn’t Jesus say things like, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation,” and “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory”? Aren’t we called to boldly proclaim the Gospel in every area of our life?

The short answer is “yes.” Unfortunately, that’s an answer to the wrong question. The real question for me as a pastor does not have to do with religious freedom but rather with religious coercion. In other words, the question is not, “Can I freely share my faith,” but rather, “Can I force others to share my faith?” As I said, the answer to the first question is “yes,” but the answer to the second is “no.” More importantly, considering that our schools and teachers are representatives of the federal government, the second question is not simply, “Can I force others to share my faith,” but rather, “Can the government force others to share my faith?”

In fact, these two questions are tied together, and the answer cannot be “yes” to both of them. If we live in a society where the answer to the second question is, “Yes, we can force others to have or express a particular faith,” then it is also true that, “No, we do not truly have the freedom to express our faith as we see fit.” (more…)

Saving a denomination

This is a reflection about the MCUSA national convention in Pittsburgh shortly after I returned home.  On the urging of a fellow YARer, I offer this reflection here and would ask for your perspective.

Originally posted here on July 12, 2011

I have a variety of reflections from the Mennonite Church USA national convention that was held in Pittsburgh, PA this last week.  This is just one, hopefully there will be more coming yet.

I went to this convention not knowing for sure if MCUSA would survive past the convention.  The reason was because it felt like there is currently an abnormally large amount of tension in the denomination right now.  There are a lot of issues that are causing tension but the big one is homosexuality, mainly because of one particular situation. (more…)

The end of the world

In January I saw an article in the Wichita Eagle about a woman who was thoroughly convinced that the rapture and the end of the world would be on May 21, 2011.  At 6pm to be exact.  Well, this Saturday is the fateful day and, as one would expect, the story has been picked up by various news outlets.

Now forgive me if I sound a little cynical, but I know my history.  From the very first moments that Jesus walked the earth people have been predicting his return, and thus the end of the world with it.  So far, no one has been right.

What’s more, I know what happened at Münster.  To recap, a group of Anabaptists violently took over the town of Münster and swiftly began killing people, running around naked and doing a whole bunch of other things all because they were certain that Jesus was coming back right then and there.

That was 477 years ago. (more…)

Love Wins – the book review

This post is a followup to my thoughts on the controversy that preceded the release of this book.  You can read those thought on the wandering road  here, and on YAR  here.  This post is also on the MWR blog here.

An artist is, first and foremost, someone who sees the world differently than other people and helps others to see the world in that way.

Rob Bell is not a theologian; he’s an artist.

Bell’s new book Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of every person who ever lived should be first and foremost understood as a work of art. From the vivid imagery and stories that he uses, down to the careful arrangement of words on the page for visual effect, Bell does a masterful job of evoking questions, providing insights and causing the reader to see age-old questions in new ways. (more…)

Love Wins

Is Gandhi in hell?  What’s more, what is hell?  Or heaven, for that matter?

These are some of the questions that have sparked a bit of a firestorm around Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins: a book about heaven hell and the fate of everyone who ever lived.  This first came across my radar screen when I read a post on Tony Jones’s blog late last week about the growing attention and criticism about this book.  Then I did some searching and saw that it has even made a splash on the national news scene from CNN to ABC.

Here’s the book promo video:

Controversy in and of itself isn’t surprising with Rob Bell.  That’s happened before.  What is striking is that judgment has been leveled by a number of people who haven’t even read the book yet because it has not yet been released!

Ultimately the controversy stems from the fact that Bell is raising core questions about issues that are central to the Christian faith.  He has posed the questions in ways that have led some to conclude that Bell is promoting something called Universalism; a doctrine where everyone gets saved, no matter what.  Again, these are all assumptions because none of his critics have actually read the book yet.  The only worthwhile critique I’ve read so far is Greg Boyd’s, namely because he actually has read the book.  (As a side note, as an Anabaptist, it’s worth paying attention to Boyd partly because he’s grown very close to Mennonites in recent years, even flirting with the idea of joining MCUSA.) (more…)

An idea for creative resistance

As I was standing in the shower this morning, pondering the latest news story about the new Travel Safety Administration (TSA) search procedures, I came up with an interesting, Biblically based, idea about how one might go about resisting these new invasive search procedures.

Strip for the TSA

Follow me for a second and I’ll tell you what I mean.

Background

The TSA has now upped the game when it comes to air travel. They are introducing new full body scanners which virtually remove all of your clothes and allow the TSA agents to see everything.  And I mean everything.  If you don’t want to submit to this scan then you can opt for the new enhanced pat down which involves, among other things, actually touching your genitals.  Here’s the catch.  Once you have gotten yourself into this situation and didn’t want to do either one, one would assume that you would be able to simply say, ‘no thanks, I’ll walk to California’ and leave the airport.  Not so fast.  It’s against federal law to leave the security screening process one you have started it, therefore if you choose to refuse both of these methods of search, you are subject to a $10,000 fine and/or a civil lawsuit   (All of this was brought to a head by the experience of John Tyner) So what that means, is that anyone who is traveling through a major city, has the chance of being stuck in a situation where you two apparent options are 1) be violated or 2) face fines and lawsuits.

Or are there really only two options? (more…)

Reflections from Bolivia

I just got back from Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Our church took a group of 10 high schoolers on a week and a half long service trip.  Our primary work was on the Samuelito Daycare building, a project of the Mennonite Churches in Bolivia.  Our church here in Harper, Ks has had a relationship with the Bolivian Mennonites for going on 20 years.  For a fairly typical rural Mennonite church, it’s a partnership that is pretty special and really quite amazing.

One thing to know about our group is that the majority of the kids that we took aren’t particularly involved in church.  Also, most of them haven’t really been out of the state or even our county, let alone to another country.  That to say that this trip was the first profound experience of the working of God on a global scale for most of our kids.  As with most service trips, yes we did do some amount of good work on the building project.  However, we certainly received more than we gave and were changed in some profound ways.

As part of our reporting back to the congregation, I offered the sermon below.  Hopefully it’s a helpful reflection.  It’s specific to this trip and to Bolivia, but I think it really should to many cross-cultural situations.

Oh, yeah and it’s cross posted here.

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I went to the Grand Canyon with my family when I was in High School.  As my family toured various parts of the canyon and different times of the day it felt as though I was seeing new things about every 10 minutes.  And of course, I felt compelled to take picture of every new thing that I saw.  When we got back home and had our pictures developed I remember looking at all of the pictures and thinking, “yep, that’s a hole in the ground.  Yep, another hole in the ground.”  What had been so vivid when I was experiencing it lost it’s uniqueness when I tried to put it on film. (more…)

Anabaptist Rosary

As a note: This is also posted at The Wandering Road

So I’ve recently run across the Catholic Rosary.  While I’m drawn to it’s structure and it’s ability to help people pray, as a good Anabaptist, I take issue with some of it’s theology.  So here is my initial thoughts and proposal for an Anabaptist Rosary.

First- An orientation to the actual Rosary.

How to pray the Rosary
1. Make the Sign of the Cross and say the “Apostles Creed.”
2. Say the “Our Father.”
3. Say three “Hail Marys.”
4. Say the “Glory be to the Father.”
5. Announce the First Mystery; then say
the “Our Father.”
6. Say ten “Hail Marys,” while meditating on the Mystery.
7. Say the “Glory be to the Father.”
8. Announce the Second Mystery: then say the “Our Father.” Repeat 6 and 7 and continue with the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Mysteries in the same manner.
9. Say the ‘Hail, Holy Queen’ on the medal after the five decades are completed.
As a general rule, depending on the season, the Joyful Mysteries are said on Monday and Saturday; the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday and Friday; the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday and Sunday; and the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday. (more…)

Shifting definition of “Ethnic”

First things first.  Being Mennonite has nothing, repeat NOTHING, to do with ethnicity.  Being Mennonite, or any other version of Anabaptism, has to do with a particular understanding of faith, religion and God.

That being said, I offer the following observation on the use of the term “ethnic” within the Mennonite Church.

One one hand: I am an “ethnic” Mennonite.

I grew up in central Kansas.  Within a 50 mile radius from the Hesston/Newton area there were over 100 different Mennonite settlements.  Each of these groups came from various parts of Europe during the 1860’s to 1890’s.  They could hardly be described as a homogeneous group, even though today they all happen to all be seen as white/european/Americans.  To be fair, the central Kansas Mennonites are also not the same as the northern Indiana Mennonites, which are not the same as the east coast Mennonites.  Nevertheless, I grew up knowing that I was part of a group known as “ethnic” Mennonites.  In my childhood consciousness that meant, primarily, that we ate weird food, had weird last names, kept track of genealogy to the 14th generation, had grandparents that spoke German and a variety of other things.  Above all, however, the term “ethnic Mennonite” referred specifically to a group of white people who emigrated from Europe to the United States.

On the other hand: I am not an “ethnic” Mennonite. (more…)

Does size really matter?

People have asked me if I grew up in the country or in town.  Well, kinda.  I technically lived within the city limits of Goessel but I could see a wheat field from my back yard.  In addition, while Goessel was an official town (signified by it’s own telephone prefix and a post office) the booming Mennonite metropolis of roughly 500 people isn’t exactly what I’d call “urban”.  Being the biggest football player, not only in my high school but my entire league, I followed the natural progression and went to Bethel College in North Newton, Ks to play ball.  Eventually I wound up with a Bible and Religion degree.  After college I worked for Buhler Mennonite Church as a youth pastor as I began studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary Great Plains Extension (AMBS).  After four years at Buhler I finished up my degree at the AMBS main campus in Elkhart, In.  This last spring my wonderful, and patient, wife and I moved to Harper, Ks where I now work at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church as the solo pastor.  Even though Harper is three times the size of my hometown (1,500 people) living here would still place us firmly in the rural category.  My wife works as a nurse at the local hospital which has a whopping 25 beds and an emergency room that is literally has a sign “ring bell for service”.  We’re not quite in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from where we live.

That being said, if you have never been to the prairies to witness the great expansive and dynamic sky, then you are really missing out.  One can hardly question the awesome power of God watching a massive thunderhead develop in the hot summer evening.  With beauty comes power.  These storms that give life through their rain and are so beautiful to watch from a distance are also the same ones that have been known to destroy entire towns. (more…)