Prairie View

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


That title seems both painfully presumptuous and distastefully bland--as though I would have anything at all worthwhile to say on this topic, or as though I thought it a boring topic, unworthy of the effort of crafting an interesting title.  The fact of the matter is that the curriculum committee that I am a part of is working on this area of curriculum development and I'm spending a lot of time thinking about art.

In the committee work, the first part of the process involves developing a philosophy statement, but those of us who are working on this are not trained philosophers, and although all of us have college degrees, we are unanimous in feeling under-equipped for this task.  So we're doing what we all know is necessary in such cases, praying a lot and reaching out for resources outside our committee.  Right now we're individually reading the book Art in Action by Nicholas Wolterstorff.  Although a blurb on the cover assures us that it is "remarkably clear and entertaining" I find reading it a tough slog.

Developing a vocabulary is the first order of business in reading Art and Action, so I am learning about culture-avoiders and aesthetic conservatives, reconsideration and theological interpretation, a functional approach, objects of action and instruments of action, causal generation and count generation,  non-idiosyncratic normalities, abstractive contemplation, expropriation, avant-garde art, immensity of repertoire, high art, critic/evaluator.  I've only read to page 35 so far, and really haven't hit the "remarkably clear and entertaining" part yet.  I do understand general ideas suggested by the above terms, but this author does what many writers must do when they treat a subject in depth.  They must use a vocabulary specific to their topic and they take great pains to define their language as narrowly as needed to serve their purpose.

The author of Art in Action uses the words of Dorothy Sayers to describe his purpose for writing:  " . . . to relate my 'aesthetic to the central Christian dogmas.'"  Our committee has a similar goal, with the application being an effective expression of it in our Pilgrim School curriculum.

My personal list of questions going into this study of art is no doubt different than the lists of others on the committee, and will probably seem remarkably elementary to those who have given more thought to this topic than I have.  Posting them here is a crowd-sourcing effort.  In other words, I'd like help from  my readers--both in any perspectives you're willing to share and in your recommendations for resources.

1.  What is the difference between arts and crafts?

2.  Is there equal justification for arts and crafts in a Christian elementary and high school?

3.  What all is included in art?  Walsterstorff lists eight categories:  visual depiction, sculpture, music, poetry, literary fiction, drama, dance, and film.  He acknowledges that others such as architecture are sometimes added, but he believes that currently the eight constitute a widely agreed upon list.

4.  Is there equal justification for every one of the eight categories in our schools and in our life?  Just yesterday I listened again to the first TED talk I ever heard, and was surprised that it included as much on art as it did.  Here's the link.  Put on your British ears and enjoy the 20-minute talk.  Robinson says that in our schools an arts hierarchy exists, with some of the arts almost never included. I can't imagine broad support for all of the arts having equal emphasis at Pilgrim, and I'm trying to decide if I feel OK about that.

5.  When does appreciation of art cross over into hedonism?  Is it a problem if it does?


Yesterday evening  Hiromi and I attended a Community Concert for a performance by the Sons of Serendip, a group of young men who had met a number of years ago when each was a graduate student at Boston University.  The concert was a real listening pleasure, even though, as usually happens, the music that others found familiar was not familiar to me. Not watching TV or movies or listening to the radio has that effect.  Very few of the songs had Christian content, but somehow the performance exuded a pervasive wholesomeness. Instrumentalists for a cello, harp, and keyboard accompanied a single vocalist with an amazing versatile voice.

The vocalist did all the talking for the group.  He was engaging, with just the right mix of warmth, humility, genuineness, gratitude, humor, and delight in the moment.  His graduate degree was in theology, and he had worked as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher.  The keyboardist was a lawyer, the cellist taught cello, and the harpist was a middle school teacher almost tall enough to be a basketball player.  They had a delightful mix of honest-to-goodness careers beyond music.  All of the performers were African American, with the exception of one who had a Latino-sounding name.

Hints of spirituality appeared in the concert flier.  One of the musicians chose to attend Boston University after he awoke one morning with a sunbeam on his face and heard a peaceful voice uttering the school's name.  This followed an evening of prayer about the matter.  On one of their online videos, one image appears to be the group praying together.  They are standing with bowed heads, arms across their neighbor's shoulders. These hints lead me to suspect that this is a Christian group, although their music is not overtly Christian.

Maybe after a good night's sleep I'll be able to articulate what is right about excellent art by Christians even if they do not articulate a Christian message in their work. I'd love to have readers beat me to it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Answered Prayer

During the past few weeks, we have experienced a flurry of light bulbs burning out. In addition, on Saturday, one of two breakers in a fuse box on the meter pole tripped, and about half of the lights in the house were affected.

When Hiromi took down the recessed light fixture in the bathroom ceiling to change the bulb, he found the old bulb shattered, its litter scattered across the glass "bottom" of the fixture.

Hiromi is no ignoramus when it comes to electrical matters.  He once worked as the foreman of an electrical crew that did the needed work on a six-story building, so he knows something about how these systems work.  He could not figure out what the problem might be with our electricity, however, but clearly something was amiss.

I worried only briefly about fire danger from an electrical short somewhere before I remembered to pray that God would show us what was wrong.  Ignorant as I am about electricity, I think I may have discovered the answer today.

Lots of big equipment descended today on the soybean field surrounding our property--so many pieces that at first I did not notice the "cherry-picker" truck parked on the road.  When the collection of trucks and tractors thinned out enough, I decided to collect the mail from the box.  I got out just in time to see the driver of the truck on the road finishing the process of tucking his equipment inside the truck in preparation for leaving.  On a sudden impulse, I marched up to the truck just as he was ready to get in and drive off.

"Was there a problem with the power line?"  I asked. He told me that he had just re-fastened the lightening arrestor that had come loose from the pole.

"Could that have affected our power supply in the house?"  I asked.  I went on to tell him about the light bulbs burning out and the breaker at the pole tripping, and our unsuccessful efforts to pinpoint the cause of the problems.

"I suppose it's possible that this might have caused power surges that created those problems,"  he observed.  Then he suggested that we might take note if the problem seems to be fixed after this.

I told him we had prayed for an answer to our electrical problem, and I thanked him for answering my questions.  I went back to the house with the mail and the lineman drove off, after turning around in our driveway.

Tonight at the supper table, Hiromi asked me if this is what I'm thankful for today*, and I said yes.  It was an answer not only to the prayer about the electrical puzzle, but for my prayer that the Lord would send me encouragement today.  The Father's care shone brightly in the "all in a days work" actions of one lineman.  Thank you God.

*As part of developing good sleep habits (by reducing stress) we've begun the habit of reflecting each day on what we are thankful for.  We share at the supper table what we've thought of.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Magisterial Reformation

This post has been in the making for several weeks, so the time references are no longer current.


I learned a new term,  Magisterial Reformation, yesterday morning on my way to finding information on a question prompted by a Facebook conversation, coupled with studying in preparation to teach 2 Peter 3: 11-18 in Sunday School class.  Here's what came up when I googled something incoherent like "view of government Zwingli Anabaptists."The Magisterial Reformation is a phrase that "draws attention to the manner in which the Lutheran and Calvinist reformers related to secular authorities, such as princes, magistrates, or city councils", i.e. "the magistracy".[1] While the Radical Reformation rejected any secular authority over the Church,[2] the Magisterial Reformation argued for the interdependence of the church and secular authorities, i.e. "The magistrate had a right to authority within the church, just as the church could rely on the authority of the magistrate to enforce discipline, suppress heresy, or maintain order."[1] (Wikipedia)

I was excited, because I had found someone else's words to draw a fine line that I had attempted to draw in the Facebook conversation--with some outraged (and, from  my perspective, outrageous) responses.  I did not draw historical parallels there, but rather tried to defend being discerning and willing to give a Christian witness (which the early Anabaptists of the 1500s did)--while at the same time staying clear of political entanglements (which they also did).  I should probably have learned from past experience that I am almost never believed (especially by politically active or opinionated Anabaptists) when I say that this is what I desire and try to do. What usually happens is that I am pegged as being on the opposite side (read:  promoting the "wrong" party) of whoever is commenting, and I am reproved in some fashion.  Digression:  I wonder what it means when a person uses parentheses or dashes to excess in writing as I just did.  Scatterbrainedness probably, and an inability to think of simple alternative constructions.  And laziness.

In the past few decades most of the Conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian world has been walking lockstep with the Magisterial Reformers, and I think it's a big mistake, just as the Anabaptist reformers believed. Specifically, the error of the Magisterial Reformers was that they insisted on staying involved in government machinery, using it to accomplish their own purposes. They wanted to have freedom of religion--in Zwingli's case, freedom to be Protestant instead of Catholic.  Their way of acquiring their version of religious freedom was to get the Council of their canton to rule that the Protestant religion was to be the only one practiced in their Canton (political entity, ruled by a council), and, of course, to enforce the rule.  Protestants kept the Catholic practice of infant baptism, and required it of all who lived in the Canton Zurich in Switzerland.

Precisely at this point, the Anabaptists parted company with Zwingli.  Conrad Grebel had been a Catholic priest, and then a gifted student and admirer of Zwingli, but believer's baptism was what Grebel and other Anabaptist leaders began to see as being taught in Scripture--in opposition to infant baptism.  They understood baptism as the symbol of a deliberate choice--to repent from the old life (the previous sinful/selfish life) to live a new life as a follower of Jesus, empowered by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The symbol of baptism simply did not seem appropriately applied to infants.

In a series of public disputations, the Anabaptists tried valiantly to explain their position, hoping to influence the Zurich Council to allow them to baptize only believing adults instead of infants, but the Council ruled against them, and adult baptism eventually earned its practitioners a death sentence, as did failure to baptize their infants.  A host of Anabaptists subsequently became martyrs. In Zurich it was the Protestants who tortured and killed Anabaptists.  In other cantons that had stayed Catholic, Catholics were the persecutors of Anabaptists.

Sorting out some names of people and places might be necessary here, depending on a person's familiarity with this part of the historical record.*

Decades passed with Anabaptist individuals and groups forced ever farther to the fringes of society and settled areas.  In time, however, one principle of their lived-out faith penetrated Western society. In the late 1700s the principle found its way into the United States Constitution, a fact which explains how the world has the Anabaptists to thank for a government that codifies the separation of church and state. This was a new concept in government.

A curious dismantling of this separation has been underway of late, with many conservative Anabaptists joining the magisterial call to arms sounded by other Christian individuals and groups. Effort is being invested in changing the system by becoming part of the system as Zwingli did.  In contrast to Conrad Grebel's bold challenge to the Council, the current effort involves "joining the council" by advocating for political parties and candidates, and voting for favorite candidates.  This approach does not honor the 500-year-old Anabaptist tradition that was largely preserved among them in America until the last few decades of the 1900s.

As a full-on Magisterial Reformer, Zwingli's end serves as a warning for how untenable this position can become in Christian practice.  He died while leading a military charge into a neighboring canton that had refused to become Protestant.  For Zwingli, participation in a government that espoused the use of force ultimately cost his life.  By that time, in Zwingli's life, other aspects of Christian faith and the practice of following Christ in life had become casualties as well.

Jacob Grebel, Conrad Grebel's father, was one person whose experience during this era is particularly poignant.  He desperately tried to act with integrity in his position as a highly respected council member in the canton of Zurich.  Although he never became an Anabaptist, he, along with several other councilmen, advocated leniency for the Anabaptists.  This site says:   " . . . he [Grebel] disapproved of Zwingli's interference in political matters and use of civil government to establish his creed and suppress all dissent. Jacob Grebel believed that a church should not, through the state or otherwise, exercise jurisdiction over those who do not voluntarily unite with it."  Although he and Zwingli had a history of close friendship, Grebel's position infuriated Zwingli, and he sought to have  Grebel punished.  On charges that he had accepted payments for recruiting mercenary soldiers, Jacob Grebel was convicted and sentenced to death by beheading, a sentence that was swiftly carried out, Grebel protesting all the way from the courtroom to the execution site.  

Zwingli himself had done exactly what Grebel did, at the same time, five years earlier, and many among the populace saw Zwingli's act against Grebel for what it was, an effort to solidify his own power by means of an unjust accusation and a wrongful death. Jacob Grebel obviously felt conflict in his Magisterial Reformer role.  In the end, while trying to operate with integrity within the system, he became a victim of it rather than being able to influence it toward more noble ends.  The possibility of this happening in our time should not be lost on modern day Anabaptists.

My gentle brother-in-law Roberto, who is a non-Anabaptist pastor, saw a dark side of Magisterial Power first hand in his homeland of Nicaragua.  He lamented the fact that Christians (and other champions of freedom for the oppressed) who are embroiled in political upheavals often experience a dramatic role reversal when the existing political power collapses, and the formerly oppressed become the new oppressors. In this scenario, all credibility for the "freedom cause" is lost in the eyes of those who come under the heel of the new authorities.

Today, many politically active Christians see themselves as an oppressed people engaged in a struggle for freedom.  What will happen if they ever gain the upper hand in the political entities where they reside?  We know from Scripture that the result will not be a kingdom of God on earth.  Jesus decisively repudiated that method of establishing His kingdom. Having arrived in a position of power by force does not bode well for the prospects of Christians in power becoming gentle rulers. Many would-be immigrants to America no doubt feel that this has already materialized. 
My takeaways:

1. Anabaptists have historically opposed becoming involved in Magisterial Reformation.

2. The teachings of Jesus and examples from history demonstrate the wisdom of this historic position.

3.  The kingdom of God never expands by human force or power.  

4.  Assuming a political identity in order to influence government by political means is always a difficult position to maintain with integrity.    

5.  "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  This is not original with me, but it rings true, in my estimation.  Christians in pursuit of power seek what is actually a corrupting status.  

6.  Nationalism is not a Christian virtue.  Christians must never forget that "stranger and pilgrim" are basic elements of their identity as followers of Jesus. (Today, on what would have been  my father's 91st birthday, I remember how clearly he understood and taught this.)

7.  In its formative era, Anabaptist leaders spoke truth to power at great cost to themselves.  Then they followed up with leading quiet lives of witness to these truths, often in hiding or living as refugees.  By a combination of these means, the kingdom of God was extended to one person, one martyr at a time.   

8.  Those who claim the Anabaptist name today while holding to a position that rejects magisterial involvement need not apologize for this stance.  A great weight of effective, history-altering, God-honoring, tradition is on their side.


*The term Anabaptist means "another baptism."  Those of us who understand Pennsylvania German say "ahnah" for  "another," so we understand where this term came from--common language.  In the 1520s, Anabaptist was a derogatory term.  Scholars in our time usually use the term "radical reformers" for the Anabaptists who came out of the Reformation period.  Swiss Brethren is the term that was used in Switzerland for the Anabaptists.  Zurich was one of many city-states in the confederation of Switzerland.  

One Swiss Brethren minister by the name of Jacob Amman led in an effort to purify the church.  Those who looked to him as their leader eventually were known as Amish--after Jacob Amman.  All of the Amish eventually emigrated to America.

Mennonites are named after Menno Simons, who was a reformer from Holland.  He was never one of the Swiss Brethren, but when he decided to leave the Catholic priesthood, it was the beliefs of the Swiss Brethren that he aligned himself with.  Some Mennonites came to America and others stayed behind in Europe.

Martin Luther was German and his followers eventually became known as Lutherans.  Luther himself was very anti-Anabaptist, a fact that the biographer Roland Bainton refers to as the biggest blot on Luther's record.  Anglicans and Presbyterians descend from the Lutheran line of religious tradition.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Hiromi is the consummate food adventurer.  Since he works in a store that sells groceries, he notices when new fruits and vegetables are offered for sale, usually only seasonally.  This week he brought home Rambutan, a fruit that is related to the Lychee and Longan. It's native to Indonesia and Malaysia, according to Wikipedia.  Mexico was the supplier for the fruit available at Walmart.

Rambutan one of the strangest fruits I've ever seen.  The outside of the golf-ball-sized fruit is covered with long but very soft spines.  The color is dark red, with touches of green. When the outer shell is broken or cut off, a layer of edible white fruit is revealed, surrounding a hard seed which must be discarded.  The fruit is perhaps best described as having a very firm gel-like consistency.  It is mildly flavored and slightly sweet.


If I hadn't married Hiromi I might never have tasted many foods that I enjoy:

Kumquats (tiny "oranges")
Asian persimmons (larger and sweeter than the American version)
Asian pears (round and firm like an apple)
Pomelo (looks like a giant grapefruit)
Goumi (tiny fruit that grows on Autumn-Olive-like shrubs)

Several different kinds of sea vegetables, kelp among them
Greens:  shungiku, smooth leaf mustard, garlic chives
Daikon (Long Japanese radish)
Snow peas
Fiddle head ferns
Artichokes (fresh)
White sweet potatoes
Baby corn
Shishito peppers
Gobo (related to salsify)
Kanpyo (dried gourd)
Bamboo shoots

Wood Ear
Others that I never learned the names of

Sea Food
Sashimi (raw fish of various kinds--e. g. salmon, tuna, yellowtail)
Octopus (very chewy)
Eel (the barbecued version is good)
Lobster (still alive when we walked into the restaurant)
Bonito (harvested when small and dried whole--used to flavor soup broth)

Fresh ginger root
Natto (fermented soybeans)
Tofu (soybean curd--like a bland soft cheese)
Miso (fermented soybean paste)
Oil made from toasted sesame seeds
Sansho (spice)
Wasabi (like green horseradish)
Konyaku (the noodle-like form is called shirataki--both made from the konjac potato or voodoo lily bulb--the plant Lizzie Irene used to grow in her garden)
Macha (green tea--powdered and drunk with the steeping water--used for tea ceremony)
Genmaicha (green tea mixed in its dry state with roasted rice grains, some of which pop, hence called popcorn tea--my favorite version of green tea)
Calpis (or Calpico, essentially a yogurt drink that I have been able to duplicate for the first time just recently)
Amazaki (cultured drink made from sweet rice)


I tasted guava and tamarind first in Bangladesh and papaya and mango first in Central America when Hiromi was not with me.

I also enjoyed nigella seed as a flavoring in Bangladesh and plantains as a fried vegetable in Central America.  I ate vegetable amaranth in Bangladesh, and another vegetable that I can't remember the name of.  The cook for the river cruise prepared it because the person who arranged the tour requested it.  That was also the first time that I drank coconut water through a straw stuck straight into the cavity of a green coconut.

I'm sure that  I'm not remembering everything right now that fits into these categories, but recalling them has been fun.

Remind me if you know of something I should have mentioned?