The apprenticeship system of training is one that I’ve always found exciting. It is an on-the-job training program that recognizes learning can’t be divorced from doing real work. While an apprentice studies under a master, it should not be misconstrued as a master/servant relationship. Instead, in the best apprenticeships the master challenges the apprentice to reflect on their actions to force them to see what they did wrong as well as right, and to use those reflections to perform improved actions in the future. It is a type of training that transcends a specific time or setting because it emphasizes skills that allows the practitioner to adapt their actions over time to new environments. Apprenticing works best when it is done in community. Each apprentice brings their own histories to the table, and their own observations of how the master works precisely. Thus individual reflection can be brought together into group discussion that further clarifies exactly how the master accomplishes the task, thereby increasing the ability to model each apprentices actions after the master under whom they study.
This is how I would describe my faith journey. I am apprenticed to Jesus. I spend time with others who apprentice under the ways of Jesus so that together we can better understand what that really means. I read the works and seek the council of journeyman who help understand better the one under whom I apprentice.
So what does my master craftsman specialize in? Restored relationships and wholeness. What is his primary tool? Love — loving God with all we have and loving others as we would ourselves. Who is his special audience? Those who suffer deep hurts, who are hopeless, who have been widowed and orphaned, those who have been economically and socially marginalized. As such, I join with the Christian church that through the ages has been at the forefront of ministries that serve the marginalized, that reach out to the foreigner amongst us, that show extreme love and compassion by act and not just word. But not only serve, the fellow apprentices in these churches have gone on to fight to change the social and governmental practices that enable the injustices to occur in the first place. And as such I reject the Christian church that through the ages has been used as a tool of the powerful to control, divide, and conquer the other, whomever they may be by current definitions. But I can’t go as far as Anne Rice recently did on her facebook page to completely reject my Christianity, although I can fully understand her motivation for doing so given the negative connotations that can too often bring because of the Christian religion that is not about the way of Christ.
I must admit discomfort in using the he/his pronouns above. I especially liked William Young’s choice in his book The Shack of an African American woman to represent God, an Asian woman to represent the Holy Spirit, and a clearly Middle Eastern man to represent Jesus. For the wholeness that is represented is one that comes from the joining of masculine and feminine traits. And it comes from the joining of all cultures here on earth. Thus to truly apprentice I must seek out insights from many who are different from me to see the full picture of the master to whom I apprentice. I liked a recent podcast by Rob Bell and Shane Hipps from Mars Hill called Uncaging the Lion in which they talked about the need for a church so big that it can not only handle but can seek out a great diversity of opinions on each of the hot topic issues of the day, discuss them and in so doing better see the Big Jesus we serve, one who is much more inclusive than we could ever imagine.
This is not an easy faith. I am not a perfect practitioner. Over time my understanding of how to be a practitioner has changed, sometimes radically. So my stated viewpoints have at times become contradictory as I have acted, reflected, discussed, and acted again. I still am not sure precisely what to think about topics surrounding war, economics, abortion, homosexuality, and other similar topics where people seem to spend so much time arguing. But I know that I have fellow apprentices to Christ and whom I greatly respect that are pacifists, and those who serve in the military because they believe in just war. I know I have fellow apprentices to Christ and whom I greatly respect that are gay/lesbian, and those who believe being so is a sin. I know that I have fellow apprentices to Christ and whom I greatly respect that believe justice can come by a flat tax system that enables business growth creating jobs for the poor, and those who believe it is the rich who can best sacrifice to reduce the national debt while allowing for programs that help the poor. But I also know Christians who close off debate on these and other topics by throwing around labels and theologies that divide in hopes of ultimately conquering. I especially struggle to understand how these Christians can be apprenticed to the Way of Christ who brings love and wholeness.