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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From the snow to 122 F!!!

We took in quite a paradox this past week:  hiking in the snow of Glacier National Park and then walking slowly at Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park with the temperature hoovering at 122 F.   These are some amazing extremes which are in reality only a couple of days apart.  It is the extremes that often times capture our attention.  There is something uniquely human about being drawn to the extremes and to forget the all to important points in between.   For example in the middle of our extremes of Glacier and Death Valley we took three days to check in on Alan and Lana Lundgren in McCall, Idaho.  Here we laughed, played, performed some search and rescue and generally had a good time hiking, fishing, swimming and enjoying the Lundgren abode in McCall.   There were very few extremes in McCall.  We didn't break any  records nor did we hike in snow drifts.  And yet I have to say that while the extremes catch our attention, most of us live 'in between.'   I think as people of faith we need to keep this in mind as well.  There are plenty of extremes out there that are begging for headlines, attention and our allegiance.  However, the extremes while intriguing are not where most of us find life, community and health.  Instead we live 'in between.'   In between family events and decisions, in between political views and personal passions, in between who we've been and where the Holy Spirit is calling us to become.

As I reflect on these past three month (of which I only have 4 days of Sabbatical left) I am amazed at the experiences, the conversations, and yes the extremes that I've been able to experience.  But all these experiences have had one thing in common--to help me serve in the 'in between' of our lives here at Our Savior.   Yes we have our own personal extremes (divorce, trauma, sickness and death) but it is the time in between these kinds of events where we really live most of our lives. 

I look forward to talking with you all about these past few months and I thank you for the opportunity you've afforded me for personal, spiritual and professional growth.   I have one favor to ask you as I prepare to return on August 15  (I'm taking two weeks of vacation to tackle all the 'honey do's'  that I've been avoiding during Sabbatical).    Let me know about the journeys that you have been on these past few months.  Are there changes at home, sicknesses, grieving, joys, celebrations.....I might not know of these unless you tell me.   I'll look forward to seeing you all in August---and you might bump into me at Lowes or DeNaults as I'm working on my list until the 15th.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

True Love Found...but no pictures appropriate

I'm writing this from Missoula, MT.  We have just finished a three day excursion through Yellowstone and it was all that I expected.   We got lucky and saw some amazing geysers (including the Grand Geyser, which only goes off every 11 hours or so) and of course took in all the amazing geothermal oddities of this area (Thermal pools, mud pots, hot springs etc...).  Oh, and yes we had our encounters with several of the parks wild residents.  Lots of buffalo, deer, elk, and a single bear, coyote, beaver and fox. 

I had a chance to take some pretty wonderful pictures and I've included a few here for you to look at.  The first is simply a look up a tall lodge pole pine.  It just seemed to be reaching toward the light and reminded me of our own spiritual search.  The second picture is quite odd.  We came across two buffalo and one was taking a nap.  We were close enough to hear him snore and the picture is the dust being blown by his nostrils.  It reminded me of all the references to breath that we find in scripture.  The power of breath both to animate us humans and to blow upon the disciples in the upper room.   I think we often underestimate this breath of God, just like this sleeping giant could easily be assumed to be gentle and meek.  Finally I have a picture which simply speaks to the creativity of God.  Here is a famous spot in Yellowstone which is marked by beautiful bacteria which thrives in the scalding water.  To be honest I'm not sure I know what it says other than it speaks to the reality of life which seems to be the will of the creator--even in the most unusual and most challenging of places.

But now to the event I witnessed today that I couldn't in good conscience take any photographs to share with you.   I'm not going to go into great detail but simply give you a brief description of something that reflected the love of God.   Two teenage brothers who had obvious mental disabilities where in the hotel pool this evening and I watched them from a distance and also the reaction of others in the pool.  Then two adults walked into the area and one of the boys yelled out--quite loud--"Hi Mom, Hi Dad."   I imagined that this family was traveling as ours and I wondered how road weary parents of these two might respond to their gregarious boys.   Next I saw a huge smile on the face of the father as he jumped in the pool and began to love and play with his boys.   Then Mom too got in on the fun.   There was no disability, there was only love, laughter and play.   This family, which probably had more than there share of difficulties, modeled pure delightful love.   And it wasn't just love for the boys but love between the father and mother was so apparent as well.   Once again I have come out to look at the beauty of nature and it is majestic; but I'm surprised by the power of relationship that seems to be an even greater beauty.  May we all share in the beauty of loving relationships no matter what the scenary may look like outside.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words....but a good word is still good!

I'm writing this entry from Jackson, WY just minutes away from Grand Tetons National Park.   We have finished our journey of the 'desert' parks (Arches, Canyon lands and Grand Canyon) and now we are heading into the wooded more northern part of our trek.   I think I've taken some wonderful photographs and I'll put a few on this post for you to consider....but still I wonder how can one capture "Grace" in a photo of the natural world?   We visited a wonderful gallery today and talked to a most delightful family who has spent 35 years taking photos and supporting the National Parks.  (They often vacation in Laguna Beach) and he showed me a great paining of a mountain goat jumping from spire to spire. The picture is called "Faith."  But can a goat jumping from high rock to high rock really capture the essence of the word?    

On the other hand there are some amazing images that certainly help us reflect in ways that words simply don't allow.   I'm praying for insight and creativity!   Of course the one word that still always resonates is WONDER!  This is an amazing continent filled with marvelous things. 

I've posted three pictures here that I think have some theological merit....but not overtly so!  The first picture above is from the Windows at Arches National Park.  There is something about those arches that compel people to want to be next to them, inside of them, to peer through them as if they offered a glimpse into heaven itself.  I like this picture of hikers standing and sitting in the arch.  For me it reflects our desire for God, for the holy, our search for meaning and our looking for windows where God might be found.

This next picture is from Canyon Lands National Park and it is a simple photo of two outcroppings of rock that frame a magnificent vista in the back ground with needles coming up from the desert floor.  I have another picture I took which is just the opposite--the background is clear and the forground is out of focus.  To me this picture reflects the difficulty of being in this world but not of it.  It is hard to focus both on this world and on our spiritual world

Finally my friend the raven.   This photo reminds me of the story of the ravens bringing food to a tired and depressed Elijah out in the desert.  Look at the light on this photo as it comes down around the raven.  Sometimes God can use very ordinary things for extraordinary purposes.

OK...here is the problem with my trek so far...I like the photos I 've taken...but do they speak 'theological truths' to others?  I'm not sure?  If I explain them they do...but each image is also taken apart by the imagination and experience of the viewer and this makes the universality of any image hard to find.   More to come!  Let me know if you like the photos!!! 


Friday, July 9, 2010

Images of Wonder!!!

As I begin this final leg of Sabbatical I have two main interests.  One:  To spend good quality time with the family deepening our relationships and building memories.  Two:  To explore the use of natural images in regards to proclaiming spiritual or theological truths.  What do I mean by that?  Often we use images of the natural world (Beach, mountains, sunsets etc...) to solicit an emotional response.  I wonder if we can find and use nature images to bring about theological musings as well?   So I have set out to explore and photograph in some of the most stunning places in America.  Grand Canyon; Zion National Park; Arches National Park; Canyonlands National Park, Grand Tetons National Park; Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park.  

So far we have the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Zion under our belt.  What have I discovered?  Awe!  How awesome is our God!  We have to be careful because God is not IN the creation.  God is not in the canyons or in the trees--but God has left God's fingerprints all over the natural world.   I have felt humbled and insignificant by being in such beauty.  But I also renumber the words of Psalm 8....that we ourselves are a marvel of creation.   Here are a sample of some photos I have taken.  Can you see any theological truths or spiritual ideas expressed in them?   More to come...

PS....What a wonderful "God moment" we had today in Zion National Park as we totally on accident ran into our dear friends from Silverdale Washington who were likewise touring the park.   It was a reminder that even in the midst of natural beauty it is the love and power of relationships that still soothes the human heart!

PSS.  On the family side of things we have had a great adventure thus far and more to come.  Today the highlight was watching Aaron try to swim upstream in the Virgin river running through Zion National Park.  The hiking is fantastic and the scenary so beautiful that it can even compete with a DS Gameboy!!  And that's saying something.  Keep us in your prayers for a safe and memory building time together!

Friday, July 2, 2010

A sample of other's work

 Here is a sample of what other people created at the icon workshop.  There were some very gifted folks studying here as well as a couple of novices like myself.  Made for a nice mix.  The accomplished never once made you feel out of place but were always helpful.




Click on this and look at the intricate gold leaf work.  This particular gold leaf is applied by writing on the icon with 'Beer glue"  Yep...you boil down a bottle of lager and then you paint that on the icon very thinly.  You blow on the beer glue to get it sticky and then apply the gold leaf. 

In Orthodox tradition Mary always has her head covered and is always painted with the Christ...never alone.   (to have your hair uncovered was the sign of the prostitute).   In the West Mary is often by herself and usually has her hair down.




This was a demonstration on how to attach gold leaf to the back and around the icon.  It is a three day process so only those who started at home did this.  This process is quite beautiful to watch, no beer glue, just a special additive you paint on the board (after shellac) then the gold is applied in squares and it seamlessly contexts by rubbing with a cotton ball.  WARNING:  Every eyelash, dust particle or brush hair is IMMEDIATELY visible under the gold if you are not extremely careful.











Click on the picture and look at the icon.  This is the famous "Trinity."  The more figures and the smaller the faces the harder it is to do.  This piece is actually a "commissioned" piece which means someone has paid for it to be created.  This by the way is Jennie from my previous posts.



Thursday, July 1, 2010

Many hands....make good souls...and Icons!

I remember one day early on in my icon workshop that I was rehearsing the speech I would give in order to explain the absolute failure to produce an icon myself. "It was more about the experience....I just didn't have the natural ability...It was extremely hard and intricate work....It takes years to be able to produce anything of substance...."  And all these things are true, but what I hadn't counted on was the power of so many hands to help along the way.   The purpose of iconography is to create windows into heaven through which one can deepen their prayer life it is not to be the greatest artist or to selfishly guard one's skill.  In fact the greatest icons are never signed, they are less about the artist and more about what they reflect. 
Now here's the beautiful thing, each day, each new step in the development of our icons began with a lecture and demonstration on how to move forward.  Colors, strokes of the brush, techniques and tricks of the trade were all shown.  Standing around watching an expert you felt empowered, confident and able!   Then you went back to your table (at least for me) and felt alone, unsure and unable.   It could have been disastrous.  I was told that there were some workshops where folks would break down and cry and need to be taken back to their rooms.  My strategy was to go out to the kitchen and get some coffee...kind of hide away for awhile!  But then one of our mentors would come by and either lean over next to you or sit down beside you.  They would ask what you are thinking and then they would take their skilled hands and begin the strokes slowly and methodically so that you might understand. It would usually end with a "there this is what you most do."  And that's all you needed to restore you confidence and hope...someone to sit next to you, even if just for a moment.

Occasionally one of us would have trouble on a particular part--making a round eye, using the painters compass for making the halo, mixing the right color of paint to match the paint already applied.  It was then that one instructor particularly would honestly say...."would you like me to help, it is my gift to you."  What was amazing was that some of the most accomplished iconographers in my group would naturally say: "Yes, of course."  And a moment later the eye was fixed or the color was perfect.   There was a sense that each and every icon was the result of community.

So what...this is a wonderful metaphor for how we should be doing church!  We come together on Sundays or for Bible Study etc... and we feel empowered, confident and able and then we get out into the world and it's easy to feel alone and unsure.   We need more than Sunday morning...we need Christian community that can sit with us at the tables of our lives and give us hope, direction and restore our confidence.  We also need to be able to accept the gifts that we can give each other.  To know our own limitation and to gladly allow others to walk beside us and allow their hands access to those things which seem overwhelming.   It is not a sign of weakness, but the blessing of community.

I learned a lot about icons at this workshop, a lot about Orthodoxy, but I think the real gift was the experience of honest to goodness community.  OK...so how did it turn out?  The top picture is the chaos of my table with my icon about half done.  The picture here at the bottom of John the Baptist..that's the finished product.  (I've got to oil it in two weeks to harden the paint and bring out some of the colors...but that's it!)  Be kind!!!  

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

We do things better together!!!

Here I am sitting down at a table with 16 or so other 'iconographers' and I have never had a paint brush in my hand.  I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I may have made a horrible miscalculation in thinking that I could approach this topic from the creative side as opposed to the appreciation side.  I spent the first three hours making parallel lines, curves and squiggles.  But something marvelous developed over the days of this seminar--I never felt alone.   From the very beginning people were reaching out to help me technically and help me feel that I belonged.   Marina, who was from Brazil, was my table partner and she lovingly taught me how to clean my sable hair Russian brushes, mix my lead white paint without poisoning myself, and graciously offered all of her supplies as belonging to 'Us' not her.   She taught me to begin each day with this prayer:  

O divine mater, fervent maker of all creation illuminate the vision of your servant.  Take custody of my heart.  Rule and govern my hands so that worthily and perfectly your image can be portrayed.  For the glory, joy and beauty of your Holy Church, Amen.

It seems to me that his isn't a bad prayer to begin each day with whether or not one is writing icons.  To see through the light of God and to ask God to have custody of my heart as well as ruling my hands seems to me to be a great prayer for daily Christian life.

Here's something else, each brush stroke you make is accompanied by this simple prayer:  "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."  The result of saying this prayer is a focus and a confidence that comes not from within but from above.  This too is a common prayer in the Orthodox tradition and one that I plan to incorporate in my daily life.  I would challenge you to use this simple 'Jesus' prayer as you are sitting in the care driving, or waiting in line, or working intently on a project.  See if you too don't find a sense of focus and spiritual nurture as you invoke the name of Christ and confess your need for his mercy.

Community and prayer:  These really are at the heart of living a faithfilled life.  I will have more to say about community in my next post.  Here are two pictures of my Icon in process.  The picture up top are three of many pages of squiggles--enjoy.  Here below is my starting the board with the prototype of John the Baptist.  More to come...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stranger in God's house

It's very good for pastors to go out and worship in places where they have no idea what is going on.  I learned an important lesson about worship here at St. Tikhon Monastery--one that we should all remember.  Now first of all this is not a criticism, anymore than it's a criticism of every house of worship which suffers from the same fate--how is a guest to know what to do?    Let me describe my experience the first morning at worship and then share a tip at the end manifested through my new friend Jenny.

6:45 am and the monks are already gathered preparing for 7am matins.  As you enter the church it is dark, there are lots of icons on the walls and four predominately placed icons near the center of the worship space.  Some folks when they enter go first to either one, two, three, or four of the icons in the middle and show adoration, others just come in and stand. There is a wall with a gate and two hidden panel doors that separates the altar (and the choir, officiating priest, etc...) from the rest of us.  There is a single row of chairs along the back and side of the worship space.  I entered in to hear very fast single voice chanting of several petitions for God to have mercy and be present, this lasted for about 15 minutes.  People seemed to make the sign of the cross about 50 times or so during the hour and a half.  I couldn't figure out when you were supposed to except the very obvious naming of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  During the service we all stood, except half of the folks would sit occasionally then get up quickly--again I couldn't figure it out so I just decided to join the "always standing" group.  Then there were times when folks went to the floor in a sphinx like position (it was connected to the consecrating of the elements, but I decided to to stay standing as piously as possible).  There was a chanted announcements that "all Catechumates should leave" it was said 3 times to get out if you were a catechumenate...I'm baptized so I decided to stay, but wasn't sure.   Then when it came time for communion, I knew by Orthodox theology I wasn't welcome at the table, they were communing via a spoon dipped into the wine by the presiding priest and placed in the mouths of the Orthodox baptized.  Then there was a monk with a pitcher of wine set up in the back and with a basket of bread. 

Now I knew the bread was 'blessed' for those of us who didn't commune to feel welcome, but the wine evidently was just for those who had already communed so I just stayed away from the whole thing, not wanting to offend, and not sure what was proper.   Finally at the end there was a line to move forward and kiss a cross and receive a blessing/benediction from the presiding priest.  I wasn't sure what part of the cross you were supposed to kiss, nor did I know the protocol, so I just stood in the back and then left after it was apparent the service was over.

OK...was it worshipful...absolutely.  Was the Holy Spirit present, of course.  Was I completely clueless, lost and feeling like a dupe---You bet!!    I didn't have a play book.  I didn't know the rules.  It was like playing with the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland where you are never quite sure of the rules and always afraid you might do something costly or at least stupid.  But I left out one important detail.

Thank the good Lord for my friend Jenny.   As I stood in the back during communion, not quite sure what to do, she grabbed a piece of blessed bread for each of us (this is not the host of communion, but a blessed bread that all can consume) she came by, smiled and gave me the bread.  It was a small gesture, probably just natural for her to be hospitable and kind....but it was the light of Christ to me!  Her simple act spoke volumes...I was welcome in this house of the Lord.

We might have beautiful worship, but if folks don't reach out with that human connection folks will just feel lost and confused and probably won't come back.   Think about worship at Our Savior's and then then about those things that might be confusing to a new family or guest.   Go out of your way to talk to guests in worship and not just after worship....but before and DURING!!!  If someone doesn't seem to have a bulletin go up and offer them yours.  Do they have children and aren't sure what to do for children's sermon, go and tell them what is about to happen.   Do they understand what communion is?  Do they know where the nursery is?  Do they know where the bathrooms are?  Do they know how to get to the patio for coffee and donuts?   I as your pastor and worship leader will do the best I can to instruct and help folks, especially new folks feel welcome and informed, but you have to do your job too.  You must  be like Jenny!  Reach out and don't assume that folks know what we are doing or why we do it.  If nothing else smile and let them know how glad you are that they are with us in worship.   Shame on us if we don't help people feel like they belong in the house of the Lord!

PS...Icon writing/painting is VERY VERY Hard!!!  More on that to follow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Seriously out of my comfort zone...a good place to be

I have meet many spiritual people in my life, I've meet some good people, faithful people, loving people; but I'm not sure I've every met as authentically holy a person as Xenia Pokrovskaya.  She is an octogenarian (80 and above) who growing up in the Soviet Union as a Biophysicist, secretly leaned the art of the Iconographer--The making of new Icons was against the law in the Soviet Union.   She has a humble spirit, a brilliant mind, a love of the church, the passion to teach, and a light that radiates from her as it does the incredible icons she creates.   I think I'm a better person for having been in her company.   (By the way when I say holy...don't think pious...she sat on the floor outside the dorm we are staying in smoking a cigarette while others of us drank a beer or two and discussed the days events).

But why mention this at all?  There is here in the Orthodox tradition a search, a yearning, and even an expectation of the holy that we are missing in the western church.  Holiness is something that one tries to enter into through the world of iconography--the images are meant to be windows into heaven.   The images are venerated, not worshipped.  They are prayed 'through' not 'to.'  All of this is very curious to us in the western church who have elevated Word as the primary means by which we come to know the Gospel.  In the Orthodox tradition Icon equals Gospel--that is, the image itself is a pure and true proclamation of the Good News of Jesus.  This is a very foreign idea to us in the western church--and a foreign idea to me as well.
So I find myself a theological foreigner in this land of iconographer.  Not only that, I am completely unskilled at anything artistic. I have never picked up a brush to paint nor have I ever graduated past stick figures with my pencil.   But something from the very beginning has made me think there is something important, even good to be discovered here.   And if my first encounter with a very hospitable set of people, and one extraordinary Russian Grandmother is any indication it should be quite a ride.

Matins here is at 6:45 am...so no complaining about 8:30 worship at Our Savior's!!!   Go to worship and keep an eye out for the holy...I'm sure it's at OSLC too!!!  

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

I'm sitting here in Scranton, PA...and no I'm not visiting the regional office of Dunder Mifflen ala "The Office."  I'm about to begin a one week workshop on creating icons.   Now you might wonder why on earth I would do such a thing...so just to prove my orthodoxy let me quote from the Acts of the 7th Ecumenical Council 784 AD (Impressive I know)  “Pictoriality is inseparable from the Gospel narration, and, vice versa, the Gospel narration is inseparable from pictoriality. What the word communicates through sound, the painting shows silently through depiction.”

(I'm also going to b joining the monks of St. Tikhon monastery in daily worship, which will be quite an interesting experience coming off the National Worship Leaders Conference.  St. Tikhon is the oldest Orthodox monastery in the United States).

Image has always been controversial in the church...is it idolatry, is it modest enough, is culturally sensitive...but it has also been seen as a way into the holy.   In fact in preliterate times it was the vehicle of choice, but in the literate age the preference shifted toward the written word of ideas and concepts, over and against that of images.   For example, let me explain to you the theology behind the Icons of Mary and Child, the icon is supposed to help us visualize the love of God for humanity.  Here is Mary (us) and Christ which represent the love of God choosing to become intimate with humanity, it is a visual expression of a rather complex theological truth.  

My question is how can we reclaim image today?  What images can help us understand God more fully? 

Let me put it one last way.  Read the following words:   HAPPY FATHER'S DAY.    Do you understand what I just wrote?  Do you comprehend the meaning?  Of course you do.  No do me a favor let me explain to you something I just saw at the airport.  Two boys ages probably 10 and 12 running up to their father who just emerged from the beyond the gate.  He wraps his arms around them, and the boys are shouting, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy."  Now imagine I took a picture of that seen (I wasn't smart enough to do it)  Imagine that picture in your minds eye.   OK which gave you a better understanding of Father's Day...the Words HAPPY FATHER'S DAY or the Image I shared with you. 

So I'm about to explore an ancient way of producing image to help inform faith.   I'll let you know how it goes!  In the meantime Happy Father's day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

National Worship Conference Albuquerque 2010

I'm writing this from the airport in Albuquerque and still have my mind swimming with both the good (at times great) and the not quite as good of the past few days attending the National Worship Leaders Conference.   First the good...some incredibly talented musical artists...Tommy Walker and Israel Houghton were incredible, inspiring and lots of fun.  Many of the workshops were very helpful in looking at the many different nuances of worship and brought forth a lot of questions in regards to the age old worship quandary...how to be faithful but also accessible to current culture.  The people too were great, lots of good conversations and I even meet a few other Lutherans who dared to venture into a predominantly Evangelical conference.   I find it good to attend conferences outside of my Lutheran Tradition.   It helps me gain perspective on other parts of the church and appreciate the gifts they bring.  

(There was one workshop--a small break out session with about 25 folks--which I think the sub theme could have been...how bad can we bash the mainline--Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians--say scandalous things about their pastors, and make sure we all know that the Holy Spirit never visits their churches)   I didn't walk out...just listened, tried to understand the critique, but I found it tired, untrue and uninformed).   But it brought up something that I have encountered every now and again in my career.  Folks from other traditions that have no understanding of the Lutheran church and thus make stereotypical and negative comments.

Here's a few things for the record:  And you can use them when you encounter someone who questions how you worship.

Altar Calls---we have one every week, it's called Holy Communion.  The people of God come forward to meet their Lord in the meal that he promised to be truly present in.  

Holy Communion:  It's Biblical!  It was a part of every worship service in the early church, the sharing of Bread and Wine.  Grape juice hadn't been invented yet, it was wine.  Jesus drank wine...deal with it.  Also Saint Paul tells us that he passed on what he had heard from Peter and the others, "In the night in which he was betrayed our Lord Jesus took the bread....."  These words of institution accompany the Holy Communion as a way to connect us to the earliest days of the church.  It's not optional.

It is our purpose to lift up CHRIST:   Hear this carefully, I love the Bible, I immerse myself in it every day, I take it seriously and see it as the source and norm of my life and faith...I do not worship the Bible.  The Bible is meant to point me to Christ.   You might have half the Bible...Oh, let's say the whole Bible memorized, and that will not, does not, can not save you.  You are not more saved if you worship with your hands in the air--or less saved if you do.   Our worship is to lift up the good news of God through Jesus Christ.     
Finally...The Holy Spirit is not synonymous with darkened rooms, mood lighting, and frenzied crowds.  Now, don't get me wrong, the Holy Spirit can certainly be there, but the Spirit can just as likely be present when 5 people receive mass at a little church in Prague, or when we grieve at a funeral, or when two friends hold hands in prayer, or when we think deeply about God's world.   More to follow....        

Friday, June 11, 2010

News Paper Article From our Visit to Germany...with translation



This little article was on the front of the local section of the "Mittle Deutche Zeitung" (Middle Germany Newspaper).  Great picture of Pastor Holger Holtz, Kelly and myself.  It was surprising how many people read the article and recognized us.   Here is a translation...thans to my sister who had a colleague translate it much better than I could!!

"Will a Church become a place of Pilgrimage?
Pastor Holger Holtz receives Pastor Jeff and Kelly Frohner from California in the church at Gatersleben.

It is really a shame that Martin Luther never came to Gatersleben.  Then this place would be as well known as Eisleben or Wittenberg, said Pastor Holger Holtz and looked at his long time friend Frohner.  He (Jeff Frohner) closes his eyes and tries to make sense of what he has just heard.  Holtz helps him and translates from English.  Frohner shakes his head.  He is of a different opinion.  "I does not matter if Luther was in Gatersleben or not.  It is nevertheless exciting to observe how a congregation brings the church alive daily.  And does that in an historical building."  Jeff Frohner visiting from California is very impressed.  "Especially the paintings and stained glass windows are beautiful. There is nothing like this in the US.  The church where I preach is only 50 years old." 

Holtz and Frohner came to know each other in the seminary in the state of Washington.  "I invited him to visit Germany," Holtz said and then received after some time an email from his colleague accepting the invitation.  Frohner having visited Germany 25 years ago wanted to visit another time.  On his first visit he only visited the Western part of Germany.  "I've come for the first time to Sashsn-Anhalt.  That land is famous.  That is the land of the Reformation," said Frohner.  He will use his two week stay in Gatersleben to make various day excursions together with his wife Kelly to visit Halberstadt, but also Dresden, Erfurt and Prague.

"It is a continuing education experience," Holtz declares, who likes to play the tour guide.  "I observe everything especially the people," Frohner states.  Differences definitely exist in the way the worship service is conducted.  At home churchgoers wear shorts and flip flops and instead of playing the pipe organ we have a live band."  The time Frohner will visit he will want to bring some members of his congregation.  The exact date has not yet been decided but it will be at the latest in seven years.  That will be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  "This is already a big theme in the US," tells Pastor Holtz who asks his colleague to lead the worship service on Pentecost Sunday.  "Jeff will conduct the service and I will translate."

Pastor Jeff Frohner will conduct the worship services on Pentecost Sunday May 23 at 10:30 am in the church at Gatersleben and at 2:00 pm in the church at Schadeleben.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Flickering Pixels, image and reformation

I am currently reading 4 books...well actually I just finished one, one is half way through and the other two I am seriously looking at!!!   Flickering Pixels, by Shane Hipps; An Anthropologist on Mars, by Oliver Sacks; Hidden and Triumphant: the underground struggle to save Russian Iconography, by Irina Yazykova; and The Reformation of the Image, by Joseph Koerner.   All these books have something to do with the power, history or physiology of image...the visual.   Images have the power to evoke feelings and are not neutral.  What we see and the media or medium we use to show it are equally a part of the message.  Advertisers have learned long ago that Image has the ability to trump the rational part of our brain and sends us acting on nothing more than intuition or feeling.   Take the Carls Jr. Teryaki Burger commercial featuring the bikini clad swimsuit model...is there really any connection between a young women in a bikini and a burger...No.  But I'm willing to bet that sales of Teryaki burgers have gone up. 

We are rapidly moving away from being a print based culture to being an image based culture.  Not so long ago Sunday sermons were at least an hour long.  In fact the Great Awakening--a huge spiritual revival in America--was fueled by 2 hour sermons.  People not only found it easy to listen for two hours, but spiritually moving as well. (And trust me the sermons were deep, heavy, not exciting and full of intricate theological thoughts and ideas)  Today we no longer have the patience for hour long sermons, but we want our spiritual food wrapped up in a tight little package, preferably with an image or two that can stir our feelings more than our minds. 

Ok..so why does this matter.  This shift has a big impact on faith.  Shane Hipps reminds us that increasingly people of faith in America are not interested in right belief (thinking, reasoning, discerning between good and bad theology, interested in sound doctrine) as they are in doing, following and being.   There is a shift from right belief (this is the work of the left side of the brain and the stuff of print culture) to right following or right ethics (this is the stuff of the right side of the brain and fed by image culture).    Have you met people who have been influenced by this reorganizing of their neural pathways?  Sure you have!!  "It's not so important what you believe as how you act."  "What Would Jesus Do"  not "What Would Jesus Believe."   We resonate toward right actions because of the new dominance of image and what it does to our brain.  In the Reformation--the dawn of print culture--Luther and others stressed right belief!  What you believed was the most important, this was a product of the print culture.

Here's a little quote from Shane Hipps:  "The shift from emphasizing our intellectual beliefs to the ethics of following is a direct consequence of the influence of images.  A belief is located frimly in the realm of the invisible and abstract.  A belief is something that happens in teh mind.  But following is located in teh world of the visible and concrete.  Following is what happens in daily life."   Here's the kicker... "We are what we behold."  Your TV, the very screen you are using right now, the media used to share this with you...is reorganizing your neural pathways to value feelings and intuition over reason and dicernment.   So what your church 'believes' isn't nearly as important as their having an exciting youth group or entertaining preacher.

Heavy stuff!!!  And you thought Sabbatical was easy!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What do you see.....image and worship

Across the town square in Prague (Czech Republic) near the tower of the old city hall are 27 white crosses in the pavement.  They mark the site where 27 Protestant nobles, merchants and intellectuals where beheaded in 1627 and ultimately putting an end to Czech autonomy for 300 years. Jan Hus (1369 - 1413) who lived a hundred years before Luther was himself burned at the stake for his desire for Reformation--that the people be allowed to receive both the cup and the bread and communion and be able to read scripture.  It is said that Hus on his death foretold a 'bigger goose who would come in a hundred years whose body you will not be able to fry!"    Why mention this?  Walk across the Charles bridge to a baroque church founded by the Jesuits in 1703 and you'll find one of the most ornate, gold encrusted, gaudy churches in Europe--St. Nicolas.  It is a wonderful example of high Baroque architecture which is over the top--intentionally.  Like the statues on the bridge there is an implicit counter-reformation agenda.   Take a look at the photos of the statue of the Jesuit leader crushing the man underneath with his books.  To get a sense of how big these statues are look at the one next to it with Kelly standing below for scale.  The image in this place of worship is "The Church knows best and will crush anyone who gets in the way!"  And given the historical reality of the time...Protestants (and Lutherans) beware...God does not like you and you will be stopped.

Now come with me to Wittenberg and look at this altar piece painted by Lucas Cranach in 1547.  This is in the church where Luther often preached and ordained reformation pastors.  Luther is on the right, the people of Wittenberg on the left and Christ crucified is in the center.   Luther is pointing to the crucified Christ with one hand, the Bible is open on the pulpit.  If you came to worship every week and looked at this picture, what would it tell you?  Now let me be honest and say there is certainly a REFORMATION AGENDA at work in this piece of worship art.  And although I'm more in tuned with its message, it sends a message nonetheless.   As Lutherans in America we constantly underestimate the power of the image.   What do you see at Our Savior's Lutheran Church on Sunday morning?  What don't you see?  What images (images aren't always art...sometimes they are placement of people or even empty walls or other symbols) are unconsciously presenting ideas to you?   What images should be there?  Are their images that might be important but don't really belong in a worship space?   Image and worship.....more to follow.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Luther site pictures


Kelly and I in the city church in Wittenberg Germany. Behind us is a famous altar piece painted by Cranach. In this church Luther often preached and ordained reformation pastors. And no that is not a 'man purse" I just had a lot of stuff to carry!!








Here you will find me standing between the beer barrels that are in the basement of the Luther home in Wittenberg.  They drink a lot of beer (and eat a lot of sausage in Germany!!!)





Here is the very room where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German.  This was a against the law and carried a death sentence.  He did this at the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach Germany
Kelly is standing inside the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, Germany.  That is the very gate that Martin Luther went through as he joined the order.  His friends tried to stop him...he had a promising career ahead of him in law..but his vow in a thunder storm compelled him to become a monk

Walking with Luther--500 years later

If Lutherans believed in purgatory and got time off for visiting 'holy' sites I think I would have gained quite a bit of credit these past two weeks.   I have visited Eisleben where Luther was born and died (even got a chance to see up close and get photos of the burial shroud put on his coffin and then given to his wife Katy.  It is on display at the house where he died and they were taking it out to prepare it for a transfer and new home in the new site that will open in two years.  On the day I visited it was out of the case and stretched out on the floor with paper underneath it.  The experts who were examining it seemed undaunted by my presence and even allowed some photos); Mansfeld where he grew up and went to school (saw the house, school and home church), Erfurt (where he entered the monastery and was ordained a priest); Eisenach (where he translated the New Testament into German and was held safely in the castle Wartburg); Wittenberg (where he is buried and posted the 95 theses on the castle church door); Leipzig; Magdeburg, etc..etc...  ( The picture above is from Luther's house in Wittenberg where you can with many other interesting things see Luther's Larine...I kid you not!!!). 

But the little city that made it all clear was a place called Halberstadt.  Here there is a Lutheran church that has the unusual distinction of owning quite a collection of "relics."  What are relics?  The very things that drove Luther mad!!  People were taught that to venerate (give sacred honor) to these relics would help them gain salvation and get to heaven.  Relics are pieces of bone or other body parts of important Biblical people or saints, items used in Biblical stories, or odds and ends that were used by holy people.  In Halberstadt I saw a finger of St. Nicholas (Don't tell the kids that Santa's finger is on display); one of the stones used to put Stephen the first Christian martyr to death, and a gold covered display case of wood that contained a body part fragment from each of the twelve apostles, John the Baptist, Paul, an authentic piece of the cross of Jesus, and one of the thorns from the crown he was forced to wear!  Holy cow...er Holy Relics think of how much time I could have gotten out of purgatory if I only had the right attitude about this.  (You know just in case there's something to that whole purgatory thing).   To be fair these relics date from the 1200's and are quite an interesting window into the piety and practice of medieval Christianity---but could people really have believed that these things were real?

No, I don't think most people did...but here's the clincher....bowing down to a piece of clavicle bone that supposedly belonged to John the Baptist or a tooth from Saint Paul was a whole lot easier than living out the great commission or loving my neighbor as myself.   Luther came to understand that the purpose of the Gospel was to free us from sin, death and the devil and allow us to live out our faith each and every day in love.  Christian faith is contextual and lived out in community--it is not about living in fear or in search of personal salvation.  What do I mean by that?  You as a baptized child of God have been bought by the blood of the lamb--you belong to Jesus!  Or, do you like the medieval indulgence sellers suppose that Christ's sacrifice on the cross wasn't enough and you have to add your own piety to the equation?  No, Christian faith is not about trying to make sure I'm saved, it is living in the confidence of Jesus Christ that I AM SAVED by his perfect grace and free now to live out that faith in love and community.  But let's face it...that's hard.  Easier to join 5 different Bible Study groups, subscribe to the approved Christian magazines,  read all the blogs that lament the current status of Christianity, and attend at least two personal growth retreats a year.   

Here's the point...whether venerating relics (bowing to pieces of bone and skin) or becoming obsessed with the latest Christian books, groups and movements...they both are inherently self centered and turn Christian faith inward and reduce it to a quest for personal immortality.   Here's the good news that Luther rediscovered 500 years ago--you are saved by CHRIST!!!  Christ has done what you never could!  Christ has reconciled you to God through the blood of the cross.   Now....stop letting the Evil one rob you of what Christ has given.   You are free now to live out your faith for the sake of the world.  To actually live your Christian faith.    Salvation having been taken care of we can now concentrate on loving each other as Christ has loved us; loving our enemies, forgiving those who have trespassed against us, being cheerful givers, feeding Christ's sheep, repaying no one evil for evil, sharing what we have......Holy Cow.... it would be a lot easier to just pay a few bucks to venerate some pieces of bone and wood, or for that matter commit myself to a regime of personal piety.   Well, yes it would.  But that wouldn't be living as disciples of Jesus. (Picture above is Luther's grave marker which is located right below the pulpit in the Wittenberg Castle church). 

In each and every generation we need to fight against the impulse to make Christianity all about me.  Acts of personal piety and growth are not bad....in fact I encourage them....but not to the exclusion of actually living out your faith in the world.   And how do we do that?  Be a good and faithful spouse, a good and loving son or daughter, a good and loving parent, a good and loving friend and neighbor.  See you life as being on loan from God and its purpose to share the love of Christ in all that you do.   And for CHRIST'S SAKE (not used in vain, but in praise, prayer and worship) don't obsess with your own salvation--that's the good news, God has already done that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Worship in Germany

I am writting tonight from Prague, Czech Republic, just a 4 hour train ride from where we are staying in eastern Germany.   Prague is a beautiful city full of great history, food and culture.  We stopped in to worship today at a small catholic parish here in the city, about 5 or 6 people there for worship.  No granted it is a Monday and most folks don't worship on Monday...but still 5 or 6.  On Sunday we worshipped in Gronningem Parish, a little church that has been around for about 400 years and there was a great celebration of 6 baptisms.  It was a great worship, lively song leading, interactive for the kids, a mix of pipe organ and guitar, the pastor was good and engaging---did I mention that besides the 6 to be baptized there were about 12 others of us at worship.   Now numbers aren't everything, but we kid ourselves if we think worship attendance isn't important.  We need to know that we stand with a community, that others share our values and understandings (or are at least open to the same struggles and questions that we all have).   Now was God present on both last Sunday and today in Prague---of course.  But where were God's people?  That is the question that we so desparetly try to address in our own chuches without turning to gimmicks and fluff.   I don't want to have a petting zoo at Easter, or advertise that we serve 'krispy kream' donuts.  Humbug!!  That seems so wrong.  And yet....I don't ever want to lead worship with the anticipation of only 6 or 7 showing up.   Come to worship.  Come to worship to glorify God and to keep our communities strong.  Forgive us if we aren't always cutting edge or speaking just to you.   For myself, I promise to always try and make worship a place where you feel welcome and have an opportunity to connect with Christ both in word and sacrament. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Worship in Nortre Dame

Sometimes dumbluck is more imporantant than planning and skill.  Such was the case for our first visit to the famous Nortre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  We arrived on a Sunday so after taking in the Louvre for a few hours we decided to take a break and head over for a sneak peak of Nortre Dame (We were going back the next day as a starting point for a city walk that would also take us to the Cluny museum on the left bank).  As we arrived we had to decide which line to enter in....visite or messe?   Well Messe was the winner and we found ourselves in the nave of the great cathedral with a full house preparing for an evening mass.   So, being a preacher and feeling guilty for not having gone to worship previously we decided to settle in for worship.  First thougthts---it was LOUD!  The pipe organ was being played with all it's intensity and I had to chuckle at the comments I imagine the priest would get about the music being too loud!  Ah, the more things change the more they stay the same.  Next there was a beautiful children's choir that sang in the ancient style and truly sounded angelic.  Then there was a lot of standing, A LOT of French, several readings, etc.... your typical mass in the Western Rite, and of course communion of which it was offered to us only in one kind (bread only).    Here in this beautiful cathedral every sense of the human body was employed.  And somehow I think that is an important part of worship--engaging ourselves bodily and spiritually.   So often we think of worship as only a spiriual affair, but the body also needs to be intune.   But here is my insight...not all at once.  There were times that I needed to shut my eyes and just listen.  Other times when I was oblivous to the sounds but transfixed on the sights--the glass, the columns, the statues.   I don't understand a word of French...but it was still worship, it was still relevent, it was still inspiring.   Maybe because I didn't expect to be able to understand anything, I allowed my other senses to be open to the possibilities of encounting God.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Two great churches....faith taken for granted

Today we spent the whole day walking around London and visiting its famous churches and historical landmarks.   What fun it is to walk into the same pub that people like Charles Dickens, Teddy Rosevelt and Tennyson--not to mention Twain--all stopped in for a pint.  But what was so interesting was touring the two great churches of England:  St. Paul's the fourth largest church in the world and Westminster Abbey which is like a walk in history book.  Two experiences that stuck out.  At St. Paul's (again the fourth largest Christian church in the world) there was a group of about 25 of us that celebrated communion together.   There were thousands of visitors, but only a handful that heeded the call to come and eat the meal of Jesus. The good Lord knows we were on tight schedule, but it seemed almost oxymoronic to be in such a place and not take time for Jesus.   I think the same can be said for life in the world.

Second insight, I've never stepped on so many famous dead people in my life!!  In Westminster Abbey I stepped on the likes of Charles Darwin (I chuckled at how many Christian fundamentalist would have loved to have had the chance!), Chaucer (Cantebury tales), Lewis Carroll, T.S. Elliot, Handel (He wrote the Messiah), Isaac Newton (he actually is buried under his statue...but I might have gotten a hand or at least a finger.   But again here was the amazing thing...people were just WALKING right over these great folks of history, literally walking on top of their grave markers that dot the floor of this great Abbey.  And frankly most never as much gave any of these great men even a "oh it's you."   I wondered if these folks now dead and buried ever thought they would be reduced to flooring.   I personally stopped at as many as I could, tried to step around as much as possible and whispered a prayerful 'thank you.'   Again, I imagine I should probalby do that for the living as well.   Thank you!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

London...what hospitality

What a beautiful city filled with friendly folks.  We have just been hear for half a day but have been overwhielmed by the kindnesss and goodwill of the locals.   Spend the evening walking Kennsington Park and Palace, then dinner at a pub--meat pies-- near the Bank of London  (Rick Steves suggestion.  Had a nice talk with a local policman and couldn't be more pleased with how our first day on the ground went.   Now the fun really begins!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Tagging along on Sabbatical....

Today is the day that Sabbatical begins.  Nothing to share now accept the last minute running around trying to make sure all the proverbial ducks are in a row!  Good news....one back back each!!  We are traveling light.  Tomorrow we head to London via Chicago and Copenhagen!  Stay tuned.