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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.