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Monday, July 17, 2017

Life at Oxford beyond the pubs

Oxford is a charming jewel in the crown of England.  I sat in a pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to talk with each other about Hobbits and Narnia and the Christian faith.  Saw where Carroll first dreamt up Alice and her wonderland and where Hook first used the microscope.  And of course all of this within a city of medieval spires and colleges some of which go back nearly a 1000 years.  And of course I'm taking my meals at the grand hall of Hogwarts and just today say the whoomping tree from the Harry Party movies at the Blenheim palace a few miles down the road here in Oxfordshire.

But the real find has been the  hospitality of the people.  Today we struck up a conversation with a very nice couple that gave us some good tips for travel and suggestions for London.  We meet them in the park, we said hello....and get this, they said hello back!  Then we made some kind of comment and they actually listened and took the time to engage us in a little conversation.  Here's the thing, I think they were truly interested in our well being and welfare.   We are visitors--our accent gives us away--and they as hosts had I think a sense of responsibility to make us feel welcome.

The same thing happened in O'Neil's pub as a manager came over to see where we were from and wanted to make sure we were getting along OK.  And at church, get this, as we were standing with a cup of coffee two complete strangers came up to us and wanted to know how we were doing.  And we had a very nice conversation about politics (Yes and it was civil) and about the fact that the gentlemen had been a visiting professor at Berkeley in the 60s when the army reserve was called upon to suppress the students.  He got caught up in the crowd and says he still has a jacket that smells of 'tear gas."   Now this 80+ year old just laughed about his time in America. 

Tonight we played croquet on the lawn here at Christ Church with 6 strangers and had a marvelous time learning a little bit about each other and enjoying each other's company.   My point.  Hospitality and fellowship are so important.   Especially in the church how can we be more hospitable to each other? To the stranger?  To the un or little known fellow member.   What would it look like to have a church family that specialized in hospitality?   Would  it help us spread the Gospel?  Make the world a better place?   Attract others to join us?  We need to rediscover just how important this virtue is.  I know it's making all the difference here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Is the Church dead in Europe?

The people kept coming!
I have heard many folks lament--in fact I think I may have been one--that the church is dying if not dead in Europe.  The pews are empty and Christianity is slipping away into an abyss of secularism.  Fortunately no one has told the people of Oxford that the church is dead!   You see last Sunday Kelly and I worshipped with the Black Friars (Dominicans) at a nearby Roman Catholic church.   It was advertised as a "9:30 AM Family Mass."   We got there about 40 minutes early so popped in for morning Matins first.   There were about 6 of us in the pews and about the same number of priests and brothers in the chancel.   As Matins finished a curious thing happened.  People showed up and began to move the chairs that were in the traditional configuration and moving them to face the side, creating a kind of 3/4 in the round.  Now at first I helped, but then stopped as these people seemed intent on moving ALL the chairs.  There were well over a 100 seats and I kind of scoffed and then admired their optimism.
Simple and joyful music right from
the Hymnal

Then they began to set up metal chairs as well.  What were they thinking.....then it became obvious.  PEOPLE!  LOTS OF PEOPLE!   Young families and children and high schoolers and college students.  Lot's of folks were coming to worship!   The music was simple, a big recorder, a flute and a violin.  The priests (3 of them) came in, kissed the altar and we began worship.  We said the Nicene creed, we heard the lessons read and enjoyed a very nice sermon about the need for rest in a restless world.  Afterward there were announcements, a collection for the Palestinians in Gaza and a call for volunteers to help with a Christmas card project and with a group that was going to get together with other Christians and talk about how to make Oxford a better place.  After worship folks gathered for Coffee, Tea and cookies.

These are the overflow chairs where
the monks sit... sanctuary is full
And get this....there are lots of churches here and they were full too!  What a wonderful discovery, here in a place of intellectual sophistication the church is alive and well!   I know sometimes it seems like the Church is on the ropes or has seen it's better days.  I think not!  Really, what if we get excited about the Gospel, about Jesus, about who we are and the story we have to share.  What if we begin to move the chairs around, so to speak, in movements of hospitality and expectation.   What if we pray for and earnestly seek revival in our hearts and congregation?

When I get back in celebration of the Reformation we are going to have a Baptismal Fest!   All during the fall we are going to look at our Lutheran Christian story and we are going to invite people to join us in the sacrament of Baptism.  To be washed with the Holy Spirit and to connect with the church.  We are going to invite adults, and children, and families and strangers to come and hear the good news of Jesus and then to receive the gift of his promised salvation that comes through baptism.
What are all these people doing here!! WORSHIP!!!

Let's remember that that Christ is not dead; but alive!  And so should the Church reflect this in all that we do.  So if you aren't baptized....we're coming for you!  If you need to get your kids baptized....we're inviting you!  If you want to find out more about the faith....we're encouraging you!  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Olives and the 4th of July

Today is the fourth of July.  I celebrated by getting up at 6am and heading out to the olive orchards here at the Lutheran World Federation Augusta Victoria Hospital campus.  For lunch I made myself a nice PBJ on pita bread and then went out to the nearest c-store (convenience store) and bought a fruit popsicle and a grape flavored FUZE ice tea to celebrate.   No hot dogs, no watermelon, no fireworks, no mention of the holiday anywhere--just another day on the calendar here in Israel. 

Now what's funny is that tomorrow I'll fly to London and 4th of July is probably just about as popular there as it is here.  Nationalism is a rather modern movement that likes to insist that there is no other nation like our own and that we are somehow special compared to other nations.  And of course I love America and put me down for hotdogs, baseball and apple pie--and these things are certainly unique if not 'special;' but here's the thing--the people of other nations can think this way too.   Last night for example I watched "Arabs got Talent"  which is the same exact show as "Americas got Talent" (Same camera angles behind the curtain, same use of a host and judges and audience, same producers...but it's for Arabs!).   I had a similar experience several years ago when I was in Jericho watching the finales of "Arab Idol" which was the exact same show as "American Idol." 

The sponsors are what I really enjoy watching.  Last night the show was brought to you by "Tide."  What was fun was this particular Tide detergent was being marketed to a group of ladies in Burkas.  Though in Arabic, the commercial was clear, this Tide detergent will keep your black Burkas looking black longer.  And who wants a fading Burka?   Then we had 7UP and my favorite was a commercial featuring a lovely picnic table filled with wonderful Arab families all enjoying the "Simply" brand of juices. 

What's my point?  Maybe that while our countries have different histories, traditions and myths (Our honest Abe is certainly more honest than your "truthful Tom)--and these can and should be celebrated; as people across the planet (with the exception of a few demented ones), we all want Tide to help our fabrics from fading, enjoy fizzy sweet drinks and all aspire to be able to sit with our families at a nice big picnic table drinking our "Simply" lemonade. 

So I raise my Grape FUZE ice tea in celebration of American Independence and with lady liberty remember that all of us come from the same huddled masses.  Cheers, er, I mean Prost, er, I mean Salud, er.... you know what I mean, God bless America and I will be glad next year to celebrate with you.