"There is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder." Bernard Lonergan

"It seems clear that humans cannot significantly reduce or mitigate the dangers inherent in their use of life by ccumulating more information or better theories or by achieving greater predictability or more caution in their scientific and industrial work. To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it." Wendell Berry

"Do not be afraid, my little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Poland and Germany Travel Wrap Up


Poland and Germany - Reformation Mission and Travel Wrap 








The Sanctuary of Castle Church, Wittenberg, Germany

Our consideration of the Reformation, and our following in the footsteps of the Reformation in Germany came to an end on Tuesday. We ended where the whole thing "began." It was in 1517 at the Castle Church connected with the university at Wittenberg where Luther was a professor, that he either read on the church steps or hung them upon the door itself.




The door at the Castle Church, commemorative of the original door in Wittenberg.


Part of the larger purpose of our trip was to consider the Reformation from theological, social, economical, and historical perspectives. We did this work in any variety of ways - primarily through touring museums, listening to lectures and tour guides, and talking amongst ourselves about the historical transformations set in motion by Martin Luther's decisions to post his 95 objections, his theological and church polity questions in the form of theses. 






Our group waits and/or wades its way through one of many exhibits on the life of Luther and the wonder of the Reformation.

Luther's questions were very specific to certain practices of his time. Luther's request was fairly simple -- that the the life and policy of the church should reflect that which was set forth in scripture.

The effect of Luther's objection (which didn't just "come to him" but was certainly the result of many years of thought and conversation) was beyond anything that he might have imagined. If Luther could question the practices of the most powerful institutions of his day, and survive (a big part of the success of the endeavor) then all sorts of questions could be asked of the world as it was. Church. State. Creation itself. They could all be questioned, examined, improved, perfected. Soon after Luther in Germany came Calvin in Switzerland. Public schools. The Enlightenment. The Scientific method and revolution. The Revolutions in France and the United States. I hope you get the picture.

Luther asked and demanded answers. The printing press distributed his questions far and wide. And thus the Reformation was born. And while its biggest effect was on the church, the larger effects spread into every aspect of human life.

To trace Luther's steps requires a journey across what was once East Germany. You must go to little towns with little markets. 





The market in the town of Eisleben. Eisleben was the town where Luther was born, and where he died, and where he gave his series of unfortunate and anti-Semitic final sermons. 




The door to the "house" where Luther died in 1546.

History, and we must include church history, is never one sided, or one-flavored. For as great as Luther was he was also flawed. Like all great men and women (save Jesus), Luther was flawed.

But he did something no one had done before, and no one has done sense. He lit the fire that changed and refined the world. The influence on Western history that he wields cannot be overstated.

Take some time this year to read one of the multiple books on the Reformation which will be published or reissued. You can visit the church library in the summer or fall and scan what we have. This 500th year is an important time to consider the influence that our tradition has had upon the world.

That's why we went to Poland in the first place. To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which quickly spread to Poland after beginning in Eastern Germany.





A final photo. A no-left turn sign in Wroclaw. Good reminder that 3 right turns make a left.

I believe there must be many in Poland who never thought they'd live to see the day that we saw last Sunday. 800 people in worship. Lutherans. About 15 Presbyterians. Catholics. Orthodox. There was a Rabbi sitting behind me. 

Three right turns make a left. History makes a way where it seems the way is blocked. Where people will dedicate themselves, generation upon generation, to the word of God, to the way of compassion, and the application of kindness great things can happen.

Ubi caritas, et amor. Ubi caritas, Deus tibi est. That's the song which comes to mind.... 

The greatest thing about the Reformation? That we are still reforming. We're not done yet. In spite of some of the evidence, there's life in the church yet. So long as she keeps reforming.

500 years ago was only a beginning. 

God grant us grace all the way to the end.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

Ein feiste burg.

Soli Deo Gloria.




Sunday, May 14, 2017

Poland day 3/4 -- Germany day 4 - WMPC Travel Blog


(THIS BLOG IS NOT EDITED - SEE BOTTOM FOR DETAILS)

Forgive the delay in my travel blog. Two 14 hour days back to back will keep the blogging time to a minimum. Above you will see a picutre of the Wroclaw town council dressed as they would have been dressed in the 16th century, 500 years ago. This morning (Sunday) at St. Mary Magadelene Church -- which was originally Roman Catholic, then Lutheran, then Roman Catholic and now Polish Catholic but because it was the first Protestant church in Silesia the Lutherans were allowed to have their 500th anniversary worship service there today (yes, it's that complicated - history has very long tentacles around here) -- our friends in Wroclaw had their 500th anniversary Reformation service.

Like a wedding crasher, I got to process in using a borrowed cape. I looked ridiculous, out of place. But there I was. Representing 80 million Presbyterians world-wide. I told Pastor Ute (picture below) from Germany that I was like the ultimate hanger-on. As she did all of the last two days, she obliged my terrible joke with a laugh.

The worship service was the culmination of the week long celebration of Protestant Culture. Poland, you should note, is among the most religious and Roman Catholic places on Earth. So having a week long celebration of Protestants is a tremendous honor. Mayors, EU officials, councilmen -- they were all present. We we broadcast live on Polish TV. Lights, camera, action -- worship! There was a retired Cardinal there, a Roman Catholic Bishop -- a real Roman metropolitan, a Rabbi, and a Greek Orthodox bishop. All in attendance... all to acknowledge 500 years of Protestants (which to them means Lutherans).


I was a part - and often confused part because I speak no Polish and my German consists of being able to order a meal - of the official ceremonies thanks to my friendship with Woijteich Scerba and WMPC's partnership with EWST, the school of which he is the Rector (think President).



I got to meet one of Martin Luther's family members, Pastor Axel Luther.



Pastor Ute from Berlin translated for me and proved to be a new friend. I am most grateful for her kindness and welcome of me.

It was two full days of prayer, meetings, and conversations with church leaders from all over Germany and Poland. I only wish I could have understood more.




The evening ended for all practical purposes with a concert performed by a very famous Polish choir - they sang Protestant songs (again, no small feat to accomplish) with full orchestra. It was in the concert hall in Wroclaw (which was as fine a musical venue as I have ever visited). I tried to take video and photographs but I was scolded. So all we have is this hurried single shot of the lobby looking up towards the higher levels of the concert hall.



I was able to visit the "Stories on the Road" 500th Reformation exhibit. I even procured a Playmobil Martin Luther there. I have never really wanted any souvenier or toy that I can remember -- but I did hope to find a playmobil Luther. Mission accomplished at the 18 Wheeler of the Reformation.


All in all, it was a glorious two days. Our group is doing well. I am happy to see them all growing in fellowshipi and faith. It gives us joy to know we support Woiteich and Piotr and the faculty of EWST in the teaching and the sharing of theological study and dialog in Poland. It is a very good thing that we, and our church, are doing.




Here our friends from EWST finish the festival along with many other Lutheran pastors.


Magda Szczerba tells us goodbye. 

I must share with you that most of the group went to Auschwitz and paid respects to all those slaughtered there. I stayed behind and journeyed through the full battery of activities with the festival. So, I am afraid I do not have many pictures of them.

As I write, we have traveresed several hundred kilometers of Cannola fields and windmills to arrive in Eastern Germany. We are in the city of Bautzen - home of Luther's wife, Catharine. 


On the way we stopped in Hernnhut, the birthplace of the Moravian Church which is a distant cousin to most Protestant expressions. Below are the newish graves in the Moravian cemetery - God's Acre. What a beautiful place it was. 





From the top of the tower in the cemetery one can see the Czech Republic, Poland and greater Germany. It sits at three borders. Little wonder that WWII crushed this place. The Moravians here lost everything. I wonder what stories, horrible stories, the graves dating back almost 300 years could tell.











The Moavians long ago designed this to seem like a walk in heaven. Paradise. Green. Full of life. Kept but not sterile.

"The Way" just might look like that picture above. So pretty. Tree lined. Surrounded by fields of gold and meadows of lush grasses. Just perfect in every way. A good reminder that the Reformation was, at its source, a longing to return to simplicity. Away from opulence. Back to the basics. 

As we journey farther into Germany, I think we will be reminded of as much.

I hope so.



(Note: apologies for typos and bad sentences. Blogger and Apple are not working together. I am having to go through several software "fixes" to get anything out at all. If the situation donenot improve, I will be forced to move my blog and simply have to stop posting for this trip.I am very sorry, but it is very difficult.)


















Friday, May 12, 2017

Poland Days 1 and 2 - WMPC Mission and Study Trip Reformation at 500

 

Yes my friends. That is a laser light show cast in a fog-machine filled 19th century Protestant (Lutheran) Church is Wroclaw, Poland. It was, in a word, amazing. 60 minutes of Protestant music ranging from Bach to Hopson with the story of the Reformation in Poland told in laser light. We were left speechless as Jesus and his faith and church stretched across Poland.

Then again, much of what I have seen has left me speechless. We heard a world class choir singing some of the mot beautiful music I have ever heard in the Cathedral of Mary Magdalene (which is now managed by the Polish Catholic Church - not Roman Catholic). We have been to EWST, our mission and seminary partner. Though, I should share we did not attend the lecture as it was all in Polish. Instead, we toured their campus while they are hosting a symposium - "Is there going to be another Martin Luther?" There will be more to come about Luther. More artistic and theological syposiums. All because this city, once near the heart of Polish Protestantism, is hosting a Reformation at 500 celebration this week. We are in here, at least in part, to participate in this celebration.




This is the city of Wroclaw from the top of the reconstructed Catholic Cathedral (WWII was not kind to this city). It sits on a island in the river called Cathedral Island. In WWII, Wroclaw was part of Germany.  It has been, it its history, part of Silesia, the Austria-Hungary (Hapsburg) Empire, Prussia, Germany, and now, Poland. It is an amalgam of Western and Eastern European Cultures.

It is a stunning and beautiful city. Brahms, Schleiermacher, and others studied here. Bonhoeffer was born here (it was part of Germany then). I am disappointed in my ignorance of this place before the last few weeks. It is a beautiful, vibrant city of more than 600,000. Like everywhere in Central Europe I have been it has a beautiful and, at times, tragic history.




But it is also a a amazingly faithful place. Along the German border, between the ardent Roman Catholicism of much of Poland, the Lutherans in Germany, and the Orthodox in Russia, Wroclaw became a place of great theological inquiry and exploration. It was multifiath and multicultural long before other places. It's geography dictated as much. And so statues (like this brillian staute along the river of the crucified and resurrected Christ) and Christian art dominate the city.




 Around every corner there is a beautiful garden. Here are Wojciech Szczerba and me in one of these beautiful gardens located between a catholic mission and a huge library. This statute commorates a catholic turned Protestant turned catholic again who later took the name Angelicus as he wrote his poetry and theology. I told my friend Woijcech I would call this picture two angels and Christopher on my blog. #promisekept




Churches are all over the city. They have switched hands between denominations many times. This interior of the main Cathedral is Catholic and has always been so. WWII nearly destroyed it, but it has been rebuilt. Visited by Popes and dignitaries, I found it charming. Said a prayer for those I loved there. I was impressed by the long line of penitents I saw waiting to say their confession to their priests. I am always grateful for the long reach of the Catholic Church - and their reach is longer here in Poland than anywhere else in the world. I think the farther East we go, the more Catholic things become.  The future here is tethered to the past.

Woijech is right. The history of the church oozes from the cobblestones and the rocks around here. It is stunning. Beautiful.  A joy to consider and behold in this charming, ancient, and good city.



Ania, a young tour guide led us on a terrific tour of the city. She was so proud of her hometown. She proved once again the lesson that there are nice and generous people all over the world.



While on the tour with her the Protestant Reformation 18 wheeler rolled into town. The German government is helping Europe remember the 500 anniversary of the Reofmration, which began in 1517.

In the cheesiest way imaginable, I felt a little pride that my work is a very, very, very small part of that 500 year witness. I cannot wait to see what comes out of the truck tomorrow.

On Saturday most of our group is taking a journey to Auschwitz. Some are touring Wroclaw. And I will be joining Woijetch at the conclusion of the celebration.

500 years. 500 hundred. From Martin Luther to a Polish Protestant history laser show. Through wars and rumors of wars the church has endured. Her witness tried and true.

This witness is why Woijtech does his work. It is why we are here. it is why we/they teach students. It is part of why the faith matters. It takes many forms. Lectures, service, works of art. But its many forms speak to many different people. It's many forms are the gifts of the church. And sharing our gifts is what we are supposed to be doing.

Lord knows, the people of Wroclaw and our friends at EWST have been doing as much for us.





Friday, August 19, 2016

Pray for and GIVE to Louisiana

Friends near and far. Take a moment to ‪#‎PrayForLouisiana‬. And then take a moment to give something. It is that important. In a four day period the place I call home received 6 trillion gallons of rain. My grandmothers land, which has never flooded, has all back flooded from water that fell miles and miles and miles away. Her home will be spared, but many of her neighbors will not. This is all unprecedented. Thus, requires an unprecedented response: much like Floyd in 1999.
At my church, White Memorial Presbyterian Church, we are collecting funds for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. You may make a donation to WMPC and tag your gift for Louisiana Flood. Next week we are having a meeting to decide how next to respond - collections, work teams, other means of aid.
Please do what you can to be part of the recovery. Please join me prayer for good people who literally had the Gulf of Mexico dropped upon them from the sky.
God bless you as you do your part.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Friends near and far:

This long blog entry is the sermon I preached one year ago - June 21, 2015. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the massacre in Charleston at Mother Emmanuel Church. I share it here that you might read. Pray over my words, and where my words fail you I pray you will find your own.

I regret that this Sunday I am compelled to repeat much of what I said below. The problem and the challenge persist.

Psalm 40:
"How long O Lord, to sing this song?"

May grace abound. And may our land be free from the specter of murder.

Christopher
(Please forgive typos, syntax, and grammar errors. This is  rough and unedited copy of the original sermon).




From June, 2015:
Storms…or Who is This?
Christopher H. Edmonston
Job 38
Mark 4: 35 - 41

When a pastor begins a sermon, we begin with a deep reading and exegesis of the text. So when preaching this text— the story of Jesus calming a storm on the sea of Galilee — we look at the early chapters of Mark, we look to other stories in the Bible about storms, about water, about survival by God’s hand: the parting of the Red Sea or Jonah and the great fish.

Then we look for a hermeneutical and homiletical approach — we look for touchstones — for those places where our lives are touched by the claim of scripture and how we interpret scripture for today.

There are at least two things we do not wish to happen:  the first is that we don’t want to divorce our message from the essential message of scripture.  The pastor’s life is a constant conversation with the text and a calling to be faithful to it.  There are few nights I do not go to sleep without a text echoing in my mind.

The second thing we hope for is that in the application of the text we are faithful to the times in which we live.  We avoid making our preaching so removed from our experiences that people cannot relate to the text.  We don’t want to bore folks to death. The stories are living because God is living — we are not to present them as though they were dead.

And so this week I was all prepared to preach a sermon about storms in our own personal lives.  I was going to begin with a couple of stories — the first about being on the sea of Galilee 15 months ago and how I could easily imagine a storm on that small sea.  I was going to tell you about how this story of Jesus and the disciples in a storm would have been a terrifying experience on a first century boat.

I was also going to tell a funny story about being in the dead-to-naught middle of the Pamlico Sound two summers ago, just ahead of a great storm.  I was going to share about my fears and my prayers as the boat we were in hit 6 to 8 foot swells, the boat lurching and lunging with every wave.  I was to talk about my profound thanksgiving once we made it to the lee of the channel, and the winds were blocked and the water calmed.  I was going to talk about the relief we feel when the storm passes.

I was then going to compare that experience with the storms of failure, fear, joblessness, poverty, shame, and sin.  I was going to remind us that in scripture and in our lives not all storms are driven by winds. 

Then I was going to make a final move, and tell you all about Leon D’Orleans and Haiti Outreach Ministries.  I was to talk about how through the storm of poverty so crushing it cannot be described in words, except to say that our groups routinely see children eating mud pies, and through an earthquake of historical proportions that Christian people are joining Leon there and building oases of clean water, education, self-improvement, and GLORIOUS worship.  It is among the most inspiring things I have ever seen.

I was going to tell us that Jesus Christ is still calming storms and rescuing disciples from the clutches of death.  

I still hope to preach that sermon one day.  I have the folder with my sermon outline and my resources from the trip.

But I cannot preach that sermon today.

No.

Instead I must preach a sermon about naming the storm of evil in our own country.  I once again have to preach about the storms of racial hatred and gun violence.  Are there any two storms which so greatly threaten the future of our people or of our churches?

Charleston happened.  After Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Ferguson, Baltimore — do I need to go on?  After all of that nine precious souls at a Bible Study at one of the 10 or so most historic and important churches in the great, and I do mean great American south, my heritage and my birth land — nine precious souls were gunned down.

And in that gunning we were once again reminded that while we fight wars on terror and combat extremists around the world, our own streets are made unsafe by the storms of racial hatred and gun violence.  This is factual and it is incontrovertible.

In recent years, parents have been worried about sending their children to school and how many of our brothers and sisters are wondering today whether or not it is safe to go to church?  How many of our black and brown skinned brothers and sisters, and they are our Christian family, how many of them live in daily fear?  I imagine it is more than most of us can imagine.

I told my 13 year old that I was going to rewrite my sermon and that I was going to talk about race and murder, and he asked me if that was a good idea.  

“Are you going to get in trouble?” he asked.

“I might,” I told him.  
What is that we consider taboo in the church today?  Could I say something today that upset some so badly that they will be angry with me, or angry at the church, or put it in someone’s mind to consider leaving for some other church?

Then again, if we cannot talk and pray about these storms, about these real challenges which face our very community, if we cannot talk and pray about them at church, then where can we talk and pray about them? Shouldn’t the people of faith join in conversation about the very winds which threaten all that we have worked for and all that God has done?

We must talk and pray.  And then we must act.  If not, then we cannot know how to respond to the storms.  We are not bottles aimlessly subject to the will of the winds and the tides.  No, by the calling of our lives and through the Holy Spirit’s creation of the church God has made us into agents of witness and action.  

When Jesus says feed my lambs, 
tend my sheep, 
do unto others, 
love one another as I have loved you, 
and love your neighbor as yourself 
— it is not lip service.  Those are mission statements.  And his mission for us is one that we had better take to heart.

And we must take it to heart here at this church.  Take it to heart today.  

Why?  Because the storm is raging, and it must stop.  And nearly every member of this church is in a position to join Jesus on the boat in the midst of the storm and influence the future.  We are business leaders, government leaders, church leaders, PTA leadership, school leaders, legal leaders —we are members of the Raleigh Hall of Fame, we are founders of non-profits, and we are community builders.  And we can help the Godly cause of peace and the healing of our land.  We can be the peacemakers Jesus himself has called his church to be. 

But only if we allow ourselves to be a little uncomfortable, a little inconvenienced, and concerned and upset enough to take some actions.

A generation ago the church did as much. 

I was the pastor at Howard Memorial Presbyterian in Tarboro where the most beloved pastor in that proud church’s history was a man named Wellford Hobbie who journeyed and marched in Selma in 1965.  His actions were not understood by everyone easily, but the church knew something was at stake.  Because something happened in 1963 which changed the timbre, the tuning, and the tone of the conversation amongst Christians in the United States.

Songwriter Patterson Hood wrote about then event which occurred in 1963 - an act of terrorism against a church.  

The song I am referring to begins, “Church blew up in Birmingham and four little black girls killed — For no good reasonAll this hate and violence can't come to no good end — It’s a stain on the good land.”

A stain on a good land.  I could not say this better myself.

I have been a pastor in North Carolina for 16 years now, and have been with your here right at four years, I have yet to meet anyone that I believe to be a hatred-filled person.  I have yet to meet anyone who is unconcerned about the VERY REAL challenges that our black and brown brothers and sisters in faith face.

I do not think that the people in our churches are an acute part of the problem. In fact, I think that we are good people, sinners saved by grace.  I believe that most of are doing the best we can with what we’ve got.  And I take comfort in this.  Perhaps I am even a little sinfully prideful of it.  It makes me feel like I am one of the good guys.

But if we can see evidence of a problem which is dogging the children of God in our midst and we refuse to use our resources and our influences to be part of the solutions, to be workers in the calming of the storms, then we become part of the problem.

This is a legacy moment — the church, the black church, the black community — has been attacked and it’s children are on the ropes.  I am a history nerd and in the great struggle for the black soul of our nation there have been two large moments.  The first was emancipation.  The second the civil rights era.  And the third is upon us, in my estimation is less about the legal questions than it is the personal questions.  This is a storm that must not be challenged in the courts so much as it must be faced in our neighborhoods and communities, heart by heart, mind by mind, soul by soul.

No one pastor can heal the wounds.  No one church can solve the storm alone.  But what can we do?

Well, for staters we can pray.  We start today.  Join me in the Chapel after the 8:15 service, across the street.  I am going to pray for Charleston, pray for our neighbors and pray for the soul of our nation.  After 11 I am going to do the same — yes I am going to risk my Father’s Day lunch reservation — in the sanctuary.  We are going to pray.

We can each of us take the time to learn the history of our part of the city.  Did you know it was not originally known as Cameron Village, but instead as Oberlin Village.  It was named so by James Harris in 1866.  James Harris was a freed-slave and he created a 150 acre community for former slaves.  Our neighborhood was once one of the most significant African-American communities in the state.  At its center was Raleigh’s largest black cemetery, just mere blocks from here.  Today I commit the resources and the influence of this congregation to the grass-roots movement through Wilson Temple United Methodist church to restore the cemetery and ensure its preservation.

As a church we are going to work hard to increase our relationship with our neighbor churches and somehow through Daniel’s Middle School and our church partners we are going to work to reach the Youth of those communities in new ways.

I am going to write a letter to mother Emmanuel AME Zion church in Charleston, expressing the horror of our church family and I am going to research what we can do for them and in memory of those who were massacred.

Maybe you’ll have ideas as you pray and work along side us — and maybe, just maybe we can leave a legacy that no matter how large or how small our great-grandchildren will be proud of claiming as a heritage of peace and hope and neighborliness and love.

We, the local we that is White Memorial, and the collective we that is North Carolina and the United States can do better.  We must do better.  I am so proud and so moved by the people of Charleston as they move toward healing and change.  Let’s start with prayer and join our Lord and our Savior in their example, and be present as the storm is calmed and as the wounds are healed.  Let’s stand by our neighbors in South Carolina.

Y’all still with me? 

What of guns?  Is there a less digestible topic, any more inflammatory topic that divides people more than guns in America today?  

I am no lawmaker or legal expert, but I stand before you today an American citizen who says that whatever we are doing about the intersections of mental illness and hatred and guns and access to guns is not working.

There are tens of thousands of homicides every year in the United States and more than 7 out of 10 of them involve a gun.  There have been more than 70 mass killings in the United States in my four decades of life.  The death of our fellow citizens and the death of the children of God does not honor our creator and, I believe, makes Jesus weep.
Violence, and in particular, gun violence is public health crisis.  

Murder is moral issue — beginning with the Ten Commandments which say, “you shall not murder.”  And then continuing with Jesus Christ who warned us of living and dying by the sword.

What has happened in our country is that this moral issue has become politicized, and the very challenge is one that citizens are facing in their neighborhoods, their universities, their elementary schools, and now, O Jesus Christ forbid it, our churches.  We are helpless in a wash of constitutional and political fights.  There must be a better way.

I can speak only for me, but I am going to begin daily praying about murder as a public health crisis.  And I am going to educate myself about what I, and our church can do going forward.

Because I cannot imagine our grandchildren and our children, yours or mine, growing up like this any longer.

What do I mean, when I say “like this?”  What I mean is that if those 9 people in Charleston had died from SARS, or Ebola, or malaria, or the bubonic plague — our nation and its resources would be mobilized.  And yet because of the complexity of the politics, because of the complexity of the legal arguments and the variances in the interpretations of constitutional rights, but of the complexity of talking about mental health and racial hatred, we seem to be powerless in conversations about societal change.

Theses storms, these two cultural and historical ones, just like the literal ones which stir the oceans and the seas, they threaten to overwhelm.  

Today I throw my trust upon Jesus Christ. Today I call upon all us to throw our trust upon Jesus Christ.  For he is the calmer of the storms.  He is the healer of broken hearts and broken souls.  And he invites us, just as he invited the disciples long ago, to join him on the boat, in the middle of it all, engaging the storm and giving a witness to the calming miracle of faith.

The disciples were witnesses to the calming of a storm - which before it happened they believed was impossible.  Let’s believe as much.  At least hope for as much.  Our good land has been stained far too long.




Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Old and New and New and Old

photo credit Daily World News

In my family we are “light-weight” theater people. None of us have ever had formal singing or acting lessons, but we have been involved in community theater since the kids were very little. We have played bit parts in teeny-tiny productions, and some of us have had larger parts at community colleges and even larger stages. A near-perfect date night for me and my wife will almost always involve seeing some drama, comedy or musical.
At our core, I think we “light-weight” theater people love theater because we love stories. And lately one story has captured the imagination of our family. Perhaps you have heard of it? It is called Hamilton, and it is a modern musical based upon the political life of Alexander Hamilton. Historically, Alexander Hamilton was a giant—the major writer of the Federalist Papers, head of the U.S. Treasury during Washington’s presidency and a forefather of modern New York. Perhaps you have heard of this show. It is currently the most popular show on Broadway and will likely run for years and years. It is destined to be an American classic!
Lest I lead anyone to an erroneous assumption, no, we have not seen the show. It is far too expensive for our family to go. But we have the compact disc, and we have listened to it for months. The melodies are catchy. The emotions are authentic. The style is part jazz-era scat, modern rap and big Broadway melodies. It is a new kind of musical with styling appropriate to the 21st century. Everything about it is modern.
Everything, that is, except the story. The story is 240 years old. For the first time that I can remember, this modern presentation has kids and teens all over America singing about American history. Suddenly, it’s hip to sing about one of the founding fathers of this country. It has been quite a surprise to nearly everyone, even our “light-weight” theater family.
As I have been driving around listening to my family sing about the Federalist Papers in the car, I cannot help but think about the church. Not just our church. I have been thinking about “the Church.”
In the Church, we tell and hold and keep and share a story that is 2,000 years old. In all of our variants, in all our forms, what churches have done since the beginning is to take this old story—of Jesus Christ and his mercy and saving work—and interpret it for every age. So in every age that has passed and in every age that is to come, people have been and will be singing and reciting the story of God and the miracle of the gospel.
Our job in the Church is to make the old story new again—and then to pray and listen for the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, so it might teach us how to keep the story alive for those who have yet to hear. In this way, the Church is reborn over and over.

So friends, as spring slides into summer, let us each seek the story in new ways. Let us make ourselves available to God’s surprises—because God is always taking old things and breathing new life into them.

See this link for more on Hamilton:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAiEVjW-GNA

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

14 - Final Day in Smolensk


14.

That is how many orphanages the Central Baptist Church visits and helps. They play games with the kids. They help the kids with clothes and the basic amenities that kids need. They pray with and for the children.  

I don't have the space on this blog or complete knowledge to explain orphanages in Russia. Suffice to say that there are many different types of orphans here.

There are orphans here who would fit our classical understanding of orphans. There are children who would be more like foster kids. And finally, there is a group of kids they refer to as "social orphans" -- children whose parents are very impoverished; children who live at the orphanages Monday to Friday and go home on the weekends.

We visited two different orphanages on our last day. One was for k 8 to 18 with respiratory illnesses. Think: asthma or chronic bronchitis. This orphanage is in the forest by design so that the children will get as much fresh air as possible. The kids go to school here, live here, play here. They move in groups around the campus very quickly, whispering as they go. They have Physical Education, Home Economics, and weekly breathing treatments. It is school, camp, clinic -- all in one.


(Here 12-13 year old girls share with us about the cherry tree they planted. Olga -pronounced Olya- translates. The orphans planted 71 trees. One for each year of the orphanage's existence. In 3-4 years the apples, cherries, and pears they planted will start to supplement their diets.)

(One of the gyms on site. Note the play ground in the foreground.)

Their dormitories are meager. Clean, yes. Warm, yes (Russians know to heat space). But they were very, very, very meager. The church built the kids new closets several years ago, but there was not much in them. Closets are mostly empty.

(Leonid, Pastor Victor's brother shows us the closets he built in one of the dormitories. Thanks to the churches the children have decent bathrooms and closets.)

( Harriet explains the rules of balloon relay to the kids.)

(We played balloon games with the kids. I think we had as much fun as they did.)

All the buildings we saw were built in the 1950's. Small and cramped. But the children seem well. It is not luxurious. But considering where some of them come from it likely seems like a safe haven. 

(One of the teachers. She was really kind and spoke good English.  Have met many teachers. They are all the same. Love children. Love to watch Indus grow. Love to watch students make discoveries and improve. The calling to teach and teaching ministries is not exclusive. It is on every shore and in every time zone.)

The children were beautiful. They are just like children all over the world. At one point my friend Judy sat next to a child. The child was alone. I asked the teacher if she was OK. "She's just shy," the teacher said. 


No sooner did I notice the shy kid when I heard a girl screaming "Pravda! Pravda! Pravda!" Translation: "rules, rules, rules."  They were playing balloon pop relay. And someone was cheating the game to get ahead. 

Here they were. Two girls. One shy and the other the kid who makes sure everyone is following the rules. 

My eyes welled with tears. 

Children are the same all over the world. Haiti. Russia. Honduras. Scotland. North Carolina.  I wonder about you when you were young. Which one were you: the shy kid? The everybody follow the rules kid? Which one were you. 

No wonder Jesus says that the kingdom of God belongs to the children. They are hard wired for joy and love. Trust and wonder. But somehow we forget all that. And emnity grows between us. Conflict is a learned and adult behavior.

Kids are the same the world over. They need the same things: support. Love. Safety. Lessons in faith and character. 

14. In addition to raising their own kids, the folks in Smolensk are reaching 14 different orphanages. 

14. 

Yes. There are hundred of orphanages in Russia. Far more in the world. In one light this may see like a thimble full of water in the desert. 

But in truth 14 is incredible. Jesus is concerned about the one. And here we have 14!

What if every person who reads my blog or who goes to our church or who knows me helped14 lost kids, 14 schools, or 14 people in need? 

Then 14 might be the biggest number of all.

If Russian friends can do so very much with limited resources and access, then what is stopping those of us with many resources from offering at least as much?

14.

It grabbed my attention. 

Smolensk is beautiful. 





But most lovely of all is the faith of a few friends. Friends who, 14 orphanages at a time, are serving those who Jesus called the least of these.