"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


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.