Oh, The Churches I've Seen

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Oh, The Churches I've Seen

I’ve been to LOTS of churches and chapels and places of worship on my Sabbatical.  I visited churches here before I left for Europe.  We hit (accidentally) a number of youth services.  So the worship wasn’t always the “usual” service.  But I enjoyed those lively services immensely.  It was fun to hear the youth - much like our own youth - reflect on mission trips and God’s presence in their lives. It was especially refreshing, inspiring and renewing to go to WAPO after my time in Germany, Norway and Iceland to see the Spirited lively pulsating worship at camp! God is at work!  I left WAPO thankful.

Worship at Wapo

Worship at Wapo

I don’t know what I was expecting of the churches in Europe.  I knew that it would be different and that, in Europe and in Scandinavia, the population was less “religious.” I also knew that the church in Norway had been a “State Church” - and so was expecting some differences. But I didn’t know how hard it would be to go to church to worship!

I visited a lot of churches. But many of them felt at first blush as if they were more like museums.

Mary's Church in Trondheim

Mary's Church in Trondheim

This was especially true in Norway.  The Stave churches in Norway are old.  Really old. In fact, there seems to be a bit of a competition between the churches and their historians as to which church was the oldest.  And also a competition for which was the most "authentic." Especially in comparison to our churches, these churches are really old- some date back to around the year 1000.  But what was more interesting to me than the preservation of the "oldest" was the churches that kept adapting and changing - slightly to meet the needs of the time. 

Lom Stave Church

Lom Stave Church

The churches are also really small. They are like a small chapel, with room for maybe 50 people.  It turns out that when they were built, they did not have long sermons - maybe not sermons at all.  Consequently, they were not built with pews or chairs.  There were benches along the edges for the elderly and the children. But services did not last long so they did not need to have pews.

That changed however.  One thing that lengthened the worship service was that the pastors started preaching!  There were other changes too - after the Reformation, the liturgy which means “the work of the people”  became much more engaging of the people - and so the worship service lengthened... and people needed to sit down.  Other changes that occurred were in the ornamentation.  Stylistic changes were made between the gothic and the baroque periods.  Interestingly enough, the Trondheim cathedral in Norway took so long to build that the bishop in charge switched styles so it has gothic styled pillars on the first floor and more ornate baroque pillars as the cathedral rises to the second and third levels.

Some of the changes were unfortunate (in my opinion).  In some churches, especially in Germany, some of the reformers (not Luther) preached against art forms of any kind in church - seeing them as a form of idolatry - they beheaded the statues.  (it seems odd to me that they didn’t simply remove the statues - but it looks as if they were violently beheaded as if these marble statues were living examples of the devil’s presence in their churches. )

Most of the churches that we visited were absolutely beautiful - on the inside AND in the surrounding graveyard.  This was very remarkable in Norway.  The graveyards were blooming. Literally.  The families - or a paid caretaker - keep an amazing range of annual flowers blooming!  One gravesite was more beautiful than the next!  It was STUNNING.  

This caused me to wonder:  We saw people on Sunday afternoon going with their trowel and bringing more flowers to the graves.  The church was locked - but the church yard was blooming! Hmmm.

Church in Bergen

Church in Bergen

Church culture is very different in Norway than it is here.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church is a “state church.”  The government pays for the upkeep of these churches and the clergy are civil servants, i.e. governmental employees.  The king is required to profess a Lutheran church membership.  In addition, baptism and Confirmation are important rites of passage.  When we stayed with my brother-in-law’s relatives, they told us that Confirmation was such a big event and the churches were so small that unless you were a family member, you could not attend church on that day.  Judging by the advertisements and photographs in the windows of photographers, “Confirmation” is celebrated as a rite of passage.  Confirmation pictures are taken - like our high school graduation pictures. Marriages used to happen in the church.  But now, according to wikipedia (not the best source) the leading use of the church is for Confirmation and for funerals.  

A huge exception to this is the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim (See the blog on Nidaros Cathedral for the story of this cathedral).  We (My mother, sister and I) spent three nights in the housing for pilgrims who travel - by foot - from all over (Italy, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, England) on a pilgrimage to this cathedral.  (They also rent rooms for those of us who travel by bus, boat and plane.) It was a very interesting group of people however and we enjoyed having breakfast with the pilgrims each morning and hearing their stories.  The pilgrim pastor was also insightful.  He said that people travel as pilgrims for many different reasons - some spiritual, others for the physical challenge and still others have personal reasons or searchings - but that regardless of the reason they start the walk, they all seem to learn and grow and find something in the journey. His job is to welcome them - and he does, without judgment.

Each day that we were in Trondheim, we went to the Cathedral at Nidaros. There was worship every day - and each day it was different - and meaningful.  One day the worship was combined with an organ concert.  There are two organs at Nidaros Cathedral, one more beautiful than the next.  The worship - including the fantastic music - filled the huge reaches of the Cathedral - and my soul. It was beautiful.  On another day, the pilgrim pastor took us and some other pilgrims on a small walk-through and led us in a worship at one of the little chapels. This time, worship was simple - yet beautiful.  On the third day, the dean or lead pastor of the Cathedral led a worship in multiple languages. This too was beautiful. The Cathedral acts as a welcoming place for pilgrims, for tourists and has a congregation of the people of Trondheim. God was clearly at work in each of these ways at Nidaros.

Yet we still wanted to go a regular church.  We had been told services were at 11 a.m. Almost always.  So we decided to drive to Fagernes church.  Fagernes is the name of my mother’s church in Wisconsin when she was growing up and so we thought it would be very fun to go to church in the Norwegian Fagernes church.  It was a drive over the mountains - and the hotel clerk told us it would take about 2.5 hours, so we allowed 3.5 hours - figuring that I would drive slower than he did over the mountains!  It was a BEAUTIFUL Drive (more about that later) and we arrived in the town of Fagernes at 10:30 a.m.  We stopped and asked directions to the church.  Unfortunately, this was the one place where the natives did not speak English.  The road was torn up but after much ado, we got there - at 10:55.  But the parking lot was empty.  Wrong church. There was a note on the door that said the church was closed due to the road construction and that worship would be at the hillside church (read mountain). We had seen a church on the mountainside - and through my sister's excellent navigation we managed to wind our way along the mountain roads to the church on top of the mountain.  The view was spectacular.  Clearly the people could worship God in a place like this!  Except… there was no one there.  The flowers and the view were magnificent however - so… it being after noon at this point, we had our own devotion and prayers and hoped that there would not be Confirmation the next week when we stayed with my brother-in-laws relatives.  There wasn’t — but they told us that their pastor and the neighboring pastor were a clergy couple and that they were on vacation for two weeks -  so there wouldn’t be any church services.  I was disappointed.

We had visited the folk museum in Lillehammer which had traditional buildings, including an old Stave church, and costumed interpreters explaining Norway’s history.  So I asked the young woman who was explaining the church about the faith-life of people in Norway.  I asked, “Why don’t people go to church?”  She said, “The church belongs to the government.  Faith is something that is personal - if people believe at all.  That’s just the way it is here now.” 

I found that her assessment very depressing.  I was also disappointed that we never got to a “regular” church service.  Our worship ended up being with other English speaking tourists in Wittenberg were we sang “A Mighty Fortress” with gusto - and with interesting combination of tourists/pilgrims/art & music fans in Trondheim. These were wonderful experiences.  Yet they were tourist experiences and so I wondered. I wondered what God was doing in Norway amidst the Norwegian people.  We saw great evidence of God’s presence as we talked with the pastors and the pilgrims at Nidaros Cathedral. We saw God’s presence in creation - how could anyone not see?!.  But just as some of the people on the train were sleeping as we past through mountains and phenomenal waterfalls and lush green forests, I wondered if they were asleep to God’s presence as well.  Maybe they just didn’t have eyes to see God’s presence.   As we were pondering the church in Norway, someone suggested that maybe we need to send Missionaries to Norway!  Maybe.  But then, as we were reflecting on our journey, another one of my faithful family members remarked on how cool it was to see the VBS pictures in one church.  And another reminded me of the great role that the church in Leipzig played in the peace movement.  Yet another reminded me of the evidence of activity within the church.  The church at Vaga was selling the old “authentic” wooden shingles to pay for their new roof! So… maybe I despaired too soon.

Quite by chance (or was it?) a couple of days after returning from Norway, I received a poem by Elizabeth Browning in an email from a dear pastor friend of mine.  It spoke to the mystery of how God works in the world:

                    

                                    Earth’s crammed with heaven,
                                And every common bush afire with God;
                                    But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –
                                    The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

                                                                                                            — Elizabeth Browning

What an invitation!  Let’s open our eyes to see God’s work in our world and take off our shoes in awe and wonder. Let’s give thanks for the gracious gifts God gives to those who have eyes to see - and when our eyes are too clouded to see, at least let’s give thanks for the blackberries.

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Nidaros Cathedral

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Nidaros Cathedral

Nidaros Cathedral is magnificent!  The first church was built in this location in 997 by King Olav I who helped to establish Christianity in Norway. But the Cathedral is linked to the story of the 2nd King Olav, King Olav Haraldsson.

Born in 995, the son of a “minor” king (Norway was not a unified country but ruled by many small kingdoms), Olav, at the age of 12, went on a Viking raid to England. But while he went with the purpose of raiding, in the process, he was transformed.  He became Christian and was baptized in 1014 in Normandy. He returned to Norway that year and became king, uniting Norway under his rule. In 1024, he established Christianity as the only legal religion. His reign was not met favorably by Norway’s “ruling elite” who conspired against him.  He was exiled in 1028 and fled to his brother-in-law’s kingdom in Russia.  In 1030, he returned to Norway to retake his throne but was killed and his body was buried - probably at the sandbank on the banks of the river in Trondheim.

But that was not the end of the story.  Rumors started of healing at his graveside. One year and five days after the battle in which he was killed, his coffin was removed from the grave and reopened.  The body appeared to be unchanged - as if he had just died - and his hair and nails had grown.  He was proclaimed a saint and his coffin was placed above the altar in St. Clements church.  A wooden chapel was built honoring him and a spring arose with water that had healing powers.  New miracles were recounted and people started traveling to this chapel for healing. A verse of a song written in 1035 recounts: “And crowds do come, the deaf and dumb, cripple and blind, sick of all kind, cured to be on bended knee; and off the ground rise whole and sound.  A new church dedicated to Mary, Mother of Jesus was built by Olav’s half-brother, King Harald Sigurdsson (1045-66) and then another new church was built by his son, Olav (1066-93). This newest church was built on the hill and was the largest church in the country.

But it wasn’t big enough.  A hundred years later, plans were made for a cathedral.  The first building, begun in the 1140s, displays a 12th century Romanesque style. But, as the building continued into the 13th century, the plans were changed to include Gothic architecture. The building was consecrated towards the end of the 13th century.  But this building - as grand and magnificent as it was - was not to last. It was devastated by fire and rebuilt several times, but  by the 1500s, the western half of the building had became a roofless courtyard. Then the Protestant king severed ties with the Pope, abolished Catholicism and took over all of the properties and treasures.  Pilgrimages ceased - and so did the funds that had come into the Cathedral. The Cathedral was plundered by an occupying army of soldiers who stripped it of its valuables. Through the years, repairs and improvements were made to the cathedral - but fire continued to be an enemy and the building - what was left of it - was in poor condition. Then in 1814, as Norway’s Constitution was being drawn, the Trondheim representative managed to include a clause that stated that the King would be crowned at Trondheim’s Cathedral. Four years later, the King was crowned at Nidaros, resulting in much attention being drawn to the poor condition of the Cathedral. But it wasn’t until the next King was crowned in 1860, that the demand grew for restoration of the Cathedral.  In 1869, the rebuilding of the cathedral began.  There were interruptions. One of which was war.  During WWII, Norway was occupied by Germany - and the Nazi army used the WestNave - which no longer had a roof - for horses. After the war, the rebuilding continued. Major reconstruction was finally concluded in 2001. But… it will never be done. According to an old legend, the cathedral and the town will sink in the fjord if the cathedral is ever finished. So.. on the Southern West Front tower, there is a stone carving of a bricklayer next to the empty spot for the last brick. But the stone mason holds that final stone which will never be put in its place, thus saving the cathedral and the town.

Looking at Nidaros Cathedral now, it is a remarkable intensely beautiful sanctuary with two huge organs - one German organ made by Wagner (no relation to the composer), and one new English organ.  Phenomenal. People from all over the world come to this Cathedral.  Some come off the tour busses and ships for a quick view at the marvelous architecture.  Others come as Pilgrims. Still others come to worship. Kings and Queens came for coronation (now due to changing sensibilities they come for a blessing.) Nadirs Cathedral has a special place in Norway’s history and life, but that is not all. It is also - and I would dare say primarily - an inspiring place of faith revealed in architecture, art, music and worship. God’s story is told in many ways in this place. Thanks be to God. 

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The Long Arc of History

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The Long Arc of History

History --- LONG....

History. It was hard not to notice the difference in history between the US and Europe.  Our attention was caught on the first day as we walked around Konstance, Germany.   Konstance lies right next to a Swiss city, Kreutzlingen, partially divided by lake Konstance but then merging together on the west side of the lake. There is no natural border.  This led to happy consequences for Konstance -- since the night bombers in WWII could not distinguish where the German city ended and the Swiss city began, neither city was bombed in the World Wars.  As a result, there are really old buildings here.  Some of them have painted walls and others have stone murals that tell the history - back to the year 1000.  Now THAT's history.

I was also impressed, as we toured German museums, how honest they were about their history - and the role of the leaders, princes, popes, bishops and then Germany as a nation played in their history and in world history.  In Germany, the arc of recorded history stretches long - and there has been much fighting for power, for land, for glory.

In Leipzig, we visited - by accident - a museum on the educational system. Children were  exploited (particularly during the years of  Nazi power but also in East Germany (to which Leipzig belongs) during the time that the Stasi police infiltrated everything.

We then went to the actual Stasi museum.    It was eery to walk through former offices of the Stasi police.  I had no idea how pervasive their oppression of the people had been.  This was particularly striking for Barret since he had studied in Germany during the time of the Stassi - and so somewhere in their files is his picture, crossing the border (legal but still watched).  One exhibit showed how they read everyone's mail.  And the people knew it.  One example: A man wrote to his grandmother,  "Thank you for the handgun grandmother, I buried it in the garden."  Two weeks later, he wrote, "You can send the orchid bulbs now, grandma. The police have dug up the garden for me so I'm ready to plant." 

Spies were everywhere. There was a file on EVERYONE.  The Stasi police staff tried to destroy the files when the wall started to come down and they realized that the "secret" files would soon fall into public hands.   But the people did not allow them or the government to destroy the files.  Now, however, people who lived in East Germany have a challenging moral and personal question.  Do they look in their file?  If they do,  they  may discover that people they thought were friends, good neighbors and even loyal family members may have reported on them.  Is it better to know? Or is it better to forgive - and not have to have a face to forgive?

On a positive note, I was thrilled to read about the transformational role of the Nicholas Lutheran Church in Leipzig.  People had been gathering at the church for prayer for years.  The police did not see anything particularly dangerous about prayer and candle vigils.  But then more people started to gather at the church.   By October 9, 1989, just after the forced 40th anniversary celebrations of the East German Government, the GDR (German Democratic Republic), the few hundred gatherers at Nicholas church swelled to 70,000 (out of a city of 500,000).   They united in peaceful opposition to the regime.  They did not have a single leader but were unified by the commitment that the protest would be peaceful. The next week, on Oct 16, 1989, 120,000 showed up. The following week, there were 320,000 people.  The Stasi knew how to handle violent protests. But they did not know how to address prayers, candles and peaceful protests. The Wall fell. And, as they say, the rest is history!  But history is not over....

Checkpoint Charlie museum in Berlin continued the story by sharing the stories of the many people who tried to escape East Berlin. There were some ingenious  methods:  Tunnels were built; cars were changed to hide a passenger; some flew out by creating their own light craft airplane or balloon. Others escaped by mistaken identity or stolen papers. Even some soldiers (in the beginning) - fled to the other side.  But many died trying. 

Interestingly enough, the Stasi museums and the Checkpoint Charlie museums were not begun by the government or foundations but by individual citizens who wanted to preserve the history - and tell the stories - even though they weren't always pretty.  Checkpoint Charlie museum began as a 2 room display by a human rights activist, Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt.  He collected the stories and the pictures beginning in October 1962 when the Berlin wall was erected - and he and friends - never stopped.

The most challenging part about the Checkpoint Charlie museum, however, is that the stories that it tells are not over. The history of oppression did not end with the wall coming down. There are current stories of innocent people being held or "disappearing" that continues today. As much as we would like to see the Nazi oppression and the Stasi police as things of the past... we have only to listen to the news to know that people are still oppressed. Current stories include the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky from Russia, Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and activist who wrote against the war in Chechnya, Sergei Magnitsky  a Russian accountant and auditor who was arrested and died in custody for telling the truth as well as the strife in the Ukraine.  But it is not just Russia. There are other stories of oppression told - some closer to our home -- of injustice and oppression.  It reminds us that "it's not just history."  

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Luther at Wartburg and Wittenburg: Agent of Change

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Luther at Wartburg and Wittenburg: Agent of Change

Luther was a scholar, a priest, a teacher and a leader. He was also an agent of change.  I said in my last blog that Luther did not act alone. This is true - and sometimes we don't give the "others" enough credit.  But Luther still played a very significant part in activating the change. 

The famous quote from Luther "Here I stand! I can do no other!" inspires us to be bold in our witness.  It makes for a great movie.  The only problem is that there's no evidence that Luther actually said it.  But what we have recorded is no less inspiring.  After being questioned about his writings and being asked to recant (recant basically means "take back" his writings).  But in doing so, Luther would have to admit they were heretical and submit them to be burned and promise to not write again.  He asked for a night to think about it.  The next day, Luther replied that by God and his conscience, he could not recant.  Maybe his voice quivered as he said this.  He knew that this would make him an outlaw.  One did not easily go against Pope AND Emperor, church and state.  So maybe his voice wasn't as bold as it is in the movie.  But maybe this is even more inspiring because because it makes Luther much more like us.  Change is hard - even for someone like Luther.

But, having made that statement, Luther was committed.  The new printing press made Luther into a kind of "rock star" of his day.  Everyone was reading him. And it wasn't just the academics.  One of the things I found fascinating in the museum in Wittenberg was  the role of cartoonists -- very accessible to a wider public and VERY opinionated both pro and con the reformers.  I thought that politics had become more personal now - but the editorial cartoons of Luther's day were pretty pointed - and not in the least kind. (To put it nicely). But the groundswell of support - and the support of the German Princes - encouraged him to continue.

Luther was also a faithful pray-er.  The Holy Spirit worked through him, led him and guided him. He knew the Bible (which made it easier to translate as quickly as he did). But he also listened for the Word of God.  I think I know what he was doing the night that he pondered whether to recant - or whether to move forward.  It was the Holy Spirit.

May the Holy Spirit lead and guide us as we seek to continue to RE-form the church and our world to reflect God's love!

Pastorr Pam

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Luther and Friends

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Luther and Friends

Luther got by with a little help from his friends....

Reformation!  When we hear that word we immediately think of Luther.  Indeed,translating the Bible, daring to question the way things had "always  been done," and standing up against the authority of both Pope and Emperor to make reforms are why we are indebted to Luther. But he could not have done it alone.  He got MORE than a little help from his friends, likeminded colleagues and collaborators and those who stood to benefit from a change in the way things always were. 

Here are a few noteworthy friends and allies:

  1)      His elector (local ruler)  Frederick the Wise provided safe haven for Luther after the Pope excommunicated him and the Emperor had put an edict against him.

2)      Colleagues and collaborators in the Reformation, especially fellow professor and great writer and scholar Melanchthon and the priest at Wittenberg were invaluable in actually starting the reformations.  Luther was hiding in Wartburg when the first worship in the German language took place.  Melanchthon was the one who actually wrote and defended the Concord which helped to synthesize and organize the thought of the reformers.

3)      Artists - especially Lucas Cranach - an artist who painted Luther and Katie but who also illustrated the works.  Other artists and cartoonists helped to popularize the reforms by making some of Luther's points in editorial style cartoons. (Some of which were pretty pointed and freely used "dark" humor - i.e. they were not very nice to their opponents!.)

4)      The German princes and electors had their own reasons (some selfishly wanting to grab the land and resources of the church for their own benefit)

5)      The printing press - Luther's works and the cartoons and editorials of others -- were spread far and wide and Luther became the equivalent of a rock star.

Reformations and Revolutions are the work of lots of people.  Often times, one man or woman needs to be willing to stand up for what they believe - and hope that others will follow.  As we learned, there were other reformers who tried (John Hus for example a hundred years earlier - but he was burned at the stake in Konstance). 

To give Luther credit, his training (as a lawyer and then as a monk and then a priest and professor) aided him greatly.   His character as well - he was outspoken and confident -- allowed him to prevail upon others.  But its also good to remember that those people we often put on a pedestal (Luther quite literally - see picture) and look up to, are there only by the Grace of God and the help of others.

So today I give thanks for you all - who have allowed me to take this time to walk in the footsteps of Luther and other "saints before" accompanied by my family.  It has taken me some time to reflect on Luther and all that I have been taking in - but I give thanks for your patience.

Blessings and peace,

Pam

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Where Luther Walked

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Where Luther Walked

The places Martin  Luther walked, wrote and taught: We began with Eisenach & Wartburg. 

Our plan, following Rick Steves' recommendations (the TV and Travel guide guru also happens to be a Lutheran!) was to travel from East to West by train. When we arrived, I was impressed first with the train station.  It had been newly remodeled and was ready for an influx of Luther visitors. 

Germany has done their own "Marshall Plan" after the reunification of Germany and the repressed areas of former East Germany have gotten more than a new coat of paint.  Eisenach is a sweet German town, with a deep history that includes Luther and others (St. Catherine in particular impressed me - more on her later) but also is not "stuck" in history.  Despite the rain (there was rain every day in Germany - but it did not stop us!) the local merchants set up in the village square with fresh strawberries (which looked delicious!) and other fresh produce for sale as well as handcrafts. 

There is no doubt about it, however, their Luther heritage is evident.  Eisenach and the rest of the Luther sites have been busy planning and preparing and celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation which comes in 2017. But, wisely, they've been celebrating the whole decade. The good news is that the Luther sites are becoming even more accessible for non-German speakers.  The bad news is that some of the sites are not yet open for viewing. (Guess I'll have to go back!)

Although I wasn't able to view the inside of the churches in town, the main attraction in Eisenach is Wartburg Castle where Luther translated the BIble.  I knew Wartburg Castle was out of town.  I also knew that it was a bit of a hike from the road.  But I did not realize that it was all UP!   It was drizzling and a bit slippery and "mucky"  so people of all ages were taking the narrow path more slowly.  However, while the persistent precipitation made the way a bit damp, all of the water that Germany has received over the last week or so has also made the landscape green and lush and beautiful. It would not have been a bad hiding place.  The view was great!

But Luther did not go there for the view.  He went there was to hide.  After writing the 95 theses to reform the church, Luther went to the city of Worms where he participated in a very academic exercise debating his ideas.  But the Emperor ended up declaring Luther an outlaw and when he would not recant, his works were banned and a price was put on his head.  Others were not allowed to read his work or listen to him preach.  But, on the way home, Luther was "kidnapped" by his protector, (the elector Frederick the Wise), and taken to Wartburg castle,  He spent 10 months disguised as a bearded "Squire George."  But in the meantime, he translated the New Testament from the original Greek into ordinary German.  (Not a small feat!) 

Other translations into German had been made before, but what made Luther's translation different was that translated from the original Greek (instead of from the Latin) AND he had the huge advantage of the printing press.  Suddenly the Bible was accessible to more people.

The Bible is open to us to hear, to read, to study, to meditate upon, to hear God's Word - for us. Accessibility to the Bible was a great gift.

As I looked at the room where Luther wrote - a simple little room - I marveled at how God uses imperfect people (We would rather not remember Luther's writings against the Jews and against the peasants) to share God's word. 

Pam in Luther's room.



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Family Adventure - Zeppelin & Prayer

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Family Adventure - Zeppelin & Prayer

Time with family.  My family generally takes rather low budget vacations.  We hike, camp and go fishing - and we love it.  I'm not complaining about that in the least. But, the Lily foundation provides an incredible gift for pastors and their family for rest, renewal and... to do things that they would never have been able to do - whether for lack of funds or time or both.  And somethings that I would never have DREAMT of doing.

Riding on a Zeppelin falls straight into that category.  There is NO WAY that I would have imagined myself and my family taking a Zeppelin ride.  You may remember that the blimp-like vessel filled with hydrogen disastrously exploded.  But now, a company in the town of Friedrichshafen, Germany has a new helium powered Zeppelin and offers rides.  Each ride is expensive and would normally be WAY beyond my budget.  But.... thanks to the grant funding... we decided to take a ride. 

It was a bit of a risk - not a safety risk but a timing risk.  We had to buy tickets ahead of time. They told us the tickets were non-refundable. BUT... if it was raining or if the whether was at all questionable, the trip would be cancelled and the ticket-holders could sign up for a different time.  But here was the risk:  Our trip through Germany was packed so tightly that we did not have option for another day..  We could have waited perhaps another half hour.  But that was all the time I had allotted.  It was not the wisest scheduling move, I'll admit, but we had so much we wanted to see and do, that I admit that I packed it in more than a little bit tightly.

Did I mention rain?  When I emailed the first hotel that we were to stay in,in Konstanz, the owner wrote back say: Yes, we have your hotel rooms.  But please bring sunshine.  All we have had is rain.  Indeed, when we arrived in Zurich, there was a light rain.  Then it poured while we were on the train to Konstanz.  But it let up for a while - and rained again.  It did not bother us in the slightest.  We had raingear - and bought umbrellas.  We were prepared and did not  want to let a little moisture get us down.

But we knew that if it was raining, we couldn't go on the Zeppelin.

The next morning we took a boat, a catamaran, to Friedrichshafen. The sky was grey. The lake was grey. But I was so excited to be there that I marveled in the beauty of the grey shades. As the rain began to fall, I'll admit that I also began to pray.

It was a pretty selfish prayer.  I really wanted the sun to shine -- or at least for it to stop raining enough for us to get the go-ahead.  We had barely gotten over our jet-lag, had traveled on train, boat, bus and our feet with heavy packs and had this ONE chance for this dream of my family's to work... that I prayed.  I generally don't recommend praying for the weather.  After all, someone else may have been praying for rain (but I doubt it). And, it's not like I expect God to cater to my wishes.  But.... its ok to share with God what we want - and trust God to give us what we need (and some of what we hope for too).   So I rationalized my prayer.

When we got to the hangar, they told us that the past Zeppelin rides had been cancelled due to the weather - but the pilot had  not yet decided about our trip.  So we waited.  And yes... I prayed some more.

Finally... the word came: YES! We could go!  We were ecstatic/relieved/ thrilled/ excited (different words for different members of my family). 

It was quite the experience.  We were given a safety course.  The Zeppelin is registered with the German air so actual pilots and flight crew staff the airship.  We were loaded 2 at a time so that the air pressure could be safely managed.  There were only 12 seats on the airbus. We sat in the pod below the balloon-like blimp and were able to walk around once in the air. (See pictures).  The lift-off was quiet, smooth and gentle.  We were as light as a feather as the pilot steered us to the lake  and then above the city below.  It was simply delightful.  And the sun came out and shone brightly, allowing us to see the reflection of the Zeppelin in the water below. The whole experience was a pure delight.

Back at the hangar, they took us out 2 by 2 and loaded the next group, 2 by 2, keeping the weight in the airbus as stable as possible.  It was only after we were on the ground in the debriefing room that they told us that they had had to disappoint 50 people - but that they would have reimbursed them if they could not reschedule.   It made me feel bad for those who had missed this chance, a twinge guilty, and extremely thankful all at the same time.  After all, I had prayed for sun (sharing with God my hope and desire), but both the weather and the decision to let our group go was completely out of my control.  So, I said a prayer for those who had missed THIS opportunity - and prayed for another or other dream for them.


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I Was Ignorant

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I Was Ignorant

Being a stranger...

I'm not used to being a stranger, an outsider, the "other."  Travel in Germany gave me a little glimpse into what it means to be a stranger, an "other."

I enjoy people and I love to meet new people and share ideas and stories. But something very strange (to me) happened as we travelled through Germany. I did not recognize it myself.

While in college, my husband Barret had studied for part of a year in Germany and for this trip had brushed up on his German and taken a community class to refresh his skills.  Although he will deny it, he was wonderful in his ability to communicate.  And we were thankful.  He ended up being our "mouthpiece" because many of the hotels and restaurants did not have staff who spoke English.  It helped us greatly. 

We traveled on the train - in part to experience the culture rather than simply be our own little tourist group.  Germans use the train (DB - de Bahn) to get all over the place.  So it felt good to travel "like the locals."   But...while Barret was able to communicate well, the rest of us were not.  I discovered how awkward it is to try to be a part of a community and culture without knowing the language.  As a result, we tended to keep our voices down.  We wanted to be polite, as guests in the country, but I admit that I did did not want to expose myself as a non-German speaker and I certainly did not want to be seen as the "loud American tourist."   

On one of our train trips, a group of about 6 people sat near us. They were older couples on vacation together.  Unbeknownst to them, they revealed a bias - and we received a painful insight. Several of them complained to one another about how they hated the foreigners who came to Germany without bothering to learn the language.  I, of course, was oblivious to their conversation.  But Barret heard - and understood - every word. 

I write this - not to trash these German speakers -- they seemed like ordinarily very nice people - and they were not all of one accord.   Others in the group -- notably the wife of the man who complained the loudest about non-German speakers -- disagreed openly with his assessment.  But... being on the receiving end of the disparagement, even though it did not completely apply to us since Barret was our "voice", made us think about how WE treat the stranger, the "other" the non-English speaker in our country.  For certainly this bias is not just one reserved for Germans.  We have the same issues.  

How often do we think of non-English speakers as being less educated or intelligent or capable?  When, the reason for the muteness may be their inability to speak the language at hand.  I was ignorant of the language of Germany.  Yet I did not like feeling ignorant and I really disliked the bias against me.  It was true that I was ignorant of the language. I was a stranger. But I did not like discovering that because of my inability to speak the language, (to some) I was unwelcome.

So the question becomes.... how do we treat the stranger?

Jesus said something about that...Indeed, Jesus came as stranger to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. He asked them what was happening. And, while they seemed surprised, and assumed he was a stranger, they welcomed him into their conversation and then invited them to stay. They were blessed - because they welcomed the stranger into their midst.

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There's a mechanic on board

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There's a mechanic on board

Location:  MINNEAPOLIS AIRPORT......

Sorry for the delay.  

Those were the words that came over the loudspeaker as we began our journey. And now, those are my words to you, dear reader. 

At the airport.. the next words silenced any murmurings about not leaving on time: there is a mechanic on board.  Yes. let's wait.  If the pilot doesn't think the plane is safe to fly.... and the mechanic is working on it... then I, for one was happy to wait. 

Those are my words for this blog too.  Sorry for the delay.  I had planned to write.... I had wanted to write... but the time in Germany was so full of experiencing that I did not get going on the journey of writing until now.  Why?  Maybe I was letting my desire for being "profound" or at least to write something meaningful rather than boring/banal/ predictable intimidated me.  

Maybe the reflections were not "ripe." For a while... I felt like a cup that was being filled up but not ready (for whatever reason/excuse). Such began the journey.

In the airport on that Friday night, I wrote... "Although I am wanting to get on the plane and start this adventure, I'm so glad that we don't have an "Event" or a deadline that we have to meet.  I see some with tight connections and schedules getting anxious and milling about... some pacing.... as if their energy expended could somehow move the mechanic along.  Yet most are content to let the mechanic do his job.  After all.... we do all want a safe journey.      

Our first "deadline" is two days from now....  I'm confident we will get to Germany by then!My writing.. however... took longer.  So... sorry for the delay.  As we boarded the plane, one of the stewardesses --are they still called stewardesses? Maybe not.  

One of the flight attendants stood with a welcome aboard and a bottle of water to soothe the boarding passengers. So I hope that my words will be like refreshing water to you.  

Today I woke up at 4:45 at Stalheim.  

The view is magnificent... reminiscent of the postcards that I have received all my life but so much better in person.  And I could not sleep. The words and reflections are tumbling out of me.... so... kind reader... let's begin!

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Encouragement

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Encouragement

Encouragement.  It's powerful and life affirming. 

The first part of my sabbatical was to focus on family milestones.  We had two big events: Boy Scout Eagle Court of Honor for Daniel and High School Graduation for Benjamin. 

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Looking Back

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Looking Back

Tuesday, May 19th


One of the important parts of my sabbatical is Dwelling in the Word. I will be Dwelling in the Road to Emmaus story, Luke 24:13-35


   Looking back. That's what I noticed today.  The disciples, Cleopas and the companion(read you, child of God), were trying to "figure it out."  They were in earnest discussion along the way.  But it was Jesus who came and supplied the "missing link."  It was Jesus who provided the meaning to what had seemed meaningless.  And then... then they were able to reflect and see all of the places where Jesus had been with them - on the way, in the Word and in the breaking of the bread. 


   Sometimes in the busyness of life, I'm so caught up in the present moment - and in anticipating what's next... that I don't take time to reflect on what has been and where Jesus has been walking with me.  So today... I will thank Jesus for walking with me ALONG THE WAY... even as I celebrate this day and look forward to the days to come.  


   Reflecting back, I give thanks for the faithfulness of the people of Faith-Lilac Way. The celebratory send-off was beautiful (and delicious).  I left with peace of mind - knowing that the people of FLW would be well cared for and would care for one another - and for the neighbor.  As I reflect, I see the faithfulness those who attend and the presence of God with them.


   At home I see this too. Last night, I was at Daniel's band concert. I give thanks for the many hours of preparation that the students and director put in - and the parents in patiently listening to squeaky notes!  The work - slow and tedious though it seems at the time - is necessary for the results.  And the result was glorious - and fun!


Prayer:  Jesus, we know that you are walking with us on the way.  Remind us to take the time to reflect on the ways that you have been present with us in the past, dwell in your Word and be aware of your presence in the present --whether we are seeking your comfort in times of challenge or basking in your blessings-- and strengthen us for the journey to come, knowing that you will be present with us then too!  In Jesus' name. Amen. 

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