Sunrise in Giglio Veroli

Sunrise in Giglio Veroli

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ode to Casa, Giglio, and Italy

Oh Giglio- quirky little commune di Veroli...

For 3 months now I have lived as a modern day king in this bella casa, commune, and Nation...

While there is much that I return to... and a few things that I will delight in leaving, it is with a deep sigh of regret that I prepare to depart. For when I return to my life in the fair city of subdued excitement, I will miss:

Morning walks with the dogs running and sun rising

Proscuitto and melon

Church bells ringing

Fresh buffalo Mozzarella and Caprese Salad

The Ubiquitous and stunning Renaissance Art

Friendly shop keepers at the International fruit market

The language of Dante that while largely unintelligible to me, it still sounds a bit like singing

Fresh Pecorino cheese

Enthusiastic amici greeting each other at church, bars, gyms, and all over town

A life that is slower

Afternoon Siestas

Homemade Pasta

Our little protestant church

Long Meals with up to 8 courses and way too much food

Vineyards, Orchards, Villas, and ancient Roman Cities atop the green, rolling hills

The stainless container on the counter filled with home-grown, home-pressed olive oil

Sheep in the yard every few weeks

Warm sun and soft winds

The 3 dogs

Homemade wine

The deep layers of history

The visible millenia of church history and life to learn from


Strong family communities

Stunning Churches

square pizza by the slice

Cities with Canals

Little fishing villages on the coast

An affordable and effective public transportation system

Our little gym with the ever present personal trainer

Real Italian food

So as I pack the backpacks, I raise a glass of homemade vino and say..

"Salute to our Casa amidst the olive trees

To our little village

and to this rich country that has been so hospitable to us all"


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Assisi- the city of St. Francis

We just took at 4 day trip into the hill towns to Umbria. This trip was a bit different because instead of the train, we were able to drive (a whole adventure in itself). We stayed on a huge cottage by itself in the midst of a vineyard- truly stunning. We were able to visit a very little town the first day, Civita, and then Assisi the next day, ending the final day on Orvieto. All were memorable and beautiful places, but Assisi had a special connection due to the man who grew up there, Saint Francis.

I have always loved the quote by Woody Allen from Hannah and her sisters, “If Jesus Christ were to return today and see everything being done in His name, He would never stop throwing up...” I am sure the same would be true of Saint Francis, in fact it was partly true even near the end of his life. This man was incredible- he changed a church, and the world, he hung out with the poor, he lived simply, he cared for creation, he loved Jesus and all people around him. Sadly, the city where he began his spiritual revolution is awash with tourism and tacky religious junk. Yet when you look past the human capacity to make a profit on anything- there is still something of the humble, simple man who stood the world on it’s ear.

Very quickly after Francis died, huge churches popped up to house the order and the pilgrims coming to visit. The church of St. Mary and the angels is built around the small humble church that Francis rebuilt (and the outer church is not humble at all as it is the 10th largest church in the world). The Basilica of St. Francis is full of some of the most ground breaking and stunning art, the final being 28 panels by Giotto of the saint’s life. But much has not changed. We saw the baptismal that Francis and Clare were baptized in, with the Christian eating lion in the front. We saw the humble St. Stephano where the bells miraculously rung the night Francis died. We even saw the blood drains from the Roman temple still underneath the church of Minerva.

Yet Francis’s blessing lives on in this beautiful city. The things he stood for, Jesus, peace, ecumenism, the created order, simplicity, they still shimmer around here and 8 centuries later, they are still needed... The story of his ministry begins when a young and confused Francis was praying to a crucifix (it is still there at St. Clare’s church in Assisi) and Jesus told him- Rebuild my church. 8 centuries later and he is still having an impact. Let us pray and hope for all who continue that work.

Here is a great message from Francis to chew on...

The Canticle Of The Sun

O most high, almighty, good Lord God, to Thee belong praise, glory, honor, and all blessing!

Praised be my Lord God with all His creatures, and specially our brother the sun, who brings us the day and who brings us the light; fair is he and shines with a very great splendor: O Lord he signifies to us Thee!

Praised be my Lord for our sister the moon, and for the stars, the which He has set clear and lovely in heaven.

Praised be my Lord for our brother the wind and for air and cloud, calms and all weather by the which Thou upholdest life in all creatures.

Praised be my Lord for our sister water, who is very serviceable unto us and humble and precious and clean.

Praised be my Lord for our brother fire, through whom Thou givest us light in the darkness; and he is bright and pleasant and very mighty and strong.

Praised be my Lord for our mother the earth, the which doth sustain us and keep us, and bringeth forth divers fruits and flowers of many colors, and grass.

Praised be my Lord for all those who pardon one another for His love’s sake, and who endure weakness and tribulation; blessed are they who peaceably shall endure, for Thou, O most Highest, shalt give them a crown.

Praised be my Lord for our sister, the death of the body, from which no man escapeth. Woe to him who dieth in mortal sin! Blessed are they who are found walking by the most holy will, for the second death shall have no power to do them harm.

Praise ye and bless the Lord, and give thanks unto Him and serve Him with great humility.

Amen Brother Francis- Amen...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Tale of 2 Churches

A tale of 2 churches

We just returned from a week long trip through Italy’s Veneto (Verona, Padua, and Venice) It was colder up North, but sunny most days and truly magnificent. Venice was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was a great experience, albeit a bit like a giant mall. Truly for me to enjoy something I can describe as a giant mall is saying something.

Verona was a wonderful picture of an old Roman city. There were many tourist sites, but the city was still operating as a normal city, it was not solely about tourism, like Venice. The vibe was peaceful and the sites were stunning. The big draw for Verona is the Shakespeare angle- which is really fascinating considering that the Bard never made it to Verona. He only had a picture in his imagination of what it might be like, and that picture seems like it was a conglomeration of Verona and what he thought Venice might be like.

As much as I enjoyed a city about Romeo and Juliet, a place that left a deeper impression on me was the fair city of Padua. Padua was part of our day traveling from Verona to Venice so we spent only a half day in the city of Padua and in that time we visited 2 memorable churches. The churches were vastly different in so many ways, but both about the same thing, proclaiming the good news of Jesus.

The first church required it a reservation and only 25 people were allowed to visit at a time, for only 15 short minutes, to keep any damage to the 700 year old art to a minimum. The church is an attempt to proclaim the good news in visual beauty and truth. The artist behind this magnificent attempt was the grandfather of the renaissance, Giotto. If you have never seen it, here are some of the frescoes Giotto painted.

The chapel was created by a son who’s father had been branded a sinner by the church for charging too much interest (Usury). Not just the church though, this man is even mentioned as an inhabitant of one of Dante’s circles of Hell. The son, in an attempt to atone for his father’s sins, attempts to proclaim the good news in the most beautiful way possible. This was finished in 1305 and since then has been proclaiming the truth in stunning fashion.

The top row begins about Mary’s Birth and ends with her betrothal to Joseph. The front wall then celebrates the angel’s announcement that Mary would have a child. The 2nd and 3rd row is then all about Jesus, from birth to death on the cross, resurrection, then Pentecost. The back wall is the most damaged and features the final judgement, with Hell looking a lot like Dante’s fearsome perspective (turns out Dante and Giotto were friends). The bottom wall then lists out virtues and vices.

The other church in Padua that we visited is the Basilica of Saint Anthony. This church was begun 7 years after the Saint died in 1238 and finished around 1310. While Anthony is famous now for many things, his claim to fame at that time was his ability to speak the good news. He was a powerful preacher and he had a passion for those who were lost. To this day he is the patron saint of lost things, as well many other things. The famous relic in the church is the tongue, vocal chords, and jaw bone of the Saint. The story is that when his remains were dug up to move into the church, while the body had decayed, the tongue was still there good as gold. The church really is something to see,

Over 700 years later, both of these legacies, one to a saint, and one to a known sinner, are still proclaiming the Truth they both rest upon. The art in each church is incredible, but I don’t think that is secret behind the staying power. These buildings both speak to the good news, one spoken, and one seen. 700 years from now, if humans are still around, I wonder what there will be from our culture that speaks to the Truth.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

God as the father of Israel

We had a week without the internet here- it is certainly interesting how much we rely on that tool these days. It has been sunny and pretty here these days...

One of the key ideas of adoption that Paul plays with is the idea that Israel itself is an adopted son of God. This comes out in Paul’s marvelous section in Romans 9-11, for our purposes 9:4-5, They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. This seems to be a new idea on the theological frontier and we are left to wonder where Paul might have gathered or received it.

It doesn’t seem to come from the Jewish Bible, but what we do find there is a stream of God being the father of Israel, not adopted, but father none the less. These are some very intimate and powerful verses.

One of the most famous sections comes from Hosea. Here we here God speaking about his son Israel right at the beginning 1:1, When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. There is some discussion as to what it means that God calls Israel out of Egypt. While calling is not adoption, it does seem to speak of a relationship that is beginning. It gets more intimate as God expands on this idea in verses 3 and 4:

3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.

This powerful text showcases God’s tenderness to his people, as well as the role of a father in Jewish culture. We see a father that loves, calls, heals, feeds, and hugs.

We then find a few other texts scattered around the Torah. First we hear God’s instructions to Moses in Exodus 4:22, Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son. A clear picture and label of Israel as the first born son. An interesting aspect of being firstborn is that it seems to point to other children coming. Clearly though, this is not an adoption image as Israel is seen as born.

Later in Deuteronomy there is another clear image when God says in 32:18 that, You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.
Here we have more emphasis of birth and not adoption, but a clear sense of God as parent and israel as child. The clear morale here, and in Hosea, is that Israel is a child that has forgotten their role as child. They were to respect and obey their parent, and they had forgotten their role. God is the loving father, and the child is no longer showing proper respect. It causes one to wonder if Jesus got part of his prodigal son parable from images like these.

There are other texts about God as a parent are scattered around the Bible, but they are less direct. Some are just not as strong and some are comparisons in the form of similes; God is like the parent who carries a child (Deut 1:31) and a woman who feeds a child (Is 49).

While not a strong or deep stream in the Jewish Bible, there are certainly texts that describe God’s relationship with Israel as a parent, and specifically a father. It is this tradition that Jesus expands upon in his depiction of God as a loving and caring father. Jesus takes the image even further as he refers to God in prayer as father and encourages his disciples to do the same (Lord’s Prayer). What we don’t find though, is any image of Israel as an adopted son. Wherever Paul drew that image, it was not from the Jewish Bible. Next time we will delve into Paul's 4 uses of the greek word for adoption.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Adoption in the Jewish Bible

Adoption in the Jewish Bible
We had a wonderful past 4 days in the beach city of Sorrento. We sampled lots of Lemon stuff, took a white-knuckle bus ride to Amalfi, traversed through Naples, visited Pompeii, and saw more 2000 year old paintings and mosaics then I ever knew existed. It was a great family trip and a memorable week. It was capped by watching Stanford take apart Virginia Tech, a big win for a very impressive team, Go Cardinal!

The theme for this sabbatical has been family and lately I have been trying to get a better handle on what Paul meant when he speaks about Adoption. Paul has some very intriguing ideas of what we receive through a relationship with Jesus, a unique, prevailing image is adoption. Last week we looked into Greco-Roman practices as those were a big part of the culture Paul lived in. This time though, we will delve into the Jewish Scriptures which were equally, if not more important in Paul’s worldview.

To begin, Adoption is not a major image in the Jewish Bible. We will see a few instances of it. Even though they are from some of the major stories of the Bible, they are few and far between. Paul however, knew his scriptures well and there is no question that he was familiar with each of these major adoption images.

The first images of adoptions are merely implied. Abraham and Sarah have left their home in Ur to go to the promised land as God called them to. The promise is descendents, land, and a special relationship with the living God. The challenge though, they were old and had no children. Sarai comes up with an interesting idea in Gen 16:2
and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
this whole story does not go well for Sarai, or for the the slave-girl. ( the child born to Hagar is called Ishmael and there is a whole story that goes along with it- see Gen 16 for those interested)

The next instance is much clearer. At the end of Genesis the Jacob/Israel has travelled to Egypt to live with Joseph. Jacob makes this statement to Joseph in Gen 48:5-6:
Therefore your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are now mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are. As for the offspring born to you after them, they shall be yours. They shall be recorded under the names of their brothers with regard to their inheritance.
These 2 tribes continue to be named as children of Jacob/Israel from that moment on. This is a clear example of adoption.

The next clear adoption statement comes in Egypt as well, albeit 400 years later. In the beginning of the Exodus, we see Moses as a baby being floated on the water to avoid being killed. It is the daughter of Pharoah who finds him and takes him as her son, “ When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses,a “because,” she said, “I drew him outb of the water.”
A significant part of the Moses story is this adoption as he is a son of Abraham raised as a son of Pharoah.

The only other clear instance of adoption in the Jewish Bible is Esther 2:7, 15
Mordecaib had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother; the girl was fair and beautiful, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter.
...Esther daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had adopted her as his own daughter, ...

Both of these scriptures clearly show Mordecai’s care of his niece Esther who was an orphan by adopting her.

There are other possible instances of adoption in other Bible stories, but they are only possible and not probable or implicit. They include all stories where a man is given a daughter in marriage, that was one of the blessing/duties of an adopted son. As well stories like Ruth where the child of Ruth is considered a child of Naomi.

The last scripture we will tackle at this juncture could possibly be the most important one. It takes place when David decides he wants to build a house for God (a temple.) God puts the big kebash on that idea, but in the process offers an incredible promise to David, one that figures in big in the Messianic hopes. Here is part of it, from 2 Sam 7:11b-16:
and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not takeb my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me;c your throne shall be established forever.
Here we see an offspring of David being considered a son of God. God affims that the son will be a biological descendent of David (who shall come forth from your body) but also just a clearly affirms his own fathership and the child’s sonship. Some scholars see in this a whole adoption formula that Paul might have been drawing from, others don’t see anything of the kind.

A key idea here, though, is the powerful image of God being the father of Israel. Certainly the image of God as father is very strong in the New Testament. It is a very powerful theme as well in the Jewish Bible, that will be the topic for next week.