Sunday, August 31, 2008

McDonalds and Barbed Wire

The thing that struck me the most about the infamous city of Naples during our recent visit was how stark the difference was between the classes. We stayed at the Holiday Inn which is part of a large downtown, modern, fancy, clean paved island in the city. Skyscrapers all around. Shiny, glass windows. Concrete landscaping. From my view on the 17th floor we could see Mt. Vesuvius, the Bay and of course, the city. The Holiday Inn was on the very edge of the 'concrete island' and the street that formed its border was the dividing line between modern, upscale architecture and the run-down schifezza on the other side. Empty, trash-filled lots. Abandoned buildings. Graffiti.

We ate one evening at the McDonalds there near the hotel on the ground floor of one of the modern, clean buildings. I thought it weird that every 30 minutes or so an armed military police truck drove by and then I noticed the barbed wire that surrounded the Kid's Play Area. What would the McDonalds corporation say if they knew? Is it to keep the children in or the furbi out? And where is OSHA?!

-picture taken by Brian Rotert

Friday, August 29, 2008

Frogs on Crosses

EPA photo taken from msnbc article - see link below

I found myself rolling my eyes this morning, reading about the Pope's reaction to this piece of art in a museum in Northern Italy. Then I asked myself, "How many times do I waste time and energy seemingly defending something noble or sacred when it really is uninformed and unnecessary?" Guilty. So go ahead dear Benedict, anathematize. It really is quite ugly anyway.

My Next Scooter

Check it out. Oops...I dropped my keys...

A Profound Difference?

"Religion, precisely defined, is man's effort to please God. Any human system designed to reach and please any god is properly called a religion. Christianity is not a religion because its focus is not on man reaching God but on the reverse. God reaches out to man in the person of Jesus Christ. When we try to get men to God, then, we have things backward. We are being religious instead of being Christian. That, to me, is a profound difference."

The author goes on to talk about what he calls the 'Immanuel principle'. God with us. God with people, through Jesus, in us.

"That is Christianity - bringing God to people where they are. That means we don't have to get people someplace; all we need to do is get to them. When we reach out and touch them, God does."

-taken from "Love, Acceptance & Forgiveness" by Jerry Cook

Josh sends me articles that talk about having 'Third Places' - I think this guy, Jerry, was saying a similar thing back in the 70's...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ancona: An Artist's Perspective

This morning I was having coffee with Marcus in one of the caffe's that we frequent and we were admiring a painting above our table of a very familiar view of our beautiful city. I was jotting down the information of the artist when someone reached over my shoulder and dropped a business card on the table. "I noticed you admiring the painting," said a voice behind me. It turned out to be the artist - Antonio Daniele. Check out this link for some samples of his work. If you've been here before you may very well recognize some of these! My favorite is the one called 'sacro e profano'.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Missions and Surgery

I think I'm ready to say it. I've come to a conclusion. Like a puzzle, I've put the pieces together over the years but only lately have I really backed up and seen the image.

The Father entrusted the Church with Mission as part of his process of renewing all things. We go to China and Kenya and Italy and Mexico as ambassadors, yes, with the Good News to share. But that's not WHY we go.

I'm going to stick my neck out there and say that whenever anyone says 'I'll go', they are essentially signing the waiver saying that they are allowing God to do surgery on their life. We arrive on the field and are surrounded by new sights and sounds and smells. We learn a new language, a new culture. We begin to see signs that God has been here all along and slowly the strands of the web upon which we rest our faith begin to be tested; shaking, stretching, tearing. And the surgeon begins his work.

At some point in time we arrive at the realization that our Father is aiming for something specific. Maybe it is an area of unconfessed sin. Maybe it is something we need to forgive and let go. Maybe it is simply learning to really, REALLY trust him with who we are, with our dreams, with our mission. Usually it is something deep, dark and hidden; something we desperately want to be rid of but something we tend to learn how to hide in our home culture. And this is where we see the inevitable fork in the road.

The thing about this fork, this junction, is that only we really see it. No one else really does. We're strapped to the surgeon's table, IV already in and the anesthesia ready. We get itchy, we want off the table, we start talking about going home, about transitioning to a different post or ministry.

People say things like, "Are you sure this is the right time to go home?"

"But you are just now able to speak the language."

"You're just now seeing the work take off."

Now you see, these are all valid questions and observations. The missionary who stays WILL get better with the language, WILL understand the culture more clearly and WILL see their ministry grow, but that is not WHY they stay and it isn't BECAUSE they stay. It is because they remain on the surgeon's table.

They trust the Surgeon, they allow him to cut, remove, heal and bandage and in the end transform them. This transformation process is absolutely necessary in the life of the missionary for it is only in this moment of weakness, humility and transparency that we can truly be used. Remember Paul's words about weakness and strength?

It is God who works through us, not the other way around. It is God's message through us, not ours through God. It is every bit as much, if not more, about our learning and being changed as it is about us teaching someone and changing something.

The cool thing about our Surgeon is that he is humble and gentle. When He sends us, He's really calling us.

Sure you want to go?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pirates of the Colosseum?

Just read an article about a plan the mayor of Rome has for building an ancient-Rome-themed amusement park. Sounds kind of interesting, but the article made me smile - gives you a little glimpse into Italian politics...and double negatives...

Jen the intern

Last night, Heather and I went out to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. We ate at Old, Wild, West, a new Tex-Mex restaurant in Ancona...actually the ONLY one in town. Heather had the fajitas, I the burrito. Fried jalapenos, stuffed with cheese for an appetizer. Pretty dang exciting. Not my point.

Jen, one of our 1-year-long interns, showed up at our house, after volunteering to watch our kids, with a bag like Mary Poppins. Out of it she pulls a movie (specially chosen for Haven), popcorn and ingredients for chocolate-chip cookies. Not only that, but she was able to create a party-like environment which got our kids SO excited. She's the beist.

This is simply a little post to say thanks to Jen and all the other hard-working interns out there that make a missionary's life easier. You are a true blessing to our life!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

August in Ancona and Inflatable Churches

I'm still surprised after all this time at how dead Ancona is in August. While most schools in the U.S. are starting back up this week, most people here are closing up shops and going on vacation. After dropping Josh off at the airport yesterday, I stopped by four, count them...4, computer stores to drop Heather's PC off and they were ALL closed for ferie. Most are closed for two weeks. Friday, the 15th is the big national holiday where even the bigger stores are closed. The banks and post offices restrict their hours to about half and it is hard to do much of anything except lay around in the heat. It is no wonder that everyone is at the beach here.

Interestingly enough, the other night on the BBC I watched a story on how the Catholic church is addressing this August migration to the beach by putting up mobile, inflatable church venues...check it out...