Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Greetings as we continue to move through Advent, preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus in his first visit and awaiting his second coming. I have made plans to visit Jerusalem and Palestine during the winter break here at the seminary. I have made contact with ELCA Lutherans there and intend to view first hand the monuments of the past but also to learn of the present struggles for justice and peace, for Christians, Palestinians and Jews in this troubled land where Jesus once walked.
The first picture is of an icon in the Episcopal Church in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo, where I worship and have assisted the priest, the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler as preacher and celebrant when he was on a book tour. I mentioned earlier that his new book: "Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, Exploring a New Path between Two Faiths", has been released. In return, he came to present his insights at our "Scholar's Seminar" and to meet with the graduate students class to dialogue about Muslim-Christian relations.
Icons, like this one of the baptism of Jesus, are present in many churches in this region, and developed as early Christian art sought to connect the divine reality with the human, to have heavenly presence touch earthly items and events. As you can observe, there is less concern to produce accurate human forms and landscapes. The gold background and the angel invite the viewer to come in contact with something holy and sacred in what is historical and worldly. In preparation for my trip to Jerusalem and Palestine, I have been reading a recent work by Andrew S. Jacobs, a southern Californian, entitled "The Holy Land and Christian Empire in Late Antiguity". He points out how the Christians converted the historic space of the Jews into sacred place of the followers of Christ. They replaced, erased and appropriated, what had been cherished by the Hebrews in "their promised land". From Constantine, the first "Christian" emperor, and from his mother Helena, the city of Jerusalem, developed more and more into a pilgrimage destination for pious Christians, a place to honor and preserve the events and spaces of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The "true cross" was found, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher constructed on the spot by tradition where Jesus had been buried.
When the Muslims conquered the city of Jerusalem, they too replaced, erased and appropriated the space of others for their sacred place, constructing the Dome of the Rock to honor the place where the prophet Mohammad had been transported to heaven in a vision and to honor the place where by tradition God had demanded the sacrifice of Abraham's son Issac. Hans Kung, in his book "Islam, Past, Present and Future", comments that this appropiation was to show that "Islam has the primacy, because it has renewed the original religion of Abraham, contrary to Jewish and Christian falsifications (p. 206)". This, just a brief note on the history of this space as sacred place for three of the world's major religions, brings us up the the present and the talks between Palestinians and Israelis, complicated in many ways by the status of Jerusalem. More on this later, but for now, pray for the just peace of Jerusalem.
My second picture brings us back to Cairo. It is of the entrance to the newly renovated church for the Armenian Patriarch, one of the several Orthodox expressions in Egypt. Here too symbols of the divine are merged with the human to suggest that this space set aside for worship is a holy place, where God comes to meet us in his love and grace. That too is the message of Christmas, the incarnation "coming in the flesh" of the divine. May God bless us as we continue to make way for Christ to enter our lives.
(One more note about our class discussions on the theme of Jewish, Christian and Muslim relations, and "Zionism", the movement from the 19th century for Jews to "reclaim" their homeland. I used two sources to help in our discussions. One is available from the ELCA: "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine." The other is by a former colleague, Dr. Peter Pettit, who is now the director for the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College. It is entitled: "Christian Zionism from a Perspective of Jewish-Christian Relations." You may be interesting in reviewing these as part of the total picture of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations now going on.
Blessings and peace to all, Roger
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
We were at a hotel/retreat center when what should appear out of the midst while a student was reviewing the "Institutes of the Christian Religion" by John Calvin but a view of the ancient pyramids of Giza. One of the purposes of the retreat was to connect this generation of students with the valuable resources of past generations. (but not that far back!) The presentations stressed the value of the French/Swiss reformer for ministry today, along with the study of scripture, done at the seminary in both Hebrew and Greek. Several students spoke about their summer experiences (a requirement) in parishes, retreat centers and institutions which care for the ill and people with addictions. Another purpose if the retreat was to build community and to welcome new students to this four year program toward ordination (the student body totals over 120). Although students may be married, the majority are encouraged to remain single until they have finished their studies. Reminded me of some of that history in the U.S.I was asked to be one of the preachers and to base my sermon on the theme: Ephesians 4:13 (grow into) "unity of the faith, in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, in maturity and into the full stature of Christ." I mentioned the struggle of people in El Salvador to forgive their enemies for their terrible crimes at time of war, but finally they were pray with such fervor "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us", that the image of the fulness of Christ would appear in the place of that of ones enemy. Our church has talked about how the struggles and the experiences of peoples of the lands to the south of Europe and the United States should be shared with others in that region of the globe, and I hope to contribute something of my experiences from El Salvador to encourage that dialogue to increase in future years. Some students expressed interest in this. I take my meals in the seminary dormitory and there have been requests for an English language table, and a chance to share informally as well as in the classroom. NEXT TIME: THE GRADUATE STUDIES PROGRAM.... Roger
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Sunday, September 2, 2007
This can be illustrated by the second picture, of the Church of St. Andrew in downtown Cairo, (to the right). You can see that services are at 10:00 a.m. on Fridays and Sundays and that the sign is quite modest in size. Few people attend on Sundays, because it is a regular working day in Egypt. The doors through which I took this picture are only opened briefly during the week to allow children to enter for school, for a refugee assistence program, or prior to and following worship times. Otherwise the doors are closed, and the walls obscure most of the church buildings. I asked the pastor if he could erect a bigger sign, or string a banner across the entrance and he answered: "Probably not. Only the long established orthodox communities could probably get away with something like that, and it would need to be within their walls."
Yet, there are efforts I am beginning to learn of where Christians seek to initiate dialogue with Moslems, while being sensitive to the long and harsh histories and the present realities of antagonisms between our faiths and our nations. The Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, an Episcopal priest at St. John's in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo, has just published a book entitled: "Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, Exploring the New Path between Two Faiths." It should be released by now in the states, and I am looking forward to reading it and discussing it with the author. You might wish to check it out.
I have so much to learn and and to share of this experience which is unfolding daily. I will write in about two weeks, as we approach the opening of the school year. (9-2-07)
Monday, August 13, 2007
The picture above shows Messiah-Mesias Lutheran Church in Pasadena, California where I have been serving this past year. It is to serve two purposes, to "practice" taking and placing pictures on my blog spot and to celebrate the ministry of this Lutheran-Christian community of God's people in their 95th year of ministry in this place (the corner of Orange Grove and Madison). A plan is underway between the congregation and the synod to design a new effort to reach the largely hispanic community in this area. May God bless these efforts as God has done so in the past.
I know little of what awaits me, except that there are faithful leaders serving there from all over the world who will be my colleagues, and that fine programs developed in past years will be my responsibility to administer and seek to enrich in this coming year. A long term replacement will be recruited to come next summer. You can write me if you know of someone who would be interested, or go to the web site for Global Mission of the ELCA for more information. You can also get more information of how you can support my work or that of others who serve in global ministry by visiting the ELCA web site. I will continue to have my personal e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org and would welcome comments and questions there as well as ones you can post on this blog spot for others to view.
May God bless each of us as we continue to witness and serve as God's peope in this, God's world. en cristo, Roger Rogahn