Friday, December 23, 2011

Let Us Adore Him!

"Faith is simply following, following its object. Faith is going a way which is marked out and prepared."
- Karl Barth

If faith can be defined this way, isn't faith exactly what the magi and shepherds were demonstrating when they traveled to see the baby?

The star and the desire to worship the newborn king of the Jews were the only motivating factors for the wise men. The throng of angels and their heavenly song prompted the shepherds.

In other words, these two groups of people were not drawn to Jesus because of their faith. They exercised faith because they were drawn to Jesus.  Their worship of Jesus was completely outside the realm of tradition or religion.  They knew nothing of the reason for the season, or the Christ of Christmas.

The only appropriate response was to go and see what it was that had been announced. The way had been prepared. But that's all they knew. They were filled with awe, wonder and probably confusion.  There was no sense whatsoever that they knew what was going on.

Yet they went to worship and adore him.

What a refreshing thought among all the expectations the holiday season brings.

May our worship of the Lord be unhindered this year. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Value in Croatia

"Just let them do it..." our host whispered to her husband, "'s what they do in America".

My wife and I had been living in our pastor's home for close to a year.  They cooked for us.  They paid the electric and water bills. They insisted on buying the groceries.  All because we were volunteering in the church they had served in for the last 30 years.

The tradition in small town Croatia is to cook a big meal on Sundays.  We're talking soup, then freshly cooked beef, pork, chicken (or all three), potatoes, freshly picked vegetables, and a homemade cake with cappuccino, coffee or tea to round things off.  They don't let you stop eating either.  Here your "no" doesn't mean no until you've said it at least 10 times.

So I thought it might be nice to take the burden off our hosts one Sunday and invite them out for Ĩevapi at the only restaurant I knew of in town. After all, in America taking someone out for dinner is a nice way to show appreciation.

But after we walked out the door the pastor asked his wife "why are we doing this?" to which the aforementioned response came.

In Croatia, people kill a pig for you.  They pick their own vegetables from the garden they till all year round and serve them every Sunday for lunch. They'll grow chickens in their shed out back for the May 1st barbecue. They'll collect elderberry on Saturday, cook it in the evening and serve it as juice the next day. They make jams, collect mushrooms, grow pumpkins, and find chestnuts to roast on an open fire.

And I just take them out for dinner to say thanks.

Value in Croatia is measured more by quality of effort than quantity of material goods.  And you don't go to a store or a restaurant to find value here.  You go to someone's house. The way one hosts shapes their identity.  That's why people spend day and night in their gardens, kitchens and orchards.

When we began walking to the restaurant together, our hosts were trying to understand the value of our actions.  It wasn't that they weren't grateful, or that my intentions were corrupt.  It was that in their understanding, a home cooked feast trumps a pre-made meal from a stranger - no matter who's paying.

After living here for a few years, I've learned that in this context, they're absolutely right.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Cross in Osijek

In June 2003, during my first visit to Croatia, Pope John Paul II came to Osijek.  The only thing I remember about that day was that the whole city shut down.  There was not a car on the street, not a business working.  Osijek was a ghost town.  Most had gone to the airport landing field - the only place in the city that could hold the throng of people (220,000 in a city of fewer than 100,000) who came to see Papa. The city put up a large cross for the event.

The other day, I took my car to Osijek to be serviced.  The Kia station happens to be very close to the cross. As I was walking to a cafe I stared at the symbol, amazed by the simplicity of the structure juxtaposed by the immense meaning it carries.  I looked forward to spending more time in contemplation when I returned.

When it was time to pick up my car I started back along the same path I had walked just a few hours ago.  But the cross wasn't where I thought it was.  In fact, despite its size, I couldn't find any sign of it.  How could something so big be so hard to find - especially when I knew exactly where it was?  Was it possible they took it down in the small time I was gone?

As I continued walking, smaller, obviously fake crosses started tricking me.  I knew they weren't the real thing, but the very fact that I was so keenly aware of looking for the cross forced me to recognize - and then dismiss - every small streetlight.  It was a confusing and frustrating experience.

Finally I found it.  When I did, I realized it stood in a different location than I previously thought.  Even though I had concentrated on it so thoroughly earlier, I had not taken its context into consideration.   My confidence even made me wonder if someone else had done something with it.

As it should, the cross revealed something.  When I reflected on my experience, I realized I have the tendency to solidify my idea of God.  Sometimes my understanding of God turns into a god.  God becomes so concrete in my mind that I don't allow the Lord's mysteriousness to captivate me.  I often predict what God will do, rather than praying for the Father's will to be done.  Thankfully, the Lord is not limited to my insufficient understanding.

Raymond E. Brown has something to say about this:
It remains a paradox that we worship a God whose thoughts are not our thoughts, and yet we tend to be so sure about what He would think fitting. Every clearly discernible action of his has been a surprise; how can we be so sure what He must do?

 "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" Romans 11:33-34 (ESV)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sign Language

These two signs just popped up in Orahovica.  What do they mean?  What's their relationship to each other?