The following was written and sent to a number of friends, but I think it may be an appropriate addition to my Berlin blog--which has been silent for a very long time. I hope this post will help you all to understand....
GOD, your God, has blessed you in everything you have done. He has guarded you in your travels through this immense wilderness. For forty years now, GOD, your God, has been right here with you. You haven’t lacked one thing.
(Deut 2:7 THE MESSAGE)
Well, not quite 40, but 38 is getting awfully close. And it has been quite a journey. I’ve worked for one of the agencies of the church since 1971 when I first joined that illustrious set known as the “basement workers” of the Board of Christian Education—certainly one of the most exclusive sets I’ve ever been part of. Since then I’ve served in a variety of ways at Warner Pacific College and here in Anderson—Warner Press, the Board of Christian Education, and, since the merger, Church of God Ministries. I’ve taught a few classes at Anderson University and the School of Theology. I even had the glorious opportunity to participate in the larger, ecumenical church through the National Council of Churches, its commissions, and program committees.
The first time I experienced God’s call on my life was in Red Bluff, California. Jay Barber was my pastor. Red Bluff was (still is) a ranching and farming community near the northern end of the Sacramento Valley, along the Sacramento River. When we lived there the population hovered around 10,000. The latest report is that it is a little over 26,000 but largely through annexation. Then, I think, it had two stoplights. Its big claim to fame, then, was “The home of the world’s largest two-day rodeo.” It appears to have increased by a day but is still going strong.
The point of this is not to promote tourism for Red Bluff but to note it as the point in the journey when God said I have something else in mind for you; it is time to leave this place—a place of deep joy and great pleasure--and journey with me. That’s the reason for the scripture at the top of the page. As I have worked with pastors in SHAPE, I’ve been impressed again and again by how strong and visceral the memory of that first call is. Mine happened at Diamond Arrow Family Camp; even as I write it the whole scene plays out before my mind’s eye. I also remember, as if it were yesterday, the Sunday I stood in the pulpit of the church in Red Bluff to say good-bye. My text was:
God told Abram: “Leave your country, your family,
and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.”
(Genesis 12:1 THE MESSAGE, emphasis mine)
I remember it as a highly tearful and joyful time—and highly formative: There are many ways I could describe my life but, since Red Bluff, none seem to fit as well as journey and few journeys are more inspiring and troublesome as Abraham’s and the wilderness wanderings of Israel. That “for-a-land-that-I-will-show-you” speaks so powerfully to this formational understanding of my life—it is the journey that matters far more than the destination.
You have been an important part of that journey--some of you for a very long time, even most or more than the “40.” You have held me accountable, cared for me when I was struggling, demanded more of me than I thought I had to give, and laughed and cried with me. Some of you were students of mine who have gone on to become my wise elders. A few of you have dragged me kicking and screaming into places I really would rather not have gone and I want to thank you for that as well, even if I do it with a grimace more than a smile... A few of my greatest teachers are no longer with us, although their memory and their teaching live on in me. Some of you are older than I and some are much younger—yet you have all been my teachers, a title I hold in highest esteem. After all, it was the title Jesus was often given.
Journey is an important theme in my life although recently I’ve begun talking more about pilgrimage. Maybe that’s a reflection on a growing sense of ultimate destination created by approaching my “three score and ten.” Yet life is not over; the journey is not yet complete; and the pleasure of your company is not exhausted. Thank you for your life and for your contribution to mine.
In light of all this, I thought it appropriate to send out a notice to you of another significant corner Judy and I are turning. You may have heard the rumors, but just in case you haven’t: I am retiring from Church of God Ministries and am currently in a time of discernment about the future. While there are already some opportunities (for example, I may be teaching a class at Anderson University and will be working on a big curriculum project for another denomination), I will be retired from full time work beginning August 1, 2009.
It will be the first time since Red Bluff that I have left one assignment without another clearly in place. That is a bit unnerving and creates some anxiety but also anticipation for what God might have in mind for the next stage of the pilgrimage. There are some pretty important decisions yet to make, including putting our house on the market, and still some discussion about where we are going regarding Germany. (For those of you who know about our plans to be part of Gateway Berlin, it might be helpful to know that we have not given up hope that it will happen. Funds simply have not come in at the level needed to meet the original plan. We decided to put that off and regroup to decide how best to assist in the exciting venture in Germany. I hope you’ll hear more of that in the near future.)
You are all gifts. You have made significant and largely incalculable contributions to Judy’s and my life and ministry. As our lives have intersected and for a while flowed together, you have brought deep challenge and great joy and we are (mostly) deeply grateful. Some of you have come into our lives in times of great emptiness and fear and filled a sometimes very great hollowness. I hope we took the time, then, to tell you just how meaningful your presence was—and how grateful we were. I’m sorry if we didn’t and plan to make amends about that as we have the opportunity.
Well, enough. Although I am ready to get my garden in order and spend some time on the porch, I am not quite ready for the rocking chair. Please continue to pray for us as we discern meaningful directions that would grow out of our gifts and abilities. And, please, do not give up the journey: there are far too few pilgrims and the road can be lonely without you.
You are loved and deeply appreciated.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
SNAPSHOT #4: Wittenberg
Today (Mar 03/16/09), we drove with Kelley and Rhonda to Wittenberg, the seat of the Reformation, and walked through this lovely nearly empty town --no tourists to speak of. Kelley and I climbed the tower of the 95 theses church—the Fortress Church—and we all wandered through the streets noting the remarkable number of people who lived, studied, and taught there...from Michel Ney of Napoleon's time to von Staupitz to Melancthon and on and on ....not of course to forget the great Martin himself....
Amazing that this quiet town is the cradle of so much change and revolution and death and enlightenment..... odd how the world revolves around such places, huh? Once upon a time, this was in what is now call the Former East. Now a part of a unified state....proud of its heritage and hiding so much of its most recent past in order to celebrate its great present and future..... Irony: during the years it was hostage within the Soviet Union and the divided Germany, still, above the city, the great tower stood with these so uncommunistic words: Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott
I am so glad to have been there. once, I told Kelley, I used to scoff at people who talked about walking where saints have trod... perhaps it is age, but it is deeply meaningful to walk in Tyre and Sidon where Alexander and Caesar and Paul and Silas and Jesus walked and now to worship at noon with a small group in the great Marienkirche, surrounded by the ages, and sing the psalms in German...and to walk the cobblestone streets where Luther walked on his way to sit with Malancthon to talk about life and faith and reason and freedom.... pretty amazing!
Judy and I are at work on learning German—at least learning it well enough to let people know we are trying! I studied German at Warner Pacific so many years ago with Mrs. Grace Donohew and Dr. Ulrich Hardt—neither would testify to my gift with languages. Judy, well, she studied Spanish with Mrs. Ratzlaff—hasn’t helped her much with her German.
But we are trying and slowly trying out expressions in our daily speech—with each other; not yet with anyone else. My German pronunciation is not too bad and we are, thanks to son Joel, able to use the Rosetta Stone®—a great interactive “immersion” program for studying language.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The following is from Bob Edwards' Friday letter to missionaries. I'm using it with permission:
Sunday, March 15 was the last day that I was in Berlin for the Presidents' Meeting. Kelley and Rhonda along with their German friends and colleagues Cymin Samawatie and Ralf Schwarz had planned to have a gathering of un-churched and pre-Christian friends on that night. It was a Jazz Concert held in a back room of an Iranian vegetarian restaurant. Berlin is quickly becoming the fine arts center of Europe. It is also a young city as can be readily seen as you walk the streets day or night. In order to interest these two groups of people the Berlin Team will be using events like this one to bring persons together around the arts in order to introduce them to the Lord.
This particular meeting featured a Christian jazz bass musician from Portland, Oregon, David Friesen (www.davidfriesen.net) who is presently touring Europe. Friesen has been playing with German guitarist, Uwe Kropinski (www.kropinski.com) for many years. The arrangement of this event was that after a short introduction, they played a number together. Cymin then interviewed Uwe. Another number was played and then she interviewed David. The evening ended with a spectacular final number.
The interviews were fascinating. The deeper they got into the conversation, the more I realized that there was something being said here that I wished to note down and consider. Here are a few of the notes that I wrote down
Uwe: "I choose between the passion of the doing of music as opposed to the managing of that music. I cannot manage it or I loose the passion."
Uwe: "During a performance, you must take your eyes off yourself and how you are performing. If you are looking for needs to serve, you forget yourself and immerse yourself in that music."
Friesen: "I compose my music to please myself. If I try to please others, I know I won't get it right. But if I can please myself then I can be satisfied, and usually I then am able to communicate that passion with the audience."
When asked about what happens if during the performance of a jazz piece he has a lapse in concentration. Uwe answered, "It cannot happen. I play in the moment. I can't think about mistakes made in the past, or worry about notes that I must play in the future. But I must be present in the 'now.' What I am doing right now. That is where my concentration must be. Learning to follow where the tune will lead me."
Friesen stated about his music, "Music is made to glorify God. Not to glorify self. Do all you can to glorify God. Walk beside him. Don't walk behind him or try to run out in front of him."
Cymin Samawatie and Ralf Schwarz are working closely with Kelley and Rhonda in the development of Gateway Berlin. Both of them grew up in Church of God congregations in Germany. They are internationally known musicians. If you would like to look at their web page, and perhaps listen to some of their music go to
Click on the
Saturday, March 28, 2009
SNAPSHOT 3: THE THIRD REICH
But this place is powerfully infectious and the opportunities are great and wonderful....we wandered around the city yesterday, walking from the Brandenburg Tor through recent Berlin history--even to the now apparently certain FurhrerBunker where this evil, sad little man meant his end.... past the Wall and the SS and Gestapo headquarters and through the Berlin Holocaust Memorial... a sad journey...to another tragic site. On several levels it doesn’t really stack up to the Holocaust—what does, except another Holocaust and sadly we have many opportunities for holocaust comparisons.
But I’m a book lover, you know. So you’ll understand when I write that one of the saddest moments in a city of sad moments was the site of the burning of the books, in the BabelPlatz across from Humboldt University (http://www.hu-berlin.de/standardseite/?set_language=en) from which the listed books were removed. Underground, empty shelves, equivalent to 20,000 volumes...empty now...gone, rare and first editions...all replaced, of course, but not really.... a quote from Heine is on a plaque near the window into the underground room: “Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.” Written 100 years, I think, before the books were burned and Jews were burned.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
SHAPSHOT 2: The Signing
These photos are of Bob Edwards, Kelley Philips, & Rainer Klinner signing "our" agreement—that is, the Memorandum of Understanding that makes it all official. It was a great moment--rich with connections. We are going to Germany because we are invited there--the welcome mat is out.
I find myself struggling between fear and joy...eagerness and disappointment.... that it won't happen, that it won't happen soon enough, or that it will happen.... that doesn’t make sense, does it? I want so badly for this to happen and for it to happen in a timely manner but I have to try to give it up so that it isn’t just about me. What am I, Lord, to do in this venture? Is it really from you and of you and by you and for you…or am I deluded into simply wanting an adventure? Help me, Lord, to discern the truth for me—for us—in all this great wandering.