Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Good Ole Martin Luther

This Sunday we will have a special worship service at our church to remember the beginnings of the Reformation, which happened nearly 500 years ago.  The man at the center of the Reformation, of course, was our good friend Martin Luther.  He was a very troubled man, to say the least.  He wanted to do right but felt like he was always sinning (and he was a monk who was supposed to devote his entire life to prayer and study and teaching, to boot).  He made pilgrimages, climbed up the steps in Rome on his knees, beat himself with a rope whip, and got so mad at the devil that he threw his ink bottle at the wall making a stain that supposedly can be seen to this day.  He challenged the institutions of his day that he felt were taking advantage of the poor and uneducated, which was nearly everyone except the rich, so on October 31 (yes, that is Halloween), 1517 he made a list of things he thought was wrong with his employer (The Roman Catholic Church) and posted them on the door of the church in the village where he lived, Wittenberg.  There were 97 things on this list so they became known as the 97 Theses.  That act of nailing them to the door of the church (which was the ancient equivalent of a bulletin board) was revolutionary and it began a movement that expanded and spread like wildfire across Europe.  It became known as the Reformation.

Luther did not actually intend on leaving his beloved Church, at first, but just wanted others to straighten up and stop what they were doing that he considered to be wrong but the authorities in charge took offense at what he wanted them to do and instead began proceedings against him to accuse him of crimes and to excommunicate him from the Church, which in their day was equivalent to banishing him to Hell.  Luther stood up for what he believed in and spoke to the authorities about his ideas resulting in his having to run for his life, literally, because there were people who wanted to kill him because of the ideas he taught.

Eventually, Luther found safety and a wife after he stopped being a monk.  Today, if you go to Wittenberg, Germany you can visit the place where Luther lived and the church where he nailed the 97 Theses.  You can hear an organ concert in the church and see a statue of Luther on the street.  The citizens of Wittenberg are preparing for the huge crowd of people to come in 2017 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.  Everyone has forgiven Luther for speaking out so long ago and now see him as their favorite son (since he brings so many tourists to town).

Luther's lesson in speaking up is one that all of us must consider when we see injustice around us.  Questioning authority seems easy to do today when we live in a country with freedom of speech but often we are afraid and do not speak out when injustice is around us.  Luther faced death by speaking out for what he believed in and finally had to give up his job in order to live in peace.  We remember Luther at this time of year for his courage and ask God to also give us courage in the face of modern challenges.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Eight


            I am going to miss these cool summer mornings that happen regularly in Parker’s Cove.  The temperature was 56 degrees this morning.  There was a beautiful sunrise with the copper colored morning giving way to the bright blue.  When we got up the tide was out and the little fishing boats lay in the mud and rocks.  There were many seagulls, crows, and cormorants around making their usual noises.  Some sat on the rocks just offshore as they do when the tide is out, populating the area where water once stood to see if they can find anything to eat that may have been left behind by its receding. 
            It was a lazy feeling Saturday morning but we were up early and had coffee and sat on the sofa looking out the window at the view.  We decided to have only toast this morning as we were going into Annapolis Royal for the Saturday Market one last time.  We do not really need anything in particular and cannot bring fruit or vegetables across the US border so we could only buy things we may want to bring home with us to remind us of our time here. 
            The market was busier than usual, thanks to the motorcycle rally that is going on over in Digby.  It is one of the largest ones in the Maritimes bringing in an estimated 50,000 participants.  Some of them ride around the area during the five days of the rally and know that the Annapolis Royal market is a large one.  Parking places on market days are rare but luckily we found a car backing out just as we pulled in the parking lot and parked close to where the vendors begin selling their wares. 
            We have brought Bo with us each time we have gone to the market and he is always a big hit with people.  Doris carries him around in her arms and people stop us frequently to ask us about him and to pet him.  He must not mind the attention because he allows all to pet him and he never growls at anyone. 
            We bought potato pancakes from a German woman who is at the market each week.  Finding some empty steps at a nearby building to sit on, we ate them as we watched others pass by.  Bo would bark at other dogs going by but he never barks at their humans.  Soon, I went to buy some coffee for us and we found a pastry to go alone with it. 
            We looked around; walking here and there to see all that was being offered.  Lots of fruit and vegetables from the farms in the area were being sold.  Crafts made by local craftsmen—wooden, pottery, stained glass—proudly displayed by their makers.  Breads, pastries, sausages—all made in local shops nearby to be sold at markets throughout the area. 
            I had bought a coffee cup in Digby made by a local potter, a German man who is originally from Bavaria.  He was at the market with his wife and son and we talked with him a bit.  He remembered us being in his shop earlier this week and he remembered Bo coming with us. 
            We had bought some delicious almond croissants at the market in Kentville last Wednesday.  They were made by a bakery called Marie and Guy’s, French people who have immigrated to Canada from southern France near the Spanish border.  We saw her at the market today and told her hold delicious her pastries were, asking if she had more with her today.  Alas, she said she had already sold them but did have others.  We looked them over but did not choose any from her to purchase.
            Rounding the corner, we found the booth of another baker from whom we had bought pastries and bread two weeks ago.  They had some delicious looking blueberry tarts so we bought a few from them to take with us for our trip home. 
            A woman who knits had sold us a sweater for Bo on our first trip to the market.  We stopped at her booth to see if she had a larger one for our granddog Kiwi.  She had a light green one that was larger than the one we bought for Bo so we bought it to send it to Laura for her to try it on Kiwi.  We told the woman goodbye and that we would be returning to Texas soon.  She wished us safe travels. 
            Back at our cottage, we began preparations for traveling back home.  We had one last lunch, trying to use up the remainder of the fresh vegetables we had in the refrigerator.  We cooked one more batch of fish we had stores in the freezer.  We finished off the loaf of homemade bread we had bought at the Kentville market earlier this week.  Little by little, we are closing up our home away from home we had shared for the past four weeks to begin the process of going home to where our real home is, about 3000 miles from here. 
            Having a time away is wonderful.  It is very enjoyable and relaxing to have new experiences in a new place, to meet new people and learn about them.  It is relaxing and energizing to breathe in the clear, pure air that is part of the natural environment in a beautiful place and to have cool, refreshing air daily as a wonderful gift.  As the saying goes, all things must come to an end, and being away must also end if one is to return home. 
            I am not looking forward to the long drive home, through many states, over many miles of mostly interstate highways but I know the end result will be that the road will lead us home once more, back to where we have friends waiting who we look forward to seeing again.  What a blessing it has been to have an extended time away to enjoy all of these unique things but home calls once more as it always does to bring us to where we belong. 
            “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven;”

(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Seven


            I thought I heard thunder last night during the night when I awoke from sleep briefly, but now I think it was the strong north winds that had moved in with the cold front.  The strong winds are still blowing this morning, winds of tropical storm strength most likely, bringing waves that are worthy of surfers on the West Coast of the US.  The tide is at low tide right now so the rocks in the bay are revealed but at high tide they are completely covered by the waters of the bay. 
            A cold north wind is blowing.  The temperature is 60 but it feels more like 45 with the wind blowing furiously.  When the conditions are like this, the bay seems more like the wide open ocean which it is since the Bay of Fundy empties into the Atlantic.  The sun is shining brightly after a cloudy start but the sun’s rays are not enough to warm up the air as the wind batters about everything that is not tied down. 
            There are two days left here including today and the plan is not to venture too far away but to get out into the country one final time to catch glimpses of the autumn colors which are beginning to show.  There is a country road that runs almost parallel to Hwy 1 and we have not driven it very far so we thought we would explore it a bit more.  It connects to others roads we have traveled twice which are dotted with dairy farms and apple orchards.  Communities with lovely names like Paradise and Clarence are along the way, communities with no visible businesses but with little stands here and there advertising vegetables and fruits for sale at houses along the way. 
            We have eaten most of the fresh vegetables we had bought to cook with so we are at a place where we do not want to buy many more as our days here are numbered.  We may buy some green onions to go along with the remainder of a butternut squash we used a few days ago and the rest has been in the fridge waiting to be used in a pasta dish.   We have fresh basil, tomatoes, and the squash so it should be good sautéed together with the onions and a bit of cheese.  We have two kinds of fish in the freezer to be used too so there is the core of two dinners which is about how many we have left to prepare at the cottage before leaving. 
            What we are experiencing is called “in between time.”  We all experience such times in life.  It is not time to go yet but the time is so limited where we are that we do not know what to do to pass the time before we go.  So, you have to be creative and use your time wisely. 
            When I was a school teacher, the day before a holiday or the last day of school was like that.  Some teachers allowed their students to have a “free day” with nothing planned for them to do to use the time before leaving.  Those teachers usually had a pretty rough day as students would create things to do that would usually be things that the teacher would not want them to do.  That was not always the case but the motto that I lived by on that day was, “Busy people are happy people.”  So, I usually had projects for students to do to keep them busy during the day so that all our lives would be happy ones. 
            In between time can come for us in other ways besides preparing for travel.  Waiting for treatment for a disease, waiting at the bedside of a sick one, preparing for a test or medical exam, sitting by the phone to hear about a job offer, thinking about a new house to purchase for a move-- All are things that happen normally in life that are part of in between time. 
            Sometimes the anticipation or excitement of what is to come helps us to wait.  Sometimes it can be heart wrenching though.  A part of us wants to go forward but   another part tells us to wait.  Living useful meaningful lives during times of waiting becomes the purpose that we are looking for in life. 
            When I filled in report cards for students as a teacher, there was a box on some of them that said, “Uses time wisely.”  It was up to the teacher to decide if a check filled in that box or not.  The teacher could observe who used time wisely and who did not over the course of the grading period. 
            We all have to use our time wisely as we wait during in between times which fill up many periods of our lives.  We can trust God to lead us to make good decisions so that our time will truly be used wisely and we will live meaningful, useful lives. 
            “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time…” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Six


            The day began with clouds and a bit of fog covering the area, with the sun unable to break through it.  Then, rain began and gently fell for about a half hour.  As it stopped, the sun began to try to shine but then just as it brightened the day, suddenly fog rolled in from across the bay bringing the clouds again.  Such is life by the seashore.  It can change rapidly.  The ocean currents seem to be in charge of the weather.  The clouds come and go during the day even as the tides change. 
            Today is a day that we will stay close to our cottage.  We decided we need a day to just read, write, and relax since soon we will begin our journey back home.  We have been going here and there on many days and we have been trying to incorporate days to rest mixed in with the busy days. 
            We may venture across Parker’s Mountain this evening to have dinner out in Annapolis Royal at a restaurant near the river that we have seen.  We have been cooking our food most of the time we have been here and thought we would have one more meal out before going home.  There is a little café near the river run by some Austrian people.  It was recommended to us by a local person so we thought we would give it a try. 
            There is a boardwalk built by the river that runs from the library to the dock and it runs by the back of this café.  They have an outdoor dining area built near the boardwalk.  It is a pleasant place to sit and look at the river and the wildlife and enjoy a meal.  We have walked on the boardwalk and found it to be a very nice experience. 
            I continue to read, having finished reading six books so far and still reading each morning and afternoon.  I am currently reading The Shoes of Van Gogh by Cliff Edwards.  It is an examination of the artwork of Van Gogh from a spiritual viewpoint.  It explains much about the life of the artist and how his artwork revealed a spiritual side that is not often seen.  I will report on it later in more detail. 
            I often think about Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew where he invites all who are weary to come to him.  I had an enlightened moment concerning this verse when I was a young adult.  I had struggled with my own sense of self-worth for years and thought I was not worthy of anything that God would offer me.  I had been taught that you had to be perfect for God to love you and I knew that I was far from perfect.  So, I had just about given up on trying to earn God’s love (which is what it is if you think that you can be perfect enough for God to love you) when, as I read this passage from Matthew that God seemed to speak to me words of assurance. 
            “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30)

            It was as if God said to me that all that was needed to come to God was to be tired.  I knew I was tired in so many ways and wanted rest for my soul.  It was at that point that I told God exactly those words and it was as if a light went on in my head and my burden of guilt was lifted.  I knew I could never be perfect and God does not expect perfection of me, simply trying to live in an honest, loving way, trying to serve God and my neighbor in all that I do.  I can do that, even if it does not always work out to be the most perfect way of doing things.    

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Five


            Today is Market Day at Kentville again, about 50 miles up the Annapolis Valley—which is the large agricultural area of Nova Scotia.  More produce is grown, fruit trees cover the area, berry bushes abound.  We have gone there two times already (it is held every Wednesday in downtown Kentville) so this was the last time for us to go there for this trip. 
            We drove there using the old road—Highway 1—instead of the faster moving freeway-like 101.  The road takes you through small towns along the way that have beautiful old homes dating back into the early 1900s or earlier.  There are many homes for sale, even some of the very beautiful ones.  The road also passes through some of those communities that bear only a name but nothing else.  It is a pleasant drive mostly at 55 mph or less but on a sunny day with little else to do it is nice to just drive along slowly and look at what is along the road. 
            The market is held downtown on a parking lot surrounded by other existing businesses.  Farmers bring their produce.  Crafts persons bring what they have made—soap, woodwork products, things that whirl in the wind, and other things that catch the eye.  Prepared foods are offered by part time restaurateurs.  Bakers bring their breads and pastries.  Sometimes there is music provided by a couple of musicians playing guitar and banjo or fiddle. 
            The atmosphere is almost fair-like with people visiting and laughing, stopping to look at the many booths, sampling some of the food products, buying things to put in their shopping bags.  In weeks past we have bought vegetables and bread from a nice couple who seem to be of the Mennonite faith.  She wears a bonnet and a long dress with an apron.  He wears plain gray clothing most times.  They grow and sell green beans, onions, garlic, and blueberries.  She makes several kinds of bread—we love the oatmeal molasses bread and have bought a loaf of it each time we have been there. 
            Doris bought a sarong from a woman who makes them for sale at the market.  The woman is named Joyce and she has chatted with us each time we have been there.  Two weeks ago when we were talking to her she told us that she is Irish and she comes from Cape Breton Island.  She told us about the Red Shoe Pub (which we intended to visit when we were there) and about the singers called the Rankins who own it.  Then she began to sing an Irish folksong to us as we all stood there in the market.  She has a lovely voice and the song was a slow sad song about someone telling someone else goodbye.  She laughed when she stopped and apologized for her voice not being good, which I told her she was mistaken.  She sang beautifully. 
            We also met a woman who sells homemade skin care products that contain emu oil.  She calls herself Nana and that is on her label.  She was intrigued by our being from Texas and said her husband is a bluegrass singer and had been to Texas.  She said she knew someone by the same name as a woman Doris taught with years ago.  We still have to investigate if it is the same person when we get home. 
            Everyone at the market who met Bo loved him.  Bo was the center of attention many times, drawing people to leave their booths and come over to look at him and ask about him.  People cannot believe that he is 9 years old since he looks very puppy like. 
            The markets happen in many towns in this area weekly during the summer months.  We will go to the Annapolis Royal market this Saturday for the last time before we leave on Sunday to begin our journey back to Texas.  We really do not go to them looking for specific items but we usually find things that we enjoy seeing or tasting or learning about.  There is a community spirit there.  Even if one buys little or nothing, it is the experience of being a part of it that brings some meaning to life. 
            Being part of the market is similar to being part of the religious community.  When we all gather to share a common experience, we belong to a higher purpose than we do alone.  We share in the experience of worship, of course, breaking bread and drinking wine and singing and listening and praying.  We share in the lives of one another as we share joys and concerns together and support each other in myriad ways.  The shared experience happens in many avenues of life but in the Christian community it has a purpose and meaning that transcends all the other experiences in life. 
            Each of us is important to the whole that we call the Body of Christ.  Each of us has a purpose that is important to the Body as a whole and if a member of it is absent then it is not complete.  What each person contributes is unique and cannot be provided by others in the same exact manner even if someone else does what is needed to be done.  The Body cannot function well unless all its parts are working in good order and are doing the jobs they are designed to do.  Each part of the Body of Christ must be present in order for it to be complete.  That is one reason why we miss individuals when they are not present for worship and work that needs to be done.  Each one is needed and necessary. 

            “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the One Spirit we are all baptized together into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:12-13)   

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Four


            One of our favorite episodes of the British comedy Keeping Up Appearances was when Hyacinth decided that she wanted to host a “riparian picnic”.  When she invited her guests to join her and Richard on the picnic, they all had to look up the word “riparian” to find out its meaning.  They found out that the picnic would happen by a river since the word means “by or near a river”.   The result of the picnic near the river was that Hyacinth and Richard ended up getting drenched in the river while the guests laughed about the ending. 
            We decided to have a riparian picnic of our own today.  We packed a lunch of smoked fish (haddock), potato salad, bread, mayonnaise, and cookies with some iced tea and drove to a little roadside park we had seen when we were driving in the area last weekend.  It is a place called Hebb’s Landing and it is by the side of the Annapolis River.  There is a boat launch there and several places for picnics to happen.  We chose a covered one by the side of the river.  The wind was blowing briskly but the sun was shining brightly so we anchored down our paper plates with heavier objects and began the picnic, putting mayonnaise on bread and scooping up potato salad and munching happily as we looked up the beautiful blue water of the river running nearby. 
            One could not have asked for a more beautiful and tranquil scene for having a picnic or for any other reason.  Birds swam in the water.  Wildflowers grew in the grasses in our view.  We were thankful to be there enjoying this special moment together. 
            God gives us special moments in life to enjoy.  Sometimes they are planned, as was this picnic and there are other times when the moments just happen and we can bask in the beauty, serenity, and love of the place and the people we may share the moments with. 
            Our days in Nova Scotia are winding down.  Soon we will leave the cool breezes of the Bay of Fundy to return home to the hot winds of our Texas summer as they give way to the hint of autumn in the air that we hope will come quickly.  Even as we enjoy each of the remaining days here with the natural beauty and the pleasant feeling air, we will give thanks for the blessings of being able to share this together with one another.  We will also give thanks to God for allowing us to enjoy these blessings and for the moments in which we live. 
            “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. “  (Numbers 6:24-26)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Three


            Monday of our last week in Nova Scotia---chore day, the need to wash clothes has come again so we are preparing for a trip to Digby to go to the Laundromat.  While we are there we plan to browse their lineup of gift shops and see what they may have that we have not seen while here.  We seem to have a need to find some reminders of our time here, maybe something nautical in nature since that is the theme of this area.  I am finding boats of all kinds to be of interest and would like to find something to bring home that would remind me of Parker’s Cove and the fishing industry that is of great importance here.
            I have almost finished reading my fifth book, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh.  It is a new biography of the German theologian that has just come out in print.  I have known a small amount about Bonhoeffer dating back to my days in seminary but have not known a great deal about him so I wanted to read more and this new biography has been receiving good reviews. 
            Bonhoeffer is a complex person.  Reared in an affluent German family, his father a successful psychiatrist and his mother a socialite, with servants to care for the needs of all family members, he enjoyed an upbringing with all the advantages of the upper echelon of German society of the early part of the 20th century.  Neither of his parents was extremely religious and church attendance was rare for him but he somehow developed an interest in spirituality at an early age and declared at the age of 15 that he wanted to become a theologian.  His parents neither encouraged or discouraged his decision and sent him to an excellent school in preparation for this career decision.
            He completed his advanced educational training with high marks and moved on to seminary, which was a very complex and complicated undertaking in his time.  Before he had finished his seminary education, he had written two doctoral dissertations and had received his PhD in theology and had set his sights on a professorship at the University of Berlin. 
            In order to fulfill the requirements for being licensed as a pastor in addition to receiving his degree, he had to work in a church setting for a year.  He chose to work in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood in Berlin with youth who had little religious training.  At first he found this difficult but then he began to teach them Bible stories that they had never heard and to incorporate music and drama into his work and won them over to wanting to know more about the Christian life. 
            This experience opened the door to the desire in his life to be a pastor and, instead of immediately pursuing a professorship at the university, Bonhoeffer served as assistant to a pastor at a German Lutheran Church in Barcelona, Spain where many expatriates lived.  He enjoyed being in Spain and found the time to travel to Italy and the Middle East while there.  He had a great love for travel and took every opportunity to go places about which he had read as a youth. 
            The time he spent in Barcelona sparked his interest in the Roman Catholic faith especially after his trip to Rome and his worship experiences at some of the great cathedrals in Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.  Bonhoeffer developed a great love for the monastic way of life which would become the basis for the way the Confessing Movement would be structured later in his life. 
            As Germany began to change with the imposition of Nazi rule under Adolph Hitler, Bonhoeffer became aware that he could no longer function as a pastor in the German Lutheran Church and he began a dissident church called the Confessing Church.  At first it was tolerated by the Nazis but soon they began to order more and more restrictions on religious freedoms for Germans and all they ruled in the Third Reich.  Bonhoeffer’s Confessing Church was outlawed and anyone who participated in it could be charged with treason and arrested.  Hitler declared himself the new Messiah and demanded worship for him and his rule. 
            Friends that Bonhoeffer had made in the United States during a visit to Union Theological Seminary in New York in the early 1930s encouraged him to move to America to avoid being arrested and he did make a visit to New York in 1939 but felt so homesick that he could not stay so he returned to Germany to face whatever would happen there alongside his German friends who were being forced to serve in the military. 
            Bonhoeffer joined the underground movement and became a double spy, working for an agency where he was supposed to report on what was going on in England and the United States but at the same time he was reporting to the underground what he would learn about the Nazi plans during the war.  Soon, he was caught up in a plan to assassinate Hitler and that would eventually lead to his arrest and execution just before the war ended. 
            Bonhoeffer is widely known as the author of the book The Cost of Discipleship which came about as a result of his experiences and suffering.  He examined the biblical texts with Jesus’ words to “take up your cross, and follow me” and tried to explain what that means in our daily lives.  He was very critical of Americans when he visited the US twice and declared that they had never experienced a Reformation such as Germany had with Luther.  He thought of Americans as enjoying an individualism in religious thought and life that did not connect with his idea of community which he had written about in his doctoral dissertation.  As life became harder and harder for him in his native Germany, he made the decision to know the sufferings of his fellow Germans in a personal way rather than to run away to the US and avoid it all.  That decision cost him his life but his years in prison before his death left a legacy of writings that ask the modern reader to reflect upon what the cost of discipleship is for us in our world.  Is our religious or Christian experience one that is very individualistic or do we feel connected to the worldwide Christian community and its sufferings?  What does it mean to consider a “cost” to Christian discipleship today or is there a cost at all to modern American Christians?  What do Jesus’ words from Mark mean to us today as we consider them? 
            “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”

 (Mark 7:34-35)