Monthly Archives: July 2014

Lori, Luke, Micah and I got up early this morning and went to St Peter’s to climb the dome. It was quite a treat! Great pics of the Vatican and Rome from above. You’ll notice in one of the pics from atop of the dome a pic of what looks like an apartment building or business building. That’s where St Francis is living (the tops two windows on the left side – one for his bedroom and one for his study). Pope Benedict (still living) is staying in the Papal House with its private gardens. Francis does not live in the Papal house, Papal apartments famously known for overlooking the Piazza, but in a plain, simple apartment.
After returning to our apartment and getting Peter and Annika we visited The Crypt of the Capuchins. These crypts (or burial rooms) are filled with monk’s skeletons artfully decorated in different themes: pelvis room, skull room, etc. A bit morbid for some in our group, but fascinating to others (Micah kept saying “I see dead people” – evidently some line from a movie). Interesting tidbit: the word cappuccino comes from these monks as the foam formed on the coffee drink was in the shape of the monk’s cap.
This was very close to the US embassy, so we walked by it and discovered a Hard Rock Cafe Rome. We had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and the kids said it was the best meal of the trip! I guess their burnt out on ruins, churches, and the cuisine (even though they love Italian food – too much of a good thing I guess).
The kids all went back to the apartment on their own to rest and chill while Lori and I took a taxi to St Paul at the Three Fountains Abbey. We got there just before 2pm and they were closed from 1-3pm so we waited, soaked in the sun, and I had a beer from the Abbey made by the monks. It wasn’t bad.
This is the place commemorating Paul’s beheading. It’s about 2-3 miles from St Paul’s Outside the Walls, which claims to be the burial place of Paul’s body. There’s three buildings: the large sanctuary where the residents worship, the small, round sanctuary over the prison cell where Paul was supposedly kept, and the mid-sized sanctuary further back where Paul was supposedly led (out back) and beheaded. In this sanctuary there is a marble post at one end of the room said to be used for his beheading, and from there are three altars – each over a spring of water where Paul’s head is said to have bounced miraculously resulting in these three fountains springing up.
The taxi driver didn’t even know where this place was. It’s off the beaten path, underdeveloped, and quite. Very nice. But it makes me question its authenticity for I think there would be a whole lot more pilgrimages to this place and kept up a whole lot nicer if the Church recognized it as THE place Paul was killed. All that aside, I appreciated it. This was the final site I visited on my Pauline Pilgrimage, and my final entry. Fitting I think.
I hope you got something out of all of this – whether information or inspiration – I know I did. And thank you to all who put posts or made comments on the blog. It’s been great to hear from you and great to hear your thoughts and insights.
Peace be with you all.

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Bonus Reflection – Art & Architecture – Psalm 19:1

Since I had one more day on the trip, I thought I’d add one more reflection. I know it breaks with the biblical tradition of 40, but I’m not a legalist about such things. I’ve been thinking a lot about the great impression these buildings have made on me during this trip. The buildings that are no longer standing but can be imagined, as well as those that wow me as I walk through their massive doors and am overwhelmed by their size, beauty, and the resources poured into them (marble, gold, art, etc.) to honor the worship of Christ. Yesterday I noted the practical, functional, utilitarian purpose for a building to facilitate the worship of God and ministry of Christ’s church on earth, but what of the value of beauty, glorifying God with art and architecture?
I’ve always been one more impressed with the handy work of God than that of humanity. I would rather climb a mountain or sit at a beach and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation than go to a museum or art show. I’ve been struck with a change taking place within me. Maybe I’m finally maturing (though my kids would argue to the contrary), but I sat on Santorini and was as impressed by the beauty of what humanity did with their white caved buildings, and the design and beauty of the yachts (even if overly opulent) as I was with this crescent shaped blown volcano/island in the Mediterranean. I’ve been impressed by the imagination and ingenuity of a city built on stilts with its unique architecture and numerous canals and bridges. I’ve been awe struck by the genius and labor to build immense domed buildings without the tools we have today. And then there’s the sculptures, paintings, masterpieces that are breath taking even for a novice, amateur, art ignoramus like me. Seeing the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier on a sunny day is hard to beat, but is not the inspiration of art and architecture, music and acting, also the handiwork of God?
The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, the Duomo in Milan, Pisa, or Florence, St Mark’s Basilica, St Peter’s Basilica, or St Paul’s Outside the Walls, Da Vinci’s Last Supper or Michelangelo’s David exist for no other reason than to glorify God and inspire faith. The Hagia Sophia has blessed world travelers for nearly 1500 years! Many will criticize and say, “Think of the expense! Think how that money could have been used to help the poor! (the objection heard by every congregation in every building project, no matter how big or small, with no exception).” And I’m torn for on the one hand Jesus puts the disciples’ awe over the temple into perspective by saying that “Not one stone will be left upon another. All will be torn down.” (Mark 13:2) Maybe a reminder to “Not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20) On the other hand, Jesus says “You’ll always have the poor with you but you will not always have me…” (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:5-8), thus condoning the perceived wastefulness of the woman pouring expensive perfumed ointment over Jesus’ feet to honor him.
To visit the great cathedrals in Europe is inspiring. Many of them don’t have a very large worshipping congregation anymore, but their very presence, art, and architecture continue to glorify God, tell a story and inspire faith in Jesus. I suppose one day they’ll fall, but for so many days, years, centuries (even millennia) to so many millions of people they speak, they inspire, and their stones shout out the glory of God and Hosannas to Jesus.
On the plane ride over the Atlantic at the beginning of the trip I watched The Monuments Men, a movie about the recovery of art which the Nazis had stolen in WWII (starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, among others). Why was the recovery of stolen art worth risking life and expense? “Because,” as George Clooney’s character put it, “people don’t last; societies don’t last, but art (and architecture) continues to tell their story.” Story – it’s important! That’s why Paul risked life and limb – to share a story! Ultimately, that’s what these stones do – whether ruins or standing basilicas – they witness to a story (some horrific like the Colosseum’s, some terrific like the David or Pieta). These stones witness the story of those who poured their labors, imaginations, creativity, faith, resources, culture, Hosanas into these structures and stones.
Beauty is as important as functionality. You can see it in creation – whether God’s or humanity’s creations (though it all really comes from God doesn’t it?).

This morning we visited the Vatican’s Four Major Basilicas of Rome: San Giovanni in Laterano (& the Holy Stairs across the street), St Peter’s, St Paul Outside the Wall, Santa Maria.
San Giovanni in Laterano (St John – as in John the Baptist) opened for worship in 318AD, the first Christian Church in Rome, and became the home for the Bishops of Rome until the completion of the “new” St Peter’s Basilica was completed in 1626 (construction began in 1506). Still today it is referred to as the home church of the Pope and at the very front is the Bishop’s Chair (bishop of Rome = Pope). It is not a Church of Rome or Italy, but belongs to the Vatican even though it is a few miles away from Vatican City (which is its own nation). In the upper cage of the Baldacchino (canopy above the altar) are two statues of St Peter & St Paul (that supposedly have fragments of the actual skulls of those saints/apostles).
Across the street from the Basilica is a building/church containing the Scala Santa or Holy Stairs. In 326 Emperor Constantine’s Mother Helena brought the 28 marble steps of Pontius Pilate’s residence in Jerusalem to Rome. These are supposedly the steps Jesus would have climbed when he was sentenced to death. The stairs are covered by wood as it’s a little better to climb on ones knees, but still painful. On each step on ones knees you pray. There are places where there’s something red in/or the marble that is claimed to be blood from Jesus. Lori, Annika, and I prayed the steps.
We then visited St Paul’s Outside the Walls. Another magnificent basilica. For my purposes, this was maybe the most significant. Paul was supposedly beheaded two miles from here but his body was supposedly buried here (beneath the altar). In all (or most) of the basilicas the two most prominent statues of apostles are that of Peter with the keys (to the kingdom) and Paul with a sword (the instrument by which he was martyred).
From there we stopped by Santa Maria, the oldest Christian community in Rome. The church was built on a site that was once a home where Christians worshipped illegally until 313AD when they were allowed to worship publicly.
In the afternoon, Luke, Peter and myself had tickets to go down beneath St Peter’s Basilica to view the tomb of St Peter. It was a little anticlimactic but the WOW factor was coming up out of the crypt into the sanctuary right by Bernini’s Baldacchino directly under the massive dome designed by Michelangelo. Even though we were just there two days ago, it was still breathtaking.
The kids are burnt out on ruins and churches. They’ve been great sports and pretty patient, but they’re ready to go home. However, they have one more day. Tough duty – they have to spend one more day in Rome!

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Day 40 – Read Luke 19:40, I Peter 2:4-5

We’re nearing the end of our pilgrimage, and this is the last entry of reflections. A once-in-a-life-time-experience it has truly been. My time of reading, writing, traveling, praying, and reflecting has been rich and deepened my understanding of early Christian history, Paul and his writings, and what’s going on in our world today. The real question is whether it will translate into insights, practices, ministry, a witness that inspires faith, makes disciples, creates living stones makes the living stones to shout out new Hosannas to The Lord.

            When I return in the fall, conversations will begin regarding a new sanctuary (whether that means a remodel and expansion of our current sanctuary, a tear-down and rebuild, or some combination thereof I do not know – that will be part of the conversation and consultation we’ll be seek). We’re a little over three years away from paying off our current mortgage! When do we launch into a sanctuary project? There is a consultant through the ELCA (free) who helps to discern such things, and she’ll meet with us in November to look at our situation and help discern when and how to begin the process.

            For those who don’t know, we had plans to build a new sanctuary before I came to St Luke (plans for over 15 years). Those plans were largely motivated by the desire for a pipe organ that was gifted to St Luke from congregation in Seattle. We decided in 2006 to build our current Multi-Purpose Building first so that when the day comes to build the sanctuary we will have a temporary place to worship and stay on site. The pipe organ burned in a fire a few years back and is no longer the impetus for doing a sanctuary project – but there are plenty of other reasons: first and foremost – space – seating capacity, room for instrumentation (bell choir, bands, choirs, concerts, etc), screens for contemporary worship, funerals, weddings, etc, multi style worships (for both traditional and contemporary), as well as the need for updates.

            I did a wedding at the end of April in a wedding chapel that use to be Our Savior’s Lutheran Church just south of North Central HS. It’s a quaint old traditional little white church where services were spoken in Norwegian. But the congregation grew and relocated to a large brick building just east of North Central. The congregation grew over the years to become the largest Lutheran congregation in Spokane at one point in its history. Over the years it experienced decline and eventually disbanded and sold the facility to a different worshiping  community – no longer a Lutheran Church but still a Christian Church.

            Why build bigger buildings and more stones when I’ve just seen that nothing lasts forever; when we see a decline in Christianity all around us; when we’ve witnessed the glory of congregations in Spokane come and go? Because God has given us today to live, to act, to witness, to serve, to affect lives and spread the faith. Today it’s happening! We’ve been growing and need more space to facilitate more people to hear the gospel preached and the fellowship of believers shared at St Luke. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I know what’s been entrusted to us today. We have been given a great commission: to make more disciples!

            Building bigger buildings can become idolatrous if it’s just an extension of our egos and pride. But not to build can also become idolatrous if it’s about what we want (wanting a smaller, familial atmosphere and not wanting it to get too big). What we do with brick & mortar is solely about facilitating ministry and what we’re called to do. The question we ask is, “What do we need to do to make the ministry more effective – to do the most and the best we can for the gospel and for the salvation of souls?” That’s why we’ll be having conversation in the fall about the future and what we need to do. How do we use brick & mortar to help facilitate the development of living stones?

Today is Annika’s 13th birthday! How many kids get to say their parents took ’em to Rome for their 13th birthday? Ha, Ha:) We now have 4 teenagers (for the next 5 months). God help us!
We had a guided tour this morning of Ancient Rome with Francesca Caruso. She was great! The best guide we’ve had. She was born and raised in Rome, but her mom was from the USA and Lutheran, so I think she had a fondness for our family with that connection and with the purpose of our trip/pilgrimage.
We started out at San Clemente, a church built in the 12th Century on top of church they discovered (by accident) from the 4th Century, which was built on top of houses from the 1st Century (probably burned in the great fire of Rome in 64AD). We then ventured to the main attraction: the Roman Colosseum. “Serial! Whoa! Legend… wait for it… dary! Chilling! Cool!” These were the adjectives my family used to describe the Colosseum. It was certainly a high light of Rome and the whole trip. Even though I’ve seen pictures, heard people describe it, knew what to expect, yet there’s nothing quite like being there and experiencing it first hand. Words and pictures don’t capture it adequately. My word: “impressive!”
Our third and final destination with Francesca was the Roman Forum. It was extremely helpful having a guide to give us the history, background, and a much clearer picture of what we were seeing (and not seeing). That said, it was more ruins and by this point our kids are ruined out on ruins even with someone making them “come alive.” We also stopped at the cave/prison where it was believed Peter and Paul were kept before being executed (right next to the Roman Forum & the Senate House.
It only took 8 years to build the Colosseum. Construction began in the year 72AD (two years after the Jerusalem was destroyed) and finished in 80AD. Many wonder if the spoils from the Jerusalem temple were used to finance the Colosseum. Many wonder if Jews were used as the slave labor to build it. One of the three remaining arches in the Roman Forum (there was once 40 arches in Ancient Rome) has a relief showing the victors returning to Rome with the spoils from Jerusalem (including a menorah), as well as slaves, indicates these theories are plausible.
Later this afternoon Annika got her birthday wish: Annika, Micah, Lori and I rented Segways for an hour and road around the Borghese Gardens. It was a blast.

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Day 39 – Read Acts 2:42, 27:1-2, Matthew 18:20

Paul had several traveling companions over the years: Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Timothy, Gaius, Titus, Priscilla & Aquila, Luke, Aristarchus, etc. He was alone when he went to Athens and initially to Corinth but pleaded that Silas and Timothy be sent to him as soon as possible (Acts 17:15). I don’t know if Paul just didn’t like to be alone, or if it was a safety concern, or if it was the Christian model (Jesus sent his disciples out two by two – Mark 6:7), or if it was Scriptural precedence (Matthew 18:16), or if he simply recognized that humanity was not meant to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

            Today is my daughter Annika’s 13th birthday! Today we’re taking a tour of the Colosseum in Rome! What an awesome experience to see the history and see the future. The construction for the Colosseum began in the year 70AD – the same year Rome destroyed Jerusalem and its Holy Temple – and was completed 10 years later. To think it has been standing for nearly two thousand years when buildings in Spokane have hardly been standing for two hundred years is mind-boggling.

            What a blessing it has been to take this pilgrimage with my wife and four children! To see these sites has been outstanding. To see them through my children’s eyes has been a treat. To share devotions, prayer, as well as visiting the sites with my family has deepened my faith. It is a reminder to me that the Christian faith is not a solitary endeavor. Some say they “commune in nature” with God; it’s hard to know whether that is Christian faith. To separate oneself from the “body” (the community of faith, the fellowship of believers) is to separate oneself from Christ himself. One of the first things that happened as the Christian Church formed after Jesus ascended into heaven was they “devoted” or committed themselves to fellowship (as well the apostle’s teaching, breaking of bread and prayer – in other words, the Word, Sacraments, Prayer, and Fellowship – that which takes place in Worship).

            How important it is to the existence and promotion of Christianity to be together. Don’t underestimate the power of just showing up! The worship experience for me (and not just me) is a lot more inspiring when a sanctuary is full. The music is more inspiring, the worship is more lively, there’s a greater energy. You can notice and feel the difference worshipping on Easter Sunday and then on the following Sunday (often referred to as “low Sunday”). There is a completely different feel, energy, or vibe. Just showing up – how important it is to your faith, and to the faith of your brothers and sisters who need you present for their faith!

            And how important it is for us to bring “the Church” to shut-ins. As Paul sat in house-arrest in Rome he had a steady stream of visitors. The Church came to Paul and it became his life-line. Not only was he strengthened by their visits but they were strengthened by his witness as well. This is so often the case with those who visit the shut-in; both are strengthened in faith. We have need for more visitation teams (we send them out in pairs). If you don’t have a partner, Suzie Buell, our Congregational Care Coordinator, can set you up with one and get you lined up to do visitation.

            Just showing up, being present, Church attendance & visitation to the home-bound, it’s critically important to the Christian’s existence and existence of Christianity!

Rome. It’s big, loud, spread out, and as one traveler told us weeks ago when we were in Turkey or Greece (can’t remember), “It’s cultural overload! After a while you’re like, ‘Oh, another masterpiece – huh.’ Or, ‘Oh, another building thousands of years old – huh.'” Kinda like the way my kids are with seeing more ruins, “Huh, more rocks that were foundations of buildings that existed a long time ago – cool! Can we go now?”
It’s pretty tough not to be impressed in Rome, even when it’s become cultural overload, and even at the end of a five week pilgrimage seeing tons of ancient “stuff.” Last night we did Rick Steve’s “Heart of Rome Walk” where we saw the Piazza Novana (a lively night time square with beautiful monuments/fountains), the Pantheon at night, the Trevi Fountain, to the Spanish Steps. The bummer was that the Trevi Fountain is blocked off, no water, and under renovation; same with the fountain at the Spanish Steps. That’s just the way it goes when traveling – there’s always renovations going on and you’re bound to have some things inaccessible or unavailable. It was still beautiful.
Today we had a guided tour through Vatican City: the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican Square (or Piazza St Pietro). The museum is about 7K (roughly 4.5 miles) if you were to stretch it out as a wide hallway with sculptures, paintings, tapestries, etc. along the walls on both sides, as well as the ceilings and floors. It receives about 25,000 visitors per day! St Peter’s is so enormous it’s hard to describe. The letters along the walls near the top are 10ft. tall but look fairly small. It was built to facilitate 60,000 people (Milan’s was built for 44,000 & we thought it’s huge!) – though they never allow that many people in it at once.
As a whole we were most impressed with the size of St Peter’s Basilica, a room painted by Raphael in the Vatican (where The School of Athens is painted on one wall), the Sistine Chapel (especially Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling and the far wall of the Last Judgement), Michelangelo’s Pieta, Bernini’s Altar and Baldachin (canopy), and the Piazza outside (with the two half circular pillar columns and the center obelisk).

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Day 38 – Read I Cor. 4:17, Phil. 2:22, II Tim. 3:10-4:22

At the end of his life, sitting in house arrest (prison) in Rome, Paul writes to one of his protégés, Timothy, to come visit him in his last days in Rome. Timothy is in Ephesus where Paul had asked him to take over the church(es) there when Paul was forced to leave and journey on. We can see what an important place Timothy has in Paul’s heart, and we can see from the many names dropped by Paul how many men Paul had mentored, but no one more beloved than Timothy. We have observed from Paul and Barnabas how painful it is when a team ministry splits up, which makes it all the more rich when one works (like with Timothy).

There were other mentors and schools of thought (or theology) like Apollos, Peter (I Cor. 1:12), the school of John the Baptist (Acts 18:25, 19:3). Paul was so confident in his understanding of the gospel that he wanted his preaching and mentorship to influence the Church with these protégés he had mentored.

Our congregation, St Luke, has had the privilege of mentoring many young men and women in the faith, as well as encouraging and equipping them for leadership in the Christian Church. I believe we have something of consequence to offer the larger church – a confidence (if some call it arrogance, so be it) in our approach to ministry and our understanding and proclamation of the gospel – that necessitates mentoring young people in this school of thought and approach to ministry. Paul’s audacity to think he had something of value to pass on to future leaders of the Church I think is was one of the reasons why Paul’s ministry lasted beyond his years – why the stones continued to shout out after he was silenced.

Day 37 – Read Acts 28:11-16, Romans 15:22-33

Today we travel to Rome. Rome may be the last great Christian city and Holy Land I have to visit. I have now been to Jerusalem & Istanbul/Constantinople, Israel and Turkey, to Wittenberg and Minneapolis (as American Lutherans, Germany and/or the Midwest might be our Mecca:)), and now to Rome. I haven’t been to Egypt and seen Cairo or Petra. Maybe that’s my Pauline Spain – the last place he intended to go (but most likely never got there). There was a lot of anticipation in going to Rome for Paul and for us. For so many years he/we had longed to go there, and now he/we arrived. For Paul, however, it wasn’t the journey he’d imagined.

            Instead of Rome/Spain being his fourth journey of his own accord, visiting the churches he’d started along the way, he would be taken as a prisoner. He had written the Roman Christians from Corinth on his third journey hoping things would go well for him in Jerusalem when he returned to give the Church there the offering he’d collected from the Turkey/Greece churches he’d started. He’d hoped that he would leave Jerusalem/Judea in good graces to make his fourth journey to Rome and on to Spain. But things didn’t go well in Jerusalem. Paul was arrested, put on trial, about to be executed except that he appealed to be heard by the Emperor in Rome since he was a Roman citizen. From the time he was arrested in Jerusalem, taken to Caesarea Maritime, sailed to Rome (via being ship wrecked on Malta and delayed on the island of Crete), several years passed before actually arriving in Rome under house arrest where he would continue to preach the gospel to visitors. It wasn’t what he’d planned or the manner he would have chosen, but his dream and goal of going to Rome and evangelizing there was realized.

            I have not come here to preach, but rather to observe – to see the stones of Christian history and listen for the witness of living stones still today. Our journey has not been so dramatic or traumatic as Paul’s. We have traveled by planes, trains, automobiles, boats/ships, and feet. We have covered thousands of miles in days and weeks, but in comfort and security. We have experienced gracious hospitality (though Paul did as well). And all of the waiting, travel, expense, planning, etc. was worth it! Though our circumstances are much different, I can imagine what it was like for Paul to finally arrive in Rome – Spectacular! Worth it! Perhaps more so for us since it was because of Paul and Peter, and their witness to Christ and martyrdom for Christ here, that makes this place Holy Ground and this trip a Christian pilgrimage.

This is the day The Lord has made, let us rejoice & be glad in it!
We visited the Galleria dell’Accademia (Museum) where Michelangelos’ David is displayed. As they say, “it’s bigger than life.” The statue itself is 17 feet high, and it’s placed on a pedestal that adds about another four feet. We were all blown away by the detail (like veins, muscles, etc.) and the accuracy of dimension – though the hands were deliberately designed to be larger, like the hand of God (similar to his Creation of Adam painting). That alone was worth the price of admission, though there were many other items to see.
We also visited the baptistry for the cathedral. While the Pisa baptistry is larger it was very plain. This baptistry was incredibly ornate, beautiful, and reminded us of the interior of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
From there we visited the Medici Chapels right by our apartment. This large domed building (seen prominently from the tower we climbed) was built to entomb the Medici family who had employed Michelangelo while he was in Florence (before he left for Rome). Michelangelo sculpted most of the statues in the sacristy for some of the prominent Medici family. Most impressive in this building are the tombs in the great rotunda.
After lunch we took a taxi to Piazzale Michelangelo (a parking lot with a bronze replica of the David that sits up on a hill across the Arno River giving great views of the city). From there we walked to Santa Croce (Cathedral where Galileo and Michelangelo are buried – among many others – their tombs pictured at the bottom). We then walked back to our apartment. Later, Lori and I wanted to walk around – the kids absolutely refused. They’re done walking! I hope they’ve got enough juice left in the tank for Rome – tomorrow we depart.

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