Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Day of Resurrection! Earth, Tell It Out Abroad!

We are just home from three days in New York City, where Times Square and two concerts by the San Franscisco Symphony in Carnegie Hall served as bookends for a marvelous experience.

Times Square represented, for us, the hustle and bustle of that great city--unbelievably energetic and diverse. People of every tribe and nation, it seemed, moved by us in our hotel, on our many walks, and at breakfast every morning. Our waitress yesterday was Georgian (the nation formerly tied to Russia). Parisians, Germans, and Poles were everywhere. Our cab dribers were from Bangladesh. While waiting for our shuttle to return to the airport, Alyce sat down next to a Swede waiting with his family to be picked up by a relative from Jersey. Jews, Serbs, Moslems were well also in evidence--as were blacks and whites and Asians and Hispanics. It was a feast and we loved it.

The capstone came, though, the final night at Carnegie Hall where we were treated to a really stellar rendition of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, with full orchestra and a chorus of about 120 voices. The sound was enormous and the stillness of the concert-goers amazing. You could hear a pin drop in the pauses and pianissimos Mahler had structured into the music. Faces everywhere were totally intent on what was going on below. Some were even trying to direct the orchestra themselves as hands moved back and forth and sighs were shared among strangers now become neighbors.

I sat there thinking--deeply moved myself--how the life we all so much hunger for needs to be experienced in our engagements with one another as human beings, no matter when and no matter where. But when all is said and done, it is only when real majesty moves in that the walls between us are broken down and our spirits joined into one.

Today is the beginning once more of such a season--Palm Sunday leading through Holy Week to Easter and the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. To behold it is to be moved, not least because in the beholding we are all reduced to our humanity by God's incredible love and sustaining power. No one wanted to leave on Friday night when the concert was finally over, for great music and inspired musicians had filled us with joy and given us hope. Ought Holy Week do anything less among us?

Two things linger in our minds. The first is how good it was to be in New York and experience what we did in that sea of humanity. The second is how important it now becomes to witness in our humanity to all we felt there, and share it in such a way as to help bring healing and wholeness to the otherwise scattered and fractious world all around us these days. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Artist at Work

To Alyce

Your calling in life
is clearly to be
an accompanist.

Always joining notes
in harmonic form
you serve the message

In home and at church,
as well as retreats,
you offer yourself.

And that gift extends
to every thing
in which you engage.

Whether at keyboard
or the kitchen sink,
it is no diff'rent.

Present and ready
in countless ways,
you demonstrate grace.

Thanks for being you,
and bless all your kind
who thus serve in love.


(Photo Credit - Dick Lundgren)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

How Goes Your Walk?

Preparing now for some responsibilities in connection with the 125th Annual meeting of the Covenant in June, my thoughts are centering both on the roots out of which we have grown, and the relevance of those roots to our forward movement as part of the body of Christ.

We all know that changing times require ever new incentives and responses. What matter most in the long run, however, are not our programs and procedures but the spirit that underlies and informs them. Can one point to what remains essential in a life movement like our own, and are its essences as central to our own forward movement as they were in the common life of our forebears?

One can and one must if we are to faithful to all we have inherited. God's gift to us of faith and new life springs not only or primarily from our roots in Pietism and the early Mission Covenant but in larger perspective from his dealings with his people throughout history.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). Only when we are set free by him, new-born in him, steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58) can we be assured that our labors are not in vain.

Have I been set free by God? And have you? Are we sure? Mathilda Foy wondered when she wrote the following somewhere between 1850 and 1851. Have you experienced the same assurance she found in the midst of her wonderings? Listen to her witness, and let the spirit it reveals be a powerful reminder of the life we too must receive from God if his will is to be accomplished through us:

I longed for assurance, but I could not accept it.... [Then one day when home alone recovering from an illness] the thought struck me like lightning, “You are saved and blessed--it is done, it is finished, it has long been your experience but you have not seen it. Christ is your Savior--you have the forgiveness of your sins--you don't have to pray any more to be forgiven: you can rejoice, for you are saved, blessed for time and eternity. All your doing, all your striving, all your praying is nothing–[Christ] is all.” I flew up from the sofa and got hold of a Bible. The Holy Spirit led me to look up Romans, and I read it through without stopping. He himself explained the contents to me. Everything fell into place.... The snare was broken and the bird was free.
                                                      Quoted in Karl Olsson, By One Spirit (1962), p. 65.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Divine Favor

And the dove came back to [Noah] in the evening,
and lo, in her mouth, a freshly plucked olive leaf,
so Noah knew that the waters had subdued from the earth.

The artist's rendering hangs on the wall above my desk, the gift of my daughter and a daily reminder of divine favor. Time stands still when I ponder the Noah saga in Scripture alongside our own as contemporary Christians in turbulent times. Saved temporarily in the Ark from the destruction that wasted at noonday in Noah’s time, he knew that unless the Lord further intervened he and all its inhabitants could not long sustain themselves. Dwelling in hope, trusting God, he had to wait nonetheless until the dove sent out from the Ark returned one evening with a freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak.

In spite of God's eternal promise never to flood the whole earth again, to which we may be thankful he is true, there is much in the scene that relates to our own circumstance. The seas are swelling around us as well, and our sight extends often no further than the next threatening wave. Life in the Ark is safe for the time being, but it is constricted at best and beset with crowding and foul odors one cannot escape. One hopes against hope until God decides to act.

Next to the art piece on my wall, to its left, is a harvest scene on good old earth, with stalks of harvested corn painted by Lydia Pohl against barn buildings and a tree in the distance--all signs of the favor of the same God who sent a dove back to Noah with a freshly cut olive branch. Next to the art piece on the right is another artist's rendering of richly hued autumn leaves on a clump of birches--again the gift of my daughter, inscribed in her own hand with the text of a song alongside, written by her husband from Psalm 131, a life-long favorite of mine.

Do the contexts matter in which we study and write and wait on the Lord? You bet they do. A wall is only a wall until it comes alive before you with the gifts loved ones and treasured friends bring over time, no less to us than the dove brought to Noah. Psalm 131 ends where every new day ought to begin and end, no matter where we are or what we may be facing--the sense in little things of God's continuing favor.

O Israel, hope in the Lord, from time forth and for evermore.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Standing in Awe

Today Alyce and I take our grandson Nathan out to lunch. honoring the recent receiving of his Master of Art degree from the prodigious Art Institute of Boston.

Currently head of the art department at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, Nathan (pictured here beside a display of some of the work he did for his degree), is an amazing young man, deep into not only his gift of representation but to all the intellectual, historical, and cultural influences surrounding, without which any paint on canvas would be sterile, not to mention lifeless.

Mild-mannered as he is, one has to search Nathan out in places like his blog ( to explore the range of his art to date. There is a wonderful 16-minute video there in which he offers his own interpretation of the process that has brought him to this point, including his reflections on other artists whose work has shaped his own understanding and craft.

I reproduce that video below, and warmly recommend the blogsite mentioned above from which it is taken with permission. There, in many blogs over time, you can see a wider range of his artwork and read extensive notes on why and how he has arrived at creating it.

We're standing in awe as we look on and listen. For the one we loved from his earliest childhood and saw as gifted in the visual arts is now, having matured and disciplined those gifts, re-introducing us to the era in which we ourselves grew up and married and had children. Surely it is God's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Nathan Stromberg Artist Talk from rooted wings on Vimeo.