Saturday, March 26, 2011

Amazing Art!

He begins, our son Eric, with one single black-on-white pen point in the center of some art paper on a mechanical drawing board. From there, entirely freehand, he lets whatever will eventually end up as the finished piece emerge--line by line, image by image. When finished, again entirely free-hand, he enhances it with colored markers, if indeed he does not decide to leave it as black on white.

What amazes us is both the dexterity of his free hand and the sensitivity to image that evolves in the process. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," an old saying goes, and artists will counsel you to make of their art whatever you will. One of my favorites, shown above, speaks to me of Christ's cross, central in our minds these days as we journey through Lent, following our Lord toward Jerusalem.. From that cross flows love and good will forever, cascading out from its centerpoint in Jesus to all who will simply receive it.

We had no idea as parents through his childhood years what artistic talents were given to Eric. What we do see now, and admire, is his passion for making those gifts a centerpoint in his life, not only for the sake of self-fulfillment but for the joy of sharing with and blessing others. Eric is regularly on facebook. Go for his art offerings there--including Greeting Cards--to "Hawk's Fine Line Art."

Go to it, Eric! You make your mom and me both proud of your gifts and thankful to God for your spirit. May he prosper the work of your hands, amd may you thank him--pen-srtoke by pen-stroke--for the talents that are making it possible.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Where Lies the Power We Long for and Need?

In the script from a recent lecture on "Pietism: A World We Have Lost," delivered a few days ago at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Baylor University Historian Roger Olson offers one particular insight among others that really caught my eye.

"Pietism aims at the inward transformation of the affections leading to change of the will resulting in acts of compassion. Too often churches try to manipulate congregants into giving and working because there is no inner impulse giving rise gratefully and voluntarily to these practices. A dose of spiritual experience brought about through repentance and faith in response to powerful preaching of the cross just might result in more kingdom building than all the appeals we make in our newsletters and from our pulpits.

Where lies the spiritual power we all long for and know we need? Not in efforts of our own to stir people up or appeal to their sense of guilt. It lies rather in ever fresh experiences of God among the people, as Olson puts it, "the inward transformation of the affections leading to change of the will resulting in acts of compassion."

Thank God that Pietist heritage is alive in so many. I see it daily at work, inspired not by programs designed to make it work as by God himself at work in the hearts of people still being transformed by his Word and Spirit.

Oh to be a better instrument of that Word and Spirit.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.... Then I will teach transgressors thy ways and sinners will be converted unto thee (Psalm 51:10,13).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Blessed Are the Faithful!

"There goes old faithful," our veteran pastor's wife said on seeing David Alberts walking toward the old funeral chapel on Chicago's south side as we approached by car. And she was right! David and Clara were dynamic saints--not in up front ways we usually associate with that word but simply and continually in their faithfulness. One could count on them to be present whenever and wherever Christ's body gathered--for worship, study, prayer, fellowship, funerals, weddings, baptisms, or whatever else. Faithfulness had become part of their nature.

Scanning a lifetime of ministry--not to mention earlier years as a child growing up in the church--my soul is blessed in remembering them and countless others like them. Hilma Larson in Middletown, Connecticut, John Swanson in Bethany, Chicago, Grandpa Magnuson in Paxton, Illinois, Carl Strom in Hilmar, California--all of them, though uniquely themselves, alike in their faithfulness. Each of these, though dead now, lives on in me--modeling the kind of spirit I long myself to be.

It is not, of course, as if any of them in themselves was worthy of worship. It is only that somehow in their lives they reflected the faithfulness of God, who alone deserves our worship and praise. Think of him now, and his faithfulness in your life. Are you reflecting his faithfulness in your own?

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness,
morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided--
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

On Entering Lent

Carlo Carretto is a monk, one of the Little Brothers of Jesus. He has divided his time between the order's house in the Sahara and Spello (near Assisi) in the Umbrian Hills, where he has lived as a hermit.

In the book illustrated here he wrote some years ago, "When I think about the state of the world, of the Church which is its conscience, and of myself who am a very small antenna of both world and Church, I feel that we are entering the eye of a cyclone."

What troubles him most, however, is not the cyclone but the fear that has Christians in its grip. What we are experiencing in our time is "the history of Israel all over again," he contends, "the adventure of being exiles and pilgrims on earth....

"We Christians ought henceforth, I think, to consider ourselves as being in a foreign land, as deportees in a modern Babylon, reduced to tiny minorities but witnessing to the Invisible, no longer as bosses but as guests among the nations, offering a message which has the power to save, offering a hope which is in fact the only hope.

"It may be that the Church will have hard times, as Israel had in the time of the Babylonian Captivity." But, he writes, "this doesn't worry me much, since Christ himself has set us free from fear; hence I am no longer in Israel's position, to be terrorized by the Assyrian sword....

"I am full of hope," he concludes. "And it is genuine hope, not hope founded on human optimism.... It is not based on my own strength, nor on the organized resources of the Church, but on the living God alone, on his love for the human race, on his actions throughout history, on his saving will."

Summing up his feelings, Carretto writes, "I could put it very briefly: I have discovered how to be much poorer than I thought I was before. {And] The more you find your poverty, the more it stimulates you to pray." He then lifts up to us all what the Little Brothers of Jesus call the Prayer of Abandonment:

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you;
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures;
I wish no more than this.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands
without reserve
and with boundless confidence,

for you are my Father.

The sign of Corretto's hope lies both in the signature that follows and the place, season, and calendar year when writing:

Spello, Easter, 1975

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

'Let Hope and Sorrow Now Unite'

I am grieving this morning, as I often do with others who have lost loved ones and dear friends, over the passing of Lars Hellberg in San Diego, CA and Gordon Ahlquist here in the Twin Cities. I only learned of their deaths yesterday and the sense of loss is therefore intense.

Lars Hellberg was a true and loyal friend of mine since childhood. The bond between us was really fixed in high school days at then North Park Academy, even though we had known each other earlier at Peterson Grade School. A long and gangley guy, 6'7" in maturity, he had a hard time coordinating physically in his youth. But brilliant mentally and warm-hearted personally, he was the kind of friend a person needs--never fair-weather but true, always beside you even when absent, caring and loyal. Vocationally he became a professor of chemistry at San Diego State College in 1956, after earning his PhD at UCLA. Concurrently while serving there for over 40 years, coaching many students on to their own graduate degrees, he also spent 25 of those years over the border in Mexico, teaching part-time at Centro de Graduados, Instituto Technologico in Tijuana. A life-long Lutheran, he devoted his time and effort as well to Christian initiatives and causes all over the world. It is too soon for me to lose him.

It was also a shock to hear of Gordy Ahlquist's passing--a true Covenant Pietist whose real vocation in life--alongside his work as a gifted securities analyst-- was as an equally gifted musician, serving God and the Covenant as organist at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis for over 50 years. What a repository of our story and spirit as a Christian movement he was! I had been pursuing him for some time to do a video interview, but that was delayed due to the illness of his wife. Now, only a few weeks later, he himself was summoned from us by his Master.

I really grieve today the loss of these two colleagues and friends, even if not as others do who are outside Christ and without hope. A hymn in our hymnal eases the grief with its reminder that "... hope and sorrow now unite to consecrate life's ending ... though grief and loss are rending." And I know as a believer that especially on days like these, no matter one's pain, it is important to "Give thanks for all each person gives," because "as faith comes true and Jesus lives, there'll be an end to grieving."
(The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook, No. 756)