Friday, November 23, 2007 0 comments

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello everyone! Yes, I know, it's been forever since I've posted! I still don't have the internet at my apartment, so I haven't been able to keep up as well as I'd like.

Anyhow, I am over at the Shorts's house (they are the missionaries I work with here in Milan). We are celebrating Thanksgiving on Saturday, since of course it isn't a holiday here, with the missionaries in Padua. We're driving over tomorrow (it's about a three-hour drive) and spending the night with them, and then having a feast for lunch on Saturday. We cooked two pies (pumpkin and apple) and some cookies today to take, and I'm also taking corn.
Today is also Rebecca Short's first birthday, so she got to rip some wrapping paper, look at a pretty candle, and enjoy some carrot cake. I've gotten quite an education spending so much time with children!

I posted some new pictures on my picture website. On November first, which is a holiday here, a group of about sixteen of us from Milan went over to Vicenza (about two hours on the train) for a Ladies' Day. It was a beautiful day to be out, and we enjoyed the time spend with church members from several churches across northern Italy. The topic of the day was marriage and family, especially on choosing a Christian husband and parenting. Since several members of the Milan church are young single women, the 'finding a Christian husband' topic has been much discussed recently. It is a real problem here--for example, in our church, we have six or seven young single women and no young single men at all. The situation is similar is many churches. We have so many couples in the church that one is a Christian and one isn't, for that reason. It's yet another issue that we often take for granted in the Bible Belt.

My other set of pictures is from a recent (November 11) Agape (fellowship meal) at the Milan church. We had a potluck meal after church, and then we honored a couple in our church, Nora and Eric. They are both from the Philippines (as are several church members; it's a large immigrant group here), and Nora has lived here in Milan for several years. She and Eric were married two years ago when she went back to the Philippines for a few months, and they have spent the last two years on opposite sides of the globe, trying to get his paperwork together to join her in Italy. She couldn't go back to wait with him there, because his papers were contingent on her holding a job here. Anyhow, finally, after a lot of hard work and prayers, he finally arrived in Milan about three weeks ago. So, in celebration, the church gave them some presents and we had a special prayer for them now that they are finally together again. Also, Eric was a preacher in the Philippines, so we look forward to him being a helpful and active member here.

Well, I hope that everyone has a great Thanksgiving and that the holiday season gets off to a good start. The Christmas decorations are in full swing here! My brother is coming to visit for a couple of weeks for Christmas, so I'm looking forward to seeing him again and enjoying the season. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Sunday, September 2, 2007 0 comments
Did any of you watch the mid-August meteor shower this year? My mom mentioned that she and my dad and brother had sat out in the backyard watching them for a while, but I doubted I'd see anything of it, living here in the well-lit city of Milan.

However, Tammy called that Sunday afternoon: they were planning to drive out of town just after dark, and look for a place to look for falling stars. I went along, and we left Milan around ten. We drove for well over an hour, stopping at a park near the river to check the view (okay, but still too close to a town) and then to see downtown Novara lit up (the picture to the left is of the cathedral there). Finally, we found the perfect spot--a small road between fields a little off of the interstate. The only things around were what seemed to be a small monastery and the now-distant Novara cathedral on the horizon. Tammy, Michela, and I laid down in the middle of the road (we never saw a car on this little road) and watched the sky. Lewis, Tammy, and I each saw various shooting stars, but we never managed to see the same ones. We stayed until after midnight, until Michela finally saw one, too. It's a little difficult for a four-year-old to just sit still and look. :) The one she saw was the best of the evening--bright, right across the milky way, leaving a streak across the sky.

We headed back home to the city on the interstate. Tammy started singing, hoping Michela would fall asleep in the car, and Lewis and I soon joined in. We sang most of the way home. Michela never did fall asleep, even though we tried not to sing anything upbeat. We sang in English, and many of those songs I don't think I've sung since I was in college. I hadn't realized just how much I miss singing in English, and the familiar songs. That's the thing I most loved about Freed-Hardeman, the fact that we sang every day. The Shorts enjoyed singing, too, and we decided to get together every week for a time to plan our weeks and to sing together. That was the point that I knew that I was going to enjoy working with them this year; I have found people who like to sing!
Thursday, August 16, 2007 0 comments
Hello again, everyone! Well, I've been in Milan for two weeks now. I'm settling in--I've gotten things pretty much in order in my apartment. Tammy, the girls, and I took a trip to Ikea, and I got some bookshelves and a small chest of drawers, as well as a comforter, curtains, and some colorful pillows. Gary and Jennifer, the AI directors, came up last Wednesday, and brought the rest of my stuff from Florence in their car. So, I've finally gotten everything into place and am quite comfortable in my little apartment.

While Gary and Jennifer were here, all of us (me, them, and the Shorts) went to the Milan Museum of Technology. The museum houses a famous display of models built from the drawing of Leonardo da Vinci, displays showing the history and evolution of various industrial and househould machines (record players from victrolas up to cd players, clocks from sundials to cathedral belltowers to the modern Rolex, the machinary used for mining and refining nickel, etc.) The most popular exhibit is a huge submarine used by the Italian Navy from the 1960s until the 1990s. They hauled it on trucks from the coast, working in the middle of the night because they had to shut down the interstate to bring it through. The roads around the musuem had to be reinforced; there was quite a party when it was successfully parked at the museum.

We've stayed pretty busy, despite it being August. August here is the holiday month--everyone is on vacation. Many stores and businesses are also closed for at least a week or two during the month, if not the whole thing. So, life is quiet in an Italian city in August. Today especially--today is Ferragosto. The 15th of August has been a holiday here in Italy since Roman times; originally it was part of the celebration of summer, and the end of the field-work until the harvest. It often was dedicated to the goddess Diana. The Catholic church then used the day to celebrate Mary's assumption into heaven (they teach that Mary, also, was carried to heaven on a cloud when she died, and was never buried). Now, it's just the day the world stops while everything is closed and everyone has the day off, the middle of the vacation month. I came over to Lewis and Tammy's for the day. They took advantage of everyone being off of work, and had various church members as guests for both lunch and dinner. The conversation was particularly interesting with the dinner guests, a Ghanaian church member, Steven, and his Italian Catholic wife. Apparently they met when he was her tour guide when she visited Ghana from where she was studying in Nigeria.

Last week, Tammy, the girls, and I spent an afternoon with Nadia, one of the newest members of the church in Milan. She is Ukrainian, and has lived in Italy about four years. She became a Christian just a few months ago after becoming friends with some Italian Christians, and has been attending the church for about two months. However, her husband and his family are atheists and quite unhappy about her decision. She seems to be a really sweet person, and is happy to be making Christian friends and getting involved. She plans to go with us tomorrow to visit one of the older ladies from church. Please pray for her as her faith grows, despite the complete lack of encouragement from her family.

On Monday, I met the Shorts down at the church building, and Tammy and I started reorganizing all of the children's Bible class material. For the past while, Tammy has been teaching the one children's class, but she would like to split it into a class for the pre-school age and one for the elementary-age, and maybe start a class for the teenage girls. There are several church members interested in getting involved, so we're trying to get the material organized so it will be easier to divide up.

Next week, I'll be heading back to Florence for most of the week for the annual Florence convegno (convention). Christians from all over the country come together in Florence every year; there will be speakers, activities, and meals together. The main speaker this year is Don Shackelford, a former missionary to Italy who then worked at Harding for many years. I'll let you know more about that when I get back.

Well, I hope you are all doing well, and your summers have been good. I sent out a newsletter last week; let me know if you didn't get it and want to. I'll try to update again soon; I don't have the internet at my apartment, so I try to get on whenever I'm at Lewis and Tammy's.

Ciao a tutti!
Saturday, August 4, 2007 0 comments

Settling In

Hello again! Well, I moved into my apartment in Milan yesterday afternoon. So, I'm getting settled in. I brought some things with me on the train yesterday, and Gary, the AI director, will bring the rest of my stuff up in his car next week. I'm looking forward to getting everything organized. It still seems a little strange that I'm finally here and moved in; not just a trip this time!

Well, I don't have internet in my apartment right now, so I still appreciate your e-mails and such, but just know it may take me a couple of days to get back to you. Anyhow, I hope you all have a good weekend!
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 0 comments

Packing...or, procrastinating packing...

Hello everyone! I'm sorry I haven't been very good at keeping up the blog over the summer. I'll try to get better at that! Anyhow, I posted my major news in the post below, which is an excerpt from my latest newsletter (which, if you haven't gotten yet, should be there soon, for those of you who get that, too). I'm really excited to get the chance to work with a church directly and to be involved in a different community.

I'm moving in on Thursday, so now I'm trying to figure out how to fit everything I want to take into my suitcases. I'm coming back to Florence at the end of the month for the Florence convegno (convention), so I will pick up my winter clothes then. Hmm...I'll have to wear clunky stuff... :)

My mom came to visit me for part of July, and I had a good time showing her around Italy and my life here. Here is a picture of me, my mom, and three of the church members from Milan (Orazio, Bruna, and Enrica) in front of the church building in Milan. I was happy that we got the chance to visit with the church there while my mom was here, so she was able to meet the people that I will be worshiping and working with for the next year.

Well, I need to get off here and get back to it. I hope you all have a good last day of July!


Ciao a tutti! (Hello to everyone!) Well, summer is going by pretty fast! I’ve stayed busy most of the summer teaching students, although as the weather heats up more and more have left on vacation. My mother came to visit me for part of July, and I had a good time showing her around Italy and eating too much gelato (Italian ice cream)!

My big announcement is that I am planning to move to Milan for my second year as an Avanti Italia worker. I’ve enjoyed my year here in Florence teaching at the Bible school, but I am looking forward to going out and hopefully being of help. I will be working along with Lewis and Tammy Short, American missionaries who have been in Milan since 2000.

Milan is the largest city in Italy with a population of about four million, and is one of the major financial and fashion centers of the world. Since it is in the north of Italy, close to the Swiss border, I will finally have an excuse to wear all the scarves I managed to collect over the past winter, and hopefully see some snow.

The congregation in Milan has about fifty members, of all ages and races. Like most Italian churches, it is quite multicultural with members from, besides Italy, Singapore, the Philippines, Ghana, Albania, France, and China. I have been up to visit several times now, and they are a friendly and welcoming group, and I am looking forward to getting to know them better.

Some of the work I plan to be involved in with the Milan congregation includes doing Bible studies with new Christians, helping with the Women’s Bible Study group’s weekly meetings, teaching a children’s class on Sundays, and organizing activities for the "young people" (in Italy, anyone under thirty qualifies). In whatever time I have left, I will probably continue to teach some English-using-the-Bible type classes as a way to meet people and get involved in the community.

Lewis and Tammy have found an apartment for me on the west side of the city, not too far from their neighborhood. It’s small, but furnished and it will be nice to have my own space after living with so many people here at the Bible school. It’s just across the street from the Milan’s San Siro soccer stadium, so it might be a little noisy on Sunday evenings during the season. My apartment is one of the attic apartments on the fifth floor, but looking out of my window I am still not to the top of the massive pine tree just outside.

Well, I hope that everyone's summer is going well, and thank you for your continued prayers for the churches here in Italy. Dio vi benedica! (God bless you all!)

Friday, March 30, 2007 0 comments

Leaving for the Women's Convegno....

Hello everyone! I know, I know, I've gotten really bad lately about keeping this up to date. Right now, we're fixing to head off to Velletri, a town near Rome that has a big camp, for the annual Convegno delle Donne (women's retreat). All of us women from the Bible school and several of the women from church are going, and we will meet women from several other churches across Italy there. I'm looking forward to it, as my Italian is much better than at the last convegno in December. Speakers are much more interesting when you can understand everything they say... Kelly has been planning games for several days, and I made some lemon bars to take. Jennifer, one of our directors, is one of the speakers.

So, here we go again, in our old Volkswagon van... (most convegnos include prayers that we from the Bible school make it back home again :) )
Thursday, March 8, 2007 1 comments

Visible Representations of God/Biblical Events

Hello everyone! I know, it's been awhile since I've updated the blog. I have so much to talk about, but it never seems to make it here... I missed a couple of big things blogging, and I hate to get out of order, so I haven't posted other things since. I'm having a mental traffic jam... Anyhow, I plan for there to be quite a pile of posts over the next few days. (Really! I know I said that last week, and the week before...send me e-mails and complain until I get it done!).

Meanwhile, I thought I would post this. Recently, one of my friends from home asked in one of her blog posts for people's thoughts
visible representations of God. That's something that I had been considering lately anyhow, and so I decided to write out all of my thoughts on the subject. As usual, I was long-winded. :) Here goes:

Visible Representations of God

Hmm...this is certainly something that I have had occasion to consider several times recently, living here in Italy in a still predominantly Catholic society. I often visit incredible, magnificent cathedrals filled with all sorts of statues and artwork. We owe much of the greatest art ever created to Catholic iconography. In my personal opinion, I don't see that images are categorically wrong; however, a great many of them aren't good. After all, if any image was wrong, what would the children color pictures of in Sunday school? :) Often, pictures of Biblical stories and such can be good teaching tools. They had their use in times when many people were illiterate and learned Bible stories from paintings.

The problems I have with a lot of the iconography is that, at least in this society, the icons soon become almost more important than what they represent. There are candles and altars for different saints, Mary, Jesus... To me, people are already too prone to want to worship a "god they can see," so this is an unnecessary temptation. Of course, I also have a problem with the veneration of saints--I believe that the Bible teaches that we are all the same before God. Each faithful Christian is a priest (see book of Hebrews). These people may have done great things for God--however, no matter how great their deeds, they weren't anywhere near great enough to approach the level of Christ. My life compared to His life isn't much of a sacrifice. Iconography really pushes the veneration of saints as 'superchristians', a step above other Christians, and that, for me, is a problem.

Another problem I have is that often personal or denominational biases get into such things. For one thing, consider this ridiculous picture most of the western world has in our minds of Jesus: the tall white man with long brown hair, a white robe, and a blue sash. We've seen it a thousand times. And yet, it's most likely quite inaccurate. Jesus was a Jewish man in Palestine. He most likely was tanned and had dark hair. And I may be wrong on this point, but I don't think Jewish men of that day normally had long hair. There are plenty of other things like that that influence our mental pictures that may or may not be accurate.

In a related idea, one of the reasons why I love books is that when you read, you make your own mental pictures, incorporating things from your own experience, putting yourself into the story. To me, it makes the Biblical stories seem less, not more, real and close and meaningful to see them always depicted in a stylized way. When we start to think of the people in the New Testament as graceful, saintly, almost-superhuman people like the carefully stylized painting with halos and pious poses and expressions, I think it hinders our ability to remember that the people who walked with Jesus were normal people just like us. They were fishermen, tax collectors, carpenters, salespeople, etc. They made mistakes, had faults, did stupid things in high school, tripped over their own feet, yelled at their kids. They were no different than me UNTIL knowing Jesus changed their lives. And if I am a Christian, I have the opportunity also to be changed by Jesus and be close to him. They are not better Christians than we could also be. While I believe in giving honor where honor is due, I don't think it's a good idea to honor some people so much as to create "classes" of Christians--the very thing Paul taught against when facing divisions in the early church. Following the "bias" theme I mentioned earlier, most of the famous religious art was created in Europe in the middle ages and Renaissance. The artists then painted Biblical characters as looking like Renaissance-era Europeans. Maybe at that time it did help people to relate to the Biblical characters. However, it was so prevalent that now most people's mental pictures of Biblical events is heavily influenced by such artwork--which isn't realistic. I think the Bible is written in such a way as to make it applicable to all people, in all places and times. I think it hurt missions and evangelism in the years from the middle ages until just the last century; it was easy to see Christianity as a white European religion, and often culture was taught just as much as the gospel. I think it better to either leave us to picture Biblical events in our own minds in a way meaningful to us, or to depict them in a realistic, historical way.

Another problem, at least here in Europe, is that religious artwork has been used as almost a way to "keep score" in the religious world. Wealthy families sponsored churches, altarpieces, paintings, to show their devotion to God. Every town wanted the grandest church or cathedral--the pride was in the beauty of the building instead of the lives of the people. To me, it's a form of trying to earn points with God through works rather than faith. Also, I can see such affinity for art causing divisions between Christians--are Christians in Europe who have cathedrals to worship in any better/different/more devoted than African Christians who worship under a tree? All that "stuff" isn't necessary to have a church. A church is people. That also reminds me of what my mother said when I called her after I got back from my recent trip to Barcelona. I was excitedly telling her about the magnificence and sheer size of the Temple of the Sagrada Familia, which is still under construction in Barcelona. It's fantastic and huge. I love it for the incredible architecture, the artistry, the grandeur. But Mom's reaction to it was, "What an incredible waste of money!" I admit I don't like to think of it like that--I love going to art museums, visiting beautiful buildings, and being surrounded by opulence. I love cathedrals and all the marvelous things in them. But she's right. It's beautiful, but with the millions it cost to build such a thing, think how many poor children could go to school, how many missionaries sent out, how many youth rallies organized, how many Bibles printed. What's it worth? We show what's important to us by how we use our money--are fancy buildings and impressive artwork a better example of our Godly love than benevolence efforts?

Moving back more directly to the artwork itself, I have also noticed while going to museums (and I've certainly been to plenty) that a few Bible stories count for most of the artwork. Do you have any idea how many representations of the annunciation I've seen? How relatively few of Jesus washing the disciples' feet? It's another sort of bias--which Bible story is most important? Religious artwork makes things that make good picture subjects seem more important. Everyone knows the details of Jesus's birth; there are nativity scenes everywhere. Does everyone know the beatitudes? They don't make such nice little yard scenes. So much of the Bible is not easily depicted in artwork; in fact, the most important things, like love, brotherly kindliness, and faith are difficult to paint. We also tend to paint the nice, feel-good sort of stories. Have you ever seen a representation of any sort of the Corinthian church being divided between the rich and poor in taking the Lord's Supper? Are Paul's warnings to them less important? Besides, in all these museums and cathedrals I've been to, I've been inspired... to have a greater appreciation for art. The effect on my spiritual life has been fairly minimal. Hearing Christians singing together inspires me much more spiritually than ten Renaissance masterpieces.

That brings me to my main problem with representations. Have you ever heard anyone say, "YOU WORSHIP A DEAD MAN?" I have. We're surrounded by pictures/sculptures/everything of Jesus on the cross. To us, yes, it is a beautiful image of his sacrifice. Yes, his death is incredibly important. BUT IT IS NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. He died--we all die. The difference was HE DID NOT STAY DEAD. His rising was the miracle. If we want to surround ourselves with images that represent our religion, shouldn't it be the empty tomb? I don't serve a dead man. I serve someone who once died, but rose again and is now in heaven. When someone who is not a Christian walks into a church building, are they going to see death or life?

Overall, I can see where representations can be used as a teaching tool, especially if they were done in a much different way than they have been in the past. I think people can use means such as art to express their emotions or to work out in their own mind their impressions of scripture, but that is a private thing. Art can inspire interesting discussions and be a conversation-starter. In this they are good. I love art and can see it being used in a good way by Christians. However, in general, I find representations unnecessary and as causing more trouble than they're worth. Nothing we create can ever approach the true glory of God, and we don't need any more temptations than we already have to look at earthly glory instead of looking up.