Sunday, June 3, 2012

Kirchentag in Hannover

Two weeks ago was the SELK's 8th Annual Kirchentag ("Church Day") in Hannover.  As far as I'm aware, we don't have anything comparable to Kirchentag in the LCMS.  Here it's an entire weekend (despite it's name) of lectures, workshops, concerts, worship services, stands and displays.  The synod rented the Congress Center in Hannover (a huge place with dozens of lecture halls and conference rooms) to host the event.  And it's not just for pastors or theology students; lots and lots of laypeople - entire families even - and lots of youth, spent the whole weekend there.  The student body of LThH decided to go as a group to represent the seminary.  We had T-shirts made for us all to wear over the weekend, we had our own stand to man, and we even held a Bible-study workshop on Saturday morning,  to which about 100 people came.  It was a fun, busy, interesting, tiring, thought-provoking weekend.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures from our workshop, but I do have the following clip which we made and showed as part of our presentation.  I was one of the Lego architects...  Even if you don't know Germany, I think you'll be able to follow the clip: "The Healing of a Blind Man"

Now for some pictures that I did take at the Kirchentag...
Workshop/Lecture with SELK Provost Gerd Kelter (like a District Pres. in the LCMS) on church fellowship - very good. 
This is the main auditorium, where large events were held, including an opening and closing service as well as Divine Service on Sunday morning.
Sunday Morning Divine Service - not bad.  It was done better than I would have expected for such a large setting.  Unfortunately the Bishop's sermon left something to be desired, but for the most part the liturgy was done well and good hymns were sung. 
There was even communion.  I was very curious at first as to how they were going to manage that, but it actually was done well, I think.  The celebrant consecrated all the elements at the altar (very reverently, I might add), and then several pastors vested in alb and stole took the elements from the altar to the various side altars that had been set up at different places in the auditorium and administered the Body and Blood of Christ to the communicants in that area.  (These pictures were taken before the service.)
On Saturday night there was a BIG soccer game - FC Bavaria vs. FC Chelsea in the Champions League Finale.  An extremely exciting, intense, drawn-out game ... unfortunately with a disappointing ending for Bavaria (and Germany in general).  Bavaria lost in overtime - penalty shoot-out.  :(
Guess what this is?  German, Christian Jazz Music.  That's right - German, Christian Jazz.
A very interesting talk by a former Muslim from Turkey about his conversion to Christianity.

Here's our stand in the "Room of Possibilities."  We had a bunch of pictures of campus life, various brochures and books for people to look at or buy, maps of Germany and of the world with pins showing where all the current students hail from...  It was a pretty cool stand.

Our stand again.  
Some other stands...

INitiative für Frauen-Ordination
(Initiative for Women's Ordination)

This group openly promotes women's ordination within the SELK.  The fact that they have their own stand with brochures and materials at the SELK Kirchentag is in indication of the fact that the debate over women's ordination is much more alive here in our sister congregation in Germany than it is in the LCMS at the moment.  The green poster in the back reads "Women for the Pastoral Office" (as in, we want women in the pastoral office).
They had a running slide show with various pictures of people who support this group with a quotation telling why they are in favor of women's ordination.  This one reads, "I support INfO because it hinders people's faith when within the context of this faith they are supposed to reject basic rights."

At the side of their stand was this board which says at the top, "Your opinion is important to us!"  Here's what some of the comments says: "We'll accomplish more with women!" "Theologically opposed!"  "Theologically in favor!" "It won't work without women." "I wish that women's ordination would be introduced in our church so that we women wouldn't have to feel like devaluated members of the second class any more." I wrote (upper left, in German): "My concern in this debate is, above all, that we take God's Word seriously and that we don't place our own sentiments above it."  I also wrote the one at the bottom right (though it was someone else's idea): "Tolle, lege." It's a famous line from Augustine's Confessions meaning, "take and read"...

A little break outside with a frisbee.

A pro-life workshop I went to; it was very good.  The title was "Concerning life - when does it start and who determines that?"

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Matthew, John, Peter and Bach

Good Friday is far behind us now as we celebrate the week of Cantate, the 4th Sunday after Easter.  Nevertheless, I've found myself continuing to reflect on the Passion of our Lord, more specifically, on Bach's St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion.  I was privileged to hear both of these masterpieces performed this past Lent here in nearby Frankfurt.  The music, the text, but most especially Bach's ingenious combination of the two have truly taken hold of me.  I have both Passions on CD and have the luxury, therefore, of listening to favorite parts over and over again.  And I've noticed that the more time I've spent listening to these Passions and studying the librettos the more "favorite parts" I discover.

In both the Matthew and John Passions, there is a particular scene that I have found especially gripping.  The scene has to do with my namesake Peter, or in the German, Petrus.  Each Passion depicts in song Jesus' prediction of Peter's threefold denial, the denial itself, the crowing of the rooster, and Peter's subsequent bitter weeping.  Then, after an aria in each case (the well-known alto solo "Erbarme dich" in Matthew and "Ach, mein Sinn" in John) follow two beautiful chorales.  These chorales are what have especially made an impression on me of late.  Below are the texts of the chorales.  I hesitate to even attempt a translation since the poetry of the German is so beautiful, but for those of you who can't read German I've provided a literal, non-poetic, non-rhyming translation as well.

St. John Passion         
Petrus, der nicht denkt zurück,             Peter, who doesn't think back,
Seinen Gott verneinet,                          Denies his God,
Der doch auf ein' ernsten Blick            Yet who, at a grave glance
Bitterlichen weinet.                               Bitterly weeps.
Jesu, blicke mich auch an,                    Jesus, glance at me as well,
Wenn ich nicht will büßen;                   When I don't want to repent;
Wenn ich Böses hab' getan,                  When I have done evil,
Rühre mein Gewissen.                          Stir my conscience.

St. Matthew Passion
Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen,          Should I also deviate from you,
Stell' ich mich doch wieder ein;           I will nonetheless place myself (by you) again;
Hat uns doch dein Sohn verglichen     For your Son has indeed redeemed us
Durch sein' Angst und Todespein.       By his anguish and torment of death.
Ich verleugne nicht die Schuld,            I do not deny the guilt,
Aber deine Gnad' und Huld                 But your grace and favor
Ist viel größer als die Sünde,                Is much greater than the sin,
Die ich stets in mir befinde.                  Which I constantly find within me.

Now that you have the text before, you need to hear the music.  I've found a couple pretty good recordings on Youtube...

This first one contains the whole scene of Peter's denial in the St. John Passion; the chorale is towards the end at starting at about 4:40.

And here's a nice recording of the chorale in the St. Matthew Passion.

In the St. John chorale, I simply love the switch from narration about Peter's denial to the personal prayer to Jesus that he would also look upon us as he did upon Peter in order to bring us to repentance.  This is what Bach's Passions are able to do so masterfully; they bring the hearer right into the Passion itself and make the hearer a part of the story.  This is brought out above all in the chorales.  At times we as hearers identify ourselves with those who crucified the Lord, or with Judas who betrayed him, or with Peter who thrice denied him.  And at other times, the chorales are earnest prayers, calls to repentance, or confident confessions of faith.  Here, for instance, we learn to avoid the instinct to perhaps self-righteously accuse Peter from afar ("How could he deny Christ?") and rather to identify with him, recognizing our own guilt and rightly sorrowing over our sins.
In the St. Matthew chorale, I love the escalation that takes place in the second half, beginning with "I do not deny the guilt."  In this confession of sins one senses an almost prideful attitude toward the sin but only because of the statement which comes next: "But your grace and favor is much greater than the sin which I constantly find within me."  This is not arrogance but faith.  It's an insistence on God's mercy.  It's holding God at his word.  It reminds me of the Canaanite woman who did not mind the insults Jesus threw at her, calling her a dog. "Yes, Lord" (I do not deny the guilt,) she responded, "yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table" (But your grace and favor is much greater than my sin).   This escalation from confession to a claiming of God's grace is likewise represented exquisitely in the music, as the choir's volume strengthens in and the melody soars upward.
These wonderful pieces of music (and so much more than music!) are invaluable sources of prayer and meditation.  What a rich musical heritage we have as Lutherans in that Bach is one of ours! 
Some computer art that I put together combining the sentiments of these two chorales.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Post-Philippians-Class Ponderings

Philippians 1:21
Εμοι γαρ το ζην Χριστος και το αποθανειν κερδος.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Question: Does "to live" here refer to earthly life or to eternal life, or perhaps both - life in general?

My thoughts: On the one hand, it appears that Paul is contemplating whether he will die or not, in which case το ζην would refer to earthly life. This makes sense since it is the opposite of το αποθανειν (dying). However, then the other half of the equation doesn't seem to follow very cleanly: if to remain alive is Christ, then why does he call death "gain"? Wouldn't "living" be gain, since it is equated with Christ?

Or does "to live is Christ" refer more specifically to the eternal life that believers will have in Christ? Then perhaps these two statements are not to be seen as contradictory. In other words Paul is saying, "to live is to be with Christ, and that's why I consider death gain because it will bring me to Him for eternity."

Or does το ζην refer to Paul's earthly life in the following way: "If I live, the purpose of my life will continue to be Christ, and Christ will continue to be proclaimed through me to his glory and to the help and service of others. Thus, I certainly cannot complain about living" [Paul expresses this in the surrounding verses (12-14, 24-26)]. "On the other hand, if I die, that would really be a greater gain for me because then I would be with Christ" [Paul clearly expresses this as his desire in v. 23]. As I consider this anew while typing this up, I am leaning toward this latter explanation. The way v. 20 prefaces v. 21 with the statement "Christ will be magnified in my body, whether in life or death" also seems to indicate that earthly life as opposed to death is still the topic in v. 21.

Even so, "For me to live is Christ" is a rather puzzling statement, isn't it?

Another thing I'm wondering is whether Luther's translation, "Denn Christus ist mein Leben und Sterben mein Gewinn" favors one understanding over the other?

Your thoughts?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hi friends and family!  Many of you have been keeping up with my German and European travels via my posts on Facebook.  For those of you haven't or who aren't on Facebook, I'm sorry I've been a bad blogger lately.  

My 8-week break between the winter and summer semesters is now over.  The new term began on Tuesday, and I'm really glad to be back in Oberursel and taking new classes again.  Monday night, my friend Jeremy  and I got back from our 3rd trip together.  We used the Eurail Pass to go Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps, then through the Alps into Italy where we spent time in Venice, Ravenna, Bologna, Florence and Rome.  Finally we took a night train from Rome to Vienna, and after a day in Vienna we took the train back to Oberursel with stops in Salzburg and Passau along the way.  Our friend and classmate Mathias also joined us for most of the trip.  (He joined us on day 2 and went back 1 day early.)  All in all it was a great trip with lots and lots of impressive sights.  Unfortunately the weather didn't entirely cooperate and we had a lot of rain in Rome and onwards, but it was a good time nonetheless.  The 1200 pictures I took in 8 days can testify to that!  A few hundred of them I have posted on Facebook in 5 separate albums.  

I've discovered that's it's much simpler and more convenient for me when posting a large number of photos to do it on Facebook and then share the link here.  This Blogger website isn't so great for posting lots of pictures - it takes way too long.  Therefore, I am posting below the links to all 5 Facebook photo albums which anyone can view, even without being in Facebook.  Just click on the links!  Now that I've got these big trips behind me, I will try to be a better blogger again.  But not tonight; it's time for bed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Luther and Beyond

The little winter that Oberursel experienced this year is already over.  Snow never remained on the ground for more than a few days, and we only had to endure a couple weeks of below zero weather.  These last few days the sun has been shining, birds chirping, and the temperature keeps inching it's way up the thermometer (- tomorrow is supposed to get to 60!)

A lot of exciting things are going to be happening very soon - and I don't mean the twitterpation of the robins and rabbits.  I'm talking about big travel plans.  The first semester came to an end on Feb. 17 and the second semester doesn't commence until April 17!  For me that means a 12-day tour of the northern half of Germany, a week in England and Ireland, and a week in the Bavarian Alps, Italy, and Austria.  My friend Jeremy and I bought Eurail Passes and are going to be doing these 3 trips together.  Our buddy Mathias is coming along for part of the trip as well.

The amount of time we have spent planning these trips is rather ridiculous.  There's so many places to go and see in Europe, it's been hard to narrow it down.   Then there's planning the route, knowing where to stay, for how long, what the cost will be, etc., etc.  The first leg of the trip, which I will name, on the spot, as... "Luther and Beyond," begins early tomorrow morning (March 1st).  I'm all packed and ready to go, but before going to bed, I want to quickly share our itinerary with you.

Day 1 - Oberursel (A) to Leipzig (D) via Wartburg Castle/Eisenach (B) and a tiny little village where my Eckardt ancestors stem from (C).
• The Wartburg Castle is where Martin Luther went into hiding when he was excommunicated by the pope and declared an outlaw by the Emperor because of his refusal to recant his teachings.  Here, under guise of Junker Jörg (the Knight George,) Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German.

Weekend in Leipzig (Days 2, 3, 4) - We will spend 4 nights here at the Schmidts (my old host family).  It's always a pleasure for me to go back to Leipzig and visit the Schmidts.  It's sort of my German home away from home.  And aside from that the city itself has lots of sights to offer (the famous St. Thomas Church where Bach was cantor and is buried and the Völkerschlachtdenkmal to name just two favorites.)

Day 5 - Leipzig to Erfurt (E) to Wittenberg (F) to Berlin (G).
• In Erfurt there is a cathedral to see and the monastery where Luther was a Augustinian monk.  Wittenberg, officially "Lutherstadt Wittenberg" (Luther-city Wittenberg) was the center of the Reformation.  Here Luther posted the 95 Theses on the church door; here he lived and preached for many years; and here is buried in the Castle Church.

Days 6 and 7 in Berlin.
• We'll be staying with German friends - a current vicar and his wife (Benjamin and Naemi).  This should be a great couple of days.  There's lots and lots to see and do in Berlin, and it'll be fun to spend with Benjamin and Naemi as well!

Most everything from this point on will be new Germany territory for me.  I've been lots of places in Germany before but never up in these northern parts.
Day 8 - sightseeing in Lübeck (H) on the way to Hamburg (I)

Day 9 (and 10) in Hamburg
• Among other things, we're going to visit the "Miniatur Wunderland," the largest model railway in the world.
• Overnighting at the home of a SELK pastor.

Day (10 and) 11 in Bremen (J) and Verden (K)
• We're spending two nights in the quaint north German town of Verden (incidentally the birthplace of Friedrich Wyneken) with friends of a sem prof and his wife.

Day 12 - Back to Oberursel via Köln (L) and Aachen (M).
• This will be a full final day of the trip.  We've allotted about 3 hours each in Cologne ("Köln" in German) and Aachen, and our priority in each city is to visit the cathedral.  The Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe.  (I've been here once before but I'm looking forward to climbing to the top of the insanely tall steeples again.)
The Aachen Cathedral, also massive, is often called the "Kaiserdom" ("Imperial Cathedral") because for 600 years it was the site of the coronation of the German kaiser.  It's also home of Charlemagne's tomb.

All right - that's all for now.  It'll be fun to share pictures of all these places when I'm back!


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January Pics 2012

You: "What a nifty-looking old leather book, Peter!  What is it?"
Me: "Actually, it's no book at all.  It's a..."
"... stylish, protective case for my MacBook Air called BookBook that I bought for myself with X-mas money!"
 My first time hiking through the woods that are west of the seminary...

There's Jeremy (left) and Thomas (right, pronounced Toe-mahss)
These are trees.
And this is moss on logs.
More trees with the sun shining gloriously from behind.
The hiking group.  From right to left, that's Thomas and his wife Liesl (a very fun couple from South Africa), Liesl's friend Petra visiting from South Africa, Jeremy (Canadian), and I (USA). 
The trail kept going gradually higher and higher until we reached the lookout point... 
... with quite an amazing view.  It was much nicer than I expected it to be. 
 On the way back we came upon these logs.  These are my attempts at artistic photos of them...

Ask and you shall receive.  I asked the Fort Wayne Seminary if I could have free access to the LiveStream of the Symposia, and they gave it to me!  So during the week, there were a handful of us students who watched several of the lectures that were going on across the ocean in FW.  It was quite enjoyable.
Would you look at this?!  Dr. Scaer, right here in Oberursel on our common room wall!  Just look at it!

Enjoying Scaer's lecture on an early dating of the Gospels, from left to right, Roland (S. Afr.), Heinz (S. Afr.), Mathias (S. Afr. - he spent a year in FW), Jeremy (Canada), and Alex (orig. Ukraine, he spent a couple years in FW)
 This was only the second time it has snowed here so far.  And both times, the snow was mostly melted after a couple days.  But it was pretty while it lasted.

Don't worry, I've gotten my hair cut since this photo.

 Mathias, Jeremy, and I decided we wanted to have a(n) (North)American-style cheeseburger cookout.  

Are your mouths watering yet? 

 My niece Sarah and nephew David both just had their birthdays (4th and 2nd, respectively).  I skyped with them the day after their joint B-day party, and they were in an especially cheerly mood.  These are screen shots from my Skype session w/them.
Aren't they adorable?  I love these rug-rats.
I asked them if they could imitate my screeching, pterodactyl-type noise that I like to make, and they both started screaming really high and loud.  It was so funny.  They wouldn't stop.
Still screaming...

Soccer.  Unfortunately the lights at the public field that we play on are out, and the city is really dragging its on getting them fixed.  But we still find time to play during the daylight hours once a week or so.
I got some more battle wounds that day.  It was totally worth it, though.  As goalie, I sacrificed my body to save the ball from going in.

 I really loathe washing dishes by hand...
... but I love the feeling you get when they're all done.
These pics are from back in October.  I just got them from Claudia (Germany theology student, pronounced Clow(as in "now")-dee-uh), who had watched us play one day and took a bunch of pictures on her phone.  
From some of my other pictures, you might not think there are any Germans around here that I spend time with.  But there are.  The three guys on the left (Simon, Frederick, and Niklas) are all German.  That's Thomas and Liesl (S. Afr.) in back and me on the right. 
More Germans: brothers Michael and Sebastian (left and middle) 
The two girls on the right are also Germans.
Far right is Gennadij.  I don't think I've introduced him yet.  He's from Kazakhstan.
Well I hope you enjoyed this slide show.  My next post will be more words and fewer (not less) pictures.