Browsing articles from "July, 2018"
Jul 18, 2018

In the Louvre and in the Image of God


We just came back from a two-week trip to Europe full of family celebrations with birthday parties and a wedding. Also we took a two-day trip to Paris. Please keep in mind that Paris is as far from my German hometown as Dallas is from Houston, it’s really not a big deal. I have been to Paris multiple times before but this trip was the first time for me to actually go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and inside the Louvre Museum.

The Louvre is huge. It houses 35,000 pieces of art on 652,000 sq ft. But most people just come for one painting: The Mona Lisa. The Louvre has giant wall paintings, hundreds of sq ft big, telling entire dramas of human history. The world’s greatest artists are represented. The halls are lined with billions and billions of dollars worth of the finest art. But for one reason or another, the biggest crowds are drawn to that one room where you have to elbow your way to the farthest wall just to catch a brief glimpse of this letter size painting of a young woman looking at you.

That’s all the Mona Lisa is: a young woman looking at you. But that’s also where her magic comes from. Depending on how you look at her, she will look back at you. Some say she looks friendly, some say she looks mad. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Humankind has known that since the beginning: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

You are a different piece of art, unlike the Mona Lisa. God is the artist who created you. Mona Lisa will just look back at you the way you look at her. What goes around comes around. The invitation from God is a different one: See yourself as the image of God. That way you cannot discard yourself. That way you cannot bow before any idols, because you are created in the image of God. You are wearing God’s face on your face. You are God’s beloved creation. Your image is worth more than the all the artwork of the Louvre combined. Pick up a mirror, look at yourself, and behold the image of God.

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Jul 9, 2018

Spiritual Summer Reading

For the summer everybody has book recommendations for you. I am no different. Every few years I re-read a true classic. And you know when I am talking “classic” I really mean “ancient”. St. Augustine finished his “Confessions” around the year 400 CE. Augustine of Hippo is probably the most influential teacher of the Church. In this autobiographical work he describes his journey into Christianity. The conversion story part is a pretty easy read. The book is long, consisting of 13 books itself. And I don’t read it fast. Sometimes I may lay it down for a week and think about how Augustine’s life is similar to mine. I invite you to start reading now and take your time. Then at the end of the summer let’s get together and share how Augustine’s spiritual journey has impacted yours. The Spiritual Summer Reading wrap-up session will be on Sunday, August 26, at 9am at St. John’s UCC in Rosenberg, Texas.

You can get The Confessions of Saint Augustine for free at Project Gutenberg. But honestly that 19th century translation is not very approachable. Barnes & Noble has an edition in their Classics Series for under $10. And of course you can always find it on the e-reader of your choice.

As you read and travel this summer, don’t forget to take a look at your inner being: “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.” (Augustine’s Confessions, Book 10).

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Jul 3, 2018

When in the Course of Human Events

“When in the Course of Human Events” is that most popular opening phrase of the Declaration of Independence. Usually I have skipped over them coming to the good stuff about liberty and America. This year these few words caught my special attention.

The first word of the Declaration of Independence is “When”. It is not a theoretical, moral declaration but one that happens in a particular time and place. “When” is a temporal clause not a conditional one. It does not say “If in the Course of Human Events”. “When” means the present turmoils are something that is part of life. Major breakups, separating from your family of origin, leaving the old behind is something that regularly and normally occurs in the course of human events. Abuse happens, the reaction happens. Freedom needs to happen. Revolution needs to happen. That’s just how life is.

These words are part of the “Course of Human Events”. This declaration is not divinely inspired. It is a human document. People were hurt by people and react in human fashion: They express their pain, they state their case and they follow through. That’s what humans do. Action causes reaction. That’s just how life is.

This year the opening phrase of the Declaration of Independence reminds me that life goes on. This human, messed up life, just as it is.

Over the past few years I have reflected on this important document in other contexts:
2017 Brexit 1776? – Happy Independence Day!
2016 A decent respect to the opinions of mankind
2015 Obergefell v. Hodges
2014 Don’t Mess With Texas
2012 Declaration of Independence pushing for immigration

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Jul 3, 2018

Let’s eat apple pie and celebrate liberty


I am called an American. My certificate of naturalization says so. It also lists my “country of former nationality” as Germany. Now what makes me an American? I eat apple pie, I speak English, I have a propensity for liberty. That’s good enough, right? Well, wait a minute. This whole hemisphere from Cape Horn to the Arctic is called America. Since I did not go to school in this country I had to look up why that is.


Please join me on that search and meet Amerigo Vespucci. He was an explorer who landed in the New World in 1502. Vespucci demonstrated that Columbus was wrong when he thought he found a shortcut to India. Vespucci showed that this is a truly new continent and that is how the latinized version of his first name became the name of my citizenship. Amerigo became America. Amerigo Vespucci was born in Italy, naturalized into Spanish citizenship and worked for the Portuguese government. That’s what America is all about: We wear our national identity lightly. The places we live and the identities we hold are subject to change. You are single one day and in a relationship the next. Then you may turn into a parent. All of sudden loved ones are gone. Nothing ever stays the same. Most Americans even hyphenate their self-classification: German-American, Czech-American, Anglo-American, Mexican-American and so on. America in its very name carries the notion of being from somewhere else. This land is not truly your land or truly my land.

The facts that I eat apple pie, speak English, and have a propensity for liberty – those are all things of this world. And as such they are only of secondary importance as 1 John 2:15-17 reminds us:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live for ever.”

So this Fourth of July, let’s eat apple pie and celebrate liberty. But let us also remember that these desires are passing away. Only God’s love remains.

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