Friday, December 16, 2005

The Fourth Newsletter!

Chris at St. Mark’s
Newsletter 4
The wonderful program that has made this whole thing possible? Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM)

Christmas in England:
No, its not Christmas yet, but since the end of November it has been Christmas here at St. Mark’s. We have put up multiple trees (including a 12 foot one in the front yard), decorated the lounge, and have been playing quite a bit of Christmas Music. We have also been serving three course Christmas dinners to various groups. It’s hard work, as Viktor said “I’ve peeled more potatoes this month than I have the whole rest of my life.” We’ve been busy serving a lot of posh food, from fancy French cheeses on crackers to a Salmon dripping with sauce and cranberries to traditional English Christmas pudding. I always imagined missionary work would involve feeding the hungry, I just didn’t realize how we’ll I’d be feeding them!
The English treat Christmas much different than we Americans. To them it seems to be much more of a carousing kind of celebration, compete with little paper party crowns and “crackers” which are a cross between a box of crackerjacks, a Christmas present and a fire cracker. They are little paper cylinder that you and a friend pull, one on each side, they kind of crack open with a slight explosion (not the gunpowder kind)
Chris, Bartender:
Another activity I never imagined I’d be doing as a missionary is bartending, but part of serving Christmas dinners is manning the bar before and after the meal. It is an interesting job, mostly it involves pouring wine for old English women and collecting the 1 quid 90 per glass. On top of that there is the task of dispensing spirits and sherry. The only odd incident to date was a man who tried to steal our bottle of port (he claimed it was a misunderstanding, he thought he got the whole bottle for 1 pound 90).
Contrary to the jokes I made about the program when I was still back in the states RYPpers has nothing to do with a London serial killer named who’s first name is Jack. RYP stands for Rural Youth Program. It is the youth group of St. Mark’s College. We had our first game night last week. We didn’t have many children show up, but those that did enjoyed playing pool, table tennis, and Dance Dance Revolution.

Chris on Christmas
The first worship service for RYPpers will be this Sunday. It is entitled “Chris on Christmas.” I have a slide show and sermonette planned about the Magnificat (Mary’s song that beings “My soul magnifies the Lord) and the Birth of Jesus in a lowly stable.

RYPers won’t be the only group that gets the joy of listening to ol’ Chris Halverson preach the Good News. I’ve managed to get noticed by several churches around town and will be preaching at least twice at the United Reformed Church and at least once at St. Mary’s, the Anglican church of Saffron Walden.
My first sermon at the URC will be on Baptism, which should be interesting, considering this particular congregation actually split over the issue of Baptism! I’ll let the Spirit blow where it will, and as they say “No guts no glory!”

Greek and German
There is an old saying “you can take the tiger out of the jungle but you can’t take the jungle out of the tiger.” (I believe the Minnesota version goes something like “You can take the Scandinavian out of Scandinavia, but they still are attracted to cold dark snowy places.”) Though I am out of school, I can’t stop learning. I’ve decided to re-learn German (so I can read Luther in the original language) and teach myself Ancient Greek (so I can read the New Testament, not to mention the philosophers). I’ve already gotten some favorite Greek words! Edos, meaning Shape or Form(think Plato), Pollou, meaning The Many(again Plato), Logos, The Word (In the beginning was the Logos!), and the phrase “Panta rei” meaning everything flows, or as William Faulkner put it so well in The Sound and the Fury “All things impermanent.”

There is a new essay up at "The Foundation"

It is one of the best essays I've read about the Iraq War (with a small bit about Darfur), and it can be found only at The Foundation.
Let's try and get more essays up at The Foundation than we did last month, that means we only need one more!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I finished "Steppenwolf" today

Steppenwolf was good. He tackles a lot of big ideas, the main one being the multiplicity of personalities/experiences and how they shape the individual, we are all inconsistant with our image of self. I'm sure he would cringe at my use of the term individual and self, because one of Hesse's big points is that modern man has the ability to look upon himself and realize he is not an individual, but a bunch of competing people wrapped up into one body. Another big point was that people often critique one thing as banal without ever experiencing it, then when they do they understand why something is done. That is exemplified by the Steppenwolf's introduction to dancing. There is a definate critique of the culture of learning, at least a version of it that stunts living.
I have to say the last section, when the Steppenwolf goes into the theater, was less than steller
I am also working on a liturgy for when I preach on Jan. 8th at the URC.
Melancthon, I'd love to hear more about what you thought of Hesse's book the two times you read it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Find your spiritual gifts!

I found this over at Lutherchik a pretty cool way to examine the areas you are strong at.
I've been thinking about all these online quiz things that tell you what you are "What Starwars Character are you?" "What Lord of the Ring's Race are you?" etc. The common thread through all of these is that you submit to being defined by an outside source. It is like we are so afraid of being who we are that we'll let anyone, real or electronic, tell us who and what we are. Very odd.

The Alchera Project option 1: The Wise Men

This is my December contribution to the Alchera Project. I interpreted the definition of "family" very loosely.
Merry Christmas,

Three Wise Men
By Chris Halverson
The grand monarch looked down from his throne, his left hand, rough and etched with scars which would have looked more appropriate on a farmer or soldier, held tightly onto his sword. There they were, bowed before him, the three keys to his success, his Magi.
There was Gaspar, long locks of white hair trailed down his head, kneeling down in violent submission before him. He brought Herod into the presence of Anthony and Octavian. Herod had no idea how old the man was, he seemed to be of an age long passed.
There was Melchior, the youth of the three, so young; he hardly looked old enough to be called a man. Yet when one looked into his dark Mongolian eyes, there was something much older there. He had blessed Herod before his many battles and it was he who had seen the star.
There was Balthasar, thick lipped and dark with a giant clot of matted beard swarming across his face. His body was twisted, a hunch erupted from his back and his hands always trembled. The cripple had healed Herod after the Sacarii attack.
"Go then, find this boy for me. I will treat him as my own son," he said, thinking of Alexander and Aristobulus. Doris had loved them, they weres ambitious, too ambitious.
"We serve you still and always," they said to him, taking their leave only after kneeling time and time again before him. A brief unsettled dis-ease came over Herod, a slight shutter. Maybe it was only the presence of all three men in the same room. Never before had they been together. Or maybe it was that none of them would make eye contact with the King.
Gaspar sat near his Persian steed, Zoroaster. He was as pale as the sickly white moon clinging to the black blanket of night and as sure footed as a camel. Gaspar cooed at the horse, mumbling chants. He didn’t know what the nomad boy had seen, but he had felt something too. This age of darkness was reaching its final phase; the struggle was about to reach a point where the tides of darkness would begin to ebb, the pattern would begin again. He could feel it in his heavy bones entombed in his ancient body. How he yearned for the light. Until the Hebrews had came to Babylon all had been well it had been a previous age.
He sighed, patting Zoroaster’s nose and looking deeply into the dark. The other two were sitting at a fire; the African was heating a kettle filled with medicine and the boy was lying back playing a reed flute. Neither were looking at him. He carefully took out the gold statue. It had previously belonged to King Nebuchadnezzar. It depicted Atar, son of the High God Ahura Mazdah, chaining the dragon Azhi Dahaka, it’s three heads raging and gnashing. Gaspar had received the object from Daniel after the King went mad. Another King, That’s what I’m going to find. I am the last of a long line of King servers. We have bowed to every man since Vistaspa. Now here would be another.
"So long, O man, hath I served thee in darkness
"Living deeper, deeper into woe
"Is there not a joy, deeper than grief can be?
"Go! Go lightly forward to find a king. To serve
"That is the eternal pattern, serving," he sung quietly to Zoroaster.
"Seeth still the star shepherd?" Gaspar asked, nudging Zoroaster along.
"Yes," said Melchior, his face tilted up, his eyes focused on an empty patch of sky. His Canyon Donkey kept up with the white steed surprisingly well.
The third chuckled and then coughed holding his chest in pain. His African Gumdrop beast bounced along, "The star is in your eyes boy," he coughed out.
"What matters that? The shepherd sees what he sees." Gaspar chided.
"He’s not a shepherd. We are three kings."
Melchior cleared his throat, "Gaspar is right though. I am a shepherd. I am King of Nomads."
"Then you are not a shepherd, but a king," corrected Balthasar.
"I am not a king because I have thrown away my crown."
"Do tell," said Gaspar, looking at the boy again.
"I tossed it to the ground and followed a greater path."
Balthasar slapped the lizard’s haunches; its tail whipped up in annoyance, "Tell me more Melchior. Tell me of your calling."
"Yes. The calling. When I was but a young child of six a voice, still and small, came unto me," his donkey brayed, and fell silent, and the Mongolian king continued, "and this voice said to me ‘feed my sheep.’ I first assumed it simply meant I had to lead my people, so I took the Kingship from my uncle."
"And what did you do?" asked Gaspar, genuinely curious.
"I," he said, his donkey circling back and forth between horse and lizard, "took my people from oasis to oasis, conquering land after land, that they could eat. Yet food was not enough for my sheep."
"Quite a quandary," said Gaspar."
"Quite," agreed the first king patting his steed.
"At the age of 9 I lead a raid of a Bookseller from Greece, and learned their ways. I practiced medicines and science; I brought the philosophers to my people. I taught them to think. I taught them to know things for themselves. Still this too was folly, for what if the voice had meant more than my own people were the sheep? How could I feed the world?
"You would need to spread knowledge throughout the world," Gaspar said.
"Or at least have knowledge of the larger world, of Plato’s Edos."
"Yes. I needed to be united with the world," Melchior continued, "and I found a man from the East who taught me the things of his people. I found the voice of Om. I touched the still small voice, and so I went out to the people and told them the things I know. I could knit bones together through the harmonic convergence of the inner voice."
At that Balthasar nodded.
"I could see the patterns of life emanating from the… as you said Gaspar, Edos. I could see the future. And yet that too was folly," Melchior said.
Gaspar nodded.
"So I threw all of that away too. I picked up this staff," he indicated a smooth staff sticking out of his saddlebag, "and found sheep to tend. Out on the plains I would feed them."
"And that is where you saw this star, am I correct?"
"And yet it is not in the sky? It is not visible at all!"
"And yet," agreed the shepherd, "I go to find this thing."
"It is in your eyes."
"My eyes, yes. But more than that. Out there on the high plains it became my truth, my context, my existence."
The lizard hissed, the donkey brayed, the stallion shuttered. The star, to Melchior, had become so much. The only accurate metaphor he could think of was that of smell. You couldn’t really see the star, not in any conventional sense, but it was there, pungent and sweet, like the frankincense packed along with his shepherd’s staff.
In the night Balthasar was barely visible to his two companions, his beaming white smile hung in the air as he limped away from his Gumdrop Beast to the fire. He slumped down on the sand, reclining like he was on a Roman sofa. The three of them sat at the fire. Melchior had said the star was close, hardly more than a day away. He took out his flute and played. It was a beautiful, eerie, noise, perfect for the darkness they were in. It was the music of a mystic, full of longing, pain, and hope. As it continued Balthasar began to pound out a beat upon his thighs. Then he began to sing in a deep, rhythmic voice. It curved through the air along with the voice of the flute.
"I once was a mighty king
"Swordsman and warrior too
"Led my tribe off to battle
"The world was mine to subdue"
"I’ve seen the blood of those I love, felt the wrath from heaven above."
Balthasar had led the Dinka to expand to the North. It was his arrogance that made them continue on into the Janj Valley. They’d won of course, Balthasar had seen to that.
"Then one day I met a woman so fine
"Then came marriage, the kids, and ease
"Sensibility, love, respect, a putting away of the sword
"Calm loving became my expertise"
"I’ve seen the blood of those I love, felt the wrath from heaven above."
Hola had changed things. She had loved him, he thought more about cultivating the land and less about killing the enemy.
"But things are never quite that simple
"My enemies came a calling
"Slaughtering all my tribe, my wife, my children
"Death everywhere, appalling
"I’ve seen the blood of those I love, felt the wrath from heaven above."
Omar had returned looking for revenge. And he had found it.
"Anger, an orgy of hate filled me
"A man found me, and said ‘life and death are before you’
"And gave me a sword and a legion
"And went I to kill and subdue."
"I’ve seen the blood of those I love, felt the wrath from heaven above."
Herod was looking for strong men to keep order in Jerusalem during the Passover pilgrimage. The King was well pleased with Balthasar and gave him the means to avenge himself upon the Janj
"So we went, and killed and slaughtered
"We broke families, shattered cities, with total power and force
"And when I found the man who killed my wife
"I pierced him through, and then felt the emptiness of remorse"
And once last time he sang out with a raw power, "I’ve seen the blood of those I love/Felt the wrath from heaven above," as the flute trailed off.
After he had killed Omar his life had changed, he changed. Pain filled his body, he grew to look old, he became tired, sickly, weak, and grotesque. He suffered from epilepsy and many other demons. All he had known since that moment was the impermanence of life, so he carried with him burial ointment, Myrrh.
"There it is!" the Shepherd said, pointing in the sky. His two companions saw nothing.
It was late, very late, but they all knew this was the night so they rode on.
"It descends over that stable."
They went forward at a gallop; claw and hoof pounding upon the sand. The unseen light descended into the structure itself. They dismounted and each rummaged through their bags and each hid their gift from the other. They came to the stable door.
"Do we just knock?" asked Melchior
"I don’t know," Balthasar said, leaning heavily against the slivery wooden wall.
"We open up the door and bow in the presence of the King," replied Gaspar.
The other two wise men shrugged and Melchior pulled open the door. They all dove to the hay filled floor. Melchior’s eyes closed in pain; the brightness was very great. He looked up, the star sat perched upon the head of a baby folded in the arms of a young woman.
"Who are you?" asked a man, knife in hand, standing between the mother and child, ready to die for them.
Gaspar was the first to speak, "We come to see the child."
The man, the husband Gaspar realized, reluctantly put down his knife, burying it in the side of a manger.
Gaspar, still kneeling, drug his old body, the darkness of flesh surrounding his white ancient bones, enflamed with arthritic pain, across the ground.
"My King," he said, producing the golden idol, which he set before the boy.
The husband frowned at the gift, but said nothing, but it was obvious to Gaspar that the Hebrew didn’t approve of it, he supposed it was because of those commandments.
Gaspar got up, looking, really looking, at the child. The eyes were his own, the eyes of a servant, yet still a king. He was, as it was written in the Gathas, "a man who is better than a good man." He was the Saoshyant; the new age had finally come.
The light from the star was intense as Melchior came forward. The closer he got, the brighter it blazed. The flames that crackled against the surrounding world were the patters he had seen. Each crackle made a distinct flute-like, Om-like, sound, "My God," he said, overwhelmed by the intense fire from the infant’s eyes. He set down his frankincense, the fragrance filtered into the air, and Melchior knew the sheep would be fed.
The husband looked at the young shepherd blankly; his sense of monotheism had been violated. Balthasar came forward, shaking; the fits were upon him, pain in his feet, hands, and head, yet he came forward, falling to his knees next to the manger, clutching it tight for support.
The mother shared a look of worry with the man, then faced Balthasar, holding tight to her child.
"Tomorrow will be the eighth day," Balthasar said to the child, "you will be circumcised. You will wail and cry; your blood will spill. That too is part of life. My," he said with effort. His hand came up, as did the baby’s. They touched, and the pain and shaking, and demons came out of him, "My Savior."
He looked into the boy’s eyes, there was pain, sorrow, suffering, yet there was calm within that, all wrath was gone.
The husband scowled, at the morbid gift of Myrrh.
The three bowed again, and left by another way.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

We are okay here at St. Mark's

None of the volunteers heard it, but Jon and Liz Wayper heard the explosion this morning, all the birds apparently went wonky and started screaching. They heard the explosion all the way a long way away. I mean a LONG way away, all the way across the ocean in the Netherlands!

The Contemporary Lutheran Sermon with diagram




Recently I have been reading and thinking about Homiletics. Specifically, I’ve been reading "I believe in Preaching" by John RW Stott and thinking about how to write a sermon that is on one hand authentically and consciously in line with Lutheran theology, and on the other hand authentically and consciously written with the modern parish in mind. Here are my initial thoughts on the subject, mainly, and arguably sadly, inspired by a ‘not yet even out of bed flash of insight’ that came to me this morning in the form of the diagram you see above.
First note the arms of the cross. Law, and Gospel. Familiar I hope to any dyed in the wool Lutheran. These should be the two main horizontal, linear, sections of a sermon. The preacher should take the congregation from Law to Gospel.
What are these two elements I speak of? Law is what convicts; it is "the doctrine that commands what is and what is not to be done." (Philip Melanchthon, Theses on Law, Gospel, and Faith) The function of Law is to point out our faults and sins, and knock out every plank of righteousness that we might stand on, every shred of self-justification we can throw up in our defense, be it circumcision, good works, going to church, or, I would argue, even Baptism. This leads into our next term, Gospel, which is the Good News that we are saved from the sins made obvious by the Law with a "promise of the grace of God." (IBID)
This sermon progression from Law to Gospel is to be supported by scripture, signified in the diagram as Father for the TaNaK and Son for the New Testament. Without scripture sermons become little more than a philosophical treatise at best, the unguided mumbling and musings of a moralist at worst.
You may ask why both TaNaK and NT should be included in a sermon? They are, as I once wrote in a poem "mirror dogs," in that they demonstrate the continuities of scripture, as well as the historical interplay between the traditional and the prophetic, each are filled with parallels of the other, the narrative of Moses is complemented and reworked in Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, both Joseph and Jesus hide their identity from the twelve. Further, Law is found not only in the Old Testament, nor Gospel only in the New. Many of Paul’s community rules are Law, and the salvation history of the Jews is Gospel.
And lastly, but not leastly there is the final piece of the diagram, "Spirit" by that I of course mean the Holy kind. In this schema I am not referring to scripture about the Holy Spirit attested in the TaNaK and NT, but the "other Counselor," with the Church "always." (Acts 14:16) The Spirit does not settle with the Pastor re-convicting the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, or taking crucifying Christ ad nauseum. This element of the sermon is where the Pastor asks, to quote a good friend, "What do the people of God need to hear today?" It is through the Spirit that the Pastor builds a bridge over the temporal, cultural, as well as intellectual, gap between the text and today. F.W. Robertson, a influential Brighton preacher, did so because within his sermons there was "always the deliberate reference of his preaching to modern conditions of thought and life." (John R.W. Stott, I Believe in Preaching Both Karl Barth and C.H. Spurgeon prepared their sermons with "the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other." (IBID)
And there you The Contemporary Lutheran Sermon, with diagram.