Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pilgrimaging: Geneva

 We ended the reformation pilgrimage with a weekend in Geneva--an excellent way to finish. We visited the reformation museum, an archaeological site dating back 2000 years under the cathedral, the monument to the reformation that takes up a whole wall in a public park, and climbed the cathedral towers for a panoramic view. We also visited the UN palace of nations--the location of the League of Nations that was the forerunner of the UN, and now the building that houses many of the people and negotiation spaces for working on issues like ceasefire, peacekeeping, world health, etc. It was a great tour, and we were all in awe of the work that is done there. Bonus: the League of Nations was the brainchild of a Presbyterian (yes, Woodrow Wilson was the son of a Presbyterian minister, and was born in the manse, even!), so it even fit the theme of the trip. Geneva has been a city of refuge and peace for hundreds of years--during the reformation, the city took in religious refugees from around the continent and British isles, and it has continued to be a place for peacemaking in various ways over the past 500 years, so it made sense for the League of Nations to be housed there. 

Geneva is the perfect place to end the reformation pilgrimage, even though it is chronologically not the end of the 16the century reformation movement. It is the home of our Reformed Tradition, the place where our Presbyterian understanding of the word, the importance of education, the centrality of faith in life, the sovereignty of God, our musical sensibilities, our polity, and so much more were born and nurtured. It was great to stand in the park at the monument and talk about how the Swiss reformers and their students changed the world, giving us public education, the foundations of our political system, and though they would never have claimed it (Calvin and Knox weren't into women having public roles or voices), the foundations for gender equality through their absolute insistence on the priesthood of all believers.

Saturday evening we had our last supper--fondue! Fondue is from Geneva, so it seemed only fitting that we should celebrate our trip with a local specialty. Sunday morning we worshipped with the Church of Scotland congregation (in English, in the same building where Calvin taught and Knox preached), had lunch with some members of the church, and went our separate ways. Some went on to vacation in Italy, others in France, and I am now in Edinburgh. I arrived Sunday evening and have spent the last 36 hours catching up with friends, enjoying the Scottish sunshine, walking around the city, and generally enjoying myself. This afternoon the RevGal Big Event Edinburgh begins, and I'll be spending the next several days with 20 other clergy women pondering pilgrimage and how we are pilgrim people. Should be good!

Surreptitious photography in underground archaeological sites is harder than it looks.

The mosaic floor in the 4th century cathedral's bishop's receiving room.

The jet d'eau was off most of the time we were in Geneva, due to wind.

The Palais de Nations

The world seen from the North Pole: no nation is privileged by having center place.

Jesus doesn't know what to make of the austerity if calvin's chancel chair. He is a bit concerned that this is why all chancel furniture is so uncomfortable to this day.

The four.

This fountain made me laugh. The city of Geneva has fountains of drinkable water all over the place, and this is now my favorite. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Geneve: cité de refuge

Friday, April 17, 2015


It's harder than I expected to try to stay awake (or wake up early) enough to write and upload pictures. The days are busy as we walk all over town and country, learning and seeing and eating and drinking. 

I can say this though: even on second visit, Heidelberg is still my favorite. It is an adorable town, for one thing. And it has the most picturesque and atmospheric castle ruin ever. The history is incredible--going back to 500,000 BC, and with architecture/ruins/spaces that are visible from at least the 9th century. And it's the warmest place in Germany; it even has palm trees growing on one hill above the river! Not to mention that we saw the most diversity and the most inter-religious harmony there, probably thanks in large part to the post-30-years-war Electors who allowed and accepted all religious practice, Catholic and Protestant and Jew, and encouraged the community to work together for the good of all. That ethos still seems to permeate even 300 years later.
the historic funicular train, which goes to the very top of the mountain from the castle. 

looking down from the top. holy cow.

best castle ever

made it! except of course this turned out not to be the top of the mountain. It was so far...almost 90 minutes hiking up from the Philosopher's Way. No wonder I didn't find it last time.

The Thingstatte, a Nazi-built propaganda amphitheater on top of a mountain.

This trip involved one place I hadn't visited before: the Buchenwald concentration camp. It is a stark place, appropriately. It is hard to imagine the level of horror perpetrated there. While there are not many prisoner buildings now, it somehow feels right to look out on what is essentially a killing field that once held barracks that could easily have doubled as graves. The scale of human destruction is unbelievable. While Buchenwald did not have gas chambers, it did have a policy of enslaving people and working them literally to death. Failing that, people were shot by firing squad or experimented on. In the last week 27,000 people were marched out of the camp, away from the approaching Allied forces, until they dropped dead along the way. The 21,000 people left in the camp when Eisenhower arrived were emaciated, ill, beaten, and abandoned in such conditions that the army, and soon the world, were shocked beyond words. 
I only took the two photos...it felt wrong to take pictures, somehow.

It is hard to imagine how these things happen. How does one person or one group of people come up with such an idea, and then get people to go along? How does a government perpetrate a genocide right in the midst of the country without people noticing? How do people and nations stand by and let it happen? If they had not tried to expand territory, but instead just cleansed the nation of the undesirable people, would anyone else in the world have noticed or cared? It's scary to think how easily and quickly it happened. And some of the signs in the museum, which tell how the little things began to add up, are even more frightening because they sound so familiar. First those who would not work were abused...and then those who could not, due to disability, for instance...and then those who were undesirable (homosexuals, "social misfits," unruly/uncontrollable)...and then those whose ethnicity or religion were wrong. Hard to see that on a sign inside a building where thousands of people were slaughtered and to know that some of those same words are used in our public discourse today.

As we left the camp, we talked about the doctrine of Total Depravity: that human beings are broken and sinful, and apart from God we can do nothing good. The concentration camp felt, in many ways, like a monument to Total Depravity. The worst of humanity was played out in these camps, and in the wars in general. Of course the best of humanity played out there as well, but that is not the overwhelming feeling when standing in the place. And yet when we sat down to dinner, we toasted the endurance of life amongst death...looking for a seed of hope planted more deeply than all that is wrong.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Reformation pilgrimage pictures...hopefully words later

Looking down the street in Wittenberg

I tried to get an action shot but they weren't willing to pretend to walk...except David. :-)

Flat Jesus knows who the real power in the house is...Katherina von Bora Luther

We don't even know what to do with so many Kartoffeln (potatoes). Barbara and I are now convinced we need a Kartoffelhaus (restaurant where everything has potatoes!)

Every town needs two massive churches next door to each other.

Watch out when you knock on the door of this church...

The door of the church where Meister Eckhart was prior of the abbey in the 1300s.


The tiny house movement....before it was a movement.

Monument to total depravity...Buchenwald concentration camp.

Sunset in Weimar


At the old bridge...I said "close people don't lean, farther down lean more." Some follow instructions... ;-)

I'm here too! Surrounded by ricklepickles and pcoppers.

I had every intention of taking a picture of my käsespaetzle (German macaroni and cheese, basically) but I ate it first.

Getting ready....

I arrived a day early in Wittenberg for the reformation pilgrimage, to reacquaint myself with the town, to be in-country while finalizing some things, and to hopefully be less jet-lagged when it came time to be a leader.

Two out of three isn't bad.
Or, well, one and a half. Lol.

I did reacquaint myself with the lovely Wittenberg. I even discovered it has the smallest zoo ever...which was sad and disturbing, though when I finally went in I found it was all small animals, so at least they did have *some* room to run around. And run they did--I'm not sure I've seen so many active animals at a zoo in a long time. (The biggest things there were a peacock and some small primates.)

While traipsing about I also discovered that the castle church is closed...because of illness, the sign says. I mean, I knew they were still doing restoration in preparation for 2017, and that we wouldn't be able to see as much as we might hope, but it is a bummer not to get to go in at all. Luckily The Door is still visible. :-)

As for jet lag...well, maybe I'll be over it by the end of the trip. I went to bed at about 10 the first night, and then was awake from 2:30-4:30, then up at 8. But then last night I couldn't sleep (wasn't even a little tired!) until about 2. That makes a 7am alarm a little hard to take. Thank goodness for European coffee...

And those last details? Turns out there are a few more than I anticipated. My new credit card has a chip--yay!-- but it also turns out that American companies are using chip-and-signature instead of chip-and-pin like the rest of the world, so my card is difficult to use. To avoid remembering a pin, we are getting the illusion of more security without the actual more security, and card companies are saving money on the conversion by not going all the way. Thanks America. ;-) trying to get that worked out involves multiple people on different continents, in 3 time zones 7 hours apart. Not awesome. Bright side: I got a seriously good deal set up to use my phone from here in the process.

Today we begin in earnest--we'll be talking about the atmosphere that made the world ready for reformation, visiting the homes of Luther and Melanchthon and Lucas Cranach, seeing amazing art in beautiful churches, and eating more delicious food. (Last night I had käsespaetzle, which is essentially German grown up Mac and cheese. Mmmmm.....you know it's grown up because there were roasted tomatoes and arugula on it, haha)

Hopefully the group will be tolerant of my quirks (like talking so much I missed our turn last night and got a bit turned around in the dark, in spite of my orientation!) and we'll all learn and have fun along the way.

Off to breakfast so we can Luther-it-up!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

To The Core--a sermon for Easter 2015

Attention PCOP readers: stop now. Trust me--it'll be better if you wait for Easter morning. Just wait for it, I promise that the day of resurrection is coming, but is not yet here. :-)

Rev. Teri Peterson
To The Core
Matthew 27.1-15
5 April 2015, Easter, NL1-31

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

I have always pictured that first Easter morning going something like this: really early, like 4am or so, the Spirit of God blows like a wind that can break rocks and rolls back the stone in front of the tomb, allowing the breath of life to rush in. Jesus breathes, opens his eyes, stretches a bit, and strolls out of the tomb into the dewy darkness of early morning. He obviously goes for a walk or something, to limber up and clear the morning fog, and then when the women appear at the tomb with their burial spices and oils, he comes walking through the garden to show them the power of God’s love, which completely freaks them out so he has to say their names repeatedly, telling them not to be afraid. The women run back to tell the men, who don’t believe them until Jesus appears to them too, and voila! Easter Alleluias!

I have never noticed before that in three of the four gospels, when the women arrive at the tomb, it is already open and the angels are inside waiting for them. But in one—this one, Matthew’s telling of the Jesus story—they arrive to a tomb still sealed shut, with guards at the door. It is not until the women arrive, the sun barely peeking over the horizon, that the light explodes around them and the earth moves beneath their feet and a dazzling angel rolls the door back, then sits down casually and invites everyone to take a look.

The tomb was already empty. Before the door was opened. Before the angel arrived. Before the sun came up. Before anyone could even think to look inside. The tomb was already empty.

The earth was not the only thing quaking that morning. All who saw it were shaken to the core—the fundamental truth about the world, that death is the end, has just been broken open and changed everything we thought we knew.

Where once it was possible to believe that force equals power, now there is an empty tomb.

Where once it was possible to believe that might makes right, now there is an empty tomb.

Where once it was possible to believe that one race or class of people is better than another, now there is an empty tomb.

Where once it was possible to believe that capital punishment worked, now there is an empty tomb.

Where once it was possible to believe that shame and silence could keep people in their place, now there is an empty tomb.

Where once it was possible to believe that faith, hope, and love were nice feelings but not very meaningful, now there is an empty tomb.

The guards couldn’t take it. They were paralyzed by their fear, and their inability to allow God to do a new thing sent them running to the chief priests for a cover story. The political and religious powers, those who made the rules and enforced them, the ones to whom people looked for guidance and answers, for help and hope? Their reaction was to find a way to maintain the status quo, to rationalize the story into something that would make sense, and then to spread that story far and wide—far and wide enough that Matthew, writing 50 years later, knows it. Those with earthly possessions and power were, at their core, unable to let resurrection be true.

But the women…after all this time with Jesus, hearing him teach and seeing him heal, they recognize the words “do not be afraid.” And while they are afraid anyway, there is somehow just enough space opened up where the certainty of death used to be for new words to sink in to the core of their being: “he is not here, he has been raised, as he said.”

Somewhere deep inside, the two Marys heard Jesus’ voice echoing in their memory. They saw and heard him, and began to put the pieces together…and in the empty tomb of their hearts God did a new thing: joy triumphed over fear, love triumphed over hate, life triumphed over death. They heard the angel’s message and turned—with a little fear and great joy—to run and tell the others.

And it is then—with their backs turned to the grave, no longer able to see the angel in bright raiment—then they see Jesus.

Contrary to my mind-movie, they do not see him at the grave. They only see him when they turn away from the grave and go to spread the good news. They only see him when they put the tomb behind them and allow joy to edge out fear. They only see him when they cannot trust their vision of the angel any longer.

Then they see Jesus—on their way to tell the others.

They practically run right into him, actually. I imagine they nearly knock him over in their excitement, as he appears in their path. And immediately, they touch him—he is not a ghost—and they worship him. Unlike the last few verses of the story we will hear next week, which say of the disciples “they worshipped him, and some doubted” these women, who have stayed just as close to Jesus this whole time, attended to his needs, soaked up his words, and were first to feel the ground move and the stone roll—the women worship him.

But Jesus doesn’t want them to stay there, any more than he wanted Peter and James and John to stay on the transfiguration mountaintop. Jesus has a mission for these women. He commissions them—you might even say he ordains them—to tell his story, to give instructions to the others, to share the good news. And off they go. Not a moment’s hesitation. They are ready to tell the others. The message Jesus gives them to tell? Go. Get out of your locked upper room, stop hiding, and go out in the world. Go back to the place that birthed you. Get out of this capital city with its trappings of wealth and power and mockery of religious piety. Go back to the margins of society, to the edge of the province, to the place where only peasants live and where people believe nothing good can happen. Go there, to Galilee. It’s when you get going that you will see me.

Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter: resurrection is not confined to one empty tomb. It’s not just a story of this one time God did something amazing—resurrection is the core reality of who we are as God’s people, and therefore it is something we look for, something we practice, all the time. If we keep the story to ourselves, we will never run into Jesus. If we insist on gluing our eyes to the messenger with his dazzling appearance, our eyes will be blinded to Christ. If we keep looking at the tomb, remembering how things were, we will miss Jesus waiting for us on the side of the road, sleeping under a bridge, riding next to us on the bus, sitting in the next cubicle over, answering the phone at the help center, in the lead story of the nightly news, driving through at Starbucks, waiting tables at Emmett’s, cutting us off in traffic, lying in the street, teaching our children, eating from our garden, sitting at the other end of our pew.

If we keep resurrection to one day a year, filled with great music and beautiful flowers and new clothes, we will miss out on the earth-shaking truth that God wants in, to the core of our being, to make us new. Jesus’ resurrection is a sign of the world’s transformation—the first fruits of the kingdom of God, coming here on earth as it is in heaven. And our resurrection, little by little, day by day, moment by moment, story by story, step by step, is part of that transformation too. It may shake us…we may not understand…we may be afraid. We may want to find a way to make it make sense, though we never can, because, frankly, it doesn’t make sense, and God is beyond our comprehension. We may want to hold on to the moment, to the memories, though we never can, because memory fades while God’s mercies are new every morning. We may want to boil it down to a moral, or a nice platitude about heaven, but we never can, because God’s story is so much bigger and because Jesus demands we meet him on his terms, not ours. We may want to tell a cover-up story because we can’t handle the enormous change, and the enormous risk, of what God is doing.

But ultimately the truth is this: the tomb was already empty.

Christ is risen—he is risen indeed! And those who tell the story, and live the story, and let it live in the very center of who we are and what we do…we are resurrection people, and we see Jesus alive and running loose in the world, changing everything we thought we new. Hope wins. Life wins. Love wins.

May it be so.