01.26.08

Watered-down Communion

Posted in church, culture at 10:04 am

Last night was the final night of the Ecumenical week of prayer that I mentioned earlier. The service included a lot of singing, some prayer, some short messages by area pastors and priests, and communion.

Well sort of. As an area pastor’s wife sang a beautiful, self-translated version of Adonai, we all came forward to receive a tiny cup of water. The program explained that the water was a symbol of the Holy Spirit, of Jesus who takes away our thirst, and of baptism.

But you see, it wouldn’t be possible for all of us to take communion together. The Catholics believe that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ. The Protestants believe it’s a symbol of Christ’s body and blood. And some Protestants don’t feel like we should share communion with Protestants from other denominations. So what’s the end result? Communion that … isn’t.

Which I think sums up some of my problems with ecumenicalism in general. We pray for unity, we listen to carefully-worded messages imploring unity, we sing songs about being bound together. But we’re not. And I think most of us are to stubborn to shift our beliefs so that we could have actual unity. Or at least feel comfortable watching others live out their beliefs, even if they differ a bit from ours.

The fall of the Italian Government

Posted in culture at 3:47 am

And just like that, we’re back to 2005 in Italy. Late Thursday night, the Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, faced a vote of no confidence. He lost.

The news describes the events by saying “the government failed.” In Italy, if the Prime Minister gets the boot, every single law that was passed during the time he was in charge is voided. There’s confusion everywhere because no one can quite remember what’s valid and what’s not. Prodi made quite a few reforms in the application process for foreigners who live in Italy, and no one knows yet what laws will stick and what reverts back to before (the new government can opt to keep some of the old government’s laws).

It really is a miracle to me that Italy somehow moves forward (albeit slowly) when their government does this. I think the government has failed 17 times since World War II.

But in a testament to the underlying social stability, absolutely nothing in day-to-day life changed between Thursday and Friday. Everybody went to work. No rioting in the streets. Anyone I talked to about the government sort of rolled their eyes as if to say, “Here we go again.”

01.24.08

Ecumenicalism

Posted in church, culture, ministry at 10:18 am

So we’re in the middle of Ecumenical Week here in Ancona. The Catholic churches are hosting protestant pastors from all over so that the Catholics can get to know us crazy Protestants.

Tuesday night our church was invited to head to Numana, about twenty minutes away. It was a normal prayer service, with a question and answer period in the middle. The people were generally nice, and asked basic questions like, “Do you submit to the pope?” and “Can your priests get married?” But I couldn’t help but notice the slight edge on the questions. They were more like, “I heard you don’t submit to the pope, and if not, who do you submit to?” or possibly “Well I heard, that your priests get married!”

Jason & Josh politely answered their questions. Some people even agreed with our stance on things and publicly stated that the Catholic church needs to change and do what we’re doing. But the thing that struck me, and that I hadn’t noticed before so strongly, is how ignorant people are here about Protestantism. There was a level of suspicion because it is such an unknown. In America that’s not an issue. Most people have some level of understanding of Protestant beliefs, and even a flawed view of the Church is something to go on. But here, we’re completely outside day to day living. And unfortunately, when we don’t understand something, we tend to make it scarier than it is.

I haven’t been terribly excited about these meetings. I sincerely hope they are more than surface-level “Christian unity.” But I do appreciate that they help average people to put a smiling face on Protestantism, which makes it a little less scary. As I told a friend after the meeting, “I hope that we were able to put a face on the enemy.”

01.12.08

Defending Culture

Posted in culture, ministry at 9:05 am

Last night our church held its monthly Coffee House. This time a poet came and read some poetry that he had recently written, and a guitarist came to play some classical guitar pieces (she was incredible!).

At a certain point during the evening I found myself feeling kind of defensive. During the discussion following one of the poems, several people began to lament the fact that people don’t understand or know how to read poetry anymore because of the “hurried” lifestyle that America exports. It was said in a kind way, but the speaker directed his comment directly at the Americans in the room, as if we were somehow responsible for invention of Day Timers.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are parts of American culture that I wish wouldn’t spread into other countries’ way of life. But somehow I took it differently when someone outside of American culture began to criticize. Another friend on mine rightly observed that many cultural things that America “exports” are actually things that people want to copy. A subtle, but important, difference I think.

I think part of what I felt was the straw that broke the camel’s back. With the American primaries making the headlines even here,  it seems like every person on the street wants my take on things – and wants to get a subtle jab in as well. So perhaps this series of subtle jabs has made me a little sensitive.

It’s made me think a bit. Where did the defensiveness come from? Why do cultural criticisms that come from someone who has lived in your culture seem more palatable, while those from outside seem like a judgment from someone who couldn’t possible understand all the angles? Which then made me wonder what judgments I have made of Italian culture that could seem offensive to them. Perhaps even more importantly, shouldn’t we, as Christians, identify with a Christian culture more than an American culture?

01.05.08

The lonliest sound in the world

Posted in Ancona at 6:18 pm

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Ancona is a port town, and in the winter we get a lot of fog. One of my favorite sounds is the fog horn (growing up in the Midwest, a fog horn is a pretty new concept). Click play above and about 17 seconds into the recording, you’ll hear three soft beeps. It’s this amazing, almost spooky sound that reverberates through the valley in the center of Ancona. A dense fog makes it even more mysterious. It sort of blends in with the background and yet you still know that it’s there. It really is one of my favorite quirks about living in Ancona.