Monday, October 23, 2006

Longest Organ Concert in History

"Organ grinds on to 2640 in a concert sure to stand the test of time,", January 8, 2006. (Jim Sandell)

Keywords: eternity, future

The world's longest organ concert is currently being played out in an old church in eastern Germany. If all goes well, the music won't end for another 630 years! The music written by experimental composer John Cage, was originally intended as a 20 minute piece for piano. He transcribed it for organ and titled the piece, Organ2/ASLSP, standing for as slow as possible.
The concert began September 5, 2001 with an 18-month silence. The first chord sounded in February 2003, followed by two additional E notes in July 2004. The first chord just progressed to the second, which will held down by sandbags until 2012. The next change will take place May 6, 2006 when the two E notes will be released.

Since the concert began, thousands of people have flocked to the small church to listen to the music and see the new organ take shape. Organizers hope they can build the organ with the concert by raising money to fund new pipes in time for forthcoming notes.

The composer, John Cage died in 1992, but loved the idea of playing with time, and shocking his audience. The score has been divided into nine sections, each lasting 71 years. If all goes well, the half-time interval will take place in the year 2319, with the finale sounding in 2640. George Bandarau of the John Cage Organ Foundation says, "Here the question is whether the concert is over when the organist dies, or when the organ falls apart."

--, Organ grinds on to 2640 in a concert sure to stand the test of time, January 8, 2006. Submitted by Jim Sandell.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (TLB) "Everything is appropriate in its own time. But though God has planted eternity in the hearts of men, even so, many cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end."


"Merry Christmas," Books & Culture e-mail, Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Keywords: Nativity, creche,

The Gospels give us the beloved story of Christ's birth, of course. But who started the tradition of placing crèches on the fireplace mantel or coffee table? When did churches start dramatizing Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem, or choirs begin singing the angels' praises in the "shepherds' fields?" For that we have to thank St. Francis of Assisi

The story goes that a woodcarver, embittered by his daughter's blindness, declared he would have nothing to do with a God "who condemns innocent children to darkness." He stopped going to church, and refused to make anything that would bring glory to God. But out of love for his girl, he consented to carve a doll for her as a Christmas present (even though he no longer had reason to celebrate).

Yet his wife continued to believe the gospel message, and when St. Francis came to town, she listened to him preach. She wondered at the friar's extraordinary peace and gentleness, yet no amount of pleading could convince her husband to go with her. Until Christmas Eve, that is, when she stole her husband's doll and took it to Francis, who had set upon the idea of creating a nativity but needed a baby Jesus.

The carver discovered the theft, and realizing what his wife had done, headed for the friar's church. But upon finding his wife, he stood transfixed, for around his carved doll the friar with animals gathered round, singing the ageless story of the birth of our Savior. And the carver's bitterness melted away. Francis approached him, gripping his shoulder. "You wondered if God could cure blindness? Well, we are watching him do it, are we not?"

This Christmas season, many of us have reason to not celebrate-to instead throw our pain in God's face and ask why we should be glad his Son came to earth. But Jesus understands our pain-he endured the greatest suffering any of us could ever imagine. And on this joyous morning, we invite you to walk into that stable, to hear the music of delighted angels, and join in the chorus, "Glory to God in the highest"


Excerpt from Richard S. Levy's review of Nathan Stolfuss' book Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany, © 1997 by H-Net.

Keywords: evil, good, nonviolence

Rosenstrasse represents the little-attended-to story of the German women who rescued their husbands from deportation and death in early 1943. Swept up from their forced labor jobs in what was meant to be the Final Roundup in the national capital, 1700-2000 Jews, mostly men married to non-Jewish women, were separated from the 6000 other victims of the Gestapo and SS and herded into Rosenstrass e 2-4, a welfare office for the Jewish community in central Berlin. Because these Jews had German relatives, many of them highly connected, Adolf Eichmann hoped that segregating them from the others would convince family members that their loved ones were being sent to labor camps rather than to more ominous destinations in occupied Poland. Normally, those arrested remained in custody for two days before being loaded onto trains for the East. Before that could happen in this case, however, wives and other relatives got wind of what was happening and appeared at the Rosenstrasse address, first in ones and twos, and then in ever-growing numbers. Perhaps as many as six thousand participated in the protest, although not all at the same time. Women demanded back their husbands, day after day, for a week. Unarmed, unorganized, and leaderless, they faced down the most brutal forces at the disposal of the Third Reich. Goebbels, Gauleiter of Berlin and anxious to have it racially cleansed, was also in charge of the nation's public morale. On both counts he was worried about the possible repercussions of the women's actions. Rather than inviting more open dissent by shooting the women down in the streets and fearful of jeopardizing the secrecy of the Final Solution, Goebbels with Hitler's concurrence released the Rosenstrasse prisoners and also ordered the return of twenty-five of them already sent to Auschwitz. To both men, the decision was a mere postponement of the inevitable. But they were mistaken. Almost all of those released survived the war. The women won an astonishing victory over the forces of destruction.

One Person and One Cell Phone


Keywords: difference, one, help, work

Leave it to Presbyterian Church General Assembly Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase to give an exciting insight into how little it takes sometimes to create a vital network.

In the muddle of Katrina's aftermath, when all was confusion, ONE person on the scene with ONE functioning cellphone became the critical LEAD organizer of a first response effort. Amazing!

Ufford-Chase's blog entitled "Glimpses from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi" tells of his visit to Diamondhead Community Presbyterian Church in Mississippi, just across the border from Louisiana and just a few miles north of the gulf:
"Back at the church...I find a 'seat-of-your-pants' disaster recovery center that Pastor Chas Jones and members of the church have put together. There is a five-foot long poster board showing the organizational diagram that they have come up with. Chas’s name is at the top (for a long time, his was the only cell phone that worked, and he was the entire organizational chart), and then there are about ten different task forces with the names of responsible folks under each one: communications, pastoral care, material aid, clean-up, etc. After two weeks of learning as they go, these folks look like pros."
One man. One cellphone that worked when others phones didn't. An opportunity for connectivity. Connectivity leads to purposeful organization, and organization begins to mean the difference between life and death.

The lesson for today: God's Networks can be born from surprisingly humble resources, if they're in the right place at the right time. They can be born if we're willing to take advantage of the sometimes small breaks that come our way.

God, help us to notice those small breaks, and press them into Kingdom service.

Cosmic Bummer

"Cosmic Thoughts - Bummer Edition" by Greg Easterbrook

Keywords: supernova, creation, star, leviathon

Scripture: Job 41 (A supernova makes a good modern-day leviathon)

Recently, I was creeped out by this supernova. Detected Feb. 18 by Swift, a satellite launched to look for gamma-ray bursts, the exploding star already was the 24th supernova discovered at that early point in 2006. As instruments improve, exploding stars appear more common than cosmologists had expected, and that's not the best news we might have heard. Coded GRB 060218, this star detonation began as a gamma-ray burst that lasted 33 minutes -- absolutely stunning because previous gamma-ray bursts from space have lasted a few seconds at the most. The gamma rays came from 470 million light-years away. That was discomfiting because strong gamma-ray bursts usually emanate from what astronomers call the "deep field," billions of light-years distant and thus billions of years back in the past. A distance of 470 million light-years means the GRB 060218 supernova happened 470 million years ago. That is ancient by human reckoning, but many cosmologists had been assuming the kind of extremely massive detonations thought to cause strong gamma-ray busts occurred only in the misty eons immediately after the Big Bang. The working assumption was that since life appeared on Earth, there had been no stellar mega-explosion. Now we know there has.

For several days as the giant dying star GRB 060218 collapsed, this single supernova shined brighter than all 100 billion other suns in its galaxy combined. The detonation was so inexpressibly luminous that, though 470 million light-years distant, it could be seen by telescopes on Earth. And not just fancy telescopes at the tops of mountains: A few days after the Swift satellite detected the gamma-ray surge, an amateur astronomer in the Netherlands sighted the forming supernova through a backyard telescope. The stellar coordinates hit the Web -- it was at RA: 03:21:39.71 Dec: +16:52:02.6 -- and soon amateur astronomers the world over were marveling at the glistening beacon from the cosmic past. This explosion released so much energy that it happened 470 million years ago yet the light could travel for that protracted period, plus pass through the gas and dust of roughly a hundred galaxies along the way, and still illuminate mirrors of backyard telescopes on Earth.

Now here's what creeped me out: had GRB 060218 happened in our galaxy, life on Earth would have ended Feb. 18.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Persecuted Church

from "Their Blood Cries Out" by Paul Marshall

church, persecution, sacrifice

Christians are African women who rise at dawn to greet the rising sun in a wailing chant of thanks to god. They are Indian untouchables cleaning up excrement from the streets. They are slaves in Sudanese markets. They are Chinese peasants flip-flopping by rice fields, or pedaling bicycles through Shanghai, or rotting in prison. They are Mexican tribal people, driven from their ancestral homes. They are Filipino maids, misused throughout the world. They are Arab women who have been raped and had acid poured on them to remove distinguishing Christian marks. And, overwhelmingly, they are people who, given a moment's time, space and freedom, live life with joy, enthusiasm, gratitude, and hope.

Pop Culture and Ancestor Worship

Romero, Margie. "Face to Face." Carnegie. January/February 2003. pp8-13.

pop culture, ancestor worship, idolatry, celebrity

"The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh seems an unlikely place to host a show called ‘Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits,’ but according to Museum Director Thomas Sokolowski, when this amazing ritual portraiture is seen next to Warhol’s portraits, the connection is absolutely clear.

...Created between 1451 and 1943, the works in the exhibit are nearly life-size portraits of wealthy, often imperial, Chinese people. Painted on tightly woven silk with ink, mineral colors, Chinese vegetable pigments, and gold, these huge hanging scrolss mounted on paper are ornate, intricately detailed, and brightly colored.

Made by anonymous artists, the paintings were part of a religious ritual in a culture that worshiped its ancestors. According to custom, the dead were venerated out of respect, but also out of fear, because it was believed that if they were not honored the deceased could turn into ghosts and come back to haunt the living. Traditionally incense was burned before the Chinese ancestor paintings , and food and wine was offered to them. The practice of kowtowing, in which one kneels and touches the forehead to the ground was done before the painting as an expression of submission, was done before the painting because it was believed that the ancestor could bring good luck and wealth.

Our contemporary culture kowtows in its own way to many of the people that Andy Warhol immortalized in his portraits. Because of their sex appeal or talent, we have endowed the likes of Grace Jones, Joan Collins, Sylvester Stallone, Cheryl Tiegs and Robert Mapplethorpe not with divine power, but certainly with earthly authority. And while we don’t burn insense before them, we saw to it that they were rewarded with money to burn. Some people among us believe that emulating these idols will help them achieve fame and fortune...

For better or worse, both Chinese ancestors and Warhol superstars fill a void for the living who search history for clues about meaning and value.

Fishing for Piranha

Hodsden, James. ESF Update. September 11, 2000

ministry, education, wisdom, learning

Once at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Dr. Richard Ray compared theological education to fishing for piranha. Every book, every class, and every professor should be considered with the same care as piranha. Dr. Ray encouraged seminary students to have a growing sense of curiosity about God. That curiosity should be characterized by passion and some terror. As servants of the Lord, we should handle holy things with wonder. He warned us not to love the things of God (ministry) more than God.

"Like Moses, we should wonder why is that tree burning?"

Friends of the Heart

"Friends of the Heart" by Stanley Ott;, e-Volume 5, No. 40, 10/3/2006

Keywords: friendship, companion, love

Scripture: John 15:5

In this day in which we lead very busy lives, we tend to have fewer close friends than we did ten years go. Consider two kinds of friends: friends of the road and friends of the heart.

A friend of the road is a friend who walks life’s road with you. You are next-door neighbors or work in the same office or attend the same school or church. You genuinely love your friends of the road. However, when the road ends, when one of you moves away or leaves the office or the place you shared life, the friendship of the road coasts to an end.

On the other hand, there is a chemistry, a bond, between friends of the heart such that when the road ends, the friendship continues. It makes no difference if you are 10,000 miles apart and haven’t seen one another for years, were you to get together, it would be as though no time had passed. ”Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.” I Samuel 18:1*

Make the decision to have as many friends of the road as possible and to pray that several of those friends move off of the road and into the heart.

Two of the most fruitful ways I have seen to move friendships into the heart is to invite people to share a meal with you and to study the Bible with you. There is something sacramental about a shared meal that deeply bonds people. In a similar way, there is something about the experience of Bible study when a few people engage in the practice of Word-Share-Prayer that grows friends of the heart.

Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” John 15:15 Praise God for your friendships, both of the road and of the heart. Ask our Lord’s encouragement as you grow new ones.

Halverson Benediction

References: "Halverson Benediction" by E. Stanley Ott,, e-Volume 5, No. 34, 8/22/2006

Keyword: missional, worship

Dick Halverson, who encouraged me to begin the “Building One Another” letter, was a spiritual mentor who had a profound impact on my life and ministry.

When Dick was Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, he graciously preached to the congregation I am serving. On the way back to the airport, I asked him, “Dick, what was the most significant thing you did at Fourth Presbyterian Church that brought vitality and spiritual strength to that congregation?” The question seemed to embarrass him a bit and finally he spoke. I was expecting him to say his preaching or his church staff or some church program but I didn’t anticipate his answer. Quietly he said, “I think it was my benediction.”

His benediction! I thought, “Of course!” I had heard it countless times. After all that happened in any given church service with music and singing and sharing and preaching, the last thing you heard were his words:

Wherever you go, God is sending you, wherever you are, God has put you there; He has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something He wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in His grace and love and power. Richard C. Halverson

I often use this benediction. It has a wonderful way of helping people see themselves as sent - as God’s missional people into our world.

The term “missional” refers to the identity and activity of the people of God who are sent by God to engage their world on behalf of the mission of our loving God. Our Lord does indeed have a purpose and a place for you. There is something he wants to do through you. Believe it and go in his grace and love and power.