There is so much to be thankful for today. Sherry and I celebrated a half century plus a quarter decade of marriage at Depoe Bay last month. Even with all the COVID restrictions we had excellent food, great weather, and wonderful views. One trip was down to Cape Perpetua Lookout. I took a trail walk from Devil’s Churn Lookout down to the Spouting Horn where the Pacific rages high, arranging for Sherry to drive down and meet me at the visitor center, only to discover that it was closed. I did a lot of checking before discovering her back at my starting point . . . not that there were a lot of options along Highway 101! I remembered another walk up the narrow canyon inland from the spouting horn where a close friend decided to explore near the rift and almost got washed away by a big wave.
Health is a point of thankfulness in COVID days. None of our family has been hit with anything, not even a cold. Family relationships are strong. Joy lost her senior year events, including her lead role in Grease and involvement in state music and drama events. But she decided to join Ecola Bible College, which still meets at Cannon Beach Conference Center. Her work scheduling is done by Cyndee, herself an Ecola alum, actually doing my class there so long ago. Grateful for God’s intervention that brought us together. Donn brought Elizabeth and Michael out in August so we could hang. Unfortunately COVID meant cancelling our plans for Thanksgiving in Kansas City. We will do family time via Zoom, a very 2020 thing!
Western Seminary is having its largest enrollment ever and my Leadership Cohorts and the new Master of Applied Biblical Leadership are both growing quickly so my teaching load is enormous. We have two cohorts each in Portland and Costa Mesa plus a new on beginning in Boise next term. I get to hang out and pastor a most exciting group of men and women through that work.
My role at The Bible Project continues. In addition to my board role, I was leading the staff in what was initially called “Happy Hour with Gerry”, times to explore theological questions in an open dialogue format. That all went by the wayside with COVID, but the work of the Project continues to grow. It is stunning that views of our videos have exceeded 200 million. We have at least 10 videos in 18 different languages and 55% of our views come from outside the United States! And then there is the blog and the podcasts.
I did two weddings and continue to be a pastor to pastors and a help for the hurting.
There is so much more I could add to this list of gratitudes but this is enough for now
This is a COVID-19 first: I “preached” today’s sermon at Grace from my family room to a camera and Jim. It’s the new way in a “Stay home; Stay Healthy” ordered world. Later this morning I will watch myself preach from that same room as part of our 10:45 service. It’s a very strange world.
All my classroom teaching and weekend speaking until at least mid-May has been cancelled. Elizabeth’s two week school trip to France to live with a French family, followed by a week where Donn and Susan would join her for their own tour is off. We were going to bring Michael here for the week. Cannon Beach Conference Center is closed so Cyndee is beginning a four week furlough. Joy’s senior year was going to have a lot of thespian activity, including a state convention, several performances, capped by a starring role in Grease. We still have slim hopes for Grease. A lot of loss. None of these are exceptional.
Thankfully, my job is still way more than full time so my income is not impacted significantly – and Uncle Sam if going to send us $2,400 relief check, if I read the news correctly. I am thinking about how best to give that away.
I got to help cancer patients yesterday morning by donating platelets again. It is a two armed process which is very strange after many one armed blood donations. My Ortega’s blanket from Chimayo, NM and my Urbana curve helps keep me warm. Laying still for three hours and not moving my arms for most of that time (needles in both elbow joints restricts movement!) left me really stiff and exhausted, which isn’t the norm. But a good night’s sleep and I am back to normal.
There are lots of ways to help beyond my normal pastoring and counseling which are now limited to phone, Facebook live, and Zoom. We did take out from one of our favorite restaurants as a way to support them in their time of shut down dining room.
A big part of the joy of doing these kinds of conferences is meeting amazing people. Attila Nyári is one of those folk. He came up and introduced himself telling me that he is one of the leaders in the church and also is deeply involved with leadership in the Lausanne Movement. We quickly established that we had several mutual friends, small world hitting again. I soon heard of some of the amazing things he is doing. When I heard that Western is one of the seminaries he is looking at for his Master’s Degree, I quickly began figuring out how we could advance the agenda! If God wills!
I was also pleased to see that Portland is represented in the people involved here in Budapest. Cara wore her Powell’s shirt just to prove that she is a Homie!
My morning session was on Work and Rest, a topic very relevant to the bi-vocational ministers that are typical here in Central and Eastern Europe. They mostly get that work is the gracious expression of YHWH’s creative energy in service of others to create shalom, whether it is in the pastorate or missions or anywhere else. Reflecting on how to do Sabbath rhythm when there is so much to be done was fruitful for us all.
I had my last look at the Rákóczi út and Elizabeth Bridge with its beautiful buildings. Our flat is just two blocks to the right.
The day finished at the Curry House where seven of us gathered for food and stories. As Phil and Jeremy shared about the church’s ministry in the European Refugee crisis a couple of years ago, I was astounded first aat the crucial role they play as thousands of refugees and opportunistic immigants with through on their way to Germany. Then I was astounded at how peaceful it was as they were here and how confrontational and dangerous it was in the news accounts. They told how reporters would stage scenes in order to sell their stories. May the Church of Jesus Christ be known for helping helpless people and speaking truth even when it does not sell.
Can you find place where the Golgota Budapest church meets? It’s a down town church so it is just on the street. It is not one of the historic church denominations so there is no “church” building. But there is a state of the art coffee shop on the ground floor in front of an old theater area which where the church comes together in three gatherings on Sunday and again two or three times during the week. Still haven’t found it? It’s the round awning to the right of the table umbrella. Once you have experienced it, I don’t think you’ll miss it again. The view below is what you see as you round the corner.
This is inside during a service. It looked pretty much like this for the conference.
My morning session was on women in leadership – a MOST controversial issue, though not as much here. The range in Evangelicalism is from Egalitarian (all offices and ministries open – gender is not an issue) to Male Elder (Elders are men, but all offices and ministries open to non-elders may be filled by men or women) to Male Teacher (women must not teach or have authority over men in the gatherings of the church). The church here is mostly Male Elder, which I am happy about since that’s my position. The discussion was intensely biblical and followed raptly. Pam Markey, a legend in the Calvary world, followed with practical suggestions and then we did the Q & A together.
I went back to our flat to fetch Sherry for the afternoon session. Fortunely the bus system here is easy to navigate – all busses along the main road so we just get on any of them. She joined for the sessions on handling discouragement and depression. In her gentle pastoral way, she quickly connected with many of the women who wanted her to stay longer!
As the sessions finished, Janni, the pastor of the church told everyone that Wednesday night meant regular church service so be sure to keep close tabs on all your personal belongings. If you close your eyes to pray, please hang onto your purse. It is an announcement I have never heard done that specifically. It says a lot about the range of people who come to this gospel based church.
As we walked back from our lunch, we saw this street painting of the famous TIME Man of the Year from January, 1957. It is the Hungarian Freedom Fighter, people who rebelled against the Communist regime that took over the country at the end of World War II. That occupation would continue after the rebellion was crushed violently, but the memory lives on.
Today was kind of a snow day. The weather called for “wintry mix” which can mean snow, ice, rain or not much. Sherry and Christina postponed their date to go to the Grand Market. We can’t see outside from our otherwise marvelous flat, so I went down to the street to discover that there was no ice or snow so Sherry joined me in the 100 meter walk to a local McDonalds to meet Endi Kovács, a true Hungarian Christian intellectual. While he was at Regents in Vancouver he became close friends with folk like Eugene Peterson and James Houston.
Over Bacon McMuffins and my Caffe Latte in a glass (a whole new way to do things!), we immediately went into deep conversation. His background is with InterVarsity, Vineyard here and in Europe, and the USA as well as the Hungarian Reformed Church. It was fascinating to hear his perspectives on many common themes. Sherry was very patient with us during our two hour conversation. It would have gone longer, I am sure, but it started snowing and Sherry does not do well in slick streets. He wallked us to the entrance of our flat and we bid each other God speed.
The Conference began with supper – a great way to begin. I ate with Arpi, the head of the Hungarian Calvary Bible College and two new friends from Finland. Hearing what is happening in their country was fascinating. It is such a different culture with only 5.5 million people in the whole country and a unified culture, a socialized system with a minority working to support a large majority either in government service or retired. The pressures on the system are a great context for the church. The clallenge is getting the good news to a culture with a cultural narrative of church domination from the past. Sounds a lot like the US!
After an enthusiastic half hour of music, some familiar and some totally new, the lesson was a perspective on the gospel from a fellow who is working in Jordan. I have to admit sadly that in the warm theater seat and fairly familiar material, I took an involuntary nap.
I am on twice tomorrow with more than a bit of concern. The TV style projection system is integrated with their recording system but the result is that quite small and my Power Points got some quick revision after I got home, but they will not only be exclusively in English (the people will have fill in the blank handouts in English and Hungarian), but with translation, the time will be very short for complex material like my opening session on LGBTQI issues. I am also speaking into a culture which I don’t know on a most controversial issue. Prayers, please!
Sherry and I will leave on Friday for Budapest. We will explore this most beautiful city in Central Europe with my new friend árpád horváth after we arrive on Saturday and then with preach on Sunday afternoon in the church my long time friend Terry and Christina Cokenaur lead. Christina is a native Hungarian, so she will be an advisor for our explorations.
I will be speaking at the Pastor’s Leadership Conference for Central and Eastern Europe Tuesday through Thursday on LGBTQI-related issues, Challenges to the Gospel, Women in Leadership, and Bi-vocational Ministry. With short sessions and somewhat controversial issues, many unfamiliar cultures, it is a bit of a challenge!
Melanoma Follow up
On another note, I visited my dermatologist last week for my regular melanoma follow up. I am glad to day he was unimpressed. I saw a long time pastor friend at a pastor’s lunch I lead at FBC Corvallis Monday who had a scar in the same place as mine only his had been stage four and he’d done major immunotherapy to reach the same “nothing to be seen” stage I am at
As a theologian, I believe in eschatology, the study of the end, Today I saw that in a different way. We ended our day driving Glacier’s Inside North Fork road to see what we could see before tomorrow’s big day on the legendary Going to the Sun Highway. What we dominated our view was the Howe Ridge Fire. The last thing in our day was the news that the fire has closed the west half of Highway. This is our third close up fire in two days!
There’s no chance it will open this morning. The fire fighters can’t get to it and the water drops have been ineffective. But all is not lost. We can go around the south end of the park and see the east side of the highway and then head on to Calgary tonight.
I am a fan of uneventful travel filled with God’s beauty – and that was our day. The biggest event of the day was the ladies skipping a rest stop, thinking they could make 71 miles over the pass only to discover that the promised rest stop was closed! So we stopped at Liberty Casino, enhancing our stop with ice cream and taco socks. We traveled around Flathead Lake and up the valley, going 70 miles per hour (well maybe a little more) on two lane roads. It’s Montana! We grabbed lupper (Huckleberry Pie for me! and Cyndee’s first view of a bear) before we checked into the motel in Hungry Horse, MT and ventured into Glacier.
The ethical question of the day also involved a potty stop in the Montana wild: To pee or not to pee — That is the question. Can you offer help for our perplexity and haudralic distress?
Our whole family gathered in the last weekend of July to celebrate our anniversary. We had already celebrated with our beach trip on March 22 – no one else was invited to that event! Our Friday night dinner included Ann/Jack, Liz/Tom, John/Shilrey (our and their spouses), Donn/Susan/Elizabeth/Michael, David/Samantha/Nicole/Joy and Cyndee (our children with our last name and their families), Christopher/Jonette/Katie (our sorta son and his family), Gelayol/Brian (our Persian granddaughter and her family- Griffen and Audrey dropped by on Saturday), Bethany/Jesse/Emily, Judah/Noah (our daugher and her family). It was a fun Lebanese feast of celebration. Donn, Lizzie, Michael, Ann, Jack joined Sherry and me in going to Cannon Beach on Thursday to suprise Cyndee on her birthday and see Mo’s, walk to Haystack Rock and see Ecola park.
The climax was Sunday evening when many friends joined us at Grace to remember our wedding and fulfill Sherry’s desire to cut the cake. Somehow in the 5 days we had to plan our wedding back in 1968, we missed that. With the help of our biological grandchildren, we did that. The video is here.
Today is birthday #70. It’s been a bit weird coming to today since I have this mental picture of my grandfather in pretty bad shape at his 70th and the ingrained cultural idea that this is when you leave your office keys on the desk and head out to the “rest of your life.” Psalm 90 says “The days of our years are threescore years and ten” and any more are “by reason of strength.” But I am more involved than ever in high level responsibilities at Western, in the church world as pastor of pastors, and at Grace. I stopped serving on ministry boards but then picked up The Bible Project board and it’s been a blast to see that ministry with its huge impact for biblical literacy.
Family Gathering in the Park
Today is also Chinese New Year which makes me smile with my soul connection to that world. The Chinese blessing banner around my office door is 10 years old. It still proclaims family as the place God works and that always takes priority. Some old favorite songs have to be listened to. A lot of Michael Card and Twila “Thanks for Keeping Your Hand on Me” and “How Beautiful.”
Later this morning I will go help a pastor friend with a woman who is in a very bad spot. It appears she is oppressed by a demon so the immediate message is “go call Gerry!” I feel the need to teach a biblical theology of spiritual warfare along with some techniques given the explosion of demonic films, songs, games, etc. in our society but it also means I get a lot of calls like this from pastors I’ve trained who need some extra help.
Salty’s on the Columbia is a very favorite restaurant so Sherry and I will watch the sunset from a river front table to celebrate.
I went to see Dr. Wilson, the ENT surgeon and then Dr. Martin, the dermatologist. I am glad to say that both were unimpressed. Dr. Wilson did a great job on the surgery so the scars have mostly disappeared to the casual glance. The missing parotid nerve means I still have the weird ear which feels like a leaf on the side of my head when I put my hood up in the rain and makes it necessary for me to sleep with my hand around my ear when I am on my left side.
Dr. Martin did a very thorough skin examination, finding nothing new. She decided to remove a small brown spot from my right forehead just to be sure. Pathology determined it was just sun damage, probably from courting Sherry in my little Austin Healy Sprite with the top down!
I will see both doctors from time to time and there will be a CT scan this fall sometime, but so far a we know there is no cancer in my body which is for praise!
May means teaching pastors in the Philippines. Sadly Sherry will not be going along. Her rehab after the Aortic valve replacement is going very well but her energy levels are yet up to the ambitious pace of the trip.