Sunday, June 2, 2013

3am Reflection

I am wide awake at 3 in the morning after a long day of traveling from Istanbul back to my apartment in Chicago. Perhaps it’s the jet lag that keeps me awake, or perhaps it’s the jarring reality of being back in a familiar place and yet finding my perception of home completely changed. Maybe you’ve experienced this too after traveling. More than ever I have returned from this trip to Turkey with a new appreciation for just how vast this world is (in time and space!) I can hardly believe I walked the same ground as legend… (wait for it) ...ary figures such as Paul and Alexander the Great.

Last January, I had the privilege of accompanying Drs. Menn and Rossing to the Holy Land, and as there were a handful of others who had been on that same trip as well, I could not help but reflect on how different these journeys have been. In Jerusalem and surrounding areas, churches and monuments were erected to commemorate the sacred ground. These holy places were landmarked and identified, with spaces for us to worship. Very little was preserved in its ancient context. In contrast, the ancient cities of Turkey: Priene, Ephesus, Sardis, etc. were all in various stages of ruins and reconstruction. We were able to stroll (or in our case, walk briskly) through the streets and imagine the context in which Christianity emerged. While the holy sites of Israel/Palestine honor the land’s significance to the Abrahamic religions, being in Turkey allowed me to immerse myself in the world of the Bible – the world of a subversive Christian presence. Visiting these sites has given me deeper insight into the churches and people whom Paul and John of Patmos were addressing in their letters.

Standing amidst the grandeur of the Roman temples, surrounded by columns that scaled 3, 4, maybe even 5 times my height, I could not help but be awestruck by the immense power and influence of the Empire. I am coming away from this course with a new comprehension of how Christianity may have been perceived in a culture dominated by the glorification of Roman imperial conquest. I am humbled by the early church’s strength to lead a counter-cultural movement, and I cannot help but wonder what Paul and John of Patmos would write to our churches today. To what extent are we participating in the empires of our world? Are we being bold enough to proclaim an alternative story?

I must conclude by noting that two of the most memorable landscapes I saw were not made by human hands but the work of our Creator. The hot springs of Hierapolis and the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia were breathtaking reminders of the one whose kingdom will never be reduced to rubble, whose grace and wonder surpass all time and space.

Grace and peace,
Sara Suginaka
M.Div Intern 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Onward with the journey...

This morning we all ended one journey and began another. Our visit to Turkey has come to a close but I think the adventure has only just begun. We had dinner at a beautiful restaurant last night, which was nestled on a pedestrian walkway in Istanbul. All 44 of us sat at tables that lined this beautiful street and we soaked in the last of what Istanbul could offer us at this moment. Their was laughter, amazing food, memories shared of our time here, and moments of silence as we soaked in the beauty and wonder that is Turkey.

Today we venture off to new places and to back home and while many of us are ready to be back, we also are grieving the loss of this new community and this incredible country. I think we are all still processing all that we have seen and heard and learned. We left Istanbul today and the riots were just miles from where we stayed. All of our hearts will be in Turkey these coming days as we watch all of this unfold. Our guide would say repeatedly on our trip as he would explain things to us about his country, about it's history, and about it's future: "We need to pray for peace." And for peace we will continue to pray.

We concluded a time of reflection last night by singing, Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant us peace), in the round. It was incredibly moving.

This whole trip has been a beautiful journey of peace and I have been moved in so many ways.

We as the students have decided that while our journey may be over, we still have some processing and sharing to do. We hope to post some of these reflections and more pictures in the next few weeks (but we may need a few days to recover first).

Thank you all for joining us in this journey. You have been a blessing!


Thursday, May 30, 2013

the cloth God weaves...

As we were traveling through Konya a few days ago, we were able to visit the Mevlana Museum. This is a shrine to the poet and mystic, Rumi. 
This morning, Becca gave a wonderful devotion and read this poem, so we wanted to share it. 
Every Tree by Rumi
Every tree, every growing thing as it grows, 
says this truth: You harvest what you sow.

With life as short a a half-taken breath,
don't plant anything but love.

The value of a human being can be measured
by what he or she most deeply wants. 

Be free of possessing things.
Sit at an empty table.
Be pleased with water, the taste of being home.

People travel the world looking for the friend,
but that one is always at home.
Jesus moves quickly to Mary.
A donkey stops to smell the urine of another donkey.
There are simple reasons for what happens.

You won't stay clear if you sit for long
with the one who pours wine.

Someone with a cup of honey in hand
rarely has a sour face.

If someone says a eulogy,
there must be a funeral nearby. 

A rose opens because she is the fragrance she loves.
We speak poems,
and lovers down the centuries will keep saying them.
The cloth God weaves doesn't wear out.

It has been a wonderful day in Istanbul. We visited the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Underground Cisterns, and the Archeological Museum. We walked through the streets of Istanbul and took in the sights and sounds of this vibrant city.

Today we also celebrated three birthday's (including mine)! In reflecting on the cloth that God weaves, it's pretty incredible to find two other travel companions to share a birthday with and to be surrounded by such a fabulous group of people. We all were brought here on this trip for different reasons and it has been an incredible journey to discover what these reasons were. It has also been a journey to discover the many ways in which we are all connected. Today was another fun connection as I sat at the table with Liesebet and John with a large chocolate cake with candles and sparklers and our friends singing all around us. 

Today as been a beautiful day and one filled with many blessings. We are continuing this journey through Istanbul, but we will also continue this journey as we head back to our homes. The cloth that God weaves does not run out, and it is a joy-filled day to be weaved into the fabric with the history of Istanbul and the hearts of this group. Our patterns have been weaved together and this journey has been a blessed one. 




Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Between Two Worlds

We have arrived in Istanbul; an incredibly beautiful and majestic city. The large city walls and gates of what was before, and the modern landscape of what is are meshed together throughout the city. You have cobblestone streets alongside paved roads, buildings that are hundreds of years old and those that were built within the last twenty years. They all have come together, here in Istanbul, and it's a beautiful and captivating example of these two worlds combined here in Turkey. Most of the other cities and adventures have taken us to ancient sites, which sit nestled on the outside of what is now the modern cities.

The sites and landscape here in Istanbul is a beautiful reminder of what was, what is, and what will be. It truly is mesmerizing  and today we get to explore so much more!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Another Trip, Another Planet

Yesterday afternoon marked a turning point for our trip. After five days of fast-paced sightseeing through ancient cities, with long drives and frequent stops, yesterday began a change of pace. It’s as if our first trip has ended and the first day of our second trip started when we arrived at Cappadocia. Finally, we will spend more than one night at the same hotel (2!) and deal with no more long bus rides. Although, to this point the topography of Turkey has been spectacular as seen from a bus window. We’ve driven through rolling green mountains, olive groves, vineyards, wide meadows, rocky canyons, and snowcapped volcanoes. But nothing could have prepared us for what awaited in Cappadocia.

The landscape here looks like another planet, with huge, conical rock formations rising from the earth everywhere and canyons that look like they have been folded over a dozen times. Being here is far different from the pictures I saw in the books and I’m afraid even the pictures we put up will not quite do it justice. Each of the volcanic formations had carved out caves and holes that have been used by monks and residents of Cappadocia for centuries. Even our hotel here resembles a cave.

Yesterday we visited the Goreme Open Air Museum, filled with monastic dwellings and churches from the 10th-13th centuries. Some of the “cave churches” contained intricate and colorful frescoes and others rudimentary drawings. It would have been easy to spend hours staring at the array of art here, but unfortunately we were limited to just a few minutes in each. Today we toured an underground city carved out of the volcanic rock with winding tunnels and a labyrinth of rooms.
This morning’s hot air balloon ride was a HIGH point of the trip for many. Travelling 1000 meters above the ground, we were just one of over a hundred balloons launched from a nearby valley. The combination of the incredible land features, the parade of balloons, and the sun rising over the valley made the 3:45 wake up call worth it. We celebrated a successful landing by popping a bottle of champagne and receiving certificates of completion. It was said that this is a once in a lifetime experience, and it is easy to see why.
Now it’s off to bed with the now familiar songs of Muslim call to prayer blaring from the local mosque. Tomorrow we’re off to Istanbul, our last city in this trip.

Drew Yoos
Junior, M.Div

3:45am wake-up call in Cappadocia

Many of us awoke this morning at 3:45 in order to be ready to depart our hotel for a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. It was an incredible experience. We have now been awake for over 17 hours and we have hit that silly-incoherent part of sleep deprivation. We are having a hard time forming sentences without breaking into laughter, so a real post will be updated tomorrow. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from our morning adventure!!


Monday, May 27, 2013

Champions for an afternoon.

The 30,000 seat stadium sat almost empty in the early afternoon sun as tour groups from all over the world walked through its crumbled outer wall.  We took our places in the upper seats as our tour guide gave us an over view of the Roman stadium of the city of Aphrodisias.  When Rome was in power the place was alive with spectators and competitors, dust and sweat, death and glory.  Grass and weeds have now over taken the seats.  Parts of the once magnificent fa├žade lay broken.  The seats of honor sit empty.  As I listened to our guide tell its story, I tried to imagine the days of glory that the stadium must have known before it’s fade into the distant past.

As our guide finished his storytelling, someone suggested that a few people go down to the stadiums field level and take a lap.  Not wishing to miss a once in a lifetime opportunity, a few of us rose to the occasion.  We walked down the uneven stone steps to the dusty field.  The early afternoon sun beat down upon us.  The wind lay quiet.  As we took our place in the midst of a nearly empty stadium, the echoes of voices from generations past seemed to rise and cheer us on.  There were competitors in the stadium once again. 

After a near dead sprint down the 250 yard field we were all winded, but triumphant.  The cheers of our traveling companions were lost in the distance.  For a brief moment we were victorious in one of Rome’s largest stadiums.  Our slow walk back across the field was carried out with heads held high.  As we approached mid-field, we took a moment to bow to the empty seats of honor.  The echoes of ages past faded as we walked back through the crumbled wall.  We returned to the ancient city to continue our tour as champions!

The journey across Turkey has been filled with amazing tours and opportunities.  We have seen firsthand the propaganda of empire within which the early church spread the Gospel.  We have performed in theatres to the applause of people from all over the world.  We have competed in crumbled stadiums.    

The pictures do not do this place justice.  The experiences will not soon fade and the lessons learned on this journey will continue to shape my ministry into the future.  I am looking forward to the days ahead.  In the morning we will greet the morning sun in hot air balloons over the unique landscape of Cappadocia.

Peace be the journey,
Travis Meier, 2013 Graduate of LSTC
Future Associate Pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, Texas