Feb 23, 2014

Religious Freedom or Freedom of Worship?

Standing at the Bonfire with the Valdensians the other night was kinda surreal.  I can only imagine what it was to gain the freedom to express one's beliefs without fear of retribution, and yet here they sang, celebrated, and lit bonfires all up and down the valleys of the Piedmont, signifying that day when the political powers that be in Italy decided that enough was enough - the Valdensians would be recognized, could worship freely, have their own schools, not be prohibited from jobs, not be imprisoned or hassled, simply because they did not adhere to the teachings and services of the prevailing religious powers…

My thoughts naturally went to the prevailing winds in my own nation, where Christians are just beginning to face a persecution of a different kind.  No one as far as I know has gone to jail yet, but some have been ordered by courts to either provide services they find utterly reprehensible, or close down.  When marriage laws were changed in Massachusetts for example, the largest provider of adoption services by far in the State had to change their policies (based on 2,000 years of faith and belief), or shut their doors.  Rather than violate their beliefs, they shut their doors.  Photographers and cake makers have been vilified, and court ordered as well.  Interesting.

So what happens when the State starts to dictate how a people should behave when their religious convictions run headlong up against what the States says such convictions ought to be?  We need to look no further than Nazi Germany, or the Roman Empire.  While both examples may appear at first to be extreme, it is important to realize that both persecuted Christians without guilt or quarter if they in any way spoke out against, not to mention acted out against State policy if it differed from Christ's commands.  The result at first is a lot of people got killed, and the result at the end is that God brought those powers down in ruin.

Watching the bonfire burn, the people sing, and the children running around gave me once again a glimmer of hope:  the motto of the Valdensian Church:  Lux Lucet In Tenebris, or, "The Light Shines in the Darkness".  What amongst many other things that bless me about these people, is not only their tenacity and perseverance against being slaughtered, but also their grace - as far as I can tell, they are not bitter.  So how do you not move toward anger and retribution when your rights are taken away, your woman and children killed, and your churches burned down?  I think the answer was in the bonfire that night.  You concentrate on being the light, staying connected to its source, focusing on delivering what you have been given, and not on what is being taken away.

To be continued...

Feb 21, 2014

The Artists Are Back!

The word went out by mouth, flyer, newspaper, internet, and phone call:  the Artists were back in town!  OM Arts School of Mission: Incarnate 2014 was about to begin, but first: an open house/reception.  We invited the community to come and meet the new students, view original art from the previous school, and enjoy some Italian musicians.  Some of the new students and teachers shared their visual and musical art as well.  The result?  A packed house, a happy crowd, reunions with some connections from the previous school, and a wonderful launch of Incarnate 2014.

Like other cultural universals, the Arts have an intrinsic drawing power; unlike almost anything else (other than a crisis or a family celebration), the arts tug on the heart strings of the imagination.  For all that enhances life (at best), or satisfies curiosity (at the least)—by what might be seen, heard, or experienced—the arts are compelling.  We experienced the gamut late last Saturday afternoon, as the facility here in OM Italy filled with local people meeting, greeting, and sharing life and art with us.  In a tiny snapshot of community, twelve nationalities shared food, ideas, and hearts, around artwork intended to stir the soul.

Dario, a local horn player, had enlisted Dan Mullis, our new Music Mentor, Dileep Ratnaike, our School Administrator, and Satu from Finland, one of our sax students, to help him deliver a fine arrangement of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  This hymn inspired the name of our facility here in Bobbio Pellice:  Forterocca.  Kirsty, a vocalist from New Zealand, brought a Gospel piece from CC Wynans.  Geinene Carson, founder of Artslink, presented a mixed-media piece that she had created 2 years ago.  Made from walnuts garnered from the local valley, the piece recalled Geinene’s process upon receiving news that her infant daughter had been born with brain abnormalities.  A number of us had tears in our eyes as Geinene's artwork spoke directly into the broken arenas that invade so many of our lives.  Bill Drake brought "Sovereign Lord", an original piece from his latest album Broken & Complete.  Its lyrics take up a number of themes that speak volumes from the history of persecution, martyrdom, perseverance, and mission that are part of the legacy of the Waldensians who live in these valleys.

Our time finished in typical Italian fashion as any good time in Italy should:  with the culinary arts!  People lingered well past the posted closing time, in fellowship and interaction as rich as the program had been.