The 2009 convention was billed as the 15th in the history of the women's organization (the national meetings are held every two years). I gather there was a minor controversy over whether that was correct, given the uncertainty of some of the early dates. Nevertheless, that did not stop some of the ladies from organizing a "fiesta de los quince años", or 15th birthday celebration.
In Latin American countries, a young woman's 15th birthday party is not like other birthday parties. It is a rite of passage, believed to date back to pre-Columbian times, which means she is no longer a girl, but a woman. In Venezuela, at least, what's essential is that the family goes all out to throw an unforgettable party. There are piles of gifts, a huge cake and the "quinceanera" dresses up in the most elegant gown that her family can afford. There always is music and dancing, because the quinceanera's first dance with her father means she then is free to dance with other men (in other words, to be courted for marriage).
At the women's retreat, some of the women dressed up in quinceanera-style gowns and danced with their husbands to the music of a mariachi band. Mariachi music is native to Mexico, of course, but is popular in Venezuela for parties and receptions of all kinds. The ladies never looked lovelier.
Our tabernacle in la Caramuca
There is a different quality to tropical sunlight. Here the ambient temperature rarely gets above 100 degrees F., and if you find a shady spot with a breeze, even the 80 percent humidity is not that hard to bear. But the midday sun is really something else. It is more intense somehow than back in Minnesota. Most businesses here close down from noon to 3 p.m., than stay open from 3 to 9 p.m., because so few people venture out at midday. They do not use the word "siesta" in Venezuela, but but basically noon to three is the hour of siesta.
But even in the early morning or late afternoon, the intense sunlight can be a problem. We have a covered patio that allows for large gatherings of people with some protection from the elements. But there's only protection as long as the rain is falling or the sun is shining straight down. Well, really the patio roof does offer a little more protection from the rain, so when the sky is overcast we have been holding our worship services in this patio. But when the sun's ray slide in under the roof, everyone wants to crowd into the small area of shade remaining. So when it's not overcast, we have been setting up the altar and chairs under the shade of our fruit trees.
But, to further complicate things, the weather can change from impending rain to bright sun in a matter of minutes. So by the time you have set up everything under the roofed patio because of the threat of rain, suddenly you have the sunlight problem again. And vice versa, with setting up everything under the trees. Outdoor worship on a regular basis has its disadvantages.
So we bought some tent-like cloth to make curtains to screen out the sun under the patio during worship services. We would like to permanently enclose the patio and make it our chapel, but until then this "tabernacle" will be our solution.
Our altar, by the way, is a plastic lawn table covered with a white table cloth. It allows just enough room for the candles, an open Bible, the chalice and host, and the offering basket after the offering has been gathered. We do not have much in the way of paraments, mainly the candles. I have a red and a purple stole to wear with my alb on the appropriate occasions in the church year, otherwise I have been using a multicolored stole hand-made in Guatemala. However, Luz Maria discovered, when she washed the multicolored stole, that craftsmanship in Guatemala evidently does not include the concept of colorfast dyes. I really need to see about getting the green and white stoles, at least, and something black to wear for Good Friday.
It does seem sometimes a great deal of trouble to instruct our young flock in the liturgy as well as the catechism. In such moments, I remember the words of Bo Giertz on the importance of liturgical worship.
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Bo Harald Giertz (1905-1998) was the foremost voice for confessional Lutheranism in Sweden during the course of the 20th Century. Born into a family of atheists, Giertz embraced the Christian faith while studying medicine at the University of Uppsala. Ordained in 1934, he served as a parish pastor in rural Torpa, Sweden, until 1949. Then he was appointed bishop of the Lutheran Church of Sweden's Gothenburg Diocese, a position that he held until 1970. (The Lutheran Church of Sweden has retained an episcopal hierarchy since the Reformation, basically because the entire existing church hierarchy at that time accepted the Augsburg Confession without batting an eyelash. According to the Augsburg Confession, a historic episcopate is not a necessary mark of the visible church, but neither is such a thing ruled out, if it exists and it fulfills the task of producing faithful, doctrinally sound pastors. So in Sweden there was not much of an impulse for building a new organization from the ground up. Even so, although the Lutheran Church of Sweden presumably has an unbroken chain of ordination dating back to the time of the apostles, it does not have apostolic succession as defined by the Roman Catholic Church. Just in case you were wondering.)
Bo Giertz perhaps is best known throughout the world for his literary masterpiece, a novel first published in 1941. Its Swedish title, "Stengrunden", may be translated either as "foundation of stone" or "rocky ground." Since these phrases have somewhat differing connotations in English, the English title is "The Hammer of God", taken from the novel's first section. There are three sections to the novel, each one telling the story of a young pastor during different periods of Swedish history, each spaced roughly 65 years apart. Each pastor finds the "modern" or "progressive" ideas that he has picked up in the seminary are not adequate for dealing with the reality of evil in others and in himself. So he is thrown back on the authority of Scripture and the basic doctrines of sin and redemption. One of the points that the novel makes is that ideas of what is "modern" or "progressive" vary dramatically from generation to generation, but the Word of God abides for all time. The first English translation of Giertz's novel was published in 1960, but the most recent (published in 2005) includes ninth and final chapter missing from earlier English versions. A film adaptation of the novel is available on DVD (in Swedish with English subtitles) from Lutheran Visuals.
In the Lutheran Church of Sweden it is the custom for a new bishop upon assuming office to write an open letter to all the pastors in his diocese. Giertz's letter dealt with "Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening." The following paragraphs are taken from an English translation by Clifford Ansgar Nelson:
"The Word of God creates the church. Already in the days of the primitive church the Word of God gave to the life of the church those forms which have continued through the centuries. This includes both those forms which seem to be more or less improvised and spontaneous and those which appear fixed and unchangeable. It is true both of that side of the life of the church which we call awakening and that which we call liturgy. Both are the creation of the Word, and both belong to that heritage which we are called to preserve...Adios, Norman Borlaug
"The relation of liturgy to the apostolic age is obvious. It has flowed through the centuries like a ceaseless stream. It had its first deep sources in the synagogue. It is not only that a few words have remained in continuous use since that time, such as Amen, Hallelujah, and Hosanna, but the whole structural form of our order of worship shows clearly its relation to that worship which Jesus Himself shared in the synagogue at Nazareth and in which, as a grown man, he officiated when He was invited to read and interpret the Scriptures. To the ancient worship of the
synagogue the apostolic church added the Holy Communion, that new creation which she received from the Saviour Himself and which is the center of all liturgy. As it is celebrated still, with the traditional chants, the Preface and the Sanctus, it is essentially a contribution of the first century...
"The deepest significance of liturgy lies in the fact that it is a form which the Spirit Himself has created to preserve and deepen the life which He has awakened in the church.
"Awakening is the fire that flames forth in dead souls. The fire burns in the breast when the sinner feels a pang in his conscience. He is gripped by an uneasiness that makes him ask, "What shall I do?" And the Spirit answers by enlightening the soul about the desperate character of sin and the boundless mercy of Christ.
"Liturgy is the work of the same Spirit in preserving the flame which has been lighted. It is the means by which the awakened soul is bound together with the fellowship of the church. It is a pathway for walking in the light, a road that leads forward through the years, and the soul is ever anew called to join itself with that royal priesthood which worships before the altar of God with prayer and thanksgiving, with Communion, and with a quiet listening to the Word of the Lord.
"There can be no normal church life without liturgy. Sacraments need
form, the order of worship must have some definite pattern. It is possible to live for a short time on improvisations and on forms that are constantly changing and being made over. One may use only free prayers and yet create a new ritual for every worship situation. But the possibilities at soon exhausted. One will have to repeat, and with that the making of rituals is in full swing. In circles where people seek to live without any forms new forms are nevertheless constantly take shape. Favorite songs are used again and again with monotonous regularity, certain prayer expressions are constantly repeated, traditions take form and traditional yearly ceremonies are
served. But it would not be wrong to say that the new forms that grow up in this way are usually less attractive and more profane than the ancient liturgy. They contain less of God's Word, they pray and speak without Scriptural direction, they are not so much concerned about expressing the whole content of Scripture, but are satisfied with one thing or another that seems to be especially attractive or popular. The new liturgy that grows in this manner is poorer, less Biblical, and less nourishing to the soul than the discarded ancient order.
"Awakening needs liturgy. An awakening that shall have lasting value must nurture a devotional life that will live on through many a long year and that will become a heritage to be passed on from generation to generation. A sound awakening should therefore move in the direction of leading people into a regular worship life and a faithful use of the sacrament of Communion, showing them how to celebrate the common worship in a proper way and to use aright the churchly books of devotion. It is absolutely necessary that our young people, beginning at the time of confirmation, should learn to understand the service of worship at the altar, to find their
way in the hymnal and lectionary, and to be able to participate in the kind of worship which is used in the local church."
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In chapter 6 of "Gulliver's Travels", author Jonathan Swift opined that, "Whosoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together."
There was never a better living example of this than Dr. Norman Ernest Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and passed away Sept. 12, 2009, at 95 years of age. I had the privilege of hearing him speak at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, in 1999. He called for continued research and development of crops genetically engineered to be more drought- and disease-resistant in order to feed the world's still-growing human population.
During the 1950s and 1960s, public health improvements fueled a population boom in developing nations. This led to dire predictions in the late 1960s and early 1970s that in 15 to 20 years the entire world would be swept by famine and war, due to the impossibility of producing enough food for an overpopulated planet. Millions were doomed to die in order because there was only so much room on "Spaceship Earth."
That scenario did not come to pass, mainly because of research directed by one dedicated scientist, Norman Borlaug. He began working in Mexico during the 1940s to develop higher-yield, drought- and disease-resistant strains of wheat. By 1956, Mexico had become self-sufficient in wheat production and the research was turned over to Mexican scientists that Borlaug and his colleagues had trained. With the help of the Rockefeller Foundation and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Borlaug and his team turned their attention to introducing new crop varieties and agricultural practices to Africa, India and Pakistan.
The results of Borlaug's work became known as "the Green Revolution." World food production more than doubled between 1960 and 1990. In Pakistan and India alone, grain yields more than quadrupled, while requiring less land to be placed into production.
Borlaug was born the great-grandson of Norwegian immigrants. His grandparents were founding members of Immanuel Lutheran Church of Cresco, Iowa. Borlaug escaped hard times on the farm during the Great Depression by winning athletic scholarships to the University of Minnesota. He majored in forestry and worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho before returning to Minnesota to earn his master's degree and doctorate in plant pathology.
From 1975 to 1980, Borlaug served on the board of trustees for Bread for the World, the Christian anti-hunger organization founded by former Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod pastor Arthur Simon.
The whole world would have been a different place without Norman Borlaug and probably not the kind of place where Luz Maria and I could be peacefully proclaiming the Gospel on the far western edge of Venezuela. So let us give thanks to God for Norman Borlaug's accomplishments and his willingness to use them for the benefit of humanity.
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