And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:3-4

Every year the members of the Northwest Houston Photo Club (of which I am a member) are invited to put together a portfolio of their work and submit it – first for public view and then for a private one-on-one review with several professional photographers. Each year I have produced a group of 10-12 photos that more often than not feature flowers or other God-made things. This year, I am departing from that normal focus and have put together a portfolio featuring photographs from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, located in Berlin, Germany. Here are those photos for your viewing. My artist statement is at the bottom of this page.

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Artist Statement

Views of The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

David Bahn
2017

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial, is located in Berlin, Germany. Designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, it occupies a 4.7-acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The stelae are 7 ft 10 in. long, 3 ft 1 in. wide and vary in height from 7.9 in. to 15 ft., 5 in. They are organized in rows: 54 of them going north–south, and 87 heading east–west at right angles but set slightly askew. We had heard of this memorial and wanted to see it, but were stunned to silence when we actually came upon it. I knew immediately I wanted to produce a portfolio from the photos I took while we were there.

The number of stelae (2,711) is a prime number. For that reason, I chose to highlight 11 images (also a prime number) for this portfolio. Because there are several ways to encounter and process this memorial, I chose not to have all the images in black and white, and not all in landscape orientation.

I began to take a serious interest in photography while a junior in high school. I more often photograph flowers, landscapes and other things of creation. These images mark a departure from my normal focus, and I hope those who see this portfolio will take a few moments of silence to grieve the great tragedy this memorial represents. Perhaps one might also consider whether there are any modern-day parallels to the brutal genocide which these stelae represent. Persecution and slaughter of Jews, Muslims, Christians, the unborn, or any racial, or other ethnic-cleansing efforts come to my mind.

October 2017

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. – Acts 20:1-6

Roses were growing all along one path of the Königstein fortress

Roses were growing all along one of the paths of the Königstein fortress.

We were traveling in Kenya with the Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya. The Secretary General, and several other important dignitaries – including the President of the Lutheran Church of Uganda – were with us as first we traveled by air from Nairobi to Kisumu, and then from there to Oyugis, a village south of Kisumu, stopping (not really on the way) at the Lutheran theological school in Sondu. It was quite an entourage, and the travel was quite an ordeal, but the outcome was well worth it. We taught pastors and their wives about the mission of God, faithfulness, and servant leadership, and were very well-received in the process. Some of the benefit of having other church leaders along for the conference was that they became interested in bringing the PLI International experience to their churches and pastors.

Paul’s entourage was quite possibly put together for a different purpose. As you compare his comments in 1 Corinthians 16, and 2 Corinthians 8 & 9, it seems that his companions are with him at least in part to lend credibility to his efforts to collect an offering for the saints in Jerusalem. He wanted it to be clear that he was not usurping authority in the process of gathering the offerings, nor was he going to put himself in a position to be questioned as to how he handled the funds entrusted to him. These companions served to encourage him, validate his mission for the people of the area churches (they seem possibly to be representatives from these various churches), and helped give greater confidence that the funds were being properly handled.

Paul could have insisted that he didn’t need anyone to accompany him. He could have told the people he wasn’t afraid to die in the mission to which the Holy Spirit had called him, and gone it alone. Instead, however, he seems to welcome the companionship. It’s possible that he realized that their presence would thwart any robbery attempt!

Entourages are kind of fun; sometimes even impressive. Better yet are brothers and sisters in Christ who will stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the mission to which God has called us – for protection, encouragement, and endorsement of us and our mission. Jesus didn’t send the disciples out alone; he sent them two-by-two. There were three with whom he was especially close: Peter, James, and John. Then the twelve, and the 72, the 120 (Acts 1:15). We are best when we are not alone, and that’s true in the transition from one missionary effort to another – as in this case – or in the throes of the missional battles in which Paul has engaged will soon will again.

Thank God for those fellow missionaries who travel the Way with us!

And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

Flowers by God...Photos by David2007 Calendar

This cross is in the courtyard outside the Beijing Roman Catholic Church. Photo taken February 2004

When we visited Beijing, China (following a mission trip to Hong Kong and southern China) we told our guide that we wanted to visit an underground church. There are many Christians in China, at least some of which worship in the registered “Three-Self Church” congregations. Some of them are also members of “underground” churches. We had visited a registered church, and found it to be quite edifying and encouraging. We had hoped to see a group of Christians who were not part of the registered (and highly watched and regulated) church.

We ended up at a Roman Catholic church – much to our dismay. But our dismay turned into delight when through a providential convergence of events we were able to share the gospel with our guide and driver. Because we ended up in the Roman Catholic church in Beijing, and they were using the traditional mass, I was asked, and able to answer some very simple questions. Our guide asked me, during the service, “What is sin?” When we confessed the Nicene Creed in Latin we offered an annotated translation into English for him to consider.

The people of Ephesus were agitated over the threat that the message of Jesus posed to Artemis, their pagan goddess. In the face of their near-riotous behavior, the town clerk reminds them of the “sacred stone that fell from the sky” (a meteor?) and the un-refuted fame they enjoyed relative to Artemis. There is a big difference between a superstitious fascination with a stone from the sky combined with a silversmith’s financial interests, and the message of Jesus. Too thousand years later we’re still talking about Jesus. Artemis (Diana) has been forgotten. Today Ephesus is a shadow of its former self. Meteors fall from the sky, and we are more or less impressed. No one today worships sacred stones or silver goddesses; at least not formally. 

In fact, however, too many people do worship silver goddesses and sacred stones. Too many people bow down at the altar of finance and sexuality, seeking their salvation from deaf and mute false-gods. When their most dire hour comes, however, those gods will do them no good. Paul and his companions told them of a better God, and truer Savior. Those who embrace Jesus by faith will be saved – far better than any silver goddess or sacred stone can ever offer.

When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” – Acts 19:28-34

Hollyhock

Hollyhock | Martinshöhe, Germany | August 2017

The presenter – supposedly a Christian pastor or leader – was making a point about the power of words. He invited me to come forward and hold out my arm, and say out loud, “I am weak. I cannot hold my arm out against your downward pull.” I went along with his demonstration and managed to keep my arm outstretched even though he was pulling my arm downward. He was trying to say that negative speak can undercut our performance. Sounded like snake oil to me, and I wasn’t buying it.

On this occasion the people of Ephesus were incited to riot against Paul. True to form, many people didn’t even know why they were there. The only thing they had in common was the cry, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” My question: If Artemis is so great, why doesn’t she speak for herself? Why doesn’t she put a stop to Jesus’ disciples?

That’s not the real question, however. The real question has to do with God’s true power and being. When God speaks things happen. He speaks the world into existence. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. When we speak things that are not true, we are playing God, trying to create a world that does not exist. In those cases it doesn’t matter what we say, or how earnestly we speak. Saying it doesn’t make it so.

Artemis is not great. Jesus is Lord. Those who rail against Jesus and his rule and reign will on day confess, “‘Jesus Christ is Lord.” Artemis will have no help for them then; she’s not so great after all.

Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” – Acts 19:21-27

Beautiful flowers at the Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern

Yellow rose at the Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern, Germany | August 2017

Have you ever seen an irresistible force encounter an immovable object? The closest I have come to that would be a Mythbusters episode when they utterly destroyed a massive object with a rocket-propelled sled. It was a colossal collision resulting in the utter destruction of both things.

In the case of Paul’s plans to return to Jerusalem, and then ultimately travel to Rome, (all for the sake of preaching the Gospel) there were those who will seek to prevent him from succeeding. They didn’t like the truth he proclaimed, for he preached that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that all idols were no gods at all. His message threatened the financial wellbeing of the Ephesian silversmiths. They were not about to let this man upset their financial applecart. They would, marshal their colleagues and seek however they were able to discredit Paul and protect their lucrative business.

The only trouble is that God is the irresistible force. They are not immovable objects. Stubborn maybe. Resolute and recalcitrant perhaps. But not immovable. Paul will travel to Jerusalem and then go on to Rome. He will bring the Gospel message with him wherever he goes. However, there is no longer a silversmith guild in Ephesus. The trade in silver likenesses of Artemis is nothing today. The message of Jesus Christ, however, has endured through the centuries, and carries on today.

We might expect that God’s irresistible force would overwhelm people and lay all enemies low. Certainly one day that will be seen to be true. But until that time, we must contend with enemies of the truth of God. Most notable of those are the stubborn resistance to God’s grace, the arrogant denial of God’s true place and our accountability to him, the lack of willingness to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with one another and our God. The false belief that we are stronger than God, that we can resist his will and determine for ourselves that which is good and evil is the essence of all sin.

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.” In so doing we are aligning ourselves with God’s good and gracious will. We might expect that all will go well in that case. But Paul’s experience and example show us that as long as we are in this world there will be those who resist God’s will and ways. We will inevitably encounter them, and they will make life difficult for us even who are following God faithfully.

Faith calls us to follow God wherever he leads. We do so with the confidence of God’s love and salvation – won for us by the perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus from death and the grave. Make no mistake: following God does not assure us of a smooth and easy path. Neither should others make the mistake, however, of believing that they can thwart God’s ways forever.

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. – Acts 19:11-20

Beautiful flowers at the Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern

(More) Beautiful flowers at the Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern, Germany | August 2017

My son had the opportunity to take a significant canoe trip with his scout troop through the Boundary Waters – the area between Minnesota and Ontario. The Boundary Waters is a popular destination for those wishing to enjoy camping, canoeing, fishing, as well as for those simply looking for natural scenery and relaxation. It is also an area in which there are a number of “no-see-ums” – tiny gnats or other insects that can make life rather miserable. At least that was his report to us upon returning. I think he also had a good time otherwise.

There are certain things that we simply do not see – whether because they are small and difficult to spot, or sometimes because our eyes are not accustomed to looking for them. Sometimes we simply miss seeing something very obvious for reasons we cannot name. In our home, when that occurs, we will often simply shout, “Snake!”, referring to the saying, “If it was a snake it would have bitten you.” Obvious. Present. Simply overlooked.

I believe we have some built-in filters in North American Christianity that prevents us from seeing some other very significant things. We simply cannot see miracles, healings, or other signs or wonders because we factor them out of our world view. In other areas of the world (less-advanced by our standards) these things are expected, appreciated, and regularly seen. We, however, filter them out; they don’t fit our paradigm of how the world works.

In Paul’s day it was quite a different story, and the abuse they embraced about such phenomena was rather mechanical in nature. You simply said the right words, invoked the appropriate deity, and offered the proper prayer, and the miracle would materialize. So thought Sceva’s seven sons. When they invoked “Jesus whom Paul proclaims” in a magical way (apart from faith) they soon learned the power they were up against was more then they could handle. In the end, their defeat was so complete and convincing that those who practiced magic arts turned away from them – destroying their magic books as a sign of their new allegiance to Christ and his ways. They saw his true power and preeminence in a new light.

What do you see…or refuse to acknowledge that may be keeping you from following in the ways of God?

A reprise today…

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:6-8

Beautiful flowers at the Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern

One of the many beautiful flowers at the Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern, Germany | August 2017

In yesterday’s blogpost, after expressing appreciation for Martin Luther’s explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed, I said that perhaps some day someone would write a paragraph that expresses the role and work of the Holy Spirit in the mission of God. Based on this passage and others, among them Acts 13:2: While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” We so often and focus on the essential work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith (Luther: “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…”).

I would never place myself on the same theological or intellectual level as Martin Luther. Nor would I offer the following as any sort of final word on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Mission of God. I would love to begin a conversation and offer a paragraph that captures some of the workings of the Holy Spirit beyond conversion itself. To that end…

The Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – desires that all people be saved, acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord, and living under his gracious rule and reign. Having reconciled the world to himself through the death of Jesus Christ, he sent the Holy Spirit upon his people, called and gathered them into the church, the fellowship of the redeemed. In and through that church the Holy Spirit also calls people into God’s mission, engaging them in his work and redemptive mission. To that end, the Holy Spirit moves God’s people to acts of kindness, gentleness, love, and goodness. He emboldens God’s people to speak the truth in love. He enables God’s people to recall Jesus’ words (cf. John 14:26). He moves the church to set aside certain men and women to move into places and spaces by which the rule and reign of Jesus is established in people’s hearts unto the ends of the earth, propelling and advancing the mission of God through them.

This paragraph needs some work, but it is my start at the conversation. Perhaps someone  will know that this idea has already been expressed. If that is the case, I would love to read what others have already said. In the mean time, I am eager to hear from anyone who can offer any correction, addition, or suggested edits to this statement. This is not ready for a Lutheresque “This is most certainly true.” But it may be a start.