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Nicea, or Nicaea, is extremely important in the history of Christendom as the site of the first and seventh ecumenical (i.e. world-wide) councils. The First Council of Nicea convened in A.D. 325 to settle the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ in reaction to Arianism. A product of this council is the Nicene Creed, named after the council. The Nicene Creed is one of the three major creeds of the Church. (The Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed being the other two.) The Nicene Creed is an expansion of the Apostles’ Creed and incorporates specific language concerning the nature of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and their relation to God the Father. The less significant Second Council of Nicea (the seventh ecumenical council) in A.D. 787 restored the use and veneration of icons (i.e. holy images) which had been banned by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V thirty-three years earlier.

ChurchOfNicea1Nicea was located in northwestern Anatolia, which today is part of Turkey. Nicea lies within the modern city of Iznik on the eastern shore of Iznik Lake, also known as Lake Ascanius. On the shore of this lake was a church, and it was in this church that the First Nicene council met. In A.D. 740 an earthquake struck the area, and the church was submerged beneath the lake. The exact site of the church was forgotten over time, and has been unknown for centuries. However, that has now changed.

Dr. Mustafa Şahin, a Turkish archaeologist, has searched many years for the ancient church of Nicea. He explored the area around Lake Iznik (known as Lake Ascanius in Roman times) without success. In 2013, the government began taking aerial photographs of the lake but the government did not share the photographs with archaeologists. Recently the government renewed the aerial photography and a member of the team thought of contacting Dr. Şahin. The photographs showed an ancient structure about 160 feet from shore and under about ten feet of water. Dr. Şahin immediately recognized the remains as those of a church and he was sure that his search was over. “When I first saw the images of the lake, I was quite surprised to see a church structure that clearly. I’d been doing field surveys in Iznik since 2006 and hadn’t yet discovered a magnificent structure like that,” Dr. Şahin told reporters.

ChurchOfNicea2Divers dispatched to explore the submerged building discovered several human graves and some Roman coins.

The site may become Turkey’s first underwater museum; Dr. Şahin hopes that wll be the case. Museum plans include a sixty-six foot tower which would allow the ruins to be seen from the shore, a walkway over the lake itself, and a submerged glass room at the nave allowing visitors to pray in the area enclosed by the original church. The museum would allow visitors to dive and get a closeup view of the structure. Construction may begin soon and the museum could open in 2019.

For more information on the find, as well as information on the controversy leading to the First Council of Nicene, read this article in the Daily Beast.

playmobil-luther-1Playmobil has announced that their toy Martin Luther is the best-selling figure in their history. The figure was produced for the German and Nuremberg tourist boards, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria. The initial production run of 34,000 pieces was gone in less than 72 hours. The company has ordered its factory to produce more units but they won’t be available until the end of April which means that currently the figure is in high demand and short supply. A quick search of eBay found 16 listings; the one closing the soonest (in two days) currently has a high bid of $70.55. However, there are also many listed with a Buy It Now price of $25 to $30.

Playmobil did not expect such success; a spokesperson for the company stated that it is “a big mystery [and] a huge surprise.” Most of the units (about 95%) were sold in Germany. Astid Mühlmann, a governmental official who is helping prepare for the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, suggests that education is the cause of the toy’s popularity. “There’s quite an interest in looking back to our history. Parents want to make sure their children grow up knowing who he is because he had such an impact on how society evolved in Europe. I’m very happy with the news because it shows people are interested in history.”

You can read more about story this in a Newsweek article. By coincidence, I’m posting this on Martin Luther’s feast day on the Episcopal Church calendar.


Marcus_BorgMarcus Borg, liberal theologian and New Testament scholar, died last week (January 21) at age 72. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Borg several years ago and of hearing him speak. He and I disagreed on almost everything but I found him to be a likable and genteel man. Christianity Today posted a death notice which praises Dr. Borg for his willingness to engage in dialogue with those who disagreed with him. The article is entitled Died: Marcus Borg, Liberal Jesus Scholar and Friendly Provocateur, and can be read by clicking on the title. The American Spectator published an article which spends more time dealing with Dr. Borg’s theology. It is authored by Mark Tooley, the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. The article, In Memoriam: The Death of Marcus Borg, Christian Panentheist is interesting reading. It also can be read by clicking on the title. The Huffington Post has a death notice with more personal content from friends. It can be read here. These three articles give (at least) three views of Dr. Borg, and together they give us a better understanding of him as a person and of his work. Different authors, different sets of facts, different understandings: all (and more!) are needed to form a complete picture. Just like with the Gospels and the life of Jesus: four gospels give us four different viewpoints, and therefore a fuller picture of Jesus.

I have purchased greeting cards and holy cards from the convent of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor for about thirty years. The cards are created in their scriptorium and are unlike cards from the large companies. The Sisters’ cards feature hand drawings and paintings with texts from the Bible and religious classics. Some of the cards have original photos of the convent land but I prefer the drawings due to the simplicity of line and color which they exhibit. Many of the texts are illuminated. And their prices are very low — most cards are $.50 or less. I especially like their Christmas line which includes postcards as well as greeting cards. Christmas cards are on sale now with many only $.20! This is a great time to purchase cards for 2015. Visit the web site and browse the cards. Your recipients will instantly recognize the difference between these cards and the typical holiday cards. Plus you support the good work of the Sisters.

The early Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, and in particular, Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s “suffering servant”. Matthew writes: “Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick until he brings justice to victory.’” (Matthew 12:15-20)

Reading the gospel stories of Jesus’ interaction with people, especially with people who were outcasts or were on the lower rungs of society, one is struck by the compassion and understanding Jesus demonstrates. Many of the people who met Jesus were “bruised reeds” or “smouldering wicks”. They were looked down upon, and had been mistreated by religious, social or civic leaders. Jesus treated them gently and kindly, healed their afflictions, offered forgiveness, and showed God’s love. A bruised reed is safe in Jesus’ hand.

There were many bruised reeds in our Jesus’ world and there are many in our world. People are hurt and weakened by the vicissitudes of life. Some have suffered chronic physical or mental health problems, some have been betrayed by a friend or spouse, some have been wounded by society or the economic system. We see these people every day, although usually we do not see their mental or emotional bruises. Most of us, at some time in our lives, are bruised reeds, so we know what it feels like to be hurt, vulnerable and weak.

A bruised reed is easy to break: apply a bit of pressure to the weak area and it snaps. Healing a bruised reed is not so easy: one must protect the bruised area and support the reed until strength is restored. Christians are called to heal the bruised reeds, and not to break them.

It is easy to attack someone who is vulnerable or weak. We seem to have a sense for weakness, and like predators in the wild, we lunge. Sometimes we do this physically, but more often we do it with words. It makes us feel superior, and we gloat, “I showed him.” This is the way of predators, but it is not the way of Jesus. As Christians, we are called to sense weakness, but rather than lunging we are called to support the person and to protect the bruise. We are called to heal and build up, not to break. In order to do this, we must put aside any feeling or belief that breaking a reed shows our superiority. Jesus teaches the opposite: that superiority lies in being willing to be broken in order to help the bruised.

We meet bruised reeds every day. We see people who are unemployed, sick, physically disabled, or scorned by ‘proper’ society. How we deal with the people we meet – what we say to them, what we think about them, whether we cross the street to avoid them – determines whether we are following Jesus’ example of healing bruised reeds or the worldly way of breaking them. If we decide to follow Jesus’ example of healing then there are times when we ourselves will be broken. We may be broken by critics who think we spend too much time with “the wrong sort” of people or we may be broken by someone we are trying to help. This was Jesus experience – he was criticized for keeping company with sinners and finally was executed in a plot by those he sought to help. We shouldn’t expect to be treated better than our master (Matthew 10:24). There is a risk in following Jesus, a risk in taking part in his mission of healing bruised reeds. But the bruised reeds in our world and in our lives need us to take the risk because only through Jesus, the suffering servant, can the needed healing come.

copyright by the author, 2014

The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) is well-known. This story relates that a group of people decided to build a city with a tower which would reach into “the heavens”; constructing the city and such a tall tower would unite the people and make them famous. The author tells us that the Lord saw the events, and in order to stop the construction, the Lord “confused their language so that they would not understand one another’s speech.” Since they could not converse with each other, the people stopped the construction of the tower. They also separated into groups and scattered “abroad … over the face of all the earth.” This separation gave rise to multiple communities which developed diverse cultures in addition to having different languages.

The story explains why there are multiple languages instead of all people speaking the same language. However, the story also has a more significant lesson. The author is clear that the multiplication of languages and the dispersion of people into many communities did not occur by accident. It was not something which happened “behind God’s back” – indeed, the author of Genesis tells us that God was the source of the proliferation of languages and cultures.

This brings to mind the first chapter of the book of Genesis, “… God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind ….’ And it was so. … And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created … every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. … And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground …. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:11,20,24,25)

God created a variety of living things; not just one or two kinds of fish but many kinds. There are more than 32,000 known species of fish in addition to the many other animals which live in water. And birds – God didn’t just create a red bird and a blue bird and a yellow bird but instead produced about 10,000 different species from a 2 inch hummingbird to a 9 foot ostrich. The same is true of plants: there are about 200,000 species of trees. Even things which we often consider insignificant occur in great variety, for there are about 12,000 species of algae.

This tells us that God loves diversity. God does not want everything to be alike. The huge amount of variety in living things makes it look as though God wants one of every possible thing. The opening chapter of Genesis tells us that God brought living things into being, and he brought them into being in many forms, shapes, colors and sizes. The story of the Tower of Babel tells us that God also caused people to be not all alike. We speak many languages and cultures as well as different colors of skin, hair and eyes. We are short, tall, fat and skinny; we have different talents and abilities. There is a lot of diversity among humans. This is good, and to God it is beautiful.

God does not want us all to be alike. God has made each of us unique – in the whole history of creation there never has been, and never will be, another person identical to you or to me. We need to recognize and celebrate this uniqueness. We are called by God to find joy in diversity and variety. When we look at a group of people and see the wide range of skin colors, heights, weights, and hair color, we should rejoice. When we talk with people and hear different accents, when we recognize different talents or abilities (or lack thereof), we should rejoice. God created us to be different. God brought this about; it is beautiful. “And God saw that it was good.” May we also see that it is good, and see the beauty in those who are different from us.

copyright by the author, 2014