Granny’s Eyes and the Little Lost Bird

I returned from the Budapest, Bratislava, and Vienna trip feeling very tired and ready for a rest from traveling.  We had stayed in hostels the whole 2 weeks, so having a bedroom all to myself with a door feels like unbelievable luxury.  Of course, my hostel roommates were all very considerate—even those who were strangers—and I had no trouble sleeping.  But still, there is something about having space all to yourself.

When my plane landed at Milan Malpensa Airport and I turned on my phone, I received a voicemail message from a cousin that I had never met.  His mother had contacted me some weeks ago, asking if he could come stay with me.  He arrived in Milan the very same day that I did: Sunday.

My cousin is a big, sweet guy from Texas who goes by BC.  That’s very Texan to go by initials instead of a name.  This is his first trip to Italy, and he travels very light.  BC is 28 years old, very adventurous and open-minded.  When we wandered around a bit, looking for the tram stop in an unfamiliar area, it didn’t faze him one bit.  BC just takes things as they come.  He’s also a kindred spirit, with a big wanderlust and love for Europe.

He started out in Portugal, where he has friends.  After a few days there, he made his way down the coast to Spain, saw the Rock of Gibraltar, and back up the Mediterranean coast to France, then Turin, Italy where he spent the night Saturday night before coming to see his missionary cousin in Milan.  He showed me pictures of his trip, and they included some pictures of his mom, my dad’s cousin.  I saw a resemblance to my great-grandmother.  She looked like I would imagine that Granny had looked as a younger woman.  Her eyes were especially like Granny’s.  BC might look like his dad, who I never knew, but the family resemblance in his mom is unmistakable.

I took BC around the center and showed him the castle, the cathedral, the galleria, and La Scala opera house.  It’s amazing to be with someone who isn’t tired of seeing churches and castles.  It’s almost like seeing these things for the first time again.

Milan’s cathedral, the Duomo, is beautiful and a real wonder.  It is the 3rd largest cathedral in the world, after St. Peter’s in Rome and Notre Dame in Paris.  It was under construction for over 500 years, and has over 3000 life-sized statues built into its façade.  Although we didn’t go up there, it is possible to go explore the roof of the cathedral.  From the roof of the cathedral, you can really grasp just how enormous it is.  And from there, a whole lot more of the cathedral is still far over your head—all of it very intricately carved.

Inside the cathedral, BC and I went into the crypt that is behind and under the altar.  There lay the mummified remains of San Carlo (St. Charles), who had been bishop of Milan a few hundred years ago.  I had seen it before, and it still creeps me out.  BC was also creeped-out.  I also pointed out the statue of St. Bartholomew.  I had seen pictures of it, but had never spotted it before.  The saints are always depicted in the way that they were martyred.  According to legend, Bartholomew was skinned alive.  So the statue (which stands inside the cathedral near the side exit) shows him standing skinless with his skin draped over his shoulders—also very creepy.  Creepy religious art seems to be an Italian thing because I can’t remember even once seeing anything like this in any church in any other country.

When BC had spent 2 nights here, he declared himself to be rested and restless.  He said that he wanted to go by train to Como and on into Switzerland from there.  So I took him to the train station, helped him buy his ticket from the machine, and we said our goodbyes.  Yes, he is kin and a kindred spirit!

Today as I was finishing writing about BC’s visit a bird hit my window.  I was surprised to see that it was a parakeet.  It wasn’t afraid of me, and let me pick it up.  I took it downstairs to the custodian.  “Does anyone in our building keep birds?” I asked.  She said no, but advised me to ask the custodian of the building across the street.

I carried my little friend across the street and asked the custodian there.  She keeps birds, but both of her parakeets were still in their cage, which is enormous.  I asked if anyone in her building keeps birds, but she said no.  She opened the cage and told me to put it in.  At first the bird was reluctant to let go of my finger, but finally went into the cage.  It proceeded to investigate its new surroundings, while the other birds came closer for a good look at the newcomer.  There was a moment of tension while one of the birds fluttered at the newcomer, but soon they seemed to settle into a posture of guardedly watching each other.

“Thank you for taking the bird,” I said.  “Of course,” she chuckled.  “The cage is big enough for all 3, and I think they will get along.  I’m glad you brought it.  Left outside, he would surely starve to death.”

As I crossed back to my apartment building I felt grateful that I had been home when the bird hit the window.  Otherwise the poor thing would have died sooner or later.  I realized that it feels really good to have helped the little bird, and also to help the people who pass through my apartment.  Not that the people are in danger, but it’s good to help them on their way.  This is what I do.  God is good!

The Wild Life

The patriarch of my host family here in Hungary, Tibor, teaches earth sciences and is an avid naturalist.  There is a glass case in my room with a gem and mineral collection, including petrified wood, a shell collection, and a bug collection (I thankfully noted that they’re all dead).  Tibor had been teacher of the morning the day I arrived.  Unfortunately, I missed it because I arrived close to midnight.

Tibor likes to learn the English names for plants and animals.  The other day he approached me with a plant to smell—I knew it immediately: rosemary.  He brought me another one: basil.  But he stumped me on the third one, which I had never seen without flowers: oleander.  There are also several orchids around the house, and lots of flowers in the garden (where I discovered kittens first thing in the morning after I arrived).

There is a river that runs through their town, and just outside of town is the confluence of this river with another river.  He translated for me the names of the rivers: the Black and the White rivers.  He delighted to show me the rivers at their confluence and the river dam, where the fishing is good on the spillway and the dammed part is good for motor boating.  I saw several holes in the ground as we walked back to the car, and asked about them.  When I see holes in the ground, I think “snakes.”  But Tibor said that they are mole holes.  Given the large number of holes, I think moles are far more likely than snakes.

At the Summer Camp, where I’ve been helping out all week, there is another avid naturalist, Alexander.  Unlike Tibor, I think Alexander is strictly a hobbyist, but his passion for all things natural is obvious.  Since he doesn’t speak any English, Alexander had never approached me.  But since I have a curiosity about nature, I approached him.  Alexander brought an enormous telescope to church and had it set up in the yard during snack time.  It was equipped with a special filter for viewing the sun.  He showed me a book with a picture of sunspots and gestured at the telescope.  I looked through it and sure enough, there were several sunspots, just like in the book.

The next day Alexander brought a jar, and from it he produced a live bug about an inch and a half long.  He was letting the children touch and hold the bug (depending on their willingness).  I looked on, amazed as always at how children could touch something that I simply cannot bring myself to touch.  Seeing my curiosity, he approached me with the bug and held it out for me.  My body language made it obvious to him that I have a fear of bugs.  He tried to reassure me that it was harmless, and even if I had understood the words he used, it would have made no difference.  There’s something deep inside me, an ancient revulsion, that cannot be reasoned away.  I’ve faced all my other fears and conquered them all: flying, heights, public speaking.  But as much as I would like to conquer this last fear, there’s just something too ingrained to be overcome.

It’s not real, but real enough for me! EEEEEEEEK!

The following day Alexander came to me holding a bug that was four inches long—it was made of rubber.  He tried to get me to touch the rubber bug.  I couldn’t even touch it.  I understand that he was trying to help me overcome this unreasoning fear of bugs.  And I appreciate it, but I couldn’t bring myself to touch it.  He didn’t push it, but backed-off as soon as he saw that I couldn’t do it.  The bug had a suction cup on its belly, so he stuck it to his watch, and proceeded to show me other things he had brought: a plastic lizard, a wooden turtle, and several nature books.

The final day of Summer Camp, Alexander showed me several old calendars he had: calendars of Alaska, calendars of sea creatures, calendars of birds.  As he showed me page after page of wonders, he chattered as though I could understand.  What I did understand is both his passion for nature, and his kindness toward me and toward the children.

Last night Tibor had a surprise for me.  He took me to meet the town cheese-maker.  The cheeseman showed us how he makes the cheese.  He put a piece of aged cheese under my nose and was surprised to see how much I appreciated the smell.  I explained that I live in Italy, so I know that the stinkier the cheese is, the better it tastes.  He appreciated that.

Today there was a conference for the seniors of the church, at which Pastor H. Koraćs Gėza spoke.  I was told that I would have about five minutes to speak to them.  So of course I prayed about it, and here’s what I said:

Looking out here at all the gray hair, I am aware that many of you and your parents kept your faith in Christ under the oppressive rule of the atheistic Communists.  I have two things to say to you: First, I am deeply sorry that my country believed the lies of the Communists and did nothing to help you.  Secondly, I know that someday you will trade your silver crowns for gold crowns.  I am here to honor you for your faithful service to your Lord and mine.

To the young people here I say: learn from these elders, and share the love of Christ with everyone you know.

And finally, I would like to thank Pastor Gėza for coming.  It is an honor to meet you.

When Pastor Gėza returned to the platform, he observed that Christianity had actually flourished and grown under Communist oppression.  He said that Christianity now faces a far more dangerous enemy in the form of complacency.  I believe he’s right.

Tonight at dinner, Piroska, the matriarch of this family observed: today has been a day of spiritual cleaning.  Yes, indeed, it was!

Let it Reign!

I recently had the privilege of hearing Pastor Alexandre Guzzardi preach.  Pastor Guzzardi is one of those rare individuals with an honest-to-goodness supernatural gift for preaching God’s Word.  Not everyone who preaches has a gift for preaching, which doesn’t make them bad preachers, it just means that they may be more scholarly, and therefore, lean more toward the teaching gift than the preaching gift.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  I enjoy teaching, too.  In addition to his gift, Pastor Guzzardi is also a delight to hear because of his bust-a-gut-laughing hilarious delivery (not all of which translates with such hilarity into English, and some is purely visual).

Pastor Guzzardi, who is Brazilian, lives in England, and has for many years.  But he preaches in Italian.  Since the pastor of my home church in Milan is Brazilian, I am used to hearing Brazilian-accented Italian, but it really throws some people.

The “it” in my title is the Body of Christ, and “Destined to Reign” was the title of Pastor Guzzardi’s sermon.  In Genesis 1:20-21 God filled the waters with fish and other sea creatures, and the air with birds.  In the Amplified version it says, “Let the waters bring forth abundantly and swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly over the earth in the open expanse of the heavens,” (emphasis mine).  And in verse 24 it says, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creeping things, and [wild] beasts of the earth according to their kinds,” (emphasis mine).   The sea creatures are actually made of water, and the land creatures (including humans) are actually made out of earth, and in Genesis 2:7 we actually get to see God at work making the first man, and indeed, he is made from the earth.

Pastor Guzzardi said that when a creature gets too far away from the environment it was made from, it is in mortal danger, for example a fish out of water or a land animal in the middle of the ocean.  Then in Genesis 1:26 it says:

God said, “Let Us [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] make mankind in Our image, after Our likeness, and let them have complete authority over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the [tame] beasts, and over all of the earth, and over everything that creeps upon the earth,” (emphasis mine).

(Note that the word “tame” that the Amplified version inserts is something I disagree with.  Before the fall (and this is clearly before the fall), all the animals were tame.)

Other versions use words like dominion, rule, and reign, it all amounts to the same thing:  humans were made to rule over the earth and all the creatures on earth and in the sea and skies.  Then Pastor Guzzardi showed a picture of a flower, like this one:

He said, “People sell their souls, rob from their mothers, and even kill to have this.  It’s an opium poppy.  If you don’t reign over the earth, the earth will reign over you.”  Then he showed another picture:

He said, “People sell their souls and lose their families to have this, too.  Paper money is made mostly of cotton.  If you don’t reign over the earth, the earth will reign over you.”  Then he showed other pictures:

He said, “Men sell their souls and walk out on their families to have this.  Women sell their souls and leave their children to have this.  We just read that these bodies are also made from the earth.  If you don’t reign over the earth, the earth will reign over you.”

Anything you can think of comes from the earth and can rule over you, if you don’t rule over it.

We have been given the authority to reign on the earth and over the earth.  When sin entered the picture, we forfeited that authority to the devil.  But through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, He bought back our right to reign.  But we have to take authority, which is an active thing.  It won’t do us any good just to know that we have authority, we have to take it and use it.  If we don’t reign over the earth, the earth in one way or another will reign over us.

The only one who doesn’t have any legal rights on this earth is the devil.  True, he tempted and tricked us out of our authority, but without a physical body made from the earth, he has no legal right to rule over the earth.  He is called the prince of the power of the air because he has no physical body.

Great sermon!

And here’s how I took authority over the earth:  when I was almost too tired to keep going, and do what I needed to do, I took authority over the earth (specifically the earth that my body is made of), and I said, “I speak strength to keep going over my body.  Thank You, Jesus for giving me back the authority to reign over the earth!”  And I did feel stronger and was able to complete my work.  Then it occurred to me that we can do the same thing with sickness, injury, and any other earthly need.  Jesus was the perfect example of a man who reigned with authority over the earth.

Reign on!