Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Picture Is Worth...

One of my favorite books from my doctoral studies was Alan Trachtenberg's Brooklyn Bridge.  It brought culture, image, interpretation, poetry, nostalgia, and a whole lot of other things together for me.  I still go back to it every few years.  

And so, when I saw this image in a Yahoo news report, I had to look.  

It's not that it's a nineteenth century daguerreotype.  It's that this particular one may have actually caught some people in it.  Imagine, a photo with people in it!  With the  daguerreotype process, people typically did not show up in photos of landscapes.  They moved about too much.  

They did appear in portraits.  For a portrait one had to remain as still as possible.  As a result, most everyone ended up looking grumpy or weird or both in their portraits.  A totally random example is the following:

But in landscapes, we busy little human beings rarely stayed still long enough to be captured in the finished product.  That is what makes the Cincinnati waterfront picture above so intriguing.  Here is the photo up close:

A small, but interesting point.  You may read the whole story at the following address.  It's worth the couple of minutes it will take:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Crystal Cathedral's Finances Shattered

Old news for many by now, but Ecumenical News International reports the following:

California's Crystal Cathedral Files for Bankruptcy Protection

Washington (ENI/RNS). The Crystal Cathedral, the gleaming Southern California megachurch known for its "Hour of Power" television broadcast, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors. Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman said in an 18 October statement that the decision came after some creditors chose to file lawsuits against the ministry, Religion News Service reports. "As is often the case, negotiations and decisions do not move fast enough to satisfy all parties," said Coleman, who succeeded her father, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, this year. "For these reasons, the ministry now finds it necessary to seek the protection of a Chapter 11." The church's "Hour of Power" broadcast has been described as the most-watched Christian television programme worldwide. [309 words, ENI-10-0716]

Facebook and Public Persons

Christian Century blogger Adam Copeland has a nice little piece on being a pastor and using facebook, titled "Facebook Rules for Pastors."  It has application to just about anyone who has a "public" role.  Here is one especially nice paragraph:

"Pastoral ministry is a public calling, and in our social-media age this calling extends to online identities and relationships. I laud the possibilities social media presents and urge the church to use the tools for the kingdom. But just as church-owned houses offer particular challenges to a pastor and family when members drop in unannounced to fill the fridge with makings for the women's tea, Facebook offers the challenge of unclear and ever-changing boundaries." 

You may read the whole piece and responses at

The Charge of the Light Brigade - Oct. 25, 1854

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
 Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
 Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
 Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
 Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
 Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
 Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
 Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
 All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
 Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
 Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
 Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
 Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
 All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
 Noble six hundred.

Copied from Poems of Alfred Tennyson,
J. E. Tilton and Company, Boston, 1870

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

What Makes America American?

What follows is the first part of a piece I wrote for the October 2010 Lutheran Witness. You can read the whole thing at, if you are so inclined.  Enjoy!

Is America a Christian nation? Ask this question, and you’ll probably get responses that run across the spectrum from “Yes” to “No,” including “Yes, but . . .” and “No, but . . .”
To many people it just seems so plainly obvious: Of course, the United States is a Christian nation! How could it be otherwise?

Many people in The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod are absolutely convinced that this is so. At the same time, there are plenty of people—people who attend LCMS congregations—that are convinced that America is not a Christian nation, properly speaking. And, there are plenty of people that fall at some point on the spectrum between these two poles.

Why the divide? Shouldn’t this be simple?

In fact, it’s not. Answering this question often raises more questions. What is necessary for a nation to be Christian? Specific biblical statements in constitutional documents? A majority of citizens holding membership in Christian churches? A majority of citizens actually going to a Christian church each week? Beyond these, some wonder whether one can be a good Christian and a good American at the same time. Is there really a wall of separation between the church and the state here in the United States?

Perhaps the better question is simply this: What is it that makes America American? And what is it that makes an American an American?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

*WARNING* - Proud Father Alert!

This evening the Concordia Lutheran High School varsity boys soccer team accomplished a first in school history.  They won the Summit Athletic Conference in soccer.  Concordia is a smaller school in comparison to some of its competitors in the conference, so this is a nice win for our guys.  My son, Karl, is #13 in the video below.  He's played with and against a bunch of the guys on this team at the grade school and middle school level, as well as in club ball.  One of his team mates, Erik Ratzburg, and he have been playing together since they were 5/6 years old--that's a dozen years ago!

Anyway, it was a great win for them tonight over Fort Wayne North Side (3-0; Karl scored the 3rd goal), and a great moment for Cadet's soccer.  Great job Coach Macke and crew!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Maps of Things I Really Like, Part 1

I am now on a(nother) map kick--maps of canals.  And this is one great website for one of favorite canals, the Erie:

I've dragged my poor family around to many Erie Canal sites--they are really trooopers.  

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Berlin Researchers Crack the Ptolemy Code

I love maps. Period. I spend hours reading them. This is my kind of story.


Mapping Ancient Germania

Berlin Researchers Crack the Ptolemy Code

A 2nd century map of Germania by the scholar Ptolemy has always stumped scholars, who were unable to relate the places depicted to known settlements. Now a team of researchers have cracked the code, revealing that half of Germany's cities are 1,000 years older than previously thought.

The founding of Rome has been pinpointed to the year 753. For the city of St. Petersburg, records even indicate the precise day the first foundation stone was laid.

Historians don't have access to this kind of precision when it comes to German cities like Hanover, Kiel or Bad Driburg. The early histories of nearly all the German cities east of the Rhine are obscure, and the places themselves are not mentioned in documents until the Middle Ages. So far, no one has been able to date the founding of these cities.

Our ancestors' lack of education is to blame for this dearth of knowledge. Germanic tribes certainly didn't run land survey offices -- they couldn't even write. Inhabitants this side of the Rhine -- the side the Romans never managed to occupy permanently -- used only a clumsy system of runes.
According to the Roman historian Tacitus, people here lived in thatched huts and dugout houses, subsisting on barley soup and indulging excessively in dice games. Not much more is known, as there are next to no written records of life within the barbarians' lands.

Astonishing New Map

That may now be changing. A group of classical philologists, mathematical historians and surveying experts at Berlin Technical University's Department for Geodesy and Geoinformation Science has produced an astonishing map of central Europe as it was 2,000 years ago.

The map shows that both the North and Baltic Seas were known as the "Germanic Ocean" and the Franconian Forest in northern Bavaria was "Sudeti Montes." The map indicates three "Saxons' islands" off the Frisian coast in northwestern Germany -- known today as Amrum, Föhr and Sylt.

It also shows a large number of cities. The eastern German city that is now called Jena, for example, was called "Bicurgium," while Essen was "Navalia." Even the town of Fürstenwalde in eastern Germany appears to have existed 2,000 years ago. Its name then was "Susudata," a word derived from the Germanic term "susutin," or "sow's wallow" -- suggesting that the city's skyline was perhaps less than imposing.

This unusual map draws on information from the mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy, who, in 150 AD, embarked on a project to depict the entire known world. Living in Alexandria, in the shadow of its monumental lighthouse, the ancient scholar drew 26 maps in colored ink on dried animal skins -- a Google Earth of the ancient world, if you will.

Rainy Realm of Barbarians

One of these drawings depicts "Germania Magna," the rainy realm inhabited, according to Roman sources, by rough barbarians whose reproductive drive, they said, was giving rise to an alarming number of tribes.

Ptolemy demonstrated extensive knowledge of this remote area, indicating the locations of mountains, rivers and islands. An index lists 94 "poleis," or cities, noting their latitude and longitude accurately to within a few minutes.

The map shows settlements as far afield as the Vistula River in present-day Poland, where Burgundians, Goths and Vandals once lived, and mentions the Saxons for the first time. It appears Ptolemy was even familiar with the Swina River, which flows from the Szczecin Lagoon into the Baltic Sea, near the present day German-Polish border.

It seems surprising that an academic living along the Nile had such detailed knowledge of northern Europe -- and it's certain that Ptolemy never took his own measurements in the Germanic lands. Instead, researchers believe he drew on Roman traders' travel itineraries, analyzed seafarers' notes and consulted maps used by Roman legions operating to the north.

Yet the data the ancient geographer used is distorted. Errors of scale crept in as he transcribed the Earth's sphere to the flat plane of a map. Ptolemy believed the northern lands to be narrower and more elongated than they are and bent Jutland in Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany too far to the east.

'Enchanted Castle'

Ptolemy also failed to accurately connect the different parts of his map. Mistakes worked their way in despite his attempts to locate calibration points to tie together his patchwork of geographical information. The inevitable result was confusion.

Linguists and historians have tried repeatedly to decode the yellowed document -- in vain. Among researchers, it came to be known as an "enchanted castle," a mystery no one could crack. Access to Germany's prehistory was believed closed off forever.

Now the ancient map appears to be revealing its secrets at last. For the first time, a high-caliber team of experts in the field of surveying and mapping came together in a bid to solve the map's perplexing puzzle. The Berlin-based team pored over the recalcitrant data for six years, working together to develop a so-called "geodetic deformation analysis" that would help to correct the map's mistakes.

The result is an index that pinpoints the hometowns of the legendary figures Siegfried and Arminius to within 10 to 20 kilometers (6 to 12 miles). A new book, "Germania und die Insel Thule" ("Germania and the Island of Thule"), has just been published about the project. The publisher, Darmstadt-based WBG, calls it a "sensation."

The Istanbul Connection

The essential question is whether the new data is accurate. Ptolemy's "Geography" is preserved only in duplication. The copy so far considered the most authentic is an edition produced around the year 1300 and kept by the Vatican.

But the team of experts in Berlin had the great fortune to be able to refer to a parchment tracked down at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, the former residence of the Ottoman sultans. The document, consisting of unbound sheepskin pages with writing in Roman capital letters, is the oldest edition of Ptolemy's work ever discovered. A reproduction of this version is due to be published next year.

Using the parchment as a reference and drawing on their own geographical expertise, the academics from Berlin seem to have finally managed to bridge the gap back to the realm of Odin and Valhalla.

Part 2: 'Lost Places in Our Past'

The new map suggests that minor German towns such as Salzkotten or Lalendorf have existed for at least 2,000 years. "Treva," located at the confluence of the Elbe and Alster Rivers, was the precursor to Hamburg; Leipzig was known as "Aregelia."

All this offers up rather exciting prospects, since it makes half the cities in Germany suddenly 1,000 years older than previously believed. "Our atlas is a treasure map," team member Andreas Kleineberg says proudly, "and the coordinates lead to lost places in our past."

Archaeological interest in the map will likely be correspondingly large. Archaeologists' opinions on the Germanic tribes have varied over the years. In the 19th century, Germany's early inhabitants were considered brave, wild-bearded savages. The Nazis then transformed them into great heroes, and in the process of coming to terms with its Nazi past, postwar Germany quickly demoted the early Germanic peoples to proto-fascist hicks. The Romans, it was said, had to put up a border wall between themselves and the nuisance Germans before they could finally get some peace.

Bribes and Assassinations

More recent research proves this view to be complete invention. New excavations show that the Germanic groups were anything but isolated -- quite the contrary. Veritable hordes of Roman traders crossed the border to deal in amber, pomade, smoked fish and leather with their neighbors. Caesar mentioned that his people traded with the "Sueben," the Swabians of southwestern Germany. As far back as the first century AD, a Roman knight traveled from Carnuntum, a legion camp near Vienna, to the Baltic Sea coast to trade in amber.

Roman diplomats were also eager to intervene in their neighbors' affairs, bribing tribal princes, organizing assassinations and supporting their favorites all the way to the throne. Excavations in the state of Lower Saxony in August 2008 even uncovered a battlefield containing the remains of 3rd century weapons. Closer inspection revealed that a Roman legion equipped with catapults had advanced as far as the Harz region in central Germany in a lightning campaign probably intended to punish insubordinate tribes.

These soldiers didn't have to struggle through wastelands and swamps to get there. "We were able to locate 11 settlements along the highway that started at Moers on the Rhine and reached as far as the Sambia peninsula in present day Kaliningrad," Kleineberg explains.

Most Germanic sites appear to have been situated along rivers and at road junctions, indicated by the word "furd" included in many place names. "Lupfurdum," the predecessor to Dresden, for example, was located at a shallow, fordable spot along the Elbe River. Hanover, then "Tulifurdum," was a place where the Leine River could be crossed.

Researchers believe Ptolemy's map now allows them to trace the path followed by amber traders from the Vienna area up to Gdansk Bay as well.

Military Work

It was primarily surveyors with the Roman army, which appears to have advanced as far as the Vistula River, who collected information on the barbarians' lands. Dieter Lelgemann, a geodesist in Berlin, is firmly convinced that "Ptolemy was drawing on work done by military engineers."
The ancient astronomer indicated cities' exact locations down to minutes of degrees. These coordinates, once decoded, indeed often turn out to line up precisely with sites where archaeologists have previously found Gothic or Teutonic houses and grand burial tombs erected for tribal princes.
The evidence suggests that the researchers in Berlin have truly cracked the code. The group appears, for example, to have accurately located three particularly important Germanic sites, known to Ptolemy as "Eburodunum," "Amisia" and "Luppia." The new calculations put these sites at the present day cities of Brno, Fritzlar und Bernburg (Saale), all places already possessing unusually distinguished recorded histories:
  • Waldau, now a part of Bernburg in eastern Germany, was mentioned in a monastic chronicle for the first time in 806, at which point the town was also a military center.
  • Brno in the Czech Republic has offered up a wealth of splendid Germanic archaeological finds and was likely a stop along the amber trading route.
  • Legend has it that Fritzlar in central Germany is the site where the missionary St. Boniface felled the Donar Oak, a sacred symbol to the Germanic Chatti tribe, in 723.
Astonishing Finds

The next question is what these metropolises of early northern Europe looked like. Old maps mark them with massive defensive towers, but this makes little sense, since the Germanic tribes didn't have stone structures, only wood and clay mortar.

But this doesn't mean the villages this side of the Alps were unimpressive. On this point too, experts are adjusting their views. A town on the Elbe River called Hitzacker, for example, has yielded up astonishing archaeological finds over the years, such as magnificent tombs filled with silver dishes. This year, archaeologists added houses, a large farmstead and ironworking ovens to their finds here. The area under investigation extends across more than 10 hectares (25 acres).

This settlement too can be found in the new atlas. In Ptolemy's day, it was called "Leufana," a center of the Germanic Lombards.

How Could I not See That?

Friday, October 01, 2010

On Being Lutheran...

I wrote this for the Lutheran Witness a couple of years ago. It appeared in the January 2009 issue (which I'm told was the first to sell out in some time).  What I said then still applies, in my opinion.  

The original may be found here.  There's also a sidebar.  The full text of the main article follows.

As a child, when I heard my parents speak of a friend or relative as “peculiar,” it didn’t take me long to conclude that they thought the person was a bit odd. And so it was diffi cult for me to make sense of a Bible passage read in church from time to time: 1 Peter 2:9. In the old King James Version, that passage reads as follows: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (emphasis added).

My good Christian mother explained the meaning of the word. “Peculiar can mean special, unique, and different. And all of these are good things.” This interesting little word has stuck with me over the years, and I appreciate more than ever its distinctive meaning. Christians are different. And within the larger Christian community, Lutherans are unique—peculiar—in the best sense of that word.

‘The Times They Are A-Changin’

On election night, president-elect Barack Obama stated, “Change has come to America.” Certainly America is always changing, but the recent election and imminent inauguration of the fi rst African-American president of the United States underscores the changes we all experience every day. As a friend of mine put it when we were in college: “The only thing constant in my life is change.”

Change has always been a part of the human experience. No two human beings ever experienced change more profoundly and more devastatingly than Adam and Eve when they fell into sin. At the time of Constantine, the Church moved quickly from being an illegal religion to the religion of the state—now that is a paradigm shift! Even our own Missouri Synod, formed in 1847, has gone from being Die Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio, und andern Staaten (“The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States”) to, since 1947, the more familiar Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

At the same time, however, there is a peculiar character to our experience of change today—the rapidity with which we experience it. Even given the technological advances of the last 100 years, few things compare with the power of the Internet in the present. True, news could be transmitted immediately over long distances via telegraph, radio, and even TV. But in each case the technology required an expert individual or staff to control the dissemination of information. Today, everyone can be that expert with little investment and only modest training. Web sites, e-mail, blogs, YouTube™, and other technologies make more information available to us with such immediacy that it is impossible for us to gather it all in.

But if we can’t gather it all in, can we at least make some sense of it? I think we can. And that is where our peculiar status as Lutherans can be of great help to us in the present and future!

What’s in a Name?

Where do we find Lutheranism in all this? Is it just one more piece of information in an already oversaturated culture?

There are approximately 66 million Lutherans in the world today. The Lutheran World Federation reports that the total number of Lutherans in North America in 2007 was approximately 7.94 million, while our own Synod notes there are 21 distinct North American Lutheran church bodies. Out of the North American total, some 2.38 million are members of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

The strength of the Lutheran tradition in America has its roots in its incredible growth beginning in the second half of the 19th century and continuing to about 1970. Since that time the picture has changed, with a slight annual decline characterizing Lutheranism for more than three decades now.

Bowling Alone

Many of us have noticed this decline. And it shows itself both in church bodies and local congregations. Robert Putnam’s landmark study, Bowling Alone, shows how Americans have become increasingly disconnected from their family, their friends, and, yes, their churches. For example, over the last 25 years there has been a 35 percent drop in having friends over, a 43 percent drop in having family dinners, and a 58 percent drop in club meetings. It’s no wonder we see changes in our Synod and its congregations.

What’s the problem? Some would say that in our postmodern times the old Christian message has lost its “punch”—it is simply one version of truth among many. That is borne out by the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report on religion in the United States, which showed that while 78 percent of Americans think of themselves as Christians, 66 percent of Protestants (from across the spectrum of denominations) believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. “Truth is tribal,” the saying goes. In contrast, we believe that we confess the one, biblical faith, and it is universally true. That claim strikes many as peculiar in these postmodern times.

The Theology of the Cross

Yet the Christian confession is that Jesus Christ is “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6 ESV), and that He is the “same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). In this basic Christian witness, we Lutherans have a peculiar gift. At the beginning of the Reformation, Luther made an important distinction between a “theology of glory” (which was humanly oriented) and a “theology of the cross.” This theology of the cross was centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ for us. Luther affi rmed the biblical, historic faith that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to bear human sin, suffer, die, and rise again. Christ is true God and true man who came into the world to pay for humankind’s sin, that is, to win salvation for us. This salvation Christ gives to us freely—by grace, we say— is God’s undeserved gift. It is given to us through the Word and the Sacraments. It’s all about Christ for us, for in Christ we see the very nature of God. “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Gifted to Be Gifts in This World

Theologians like to make the distinction between “the faith” that we believe (fides quae creditor—the things Scripture teaches that we believe) and the gift of faith in Jesus Christ (fi des qua creditor—personal faith that clings to Christ). To the fi rst point, we Missouri Synod Lutherans subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions as gathered in the Book of Concord of 1580 because it is a faithful exposition of the Scriptures. To the second point, the Lutheran Confessions affi rm that faith itself is God’s gift. It is not my personal accomplishment. I do not have faith in my faith. Rather, the object of faith, Jesus Christ, is the One who creates and sustains faith in us through the Holy Spirit actively working through the Word and the Sacraments.

It is on this point that we Lutherans have a peculiar opportunity, particularly here in present-day America. In our post-modern times, where more and more people fi nd themselves isolated and without community, we have the ultimate, eternal
community. We are God’s own people, called out of darkness into His marvelous light. We have a story to tell—and that story proclaims that in Christ God has reconciled the world to Himself! (Rom. 5:8–10).

The Lutheran Difference

A number of years ago historian Mark Noll wondered about the “newsworthy potential” of Lutheranism. Despite its lack of glamour, however, Noll argued that the Lutheran tradition had something significant to offer America.

Lutherans do have much to offer to the wider American community, but only if they can fulfill two conditions. First, to contribute as Lutherans in America, Lutherans must remain authentically Lutheran. Second, to contribute as Lutherans in America, Lutherans must also find out how to speak Lutheranism with an American accent. . . . Lutherans are heirs to a better way. They possess confessions that have stood the test of time, that arise from the major themes of Scripture, that present a cohesive picture of the Christian’s relationship to God, to fellow humans, and to the world.

What makes Lutherans peculiar? Certainly we confess with the Church of all time the basic truths of the Scriptures. We hold to the Christian faith as revealed in God’s inerrant Word, confess that faith with the historic Church, and seek to practice that faith faithfully in the present time. In other words, we are biblically based, historically consistent, and contemporary in application. In all of this, Jesus Christ is the center. He is the One who entered the world to carry human sin to the cross and to pay for it once for all. He is the One who rose victoriously from the grave to open heaven to you and to me. Now our Lord, who has given us the gift of faith, strengthens us through Word and Sacrament to be who we are—a peculiar people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
2009 is a great time to be Lutheran!

Lawrence R. Rast Jr.