The Plague 

Next week we will again erect the Memorial to the Lost in the church yard. Some describe it as a t-shirt graveyard, and it feels that way. Each shirt marks one of the 205 lives lost in our region during 2016 to gun violence. They were young and old — from Maryland and DC and northern Virginia- every loss a sudden end to life given by God.

The plague is violence in our culture.And the plague is the use of guns to kill other human beings.

This is the third year we have partnered with Hyattsville Mennonite Church to host the Heeding God’s Call Memorial. Days after we put it up in 2015, Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people at a Bible study in Charleston. Shortly after we erected the Memorial in 2016, Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

And this week in 2017, we grieve yet another mass shooting, as the entire country laments the senseless deaths in Las Vegas.

So we will erect the Memorial and will remember and pray and pledge ourselves to making change…again.
Because we believe that there is another way of living.
Because we think that there are connections to be made between reliance on guns in private and in national and international arenas.
Because we have known a reality in Christ that reminds us of the value of every person.
Because there are sensible gun regulations for which we must advocate that will protect life .
Because symbolic action leads us toward hope!

New Adult Sunday School Series to Begin

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In adult education, for the next four weeks (Feb. 5-26, 2017) we will be looking at “Archaeology and the Bible”.

This Sunday Hooker Monroe will introduce the series with specific focus on major issues in  “Archaeology and the Bible”and will share from his experience at an archaeological site in the Negev dating from 2000 BCE.

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The major issue which is still live in the profession is that of  the historicity of the Bible – that is,  how accurate is the Bible as an historical account of  biblical times from the early iron age (around 1100 BCE) and the times of Jesus; and how should the Bible be used. if at all,  in guiding objective research into this question The archaeology of the Bible for biblical fundamentalists is all about proving the Bible inerrant.  On the other end of the scale “minimalists” believe that it should be assumed that the Bible, as a historical narrative,is a collection of legends and myths the very consideration of which has the potential to distort archaeological research and interpretation. The minimalists eschew even the name of the Bible in describing their field. They will call it “the archaeology of the Southern Levant”  or “Syro-Palestinian archaeology.” There is on this scale a range of  “centrists” who believe that there is likely a lot of real history in the Bible and think that the text need not be so sharply divided from the archaeology in exploring that history.

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For two of our February sessions Dr Robert Miller of Catholic University will present on ” The archaeology of every day life” and ” The archaeology of religion”  in early iron age in Syria/Palestine/Israel. Dr. Miller has done extensive work in this area and is well familiar with the whole range of  perspectives on archaeology and the Bible. (as an aside, Dr. Miller grew up in a heavily Mennonite part of Ohio where he was the only non-Mennonite named Miller)

Adult Sunday School  Schedule 
February 5 – Hooker Monroe
February 12 – Bob Miller
February 19 – Hooker Monroe
February 26 – Bob Miller

All are welcome! Join us as Sunday school begins promptly at 9:30 in the front of the social hall. Coffee and tea will be there as always.

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Photo attributions from top to bottom:

Advet view to the Negev via Wikimedia
Ruins in Negev desert in Israel via Wikimedia
T
he Negev Monument via Wikimedia
B
eersheba, Monument to Negev Brigade, Entrance Wall via Wikimedia

Byzantine Iconoclasm and American Flag Protests

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Recently, I have developed an interest in the Byzantine Empire, which lasted between, approximately, 330 AD and 1453 AD and was a continuation of the more famous Roman Empire during the Late Antiquity and Middle Ages.  My interest probably stems from two sources:  studying Latin for four years in high school and realizing that the Byzantine Empire was rarely discussed during my formal education.  Several aspects of Byzantine history are quite interesting:  the relationship between the emperor and the patriarchs of the historic episcopal sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Rome; its differing role in the Crusades; and the religious division caused by Iconoclasm.

Byzantine Iconoclasm refers to two periods in Byzantine history:  a sixty-year period in the middle of the 8th century (approximately, 726 AD to 787 AD) and thirty-year period early in the 9th century (approximately, 814 AD to 842 AD).   Generally, icons are Byzantine religious works of art, commonly paintings of Christ, Mary, angels, or other saints, which became important to the Byzantines because, in part, they taught the Bible to the illiterate public and were the reported source of innumerable miracles.  Individuals who venerated icons were known by several names including iconolaters, iconodules, and iconophiles.  However, by the beginning of the 8th century, segments of Byzantine society (primarily the military and some emperors) began to take a strong stance against icons (generally known as Iconoclasm).  Individuals who turned away from icon veneration were known as iconoclasts.

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There are several reasons for the rise of Iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire.  Imperial advisors attribute a volcanic eruption in the Aegean Sea to icon veneration.  Additionally, the Byzantine Empire was losing battles to the Bulgars in Balkan Mountains.  Likewise, the Empire was losing ground to Arabs in the east who had a strict prohibition against graven images, like icons (Thus, the thought was that if prohibitions against graven images worked for the Arabs, then it will work for the Byzantines).  Historians have also postulate potential class struggles between the poorer and richer regions of the Empire and between the genders.  While it is impossible to conversely articulate the arguments of both Iconoclasts and iconophiles, iconophiles thought physical images help people in spiritual contemplation (much as Christ assumed a physical form).  Meanwhile, Iconoclasts thought icons are common materials that will never be sacred and that icons violated the Second Commandment (or, in some religious traditions, the First Commandment) found in Exodus 20:4 – 6 and Deuteronomy 5:8 – 10.

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As I read about Byzantine Iconoclasm, I am struck by the legitimate arguments each side had in the debate, the unwillingness of each side to listen to the other and acknowledge the legitimate points, and the devolution in demagoguery.  Additionally, I am struck by some of the similarities of 8th and 9th Century Byzantine Iconoclasm with recent issues concerning the American flag and the Star-Spangled Banner.  Since the summer, several professional athletes have decided to kneel for the national anthem.  Likewise, since the election of Donald Trump, some individuals have decided to demonstrate through the burning of the American flag during protests.  History seems to repeat itself twelve soldier_with_kids_600centuries after Byzantine Iconoclasm.  21st century American iconophiles hold symbols of American ideals, like the flag and national anthem, in high esteem, sometimes to the detriment of the actual ideal itself.  21st century American iconoclast, on the other hand, hold individual American ideals, like Freedom of Speech, in high esteem, sometimes to the detriment of understanding the importance the flag and national anthem to fellow Americans.  In a sense, both sides are right…and both sides are wrong for the same issues during the Byzantine iconoclasm debates of the 8th and 9th century, which were mentioned earlier.

While both 21stcentury American iconophiles and iconoclasts can passionately disagree, including Christians, we must continually abide by what Scripture tells us:  “consider[ing] how to stir up one another to love and good works” while seeking and praying for His kingdom to come.

 

Photo attributions:
*Byzantine Christ – The most famous of the surviving Byzantine mosaics of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople – the image of Christ Pantocrator on the walls of the upper southern gallery. Photo via Wikimedia.
*Christ washes apostles feet (Montreale)
*2016 Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, photo by Glenn Riegel
*Soldier with children and dog by @Skeeze

 

Ian IrvinIan is a former Modern Standard Arabic linguist with the U.S. Air Force and youth pastor before returning to finish his education back home in Pennsylvania.  After graduating, Ian married his best friend, Alaina, and the two moved to the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) where Ian is an attorney with the federal government. Ian enjoys Penn State football, reading in his and Alaina’s library, and pampering their two cats:  Nittany and Pride. Ian hopes to remain sensitive to God’s calling and helping others develop a closer relationship with Christ.

Mark Your Calendar for the Valentine Spaghetti Supper

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Saturday, February 11
5-8pm

Come share in the work and the fun of hosting friends and neighbors for a special evening of delicious food, live music by Kindred Spirits, and great fellowship with one another.

Invite your friends and neighbors!

All proceeds from the dinner go to support local needs in our community through the programs of Help by Phone, the PG Plaza Day Center (CUCE), and others.

There’s lot of ways to help! Make sauce, help set-up, serve, clean-up. Call the church office to sign up or learn more.

New Faith Journey Column on UPCOB.org

We’re so excited to welcome Ian Irvin to the University Park Church of the Brethren website contributors. Ian is hoping to share his thoughts around his faith journey with us about once a month. Please feel free to support and engage with him in the comment section below. Here’s a little more about Ian.

Ian IrvinIan is a former Modern Standard Arabic linguist with the U.S. Air Force and youth pastor before returning to finish his education back home in Pennsylvania.  After graduating, Ian married his best friend, Alaina, and the two moved to the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) where Ian is an attorney with the federal government. Ian enjoys Penn State football, reading in his and Alaina’s library, and pampering their two cats:  Nittany and Pride. Ian hopes to remain sensitive to God’s calling and helping others develop a closer relationship with Christ.

 


 

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Handshake via Creative Commons and Wikimedia

Appointing an Ambassador

Instead of enjoying leftover turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, Alaina, my wife, and I headed down to Georgia to see a good friend get married.  As this was Alaina’s first time to the Peach State, we decided to spend a few extra days visiting friends & family and doing “touristy” things in Atlanta.

During our two days in Atlanta, I developed a minor bellyache as I tried a score of soft drinks from around the globe at the World of Coca-Cola.  At the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, we read about the life of a former Commander-in-Chief who highly values human rights and justice.  At the College Football Hall of Fame, we read, in part, of the importance of the service academies and historically black colleges to football.  Finally, we toured the CNN Center where we walked the news floor, observed the control rooms, and snuck into a studio during a live broadcast.

As we walked the stairs and halls of CNN, one of the top stories was about who our President-elect will nominate as the next Secretary of State, the foremost ambassador of the United States.  As pundits debated whether it will be Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, David Petraeus, or Bob Corker, I was struck by 2 Corinthians 5:20, where the apostle Paul says, “we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

Thinking about this verse, several different reflections came to mind.  It was something that I skipped over countless times, but Paul purposefully uses the word “ambassador” and not “diplomat.”  While there is a lot of overlap, there remains a substantive difference between the meaning of the two words.  Whereas a diplomat is a person who represents a government in another country, an ambassador is the foremost person who represents a government in another country.

It is in that subtle difference, the view of my role as God’s ambassador has changed.  Before, I thought of myself merely as one of God’s representatives in this world.  However, that is not the case.  I am God’s foremost representative to the places He has sent me:  my work, my neighborhood, and my friends & family.  Again, to all of these, I am not a representative of God, I am God’s foremost representative.

Finally, realizing I am God’s ambassador to the particular people I come into contact each day, it has me wonder – am I being a good ambassador for God?  Unlike the pundits discussing the loyalty of one potential Secretary of State versus the resume of another possible Secretary of State, have I been a true Christian – someone who is Christ-like – to those around me?  Have I prayed for this country’s leader whom I supported?  Have I prayed for this country’s leader whom I did not support even though God is the one who raised those leaders?  Have I spread a fake news article on Facebook despite being called to both rejoice and dwell on the truth?  In the midst of debating substantive policy considerations, have I descended into demagoguery and ad hominem attacks?  Have I been blinded by the politics of parties in America and forgotten about the Kingdom I am an ambassador for?

Even though we are 7 weeks from a new administration in Washington, the Kingdom of God has come near, and I am its ambassador.

World Communion Sunday – October 2, 2016

Refugee camp in Aleppo. Photo by IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation

Refugee camp in Aleppo. Photo by IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation

 

It’s hard for us to imagine what it means to leave your home with only what you can carry or is necessary. It’s hard for us to comprehend not knowing where your next meal will come from for yourself or your family. It’s hard for us to understand bombings and the physical violence of war where we live.

This Sunday’s Love Feast will be part of  our morning worship. With Syria and its suffering so much in the news, we’ll try to make connections as we mark World Communion Sunday.

Join us as we bear witness to people suffering around the world especially remembering those in Syria. We will humbly do a foot washing and offer communion to each other and share food.  Our love feast meal will be a simple Syrian rice dish with sides of yogurt, almonds and dried fruit.

Join us in prayer and love.

University Park Church of the Brethren
4413 Tuckerman St., University Park, Maryland

Morning worship begins at 10:50am

All are welcome!