Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Organ Mountains/White Sands

On Saturday I took advantage of another weekend off and headed up into southern New Mexico. In the morning I drove through Las Cruces to the Organ Mountains and hiked about 3.5 miles up to Baylor Pass. Interestingly, this pass was used by Confederate cavalry in 1862. At the pass I bush-whacked my way about halfway up Baylor Peak. My plan had been to summit it but after being stuck by some cholla and realizing my time was running short to get to the second location I wanted to make it to I decided to head back down.

The views of the Organ Mountains above Baylor Pass were pretty awesome. I also had a good view of the city of Las Cruces.

After the Organ Mountains I headed to White Sands National Monument. It is very unique and beautiful place with rolling almost white sand dunes composed of gypsum.

The sunset at White Sands was an impressive sight.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Music Break

Who would have thought that a Lamb
Could rescue the souls of men?
Oh, You rescue the souls of men

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kautokeino Opprøret

Just before leaving for Ft. Bliss I received a DVD I had been debating about whether or not to buy for a while. The DVD is the Norwegian film Kautokeino Opprøret, about a small rebellion which took place in Lapland in the far north of Norway in 1852.

Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows that a part of church history I’m very interested in is the Laestadian revival which took place in Lapland in the 19th century. I’m also interested in the current churches which are descended from this revival, the Laestadian and Apostolic Lutherans. I grew up around many of these Apostolic Lutherans and while certain sects in this movement have some theological problems I believe many are faithful Christians and I’ve been blessed to hear preaching in an Apostolic Lutheran church and worship with these brothers and sisters.

The film begins by portraying the ruination which alcoholism brought to the Lapp or Sami people in Kautokeino. It also introduces the Norwegian settlers in the area who profited from this alcoholism with their sale of liquor. One of the most powerful scenes is early in the film where the main characters, a young Sami family, make a trip to Karesuvanto on the border of Sweden and Finland. They arrive in Karesuvanto to the ringing of church-bells and find all the shops closed. A local says, “Come to the church. Laestadius is speaking.” They proceed to the church where the Laestadian revival is in its earliest infancy. The character Mathis, a reindeer herder who had gone far down the path of alcoholism and is now either drunk or severely hungover, at first plans to sleep in his sled while his wife and brother head for the church. As Laestadius preaches, Mathis enters the church to hear his own path of destruction being described in the sermon. Mathis stops in the center aisle of the church standing dumbstruck as Laestadius thunders before him. In a powerful moment Laestadius walks up to Mathis, shakes him, and commands him to be free of alcohol. I will write about some of the problems with the film in a moment but this scene will be disappointing to any Christian as the gospel is not preached. This is unfortunate because I think Laestadius was a great preacher of the gospel. After being rebuked by the preacher, Mathis falls to the floor - it is left up to the interpretation of the viewer whether this was because of some overwhelming spiritual experience or simply his own level of intoxication taking its toll. Laestadius lays his hand on the chest of the young Lapp and prays, “Lord, I beseech Thee, give him the strength to confess his sins to those nearest to him and to You so his soul may be liberated from that which burns inside him.” The young family then returns to Kautokeino with the supplies they had come to Karesuvanto for and also written sermons of Laestadius.

After the return to Kautokeino the young family begins spreading the word they had heard preached in Karesuvanto. Revival comes to the village and the tavern, once full, is now empty. This sets up the enmity which would grow between the Sami people and the Norwegians who owned the tavern and general store and held power in the village. The conflict between the Laestadian Sami and the Norwegian settlers would grow to the point of a riot or “opprøret” where two would be killed. In the chance that someone who reads this ends up watching the film I won’t give away any more of the plot.

As with any film made by non-Christians where the subject matter is religion and specifically Christianity there are inevitable problems. I’m assuming that the film-makers in this case were not Christian based on the spiritual state of Scandinavia, but I could be incorrect in this assumption. While the film did seem sympathetic to Laestadius and the revival, it portrayed things in such a way as to be palatable to the very secular and post-Christian culture of Scandinavia. The name Jesus is never mentioned by the character of Laestadius or the awakened Christians in Kautokeino. Instead Jesus’ name is mentioned only by the corrupt Norwegian state-church pastor who comes to Kautokeino to get the rebellious Sami under control. This corrupt pastor quotes John 14:6 where Jesus reveals Himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life,” a very non-PC passage, just after beating an elderly Sami woman with a cane. As opposed to this pastor who is often heard speaking of Jesus and seen brandishing a Bible, the newly Laestadian Sami are usually heard uttering vague sounding spiritual platitudes which would be much more acceptable sounding to the typical post-modern film-watcher. Other than the philosophic problems with the film there are some fake-looking CGI wolves at one point.

Even with all of these criticisms, I had a great time watching this film. As I wrote earlier, it is sympathetic to Laestadius and the early Laestadians, even if they are somewhat incorrectly portrayed. The acting is good and the scenes of Lapland and reindeer herding are very beautiful. So overall I think this was a very well-made film. There is one somewhat questionable scene but other than that the film is also very clean. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Laestadian revival.

From the Laestadian point of view another problem may be that these people in Kautokeino were not even accepted as genuine children of the revival by the leaders in early Laestadianism. It makes sense that the early Laestadians would want to distance themselves from the Sami in Kautokeino as they probably already looked suspicious to the governments of Finland, Sweden and Norway along with the state-churches in those countries. It wouldn’t help to be linked to a group of people who had been involved in a violent uprising. Juhani Raattamaa, who took the reigns of the revival after the death of Laestadius, made reference to Kautokeino in his preface to the Church Postilla, a collection of Laestadius’ sermons. Raattamaa wrote, “It is possible that a false sect can appear beside the right [Church]. So it happened even in Kautokeino, of which the bishops of Norway wanted to accuse Laestadius. But it was not Laestadius’ fault because he didn’t have men whom he could send to Kautokeino at the right time when it still would have been possible to advise them.”

Perhaps Raattamaa is correct in implying that violence could have been avoided if a preacher could have been sent to Kautokeino. Whatever the case may be, the Kautokeino Rebellion is a very interesting event in the history of Lapland and the Laestadian revival. I think this film, even with the liberties it takes, is probably a good introduction to learning about these events.

Monday, September 20, 2010


On Saturday I headed about 100 miles east of El Paso to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. At the park I hiked to the summit of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 8751 feet. The hike was about 8.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 3000 ft. It was a very enjoyable hike and the surroundings very picturesque. I find West Texas to be a very beautiful part of the country.

Looking to the northwest

Looking south from the summit at El Capitan and the Texas prairie stretching as far as the eye can see

At the summit of Guadalupe Peak

I caught this little monster on my hike back down

Looking up at the Guadalupe Mountains from the highway. Guadalupe Peak is the highest point.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nor did faith deceive

I've noticed that often when I'm out on my own, like I am now in El Paso, I can get spiritually discouraged. I've realized that I need other Christians to be constantly reminding me of the glorious truth of the gospel. I need people to remind me that my hope in Christ is one that cannot be shaken and that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ.

So as I prepared to leave Christian friends behind in Loma Linda I was hoping I would have some very encouraging book to read during my time in El Paso. For me the most encouraging books tend to be biographies of missionaries and also some devotional-type books which are specifically written to be encouraging. But my only new book, and one which I was very excited about getting into, did not fit into any of these categories. The book is Melanchthon and Bucer edited by Wilhelm Pauck. In the past few years I've come to appreciate the writings of Luther and Calvin more than ever so I wanted to branch out and read some other reformers. Even though I'm sure I agree with Melanchthon and Bucer on most important theological points and even though I'm thankful for how God used them during the Reformation I was skeptical about how encouraged I would be by reading a collection of their writings. I guess I thought it would just be dense theology requiring a lot of effort to get through and analyze. It's not that I think that kind of reading isn't useful but often reading dense theology is not the most encouraging thing to me.

But thankfully, I was wrong. I started reading Melanchthon's Loci Communes Theologici, or "Fundamental Theological Themes," and I've found it to be quite encouraging. Melanchthon's love for Christ and thankfulness for the gospel is obvious in his writing.

Here's a quote from this work of Melanchthon:
But how Abraham's faith was assaulted when it was put to the test by a veritable battering ram! I mean the time when he was ordered to sacrifice Isaac in whom he knew his posterity had been promised. How constant in faith was young Isaac when he did not delay at all in obeying the command of his father nor the divine will! Do you think that a father could have carried out such a harsh command against his son, and a son to whom posterity had been promised? Do you think that the son would have obeyed the father unless each had trusted in divine mercy and entrusted himself to it? Nor did faith deceive. The son was saved, he was restored to his father, and the obedience of the father was praised. Do you see that here was rehearsed the whole drama of sin, death, justification, and resurrection, and indeed of the whole New Testament? Or can we not say that not only Abraham and Isaac, but all the faithful who lived before the gospel was revealed, learned from this the hope God offers in the face of death. Indeed, did not the fathers perceive the victory over death by this example, and did they not see here a prelude to Christ who was to crush the head of the serpent, the sting of death?

-Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), Loci Communes Theologici

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Human beings can err

Whenever we see that the opinions of the fathers are not in agreement with Scripture, we respectfully bear with them and acknowledge them as our forefathers; but we do not on their account give up the authority of Scripture. Aristotle’s statement in the first book of his Ethics is well put and true: “Better it is to defend the truth than to be too much devoted to those who are our friends and relatives.” And this is, above all, the proper attitude for a philosopher. For although both; truth and friends, are dear to us, preference must be given to truth. If a pagan maintains that this must be the attitude in secular discourses, how much more must it be our attitude in those which involve the clear witness of Scripture that we dare not give preference to the authority of men over that of Scripture! Human beings can err, but the Word of God is the very wisdom of God and the absolutely infallible truth.

-Martin Luther, from his Lectures on Genesis

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Out in the West Texas town of...

I arrived in El Paso, Texas today. I'll be spending the next month at Fort Bliss and William Beaumont Army Medical Center for Active Duty Training and a rotation in Infectious Disease. Ever since finding out I'd be spending some time in El Paso I've had this song stuck in my head off and on, so here you go...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Giant Watermelon

Growing up in Southwest Washington, my dad always had a great vegetable garden. There was always ample corn, sugar snap peas, tomatoes of various kinds, squash, sun flowers, carrots, asparagus, brussels sprouts and many other kinds of vegetables. But one thing my brothers and I always wanted to grow was a watermelon. We planted the seeds year after year which usually yielded a decent looking plant. Some years there would even be an attempt at the formation of an actual melon. But at best all we ever got was a small melon which would never ripen and usually cracked open and rotted.

I recently moved into a house with some classmates and one of them planted a small vegetable garden in the back yard. One of the things he planted was watermelon. So in the future when I'm trying to come up with one or two positive aspects of living in Southern California I can say that at least you could grow watermelon there. I'll still gladly take the watermelon-poor climate of western Washington over So-Cal any day.

The ESV Study Bible is for size comparison. This is the biggest Bible I've ever owned. The melon measures over 2 feet in length.