Tag Archives: Italy

Quintessentially American

Originally posted January 24th, 2006. Written while in Italy a few weeks earlier.

I’m writing this on a notepad while on a train speeding across Italy. While passing through the Formia station a few Americans got off the train and stood for some moments on the platform before moving off to their destination. I’d spotted and heard them while on the train and, though I’d not talked with them I just wanted to let them know another American is adventuring in Italy and our paths had crossed (don’t think this makes sense? try living alone in a foreign land and see what odd things come to mind).

So I’m casting about for a sign or signal they’d immediately recognize which would associate the signer (me) as American. Thumbs Up? No, everyone does that, everywhere, and it’s universally recognized. V for Victory? No, I’d just look like a blond-haired, fair-skinned, blue-eyed Asian posing for a photograph trying to look American. Several other signs where thus considered and discarded before I found one that would unmistakeably label me as America.

I did not make this sign as I was too far away while the train was at the platform, and they’d moved off before the train passed by where they’d been, and they’d likely have been very offended.

Yes I have not seen this particular gesture since leaving the good ol’ US of A, and I’ve not really missed it either, until now. The one sign I could show that would definately label me as American was the binary 4, the raised central, the birdie, “the finger”.

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Am I Saved: A Quandary, And Last Year

I tend to be dense, sometimes.

Over the last two years, at least, I’ve noticed a theme in God’s work in my life. A lesson, as it were, He spends all year drumming in to my head. And usually it takes a while for me to notice I’m still in class, as it were.

Last year, it was around this time that I started really realizing all God’s work in my life was not just Him being nice or more obvious about His niceness.

Rather it was Him trying to drum into my head some slight concept of his Glory and Sovereignty.

If you followed this blog for any period of time, you know I spent three weeks in Italy from the end of December 2006 into January 2007. Right before New Years I was separated from my friends in Pisa. I ended up in Rome and due to communication issues (they had the cell phone, I had the pay phone) we were unable to find each other and meet again.

I was faced with a large bill for housing that used all my cash reserves only 5 days into the trip and no idea where I should go. After panicking for a day, I tried tracking my friends down in Naples and then returned to Venice to spend the balance of the time.

After trying unsuccessfully to find an airplane ticket back prematurely, I was able to reach my credit card companies and inform them (again) that I was over seas and they should unlock my accounts because it was me making those charges, as I’d told them I would a week previous.

Things being resolved financially, I proceeded to spend the rest of my time in Italy wandering the streets of Venice, usually away from the standard tourist haunts and byways. It was a quiet time of reflection and observation. For me this was a big thing. I have at times been nearly co-dependent in my relationships, even with ‘just friends’ and to have a period where I was completely incapable of being dependent was freeing.

Prior to leaving for Italy, I’d determined that this was a good time to put in motion another long-thought plan: returning to Chicago, for good. After returning to the states I packed my belongings in my car and drove across the country in the middle of winter. Sans heater.

Arriving safely in Chicago I was at the generosity of friends in the area until I found jobs and found my feet under me again.

Grace came into my life soon thereafter, and life has continued to progress since then.

But as I mentioned, about this time last year I came to realize God’s overwhelming interest in my life.

We go about our ways assuming that at least some of the world revolves around us, and we around others. If we’re really humble we think only a little bit of the world revolves around us.

But God is the only thing important. To the extent that three possibilities are true:

  1. Some of the world revolves around us,
  2. We revolve around others, or
  3. None of the world revolves around us

…we have an incorrect perspective of the nature of God, and all of creations’ relationship to Him.

He is the end-all and be-all. He is the only one for whom the universe was created, because it was through Him and His planned, considered and definite action that we, or anything we naturally perceive, came to be.

To the extent that we see ourselves defined by or defining others, we are denying God’s ultimate definition of our lives: To Glorify Him.

“What is the chief end of man?” asks the Westminster Catechism: “To glorify God and praise Him forever.”

After realizing the lessons God had for me seemed to be along a common theme, it was exciting to look forward to how He’d next reveal Himself to me, and amazing to look back at His awesome provision, protection, and guidance.

But perhaps the biggest thing was to realize I’m not a power-player in this story of His abundant love. I’m not even a regular player. Nor do I have a bit part. Not even a walk on.

God is the one and only actor in His story. In His mysterious grace and mercy He has chosen to have a relationship with me, but not for my sake.

The bible over and over again says that it is for His names’ sake, for His glory, for His purpose and according to His will, that things happen and events occur.

My best hope is to follow His lead, accept His direction, and hang on for the ride.

It’s not about me.

Which then brings us to this year.

Pastor Rob found the Lord leading him to set the vision of the church this year to be one of purpose: purpose in our lives individually and corporately.

The sermon series in my bible study group, 631, is on James and it’s central tenet of the deadness of faith apart from works.

And in the sermons at church, the studies at 631, the lessons from books and passages I’ve meditated on have all pointed to salvation being so much more than what I found I’d assumed it to be.

Salvation is not a train ticket: punched once and ready for the trip.

Salvation does indeed begin, in our human perception, at a point in time. It is confirmed in our praying to admit our own guilt and accept Christ’s act of redemption and forgiveness and justification.

But it is also a continuing action.

A study of James’ and Paul’s teachings on works and faith and their balance in the life of a believer will show that faith is defining term in our moment of salvation, and that works are the evidence by which others will see our faith proved throughout the rest of our lives.

And then it isn’t about me or you or even us.

God didn’t had Jesus die because He needed us to be forgiven or justified or saved. Jesus died because God wanted to glorify Himself throughout this meager sweep that is human history. It has been often said that the most defining point in time for the entire world has been when Jesus died on the cross to glorify God.

God’s glory was brought about in the act of sacrifice in that it was His will that the chasm between God and His creation be bridged, and His further glory that He bridge that gap Himself. He was the only One who could, the only One who would, and the only One who succeeded.

So in Him choosing me and drawing me into His salvation, what do I give? Not to pay Him back, or settle a debt, because there is no way I can do either of those things. But to seek to bring further glory to the One God who chose me.

Everything. That is all I can give.

So when I do not give Him everything, as I have not, and continue to hold back, am I saved?

I know I am saved, because His Spirit bears witness in my spirit that I am a forgive child of God engaged in a justified life of sanctification.

So, looking forward, I expect that God will continue to reveal new, exciting, and convicting perspectives on His nature as revealed through His work of Salvation.

Italia: Initial Reactions

Originally posted from Italy on December 29th, 2006.

After only two days in country, my initial reactions to Italy, are that it’s a country living in and devoted to the past. There seems to be little industry besides tourism in many places. Though this is definitely colored by my being a tourist, duh. But consider Venice, where two-thirds of the population consists of seasonal foreigners (regular tourists) during the summer months, and in the winter the population bundles up and hunkers down to last out the cold and slow trickle of tourists.

There is much beauty, truly, and Italy definitely has something to share with the world concerning history, art, etc, and with that there is to be no arguing. But consider also that the birthrate is 1.2 per woman (not per couple, per woman), and that children are staying single and staying home until their very late twenties (24-29 yrs old avg max age of children at home). Also, in watching the TV channels, there are several stations of voice-over movies all made in Hollywood California. And several other stations playing “spaghetti westerns” (and yes, that’s what they call them, and they’re all voice-over in Italian). One station of German language sports news and German (mostly) original movies (though a few voice-overs here as well). Two English stations, BBC World and CNN. There is little original Italian art (movies, music, etc) on the telly, which is sad considering the history of Italy leading the art world.

Instead, Italy seems to be constantly living in it’s past. This is not a totally bad thing. If this history existed in America, with thousands of years of awe-inspiring historical structures, we’d have torn them all down for the hazards they posed to Americans with Disabilities and various dummies and tourists of all IQ levels. We’d have sued them all out of existence. We’d have gates and fences keeping people hundred of feet and more from all structures with any non-standard-meeting designs and architecture. Also, America has little enough respect for it’s own history, choosing instead to chase frenetically after the future. This is America’s strength. And its weakness. Italy’s strength is it’s reverence of its history, and this is its weakness.

Italy has no future, and America has forgot its past.

Flag Of Our Fathers, Flag Of Our Own

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A Flag for our fathers, a Flag of our own.
Flies over our land, and guards our home.
For freedom it flies, foundations of stone
It never will fall, this Flag of our own


On this flag day, do not forget either the God who gave us this land, or the men and women, our mothers and fathers who fought for this land, or those brave souls who are dying even now for the land our flag flies over. When I was in Italy it was an emotional experience to see in Rome the American Embassy and our flag flying bravely in the foreign land. Remember.

Anybody Read Latin?

Besides the wife of our own JPennStarr (though she is welcome to try and answer) does anybody read Latin any more?

Quick quiz: What does the new tag line (under the I, Pandora title) say? In English.

Rules: you cannot look online. You cannot type the phrase into Google. You CAN dredge through your minds depths and ancient lessons you thought you’d never use again.

I’ll take a few days and then post the answer.

I did take Latin years ago in school. From a few different teachers. Along with Koine (Common/Classical) Greek. These two languages have contributed to my love of words, perhaps more than any other single thing. Nobody speaks either of these languages any longer: modern Greek is nothing like Koine, and Latin died with the Romans except for in certain corners of Catholicism. But both languages have contributed to the modern languages to an incredible extent. Because of my studies I don’t necessarily have to have seen or heard or experienced a word before to know what it means. It’s usually based on some Latin or Greek root. When I was traveling in Italy over the winter, I found it relatively easy to read signs and understand the gist of what was being said (though I didn’t have anything to verify the accuracy of my guesses, at the least the tongue did not sound foreign) because of my knowledge of Latin.

And then I went to college, and found that Latin and Greek don’t count as foreign languages for credits towards my degree. I would need to take three semesters (they’ve since revised it to two semesters or 6 units) of another language. I though I’d declined enough nouns and conjugated enough verbs to drown a horse, even a linguists horse, and so I took American Sign Language. I don’t remember hardly any words from ASL even just a few years later, but I am comfortable conversing with deaf people; they can read lips really well, generally.

By the way: yes, the phrase is a bit ironic and humorous, in case you’ve figured it out already.