Postcards from Austria

theological scribbles from David Bunce, Baptist pastor and church planter

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Postcards from elsewhere – 25 January 2016

In my round-up of interesting articles from around the internet this week, we look at language learning in the UK, thoughts on listening to preaching as a preacher, and ideas about the language of the ‘New Left’.

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Postcards from elsewhere – 19 January 2016

This is the first instalment in a new series on this blog. Entitled Postcards from Elsewhere, it is a round-up of some of the links and articles I’ve been reading over the last week or so.

Primates gather

Last week saw the gathering of the Primates of the Anglican Church (an amusingly named body on some levels), during which there was a rebuke for The Episcopal Church due in part to their stance on same-sex marriage. The gathering generated a lot of chatter in the media – some article well informed, others much less so.

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I’m now ordained!

On 1 November 2015 I was ordained as a pastor in the Austrian Baptist Union and part of the fantastic pastoral team in Project:Church. My main focus in this pastoral role will be on church development, church planting and helping get projects off the ground. Obviously, this will also include the normal pastoral care, preaching, service leading and leadership roles that come along with any pastoral position.

Andrea Klimt preached stunningly on 2 Corinthians 4 (“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…”) on death in the midst of life, life in the midst of death, the pastoral call and gospel treasures in jars of clay. Dina Horne and Carina Lisa led us in a beautiful communion and Silvia with the music.

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English translation: the fight to free Laila

I’ve done a quick and dirty translation of the excellent Sued Deutsche Zeitung article about the protest to Free Laila and prevent her deportation in order to give some context to English speakers who want to context behind the protest. All copyright of the original text is SDZ’s – this is just here under a Fair Use Principle.

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3 things I learnt from “Luther on the Christian Life”

I’ve just finished reading Carl Trueman’s entry to Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life series, which focuses on Luther (forthcoming titles in the series probably don’t include Rachel Held Evans on the Christian Life or Wayne Grudem on the Christian Life or Brian McLaren on the Christian Life). The book is in many ways classic Trueman – easy to read, provocative at points and brings the subject matter to life.

I appreciated the strong pastoral tone of the book. In writing a book on a famous thinker, even one focussed practically on areas of the Christian life, it is easy to get so focussed on issues of contextualisation that the dots never get connected back to the present day. Trueman manages to avoid this pitfall and makes some astute and sometimes pointed reflections on Luther’s relevance to Christian life in the 21st Century.

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The Moral Urgency of Anna Karenina

Commentary Magazine has a great essay written by Gary Saul Morson on the moral urgency of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. His essay is a perceptive and careful reading of a novel which I probably read all too hastily whilst all too young. He takes as thematic for his novel the famous opening sentence: “All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, and uses this to explore Tolstoy’s vision of virtue and Christian character.

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2014 – Bunces’ year in review

Part of me is always dubious about the end-of-year posts. However, 2014 has been an eventful year for both of us, so I thought it might be worth doing a small recap.

First half of the year

The first half of the year was taken up by Mairi’s work at the hotel and me (David) finishing off his degree in German and Theological Studies. I graduated in June with a First Class Honours, having written a dissertation on Barth’s reading of the Reformed tradition around the area of the extra Calvinisticum.

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July then saw Mairi finish off at the hotel and take off down to Oxford for a month to study for a CELTA course (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults), which she passed with flying colours. This means she is now a fully qualified English teacher. Yay!

We had a lot of fun with friends, and particularly appreciated the many fine people of our home group (some of whom are pictured below), who provided unwavering love, prayer and support whilst at the same time limitless japes and craziness. After-Church burgers is perhaps the finest tradition that has ever been ‘traditioned’, and we both miss it a lot.

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During the first half of the year, we had (and accepted) the invitation to go and work with a church in Vienna with the longer term aim of church planting in Austria. Therefore, we spent a lot of time packing and preparing for the move, looking for somewhere to live and preparing for all the practicalities. Mairi, for example, made a box fort whilst packing:

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Moving to Austria

At the end of August we began the move to Vienna. Mairi very wisely chose to fly over straight away and stayed with friends for a few nights. Meanwhile, I had the task of going in the van along with all our furniture. The van was driven by the wonderful Jesse Duley (to whom we are, it has to be said, exceedingly grateful).

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The road trip was good fun but exhausting. We took in an evening in Köln seeing the cathedral and enjoying pig knuckles, and otherwise made reasonable process down through Germany until we finally arrived in Vienna.

The first few weeks flew by in a whirlwind of administration, IKEA trips, administration, culture shock moments, administration and box unpacking. Amongst the many administrative tasks we had to do, we had to both register our residence in Austria with the authorities, we had to both register as self employed with the tax authorities (we are currently financially self-supporting ourselves, though are looking for outside financial support for David to free him up to work more in the church), and had to take out the mandatory state health insurance.

Dealing with the Austrian civil service is like being in any one of the bureaucratic scenarios from a Kafka short story (for example, Der Prozeß). Often you have to go to an unknown place to speak to an unknown official who may or may not be helpful. This official will then probably tell you that you are in the wrong place. Assuming the office is open at all, which it almost certainly isn’t. Nevertheless, we are now 98% of the way there (we just need to get another bit of paper for Mairi to confirm her right to residence in the country).

Vienna

We are now settled and happy in Austria. Mairi is studying German on some intensive courses every morning and is making great process. Ideally she is aiming to get her C1 German certificate by next Autumn, which would be super.

I was ordained as a pastoral assistant in the Project:Gemeinde church where I currently work and have been getting into the rhythm of life. It’s provided many challenges, and I definitely feel stretched to the limits, but I also know that I am learning lots. The last half of 2014 has definitely been a time of listening lots, speaking little and seeking to learn as much as possible.

The year summarised

The story of 2014 has been a challenging one, with some great highs and some very flat lows. But it has also been a great story of God’s consistent faithfulness to us.

We have spent enormous amounts of our savings on the move and getting set up, and money has at times been very tight, but have never had to worry about where the next shopping trip is coming from. In that we are more fortunate than many in the UK and Austria, and don’t take that fact lightly.

We have left excellent friends and support networks, but have been blessed with other friends and support networks. We have been blessed beyond what we deserve or dared to dream, grace upon grace.

I was preaching towards the end of the year on Daniel 2 (I am preaching my way through Daniel at one of the services at our church) and was really struck by Daniel’s prayer of praise to his God, and I feel it echoes and encapsulates our experience of God this year:

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
    to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
    he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what is in the darkness,
    and the light dwells with him.1Daniel 2:20-22

These really are incredible words from a young man in exile, far from his homeland, and threatened with the death penalty if he doesn’t manage to interpret the King’s dream. Yet Daniel looks beyond his circumstances to the gracious character of his God, who changes the times and the seasons, makes the sun rise each day and in whom light dwells. One of the greatest blessings this year has been learning to discern the hand of this good God and to learn to praise Him in the highs and lows.

Looking forward to 2015 is proving to be interesting. We’re not going to be as bold as to try and predict in too much detail what is going to happen. We trust and hope that God will lead us, that we will learn to follow, and that in whatever highs or lows come our way, the Great King will be glorified and honoured.

Random footnotes

I feel it would be amiss of me to conclude this review post without putting a few random things at the bottom.

  • 2014 has been the year of the Scottish movie/TV series for Mairi. She watched all of Monarch of the Glen whilst packing and unpacking, and sobbed her way through Sunshine on Leith the first month after we moved. I’m not sure if that was really homesickness as much as the tear-jerking storyline (when we went to see it in the cinemas, I was an emotional wreck from about five minutes in).
  • Speaking of films, Mairi went off to study for her CELTA course and forgot to take all her DVDs, except for the copy of Frozen, which was already in the CD drive. Therefore, she must have watched the film about 20 times over the month long course. This means that she has now internalised every single line from the film and bursts out singing it at every single opportunity.
  • I have really got into China Mieville as a writer and have bulk-read my way through much of his novels, including City and the CityEmbassytown, Un Lun DunRailsea and others. I love both the skill of his writing and the way in which he self-consciously adapts different genres as an intellectual exercise.
  • In terms of theology, my love of Barth as both a theologian and a pastoral voice continues, as does my love for Eugene Peterson in fleshing out what it means to be practicing the pastoral vocation. However, new discoveries this year include Robert Jenson (I am reading my way through Systematic Theology this Christmas break and completely loving it) and Carl Trueman (plain speaking, unashamed advocate of Confessional traditions, and winsomely arguing for unpopular positions).2Of course, pretty much all my lecturers at St Andrews would also be on my list, but that would make it a pretty long list. But I loved my four years studying there and a cursory glance at my bookshelf will confirm that!
  • The unexpected stand-out theology book of the year for me (other than things I had to read for my studies) was D. A. Carson’s Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, telling the story of his father’s ministry in french-speaking Quebec. It was gentle, respectfully told and admiring whilst avoiding the easy temptation to slip into hagiography.
  • Food discovery of the year has been New Orleans style Soul Food (thanks Carmen), and especially Jambalaya. However, my heart and blood vessels are grateful that this food is not more readily on offer.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Daniel 2:20-22
2. Of course, pretty much all my lecturers at St Andrews would also be on my list, but that would make it a pretty long list. But I loved my four years studying there and a cursory glance at my bookshelf will confirm that!

Pope Francis at Midnight Mass 2014

An extract of the text of Pope Francis’ homily at the Midnight Mass, which a friend alerted me to. I thought it was quite powerful:

We too, in this blessed night, have come to the house of God. We have passed through the darkness which envelops the earth, guided by the flame of faith which illuminates our steps, and enlivened by the hope of finding the “great light”. By opening our hearts, we also can contemplate the miracle of that child-sun who, arising from on high, illuminates the horizon.

The origin of the darkness which envelops the world is lost in the night of the ages. Let us think back to that dark moment when the first crime of humanity was committed, when the hand of Cain, blinded by envy, killed his brother Abel (cf. Gen 4:8). As a result, the unfolding of the centuries has been marked by violence, wars, hatred and oppression. But God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting. He waited for so long that perhaps at a certain point it seemed he should have given up. But he could not give up because he could not deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). Therefore he continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples.

Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption. This is the message of Christmas night. God does not know outbursts of anger or impatience; he is always there, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, waiting to catch from afar a glimpse of the lost son as he returns.

[…]

On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? “But I am searching for the Lord” – we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me?

More so, do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today!

The Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness. When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: “Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict”.

Full text of the Mass and the homily available on the Vatican website.

Psalm 6 – my tears have drenched my bed

Psalm 6 is the first of the seven penitential Psalms (the others being 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143) as established by a Roman Senator named Cassiodorus in the 6th Century. In some ways this is strange – the sins of the Psalmist form a background to the Psalm, but we don’t actually see any active penitence. Instead, we get the blunt honesty of a Psalmist who is troubled – possibly by some grave illness, possibly from attacks by his enemies.

The emotional stress of the Psalmist seems to be beyond what most people experience day-to-day: “I am languishing”, “my bones are shaking with terror”, “I am weary with my moaning”. It is tempting to try and skip over the Psalm – it’s not relevant to where I am in life right now, it’s too miserable, it’s too dramatic. But I think there are two important reasons why this Psalm matters as part of the Psalter.

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We’ve arrived in Vienna

We’re here! We’ve arrived! We now live in Vienna, capital city of Austria, former capital city of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and home to more coffee houses than you’ve had hot dinners. It’s official.

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We actually arrived nearly a month ago now, but this is the first chance we’ve really had to do update a blog. We’ve been super busy going to and from IKEA (ah the Swedish embassy), getting all our paperwork in order, buying tickets, starting work in the church, trying to get our head round life abroad…

But now we’re here. We’re settled, we’re beginning to feel at home and we’re happy to breathe out a bit and just enjoy life.

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What are we up to at the moment? Well, Mairi starts an intensive German language course on Monday; I am throwing myself into the church, and also trying to do some web design work and earn some money (lots of money going out at the moment, none coming in as yet because of the way freelancing works with invoicing…at some point in the near future, that has to change!). Mairi will also be looking for some English Language Teaching jobs over the next couple of weeks.

We’ve also set up our prayer newsletter, which you can subscribe to. This will give more details about our life, current prayer requests etc, and we would be honoured (and very grateful) if you would commit to praying for us in this way. Otherwise, this blog will also play host to some more general ruminations, thoughts and amusing aspects of life abroad.

So that’s a very brief summary of what life is like with us at the moment!

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