Our Trip to Sopron and Vienna
Shelley and I recently returned from a week long conference in Sopron, Hungary. (Thanks Marcia for keeping readers informed on “where in the world” I was.) This was the annual leader’s conference for a missionary movement called Christian Associates International (CAI). I was a speaker at this conference and taught each day on the topic of “Revolting Beauty” — how the Kingdom is centered on manifesting the beauty of God’s reign while revolting against everything in our lives, society, creation and the spiritual realm that is inconsistent with God’s reign. (Yes, it was based on my forthcoming book — now retitled The Revolt of Beauty).
I love the people involved with CAI. They broke every stereotype typical of missionaries. These people have a strongly incarnational missiology. They don’t preach at folks (like that ever works). Instead, they live with folks and serve under people. Their idea of a “church plant” is a bunch of Jesus-followers deciding to meet in a certain pub each week to invite others to talk about important matters and develop friendships. They hang out in parks, throw parties, build houses, pray for people who have needs, etc. — and the mustard seed kingdom grows. It’s all very natural and organic, and it’s working.
All this makes for a tribe of people who know how to live, love, worship, sacrifice and party passionately — and who understand that none of these activities can be compartmentalized. It’s all about life and all about mission.
On top of this, this group attracts some top notch thinkers. I had a great time sharing a couple drinks with a dozen or so people each night debating everything from Open Theism to Ecclesiology to Church-State issues. What a blast! Never once did these times of dialogue become intense or defensive. They were always characterized by humility and laughter — and a lot of brilliance. (My next post will be on my dialogues with Alan Hirsch and Andrew Perriman).
Twice, Shelley and I were able to get away and visit Vienna (about an hour from Sopron). The first time we were with Kathy and Kevin Johnson who used to be on staff at Woodland Hills Church and are now missionaries with CAI in The Netherlands. We spent an afternoon touring the famous Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens, learning about the lives of the “rich and famous” in Vienna’s past and the various wars that decided the fate of Austria. The extravagance of the palace and the grounds was breathtaking and (for me) a little disturbing, as peasants lived in the immediate surrounding areas in impoverished conditions.
We also visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral, founded in the 12th century. For me, it was a rather odd experience. On the one hand, the church is absolutely awe-inspiring in its majesty, antiquity and beauty. One can’t help but feel something of the transcendent. On the other hand I was revolted by its fusion of Christian symbolism with paganism, nationalism and violence. To give one example, there’s a statue of a suffering Jesus juxtaposed with a statue of a sword wielding crusader. What a contradiction! In fact, violence saturates the whole church (as it does many of the other cathedrals we visited). As gorgeous as St. Stephen’s is, it is a shrine of Christendom which fundamentally contradicts the humble, sacrificial way of the Jesus-looking kingdom.
Shelley and I ended our trip to Europe by returning to Vienna, spending several hours touring Vienna’s famous art museums, visiting St. Peter’s Church (Vienna’s second oldest church) and then walking the city at night. It was an educational, enjoyable and thoroughly exhausting experience.
And now, like Dorthy said, “There’s no place like home.”
Blessings on ya’ll.