Anniversary of the prayer meeting that brought down the Wall

Twenty years ago today in Leipzig, where Bach used to live, a prayer meeting at a Lutheran church became the catalyst for the anti-communist demonstrations that a month later would bring down the Berlin Wall. Here is the story:

A prayer service for peace in an historic Lutheran church in the East German city of Leipzig 20 years ago triggered the chain of events that exactly a month later led to the opening of the Berlin Wall.

As people gathered after work on the afternoon of 9 October 1989 in the Nikolaikirche (St Nicholas’ Church) and three other inner-city churches in Leipzig to pray for peace and democracy, the signs of potential violence were uppermost in most people’s minds.

Two days earlier, as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in East Berlin for the 40th anniversary celebrations of the East German state, pro-democracy demonstrations there had been put down with force.

Many East Germans had fled the country in the summer of 1989. Those who wanted to stay and force reforms at home started organizing peaceful demonstrations and prayer meetings.

The Nikolaikirche had been holding peace prayers each Monday since 1982, a time of tension in Europe over the deployment of nuclear weapons. The prayers became a focal point for East German opposition activists.

After the 9 October services in Leipzig, an estimated 70 000 people poured into the city centre, connect in a full circle on a ring road around the downtown area.

“There were too many of us that night to arrest, the prisons were already full,” Jochen Lässig, one of the founder members of the reformist group Neues Forum in Leipzig told Ecumenical News International.

Before the prayer service took place, however, ominous warnings had appeared in Leipzig’s communist-run media suggesting that armed force would be used to suppress demonstrators. Local doctors and nurses reported that hospitals were building up blood reserves and being put on alert to deal with bullet wounds. . . .

Troops, military brigade groups and the police became engaged in conversations, and then withdrew, said Führer. “It was an evening in the spirit of our Lord Jesus for there were no winners and no losers. Nobody triumphed over the other, nobody lost face. There was just a tremendous feeling of relief.”

In front of the Leipzig headquarters of the Stasi – the East German secret police – demonstrators gathered, laid candles on the steps and sang songs. What few knew at the time was that inside the darkened building, most Stasi members were present and armed with live ammunition. They had orders to defend a strategic building. They had sandbags under the windows, still displayed today as it is now a museum.

Irmtraut Hollitzer, once curator of the museum, told ENI, “One stone through the window would have been enough to set off a bloodbath.”

The peaceful outcome of the Leipzig demonstration marked a turning point in the democracy protests, which gathered force throughout East Germany. This was followed by the opening of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and free elections in March 1990.

Would you say this was a legitimate work of the church in its relation with the state?

“The shroud is more than the image”

Italian scientists have claimed to have reproduced the apparent image of Jesus on the Shroud of Turin by wrapping a person in linen, rubbing him with ochre, and putting blood on the result. But now a group of pro-shroud experts is casting doubt on that casting of doubt. From the Christian Telegraph, Experts question scientist’s claim of reproducing Shroud of Turin:

Dr. Jackson first questioned the technique used by Garlaschelli’s team, taking issue with the method of adding blood after aging the cloth. Jackson explained that he has conducted “two independent observations that argue that the blood features on the shroud” show “that the blood was on it first, then the body image came second.”

Dr. Keith Propp, a physicist who is also a colleague of Jackson’s, told CNA that while Garlaschelli’s shroud “does create an image that could’ve been done in medieval times,” there are a many things that “are not consistent with what the actual shroud shows us.”

For example, he continued, we know that the blood contacted the shroud before the body “because there’s no image beneath the shroud.” He added that this image pattern would be difficult to duplicate “because it would ruin the blood stains.”

Another area concern for the scientists is the three dimensionality of the shroud.

Propp explained that while Garlaschelli’s cloth does have some aspects of light and dark to create a three-dimensional perspective, “it’s nowhere near as sophisticated as the shroud” and that “it misses out on the accuracy and subtleties that are in the actual image.”

Dr. Jackson from the Turin Shroud Center also touched on the same point, saying, “The shroud’s image intensity varies with” the distances in between the cloth and the body. While he admitted that the images of Garlaschelli’s shroud on the internet look authentic, when taken from a 3-D perspective, “it’s really rather grotesque.” . . .

Garlachelli’s technique has also received criticism from other experts. One scientist from the Shroud Science Group, a private forum of about 100 scientists, historians and researchers provided CNA with some of the critiques made in the forum.

One English-speaking expert explained that the blood used on the Shroud of Turin is not whole blood. “They didn’t just go out and kill a goat and paint the blood on the cloth. The blood chemistry is very specific,” he said explaining that the blood is from “actual wounds.”

He added that most of the blood on the shroud flowed after death. “The side wound and the blood that puddles across the small of the back are post-mortem blood flows,” he said, adding that blood flowing after death “shows a clear separation of blood and serum.”

Propp added, “In some ways, it comes out better than most others I’ve seen before. Still there are too many things – the shroud is more than just the image.”

I know, I know. Our faith comes from the Word, not relics. Still, I’m intrigued. Carbon-dating has the shroud originating in the Middle Ages, though some pro-shroud advocates have questioned that also. Are they saying that there is blood on the Shroud? That is, the blood of Jesus? I’d like to see the DNA sequencing of THAT sample. (If it showed only a female line, that would be definitive!) I know, I know. If I want the blood of Christ, I should go to Holy Communion. But a historical event, such as the transformation that took place at the moment of the Resurrection, could leave behind evidence, so this is worth studying.

Ancient Egyptian coins depict Joseph

The Jerusalem Post reports a startling archeological discovery. Coins with Joseph’s name found in Egypt :

Archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph, Cairo’s Al Ahram newspaper recently reported. Excerpts provided by MEMRI show that the coins were discovered among a multitude of unsorted artifacts stored at the Museum of Egypt.

According to the report, the significance of the find is that archeologists have found scientific evidence countering the claim held by some historians that coins were not used for trade in ancient Egypt, and that this was done through barter instead.

The period in which Joseph was regarded to have lived in Egypt matches the minting of the coins in the cache, researchers said.

“A thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait,” said the report.

Bear his PORTRAIT? So we might be able to see what a major figure in the Bible LOOKED LIKE? That would be beyond remarkable. Not to mention strong evidence for the historicity of the Genesis account.

This story says that the coins include pictures of cows and grain, as in Pharoah’s dream that Joseph interpreted.

I can find no published images of the coins or of Joseph’s face. If anyone finds any, let us know.

Manson-cult murderer dies, but found redemption

Susan Atkins, the follower of Charles Manson and the murderer of the pregnant Sharon Tate, is dead. The news account of her death tells quite a story, going from unimaginable depravity to the Cross:

One night in August 1969, Manson dispatched Atkins and others to a wealthy residential section of Los Angeles, telling them, as they recalled, to “do something witchy.”

They went to the home of Tate and her husband. He was not home, but Tate, who was 8{ months pregnant, and four others were killed. “Pigs” was scrawled on a door in blood.

The next night, a wealthy grocer and his wife were found stabbed to death in their home across town. “Helter Skelter” was written in blood on the refrigerator.

“I was stoned, man, stoned on acid,” Atkins testified during the trial’s penalty phase.

“I don’t know how many times I stabbed (Tate) and I don’t know why I stabbed her,” she said. “She kept begging and pleading and begging and pleading and I got sick of listening to it, so I stabbed her.”

She said she felt “no guilt for what I’ve done. It was right then and I still believe it was right.” Asked how it could be right to kill, she replied in a dreamy voice, “How can it not be right when it’s done with love?”

The matronly, gray-haired Atkins who appeared before a parole board in 2000 cut a far different figure than that of the cocky young defendant some 30 years earlier.

“I don’t have to just make amends to the victims and families,” she said softly. “I have to make amends to society. I sinned against God and everything this country stands for.” She said she had found redemption in Christianity.

The last words she spoke in public at the September hearing were to say in unison with her husband: “My God is an amazing God.”

Indeed. Does this bother you in any way? Do you see that Jesus bore in His body, along with everything else the world has done, the sins of the Manson cult? Do you see this woman as your dear sister in Christ?

Old English treasure horde

Do you remember in Beowulf about the dragon’s gold-horde, and how after Beowulf died killing the dragon his people rejected the treasure, burying it under a burrow? Well, a bloke with a metal detector may have found it.

The treasure has over 1500 pieces–gold, silver, weapons, ornaments, all rudely-wrought– dating from the 600′s or 700′s, which would be when Beowulf was written–soon after the Angles and the Saxons converted to Christianity. Historians and archeologists are blown away with the find, which vastly multiplies the artifacts that have survived from that era.

Beware, I say. According to all the old tales, such a treasure–one that has been buried and thus gotten rid of rather than kept–comes with a curse. And recall that just carrying away a cup was enough to wake up a dragon.

Puritanical attitudes towards sex

Nearly everything you know about Puritans is wrong. The Thirsty Theologian quotes my friend Leland Ryken’s illuminating book on the subject, Worldly Saints:

 Everywhere we turn in Puritan writing on the subject we find sex affirmed as good in principle. [William] Gouge referred to physical union as “one of the most proper and essential acts of marriage.” It was Milton’s opinion that the text “they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) was included in the Bible “to justify and make legitimate the rites of the marriage bed; which was not unneedful, if for all this warrant they were suspected of pollution by some sects of philosophy and religions of old, and latelier among the Papists.” William Ames listed as one of the duties of marriage “mutual communication of bodies.”

   So closely linked were the ideas of marriage and sex that the Puritans usually defined marriage partly in terms of sexual union. [William] Perkins defined marriage as “the lawful conjunction of the two married persons; that is, of one man and one woman into one flesh.” Another well-known definition was this: Marriageis a coupling together of two persons into one flesh, according to the ordinance of God. . . . By yoking, joining, or coupling is meant, not only outward dwelling together of the married folks . . . but also an uniform agreement of mind and a common participation of body and goods.

   Married sex was not only legitimate in the Puritan view; it was meant to be exuberant. Gouge said that married couples should engage in sex “with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully.” An anonymous Puritan claimed that when two are made one by marriage they
may joyfully give due benevolence one to the other; as two musical instruments rightly fitted do make a most pleasant and sweet harmony in a well tuned consort. Alexander Niccholes theorized that in marriage “thou not only unitest unto thyself a friend and comfort for society, but also a companion for pleasure.”

   In this acceptance of physical sex, the Puritans once again rejected the asceticism and implicit dualism between sacred and secular that had governed Christian thinking for so long. In the Puritan view, God had given the physical world, including sex, for human welfare.

HT: Joe Carter at First Things, responding to my post on prayer before sex