Romanian Grace

The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon. -- St. Cyril of Jerusalem

19 October, 2006

the priest

I met an Orthodox priest today and he told me I have nice teeth. I did not know how to comment on my mother's genetics in Romanian, so I told him I don't smoke.

Actually, this was only the second-strangest comment a Romanian man has made to me in the last few weeks. The other was like this. I had gone on a bike ride with my friend and co-laborer, Darin, and we had just gotten back pretty close to our apartment block. We saw a kid we knew, so we stopped to talk to him, and this other guy saunters up the dirt alley towards us, pantomiming dribbling a soccer ball, shooting, and, I presume, scoring. It became clear to me (I am a very astute observer) that this man had had far too much to drink, so much, in fact, that he could not tell that I was not a perfectly fine chap with whom to have a conversation.

So we started talking, or, rather, he did. I listened as the 100-proof words blew past my ears. All of a sudden the man stopped. He was looking at shoulder, half-covered by my sleeveless running shirt....Now, for those of you who don't know me, I am kind of a hairy guy. Not as hairy as my friend, Brian, but hairy enough. So. This guy reaches out and, sort of...caresses my shoulder with his callused hand (it would make a good farmer's hand). Then he takes his hand back and pulls down the collar of his t-shirt to reveal an impressively hairy chest.

The only image that comes to mind that might adequately depict what was going on is the one from the old Tarzan movie where the Tarzan is standing in front of the fair Jane, gesturing and saying: "Me Jane," except this guy was maybe saying something like: "I know it seems like you and I are pretty different We don't speak the same language or really look the same. We probably have radically different backgrounds and interests and proficiencies. When we go home this evening we will probably prepare different foods for dinner, according to our individual tastes. But, you are extremely hairy, and so am I, and I hope you have a nice day."

And then he left.

16 October, 2006


It just dawned on me a few minutes ago that this is my two month anniversary in Romania. Two months ago I was sitting braindead in Ed Hartman's living room, wondering if I would ever see my four bags of luggage again, which had been lost somewhere between Atlanta and Bucharest. That seems like a very, very long time ago.

First Snow

Caught first glimpse of Romanian snow today, in the higher elevations off in the distance from where I live. Temperatures hover around freezing now, sky stays the color of wet limestone. I love it.

14 October, 2006

Saturday Evening Post

OK. I am now satisfactorily convinced that there is no existing trail down the north shoulder of the Magura. I tried it two weeks ago and found myself lost in an ensconcing fog mid-way down. Today, I found the trail through the field and back into the woods, followed blazes down on an ambiguous trail for maybe a quarter-mile, and then the trail and blazes disappeared altogether. So, once again I found myself bushwhacking, racing the rapidly setting sun. It was, in fact, already long out of sight behind the Magura, and the air around me had turned violet and bronze. I forgot about looking for blazes, was thankful I had thrown my compass into my backpack (won't leave home without it again), and headed south-by-southeast...down.
When I made it to what seemed to be a logging road, I was at first relieved, because...well, it was SOMEthing. Then I realized I still didn't know where I was or if I was walking the right way. What if I had travelled too far south...or east...or southeast? In that case, I would wind up most likely, in some Romanian peasant's backyard (I use the word "peasant" here only because that is the word that came to mind at the time. I know there aren't really Romanian peasants anymore). So I began piecing together what I would say in my broken Romanian to the man who would answer my knock at the door, or come out to investigate what his dog was snarling at and/or biting: "I don't speak much Romanian. I am a little lost. Where is Codlea?" The I began imagining that he was, in fact, a very kind Romanian peasant with a strong-armed wife who overheard my plight and insisted that he invite me in for dinner (is it possible that a mooch like me is actually a missionary?).
You can imagine my disappointment when I came upon a familiar looking blaze painted on a tree, then a recognizable landmark, then came out on the trail where I had begun three hours before. I gladly made do with leftover meatloaf, buttered toast, and instant coffee.

11 October, 2006

This is a sight and sound I never tire of. Here we are surrounded by concrete, maniacal drivers, and roaring trucks, and carts are all the time rolling by, pulled by one or two horses. Sometimes they haul hay or are full of potatoes; sometimes there can be as many as twenty people hanging off the cart on their way to pick potatoes. Judging by some of the roads around here, this might be the ideal mode of transportation. Hmmm...

10 October, 2006

A strange providence

What does Frisbee have to do with the gospel? Today I was blessed to take part in something I have truly missed. To explain, last year I was a P.E. teacher. Great job. You have no idea, and neither had I, just how good a job it was. I took it just because it was part time and allowed me freedom to raise support to come to Romania eventually. But I got to play with kids all day, run with them, teach them to throw the disc a variety of ways. Today was the second day I have brought my disc out to the front of the apartment building where I live, and there must have been kids waiting and watching all over Codlea. They just kept coming. We passed the disc across the circle we had formed, gawking as hilariously wild tosses careened into the parking lot, gasping as they nearly missed (sometimes) the cars there. It even became a spectator sport, as residents gathered on their balconies to observe the pandelirium. Kids shouted Romanian I couldn't understand at me from every direction; one guy rode off somewhere on my bike that was covered with horse poop and mud from a recent "plimbare" (pictures of which might make a future post); the evening grew in deepening shades of mauve and grey. A couple of kids nearly accosted me when I said I was going in and I had to take the disc with me. I admit, I felt, maybe for one of the first times since I got here, truly in my element. Question: how will the Lord use "my element" for His kingdom and towards the purpose of church planting here in Romania? I don't know the answer to that yet, but I pray that He will reveal that to me in time. What does Frisbee have to do with the gospel? I don't know exactly, but I will keep on enjoying it as I figure it out.

09 October, 2006

It's the little things, like...

...buying eggs by the tens, not by the dozens...and, of course, having to wash the chicken poop off at home;

...seeing beer on the menu at McDonalds;

...walking down the road and shaking trees for apples to eat;

...realizing that throwing a frisbee and kicking a soccer ball are universal languages;

...learning that "merge" means "turn steering wheel and honk."

I find that I love this country for many of its oddities and quirks. As I get to know people here, I am really starting to understand and love them, though I have a long way to go on both those counts. I am not sure many Romanians are all that easy to get to know, and the fact that I don't speak their language isn't helping any. I am getting there, though. Just got my visa papers filed today. I had to prove to them that I did not need a translator for the form I was signing, so my language teacher told me what the form would say before we went in. I felt so smart.

07 October, 2006

Saturday Morning Post 2

For starters, if you have made it 27 years into this life (which I have) and have not read C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy (which I had not until recently) then shame on you. Start now. The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, resonates with me differently now than it ever could have before or ever will again. In the midst of the novel, which takes place one another planet, I find that it is all about: language learning, inculturation, being instructed by different by others, and fitting into the Maker's plan in spite of ourselves. It is also a novel about fear and doubt that result from living in a fallen world. I have begun the next novel, Perelandra, and it is already proving to be the first one's equal, at least.

Meanwhile, I continue to learn from this culture, not of a distant planet, but I think it might as well be sometimes. Until very recently I thought the hardest part about learning to live in a different culture was the language. I was wrong by a longshot. By far the hardest thing is learning all the UNspoken culture. Apparently any Romanian can tell I am an American before I open my mouth just by the way I walk, look, my posture, the way I look at do you begin to deal with all that? I have come to the realization that no one will EVER mistake me for a Romanian, even if I master the language, accent, roll every "r" perfectly. So it goes.

I learned something about the value Romanians place on community recently. I shared with a few Romanians I have gotten to know that I was planning to hike for a couple of days in a nearby park. They kept asking, "singul?!" I told them of course. They were not just incredulous; it was as if they were offended that I would think to do such a thing. I believe the biggest part of their problem was not that I was doing something potentially dangerous (which they believed it was) but that I was doing something that was incredibly foreign to them. Why would anyone go hiking for days alone? Everything is done in the context of community here. I seldom see anyone walking or standing alone. People congregate outside of their homes and apartments most of the day. Kids don't sit inside and watch TV, they play outside every waking hour that they are not in school or doing homework.

I find that, as much as I like to be the individualist, to do things on my own, my own way, God has actually called us into community. He has given us His Body and made us a functioning part of it. The only way it works, though, is by understanding Grace and applying it to others and knowing they will have to extend it to me. I did not like being told by my Romanian friends what to do. I found myself becoming indignant. But, the Lord's plan for me was different than the plans I made for myself. I did not go hiking alone. But that is another story.

" we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." Romans 12.5

02 October, 2006

Puritan Thinking

Here is an excerpt from another one of those prayers:

Redeemer God,
Help me to be in reality before thee
as in appearance I am before men.

One day, God will make us as righteous, even more so, as we sometimes fool others into believing we are. Until that day, and even then, I will have to count on Christ's righteousness alone.

In the words of one of my favorite hymns, The Sands of Time are Sinking:

I stand upon His merit, I know no other stand,
Not even where Glory dwelleth in Emmanuel's land.

A Puritan Prayer

Here’s the Puritan prayer I mentioned in my previous entry.

O Lord God, who inhabitest eternity,
The Heavens declare thy glory,
The earth thy riches,
The universe is thy temple;
Thy presence fills immensity,
Yet thou hast of thy pleasure created life, and communicated happiness;
Thou hast made me what I am and given me what I have;
In thee I live and move and have my being;
Thy providence has set the bounds of my habitation,
And wisely administers all my affairs.
I thank thee for thy riches to me in Jesus,
For the unclouded revelation of him in thy Word,
Where I behold his person, character, grace, glory,
Humiliations, sufferings, death, and resurrection;
Give me to feel a need of his continual saviourhood,
And cry with Job, “I am vile,”
With Peter, “I perish,”
With the publican, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Subdue in me the love of sin,
Let me know the need of renovation as well as of forgiveness,
In order to serve and enjoy thee for ever.

I come to thee in the all-prevailing name of Jesus,
With nothing of my own to plead,
No works, no worthiness, no promises.
I am often straying,
Often knowingly opposing thy authority,
Often abusing thy goodness;
Much of my guilt arises from my religious privileges,
My low estimation of them,
My failure to use them to my advantage,
But I am not careless of thy favor or regardless of thy glory,
Impress me deeply with a sense of thine omnipresence,
That thou art about my path, my ways, my lying down, my end.

(From Valley of Vision, p.5)