Skopelos: Iconic Christian Community 

We arrived on Skopelos island on Friday afternoon.  It was a short sail from Skiathos to Skopelos. Skiathos is a tourist island. There is an airport and an extensive walking mall of stores and restaurants that service the sizable tourist population that comes from all over Europe. One of my students remarked thst they heard more English than Greek here. 

Skopelos on the other hand is quieter, more scenic, and more of a local destination. Most of my last visit to Skopelos was spent on a beach because I had sprained my foot on Skiathos so I was looking forward to getting to see more of the island. The movie Mamma Mia! was filmed here which means that at times being on Skopelos feels like being in a movie. 

(It is a near requirement that students watch the movie before arrival. I already had fulfilled the requirement)

On Saturday, the students had a free day which also gave me the opportunity to explore Skopelos. Most of my students went to a beach, but I decided to set out alone and hike into the hills surrounding Skopelos port. 

Leaving the road, I found a trail that weaved through the hills and took me to a few Eastern Orthodox monasteries. The first two looked closed, but I was able to enter the third. 

This monastery, Padromos, sat atop a hill overlooking the ocean. Initially I was uncertain whether I could enter, but I did. There I met the monk who lived there. 

 He invited me to enter the church, which though simple for an Orthodox chapel, it was still quite ornate in comparison to my American utilitarian sensibilities. Though the Eastern Orthodox ways of worship are still quite foreign to me,  I could not but reflect on the Gospel as I saw the various icons and images of Christ. 

Leaving the chapel, I struck up a conversation with the monk in residence. He lived there alone, but told me that the monastery had once served nuns rather than monks. This was his 10th year living as a monk but had only been living there for about a year. 

I found out in the course of our conversation that he was also an iconographer. This must be a common vocation for monks as there is no deficit of icons for sale in Greece. Given that I had recently read a paper by a friend of mine on the Orthodox and icons, this was particularly interesting to me. 

Creating icons in Eastern Orthodox thought, so I am told, is part close obedience to the tradition and part the individual expression of that tradition. It is not the creation of art, per se, but the portrayal of metaphysical realities that mediate the presence of those represented. 

I am not so mystical as the Orthodox. Yet still the beauty of these representations and the people represented were beneficial as a reminder of the Gospel mystery of Christ’s Incarnation. They exist because Christ in the flesh exists. 

After leaving the monastery, I spent the hike down reflecting on the past couple of years. The past couple years have been rich in blessing not least of these being the presence of Christ through my church community in Hyde Park. 

This perhaps is the reason that I am not so mystical as the Orthodox. The representation of Christ and the saints in my life is primarily in the local church-the brothers and sisters, mothers, and fathers that I have at Holy Trinity Church-Hyde Park. It is through these rich relationships of love and accountability in the regular rhythms of common worship and devotion to the Word that I have experienced Jesus Christ in ordinary daily life. 

This is a timely reminder as I will close my time teaching 1 Corinthians over the next couple days covering Paul’s image of the church as Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12) and his exposition of love (1 Corinthians 13). These iconic passages are instrumental for understanding the meaning of the church, essential for the vitality of every Christian community, and contain good news for the whole world. 

Some of my students at a cafe on Skopelos

Skiathos: Celibacy and Marriage

Today we started discussing Paul’s sexual ethic in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7. In my preparation for this section I returned to a book that I read for a class at Moody on Biblical Pespectives on Human Sexuality entitled Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West. It is a summary of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Theology of the Body. 

(Before anyone makes any comments about my “closet papism” note that I read this for a class at Moody Bible Institute – hardly a bastion of Catholic thought) 

Here is an excerpt I found helpful from the book related to what Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 7:

The difference between marriage and celibacy must never be understood as the difference between having a “legitimate” outlet for sexual lust on the one hand and having to repress it on the other. Christ calls everyone—no matter his or her particular vocation—to experience redemption from the domination of lust.

Today we sailed into Skiathos which is a popular island destination in the Aegean. Tomorrow we will sail onto Skopelos island and spend a couple of days there. 


Ship Life

Living on a sailboat has its own rhythm. Though it can change with the direction of the wind or the destination of the day, this rhythm is the regular ebb and flow life on the Encounter. For those of you wondering what living on a sailboat it like, not much is different on this trip than my previous visit. Reading some of my blog posts from this time will give you a good sense of what it is like. 

For this post then I’ll give you a quick rundown on this daily rhythm of life. 

8:30-9:00 – Breakfast (Hardboiled eggs, yogurt, cereal, coffee, tea, toast

9:45-10:30- Session 1 (This is where I teach) 

10:45 – 11:30 – Session 2 (More teaching) 

12:00 – 12:45 – Session 3 (Finish teaching for the day) 

1:15 – 2:00 – Lunch

1:00 – ?  – Sailing and Free time(Depends on the Wind and destination) 

7:30 – 8:30 – Dinner (The food here is amazing.)

8:30 – 9:15 – Reflection Session / Bible Studies / Life Stories (Students have the chance to reflect and practice what they’ve learned as well as share their life stories) 

10:30 – Curfew

Coming back, the rhythm is familiar, yet since my role as a teacher is different than that of a student, I am experiencing life here a little differently this time around. 

 Thus far sessions have gone fairly well. I am still finding my method and voice as a teacher but these students have been patient as I’ve stumbled through some of the material. They are starting to open up in asking more questions and having more dialogue amongst each other which makes my job easier and enriches their experience of the class. 

To those of you praying for me, thank you. I sense the provision of God in the interactions with my students as well as in their engagement with his Word. 


After a long walk through the streets of Athens and a train ride to the city of Chalkida, I returned to the Encounter. 

Being here again is surreal. Living on a sailboat seemed like it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity a couple years ago and now I find myself not only back but here to teach. 

My first few sessions went well. I covered some basics of Bible Study which if you have ever heard Dave Helm teach on this,  you know much of the content that I covered. (I told my students that I wasn’t old enough to have original content yet.) We discussed the importance of proximity to Christian community as well as the journey of bblical interpretation of traveling from the world of the text to the world of today. 

I will continue with teaching through the book of 1 Corinthians over the next week. There is a lot of ground to cover, including a number of particularly difficult yet contemporary issues. The first hurdle of learning their names and building some rapport is over, the next hurdle will be keeping the forest for the trees as we walk through the thorny issues of the church at Corinth. There is much to get bogged down by, but by God’s grace we will be able to finish the book and more importantly be changed again by the message of the Gospel. 

Leaving and Landed

In case of travel, use blog. PANO_20170507_082640

I confess this blog is used primarily for leaving and landing. That is to say I get the urge to write in it when I travel.

As many of you know, I am traveling. More than any other trip to day I feel opportunity. Which is only to say that I have the trip sketched out with places and people, but much of it remains unplanned.

There is a purpose for this trip other than pure experiential capital. No, I am here to teach, and see where God might lead me to teach in the future. So I will visit places and people and see sights but with the prayer that people in these places or perhaps others will come to know the love of God through His calling on my life.

So 16 hours after leaving, I’ve landed in Athens, and I’ll be headed next to Chalcis (or Chalkida) to meet up with the Encounter to start my week of teaching first thing tomorrow.


Arriving in the New Year

This has been the longest New Year’s Eve of my life. No, I do not mean that figuratively. I mean it quite literally. I left Great Falls, Montana at 7:30 am (MST), and crossed three time zones to arrive on Kauai island. 8 hours of travel across 2,792 miles through 3 time zones brought myself, my sister, my mother, and stepfather to this rugged beauty of an island for an adventure.

An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered – G.K. Chesterton

 Upon landing in Lihue, we promptly collected a bag from the baggage area, and promptly made our way to rent a car. While waiting quite some time for the car to be turned over to us, I made use of the time by studying a map of Kauai. Anyone studying a map of Kauai for the first time will notice two things. First, much of the inner land of the island is uninhabited. Only around the coast are their towns connected by one highway that does not quite encircle the island. Second, most of the town names were foreign yet familiar. As I travel, I want to know more about the culture here, and learning about the language is a rich way to learn about culture so I intend to do so. Fun Fact: Hawaiian is similar to Hebrew in that it places the verb prior to the subject in its syntax.

Kauai Map

Our first stop after picking up the rental car was to Walmart of all places. Having to go there first thing after landing crushed my soul a little but it was on the way to where we are staying. Eventually I got over it by seeing it as equipping us to invest the rest of our time exploring the island. A seemingly long 45 minute drive around the island got us to our home for the week. I didn’t mind taking in the scenery of course.

We have 9 days here in Hawaii. At this point, I do not know what those 9 days hold. My family does vacations a little like Jazz improvisation. We have a good idea at what might happen, but we’ll be creating it as we go.

Perhaps then because it is New Year’s Eve, I am particularly attuned to the role of time on this trip. Indeed, of all the days of the year, time gets the most attention on New Year’s Eve. The very holiday marks the passing of years, a birthday of sorts for Earth. As well, people often celebrate it by counting down the hours, minutes, and even seconds to the midnight hour when one year becomes the next. Just like the year 2016, I know this trip will end but as I write this I am still within it, still observing the moments as they are given.

One of my friends in the Theology major at Moody wrote his senior paper on a philosophical theology of time. He argued in it that time is essentially opportunity and from this idea I penned an earlier post on this blog to mark the beginning of another trip to a similar locale. Time is opportunity, a gift given by God for our lives to inhabit a particular space with particular people, at a particular moment. How we experience time will in part depend on how we respond within it to the opportunities He presents. Each day and each moment is an opportunity to pick up our cross and follow Jesus as servants of those around us. This is why each morning when I first stand up out of bed, I whisper to myself, “I am a servant.”

Right now, I want to soak in every moment of this time to rest with my family, to soak in the preeminent beauty of this creative work of a holy immanent Creator, and to render a vacation as worship in serving my family as my first neighbors that their time here may be well spent as well. I can already anticipate not wanting it to end, but it will.


This desire points me back to the church calendar of which this day is the 7th day of Christmas. The Incarnation, wonder of wonders, had a beginning and an end. But what sets apart the Incarnation from my vacation is that from Jesus’ incarnate’ “beginning” to his gruesome “end”  there is now the new beginning of an enduring reality with no end. The resurrection for the Christ follower relativizes all endings. For if death, the most final ending known to man, is defeated then truly the eternal has broken into finite human history to be with us, without end.

This is the audacious hope of the Christian faith, the hope that puts all other hopes to shame. It is the hope that no Good will ever truly end but will be purified, refashioned, clothed and remade to serve the glory of the living God in a world without end.

There is a manger in Bethlehem and a cross in Jerusalem that still testify to the beginning of all new beginnings and the end of all ends.

If you are not a Christian but are willing to at least listen to this testimony and want to read through one of Gospels with me, please let me know. I’d love to do it with you in the new year.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

 Happy New Year. 


Life on a Boat:Sailing

We came on this boat to sail.

Of course we came on this boat for many other reasons: Cultural exposure, relaxation and reflection, the beauty of the Greek landscape, and the chance to take college classes in this unique setting. Yet all of these can be done on a typical study abroad program. What was so unique about this trip was that we spent it on a sailboat.

Sailing is all but dead. In fact, as we traveled and moored in coves and ports, I learned from the constant sight of sailboats that sailing is an active means of transportation even today. It may no longer be the transportation workhorse that it was prior to the Industrial Revolution, but it lives on as a recreational activity, and in our case an eEncounterLabeledducational and spiritual one.

Sailing in principle is quite simple. Wind on sails produce force which propels a boat through the water. In practice, the wind is never determined by one’s intended route. So one must adapt. The Encounter’s means of adaptation to the wind consisted of four sails which we, the crew, were tasked with manipulating to get us where we needed to go. To the right, you’ll see the breakdown of these sails. Typically after class was over we would eat lunch, pull up the anchor, and raise the sails.

Having two masts and a gaff pulley system, the Encounter is considered a gaff-rigged schooner. The top of the main sail and the fore sail is rigged with a top and bottom boom and a pulley system. To raise the sails, two people on each of the two halyards (ropes used to raise the sails) work together to raise the top boom. One of the halyards raises the “throat” which is the part of the boom closest to the mast keeping the sail on the mast, while the other halyards bears the brunt of the rest of the boom known as the “peak”. Once the throat of the boom reaches the top of the mast, the peak is raised further to give the sails their characteristic trapezoidal shape. To lower the sails two people would lower the boom in tandem, while the other two on the team would work along the bottom boom to fold the sails neatly, or at times as neatly as possible.

Typically the main sail would be raised first, followed closely behind by the fore sail. Once both of these were raised by their respective teams, the head sail team would raise the staysail, followed by the jib. Both of these sails were raised on a simple pulley system, but the staysail was rigged on a loose boom that allowed it to switch sides of the boat when we changed our direction to the wind.   The head sail team  would raise and lower both sails which entailed climbing up on the wires and ropes of the bowsprit with the water below.. Being on head sails was the most involved task during sailing requiring the most attention and work, but was quite exhilarating nonetheless.

Once the sails were up and if the wind was right, Theo would turn off the motor and we would sail. This is the moment that is hard to capture in words. Motors have expanded drastically the reach of mankind to travel and create. Mankind has harnessed the potential energy of fuels to help us do everything from visit Grandma, to make a smoothie. Motors surround us, providing convenience and access. Yet there are times that we don’t desire convenience, and we’re okay with limited access. These are the moments of a long walk to enjoy a sunset, or a bike ride along the lake for exercise. These are moments that motors do not give us access to. Turning off the Encounter’s motor and letting the wind propel us was one of these moments. It was a moment which was laced with a quiet confidence that speed and efficiency do not have a monopoly on what is ideal.

When the motor turned off, we were sailing.