Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Linda’s desire to see Budapest’s Great Synagogue propelled us out of the tourist zone and into a former Jewish quarter in Pest, staring up at the second largest synagogue in the world, with its two towers resembling a giant Torah: the Dohany Synagogue. Named for the street it is located on, “Dohany” means nothing more esoteric than "tobacco."
The synagogue was built in 1859, and served 23,000 Jews, a significant community for the city. Interestingly, the synagogue was designed by a non-Jew, and has elements of Moorish design and a decidedly Christian fixture: an organ.
A series of photographs lines the arcade leading from the synagogue past the garden, towards the cultural center, museum and library. The series traces the history of the property: leaders of the Pest Jewish Community gave a plot of land to the city in perpetuity, to be developed as a park, cultural center and synagogue; later, the garden would become a cemetery during World War II.

In spite of their collaboration as a country, the Hungarians were only temporarily spared from the evil of Nazism. The Gestapo set up headquarters in the synagogue and deportation of Hungarian Jews began late in the war (1944), when Jews were shot or deported to the death camps. After the reign of terror by the the Arrow Cross
(Hungarian fascists), and the starvation following the siege, over 2000 victims were buried in 24 mass graves in the garden of the synagogue. One of Budapest’s bridges has a sculpture depicting those who were shot on the bridge, falling into the Danube. Of the 800,000 Jews living in Hungary during World War II, 600,000 were killed in five months.

The synagogue was badly damaged during World War II, and liberated on January 8, 1945 by the Soviet Red Army. Restoration began after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and now includes a cultural center, the synagogue, a museum and library.
No one knows the present population of the Jewish community in Hungary; a post-war law forbade the counting of population groups. Estimates are that Hungary is home to the 3rd largest population of Jews in Europe, after France and the UK.

A memorial tree, resembling a willow, was commissioned by Tony Curtis, of Hungarian Jewish origin. Made of metal and having names of victims on its leaves, it stands in the Raoul Wallenberg Park, as does a gravestone of this Righteous Gentile. Patrons can buy a willow leaf and have it engraved with the name(s) of loved ones. In the same courtyard, memorials stand to the Jews who died surround the courtyard, and a special marker honors
Raoul Wallenberg.
You can take a virtual tour of the synagogue here.

This unanticipated visit, following our introduction in Baja to the history of Hungarian Jewry, was a sobering precursor to another visit I was to take in 4 days: to Auschwitz.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pepper Wigs & Tourist Traps

Thursday was hang out day to collect our wits, energy, health, sleep, laundry and artwork. It's amazing how much an artist can sprawl in a few days' time...imagine what a whole team of artists living together can do!

With one more visit to the Pataki bakery for pastries and internet, we finalized travel arrangements, made a skype call (you had to see Marcia showing off the pastry case to Marge via Skype, and the patrons'/employees' reactions!), and walk it all off on the way back up the hill.

Friday we saved for a last visit into Budapest, a full and totally tourist day, no obligations. It was Friday when I began to really fall in love with this great city.

We started in the International Market, an architectural delight which we nevertheless deemed a disappointing tourist trap worthy only of a few good photos. A ground floor greeter, sporting a wig made of hot peppers, welcomed us into the fray of food vendors and shoppers, with arts and crafts and fast Hungarian food on the upper level, crammed with patrons of every nationality.

I'm glad I went, but don't need to go again!

Proceeding down Vaci Utca, we discovered the more upscale tourist traps, with hefty price tags and aggressive sales people, but it was a lovely stroll anyway, up a pedestrian walkway, and Linda and I emerged with new rings:

It was time to escape the tourist traps and discover Budapest's Great Synagogue...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A George Verwer Sighting

The peripatetic George Verwer, founder of OM, world missions advocate, and all around amazing guy, made an appearance in Budapest on Wednesday. Of course we had to go hear him. This man’s orbit rarely intersects mine, although it has on occasion. He is truly a living legend, not to be missed.
Dragging our weary bodies into the city Wednesday morning (with pesky germs still attempting to lodge in my throat), we first spent some time soaking in the famous thermal baths in Budapest—on beautiful Margaret Island. We then made our way to the nearest ice cream cone stand, then off the island to hunt down a well-concealed Methodist church, where George would be speaking.

The evening was marked by George’s inspiration, gentle temps, amazing food, and another collapse into exhaustion! The thermal baths and long walks through the city in some heat had indeed done their duty. With the promise of a ride home dangled before us, Marcia and I flopped on church chairs while OM workers finished cleaning up and having a meeting (we did offer a weak “Can we help?” which they in their great mercy refused.) Eventually they poured us into the van for the ride back to Erd, and we were soon in dreamland again…good night again, Erd!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Erd

Tuesday is a flurry of comings and goings as we send team members back to their former lives in waves of airport runs. Four of us will remain in Erd: myself, Marcia, Linda and her daughter, our wonderful dancers who have come in for the second arts camp, to begin in a few more days. Since a common denominator is exhaustion, we intersperse naps with goodbyes, and anyone who doesn't have anything else to do throws laundry in the little machine to beat back the growing hallway pile of sheets and towels.
But Marcia and I manage to rouse ourselves from our stupor to explore Erd a bit, this suburb of Budapest, a hilly residential community with a Communist Park. Jacob comes with us, as his flight isn't until the evening. Time to find an internet connection as well, make the next set of travel preparations, and send a flare to our peeps the world over.

We found the perfect spot in the Pataki Bakery, and if I could have found a translator, I would have asked the owner if there was any connection to George Pataki, former NY governor.

Instead, we found the most amazing pastries, a cozy nook to hunker down in for some time, and friendly waitresses. Internet connections are slow and sparky, but better than Petofi Island, and we are soon in our zones, happily munching on exquisite delights.
A long hike back up the steep hills works off any waistline damage. We send Jacob off, and a little while later, Tim and Shelby. And then we are four, enjoying the quiet after the chaos. An evening movie, a dose of bug spray, an extra pillow and blanket for a chilly night, and we doze off one by one...good night Erd!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

“Think Edit, Not Epic”

“We all have a million different things we could be reading, watching, browsing, doing, poking or tweeting. Work on the assumption that your audience won’t give you much more than a minute of your time, before a video of your friend’s dog rolling over will supplant your masterpiece. So keep it short and keep it interesting. You don’t need to say everything. Just make sure the core message comes across loud and proud.” – Think Edit, Not Epic, Varoom magazine

It’s time to debrief.

Bill Drake and teams arrive around lunchtime, looking about as exhausted as we probably did the day before, when we arrived. Unloading their van, full of musical equipment and suitcases, some exchanged a hug or story, and we sat for a quick lunch. Then they headed for the showers and/or a nap. The rest of us packed, napped as well, did some laundry, or did some artwork. Then at 5 pm we met together, to hear one another’s stories, see some artwork, photos, and a video, fill out some paperwork, and pray for one another. Tomorrow, early, we would begin to disband.

This is always a bittersweet moment. So thankful to be done with the marathon, the heat, the bugs, the carb load, and the lack of privacy, we nevertheless have formed deep bonds with one another, and are reluctant to part. We crave sleep, our own beds, family and friends at home. But we’ve also gotten into a strange sort of rhythm, routine and family constellation; we feel we could keep going forever with our team (if we could just get a good nap in); but we also know better. This is not normal living, and we have to return to our normal lives. For some, that represents great hurdles, misunderstanding, and, worst of all, apathy.

To prepare our participants (and remind ourselves), we give them some guidelines. Veterans share with newbies some of the harder aspects of going home, with tips to survive re-entry shock. One of these is to “think edit, not epic—you have to tell your story in under two minutes. Thirty seconds is better.”

I have challenged the visual artists to produce one cross collage around the first story they will tell when they get off the plane. I wish you could see the results—but here are some photos:
As staff, we’re listening for ways we can improve. What went wrong? What could we have done better? And we are always on the lookout for emerging missional artists, especially those who show leadership skills. Who shows promise? Passion? Commitment? Desire? Giftings and call? Some of the participants confirm they will not be back; others ask when the next trip is. We exchange Facebook names with each other, and emails.

We will adjust the way we do things, refining this chaotic enterprise as best we can, keeping in step with the Spirit, who is not particularly tidy about the way He does business. One eye to the future, we love building into this army of artists emerging all over the world, desiring one thing: to use their art in service to the King.

The intensity of the experience creates lifelong friendships with some; but with whom? Who has entered our lives now, to continue in friendship, if only virtually? Who will we work with again? Who will we never see or hear from again?

We say goodbye to those who will be leaving in the middle of the night, or before dawn.

I miss them already.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Graffiti Sightings

A few graffiti sightings on the way back from the river walk:

And the piece that set us off on the graffiti trail as we first arrived in Baja:

This little stencil, spotted by Jacob during a prayer walk, sparked an enduring conversation about graffiti: new forms emerging, the messages, and major players, including the unidentified Banksy, who has recently gained some notoriety as the producer of the indie documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop and for funding free Mondays for MOCA’s (Los Angeles) recent exhibition Art in the Streets.

This little stencil led to us deciding to do the Csodalatos graffiti wall at our Friday event, and to do it with stencils. I learned a lot, and I’ll post more about our process tomorrow, but for now, here are a few more sightings of Baja’s underground graffiti artists:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Love Locks

If you squint at the map below, you can see where Petofi Island (on the right - "Petofi Sziget") is in relation to the Danube (Duna), over to the left. One day we took a walk down to the point, and a stunning walk it was, relieving all stress with its beauty.
One passes a marina, fishermen, friends chatting on benches, or strolling down the path. Skiffs, cyclists, and an old man picking mushrooms completed our idyllic riverwalk.

At the end is a lovely park, with a pink tower, overlooking the Danube.

When you climb to the top, you notice locks attached everywhere on the railing: Love Locks. When Bajas fall in love, they have their names engraved on a padlock, with the date, and attach it here, in a symbolic act of eternal and undying love. Another cultural symbol we could redeem as tangible expression of uniting one's heart to Christ. The sketchbooks and cameras were soon out.
The artists are suddenly in the zone: Chuck on the ground photographing, Marcia doing a watercolor of the Danube, me sketching.
Soon the other three artists arrive on bikes, just in time for all of us to head back--chased by an approaching storm, and late for lunch anyway.

This cultural phenomenon began in Hungary in the '80's, spread around the country and then Europe. Check out some examples here and here.

And some first artistic offerings...but this theme definitely needs pondering...