May 14, 2013
I had the privilege of meeting Hussain at Kirchentag. Hussain is from Afghanistan and has only been in Germany for 7 months. He spoke no German upon arrival, but with just the help of a grammar and a tiny pocket dictionary, has learned to speak German quite well. When Hussain arrived in Germany, he was befriended by a local pastor and converted to Christianity. As a result, he can never return home, since he would immediately be killed. We had some great discussions together about Islam and what prompted him to become a Christian. We also spent some time exploring Hamburg together. In the picture above, we are in the tower of St. Nikolai. This was Hussain’s first time to ever go up a church tower. He also told me that I am the first American he has ever known.
From the tower, we had a great view of Hamburg.
Hamburg was heavily damaged during the bombings in WWII:
May 9, 2013
Last Thursday for Kirchentag, we heard a stunning rendition of Benjamin Britain’s War Requiem in St. Petri cathedral, Hamburg. The music was orchestrated by a boy’s choir, soprano, baritone, and bass soloists, organ, two orchestras, and a choir. Due to long lines and crowds of people, we had to sneak our food into the cathedral and then try eating it inconspicuously. Not an easy task when you’re eating Hamburgers and fries!
Saturday morning at Kirchentag I went with a friend to hear Bundesverteidigungsminister de Maizière’s sermon about John 6:1-15. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As I entered St. Michaelis Cathedral, there was some man screaming in protest, while guards were wrestling him out of the building. I simply assumed that such things are prone to happen when a high profile speaker is present. The defense minister began reading the text:
Immediately when he had finished reading and began his sermon, that is when it happened. About two rows in front of me, a girl carrying a guitar made her way out of the pew and began walking towards the speaker. She began playing the guitar and singing, interrupting his message. The guards had to step in front of her to keep her from reaching the Defense Minister. Then, her companions, still seated on the pew in front of me, began to sing and chant and raise a raucous. By this point, the sermon was completely interrupted. Then, other protesters in the balconies began waving banners and dropping pamphlets into the audience. This mayhem continued for about 15 minutes. Others in the church began shouting at the protesters and saying, “We came here to hear the morning Bible study. Shut up!” Finally, most of the protesters got up and left. Some remained, and made passive resistance during the service, sometimes singing softly or waving their peace banners.
The Defense Minister was able to deliver his sermon, quite a good one in fact. And we were able to sing the concluding hymn:
The protesters, in case you are wondering, were upset that the Minister of Defense would be delivering the message. Apparently de Maizière is met by similar protests in most places he speaks. There is a forceful group of pacifists in Germany that is upset with Germany’s military and the way it is handled. For example, they are unhappy that there are still German troops in Afghanistan.
In light of this situation, and other experiences from Kirchentag, I’ve thought a good bit about ways that Germany is different than the U.S. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Germans have mastered the art of protesting. They don’t just protest, they organize and make themselves heard. Their protests often bring about real change. Whether it be a protest in a church about the Defense Minister, a protest in Stuttgart about the railway, or even a protest in Student housing about a small change in the rules, they are not afraid to raise their voices and engage in debate. This is completely different from anything I’ve seen in the U.S.
- Germans are an intellectual bunch. Maybe this is part of the grounds for point #1 above. Germans, as far as I’ve observed, have a ceaseless interest in lectures and seminars and, basically, learning. Whether the topic is Quantum Physics or How to Properly Train Your Back, they find it fascinating. As an example, Kirchentag had a series of lectures everyday, and many of these were 3 hours long. Many people sat through 3 hour lectures in the morning, and then another 3 hour lecture in the afternoon–and all the time using simple cardboard boxes as chairs.This is a picture from one lecture at Kirchentag. I found the scene funny, because the theme of the lecture was, “Is technology replacing the book?” and you can see how the man in front of me was, well, a techy.
I think Friday was the highlight of my time at Kirchentag in Hamburg. It worked out that I was able to go to a 3 hour panel discussion on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, followed by an Opera in the evening on the life of Bonhoeffer. I am growing increasingly fond of Bonhoeffer, so I was thrilled to get the chance to hear various German biographers and theologians discuss his life and theology.
The discussion was not a disappointment: with charm and wit, and with lively disagreement, the panelists shared their views on Bonhoeffer. In the course of discussion, one of the most heated moments was in the debate about how much guilt the Germans as a whole bore for the Nazi mistreatment of the Jews. Prof. Dr. Rudolf von Thadden argued that national confessions of guilt, such as the Stuttgart Shuldbekenntnis, were mistaken, since numerous pockets of the population did indeed oppose Hitler. Against this thesis, Ferdinand Schlingensiepen argued that the national confession of guilt was by all means appropriate. He told the story of his older brother, who, having learned of antisemitism in school at the age of 10, came home disgusted by it and hating Nazis and antisemitism for the rest of his life. If a 10 year old boy, argued Schlingensiepen, could recognize the appalling nature of Nazism and its hatred for humanity, then how could the nation claim innocence? Here is a clip from Schlingensiepen from the afternoon:
There was also lively discussion over Bonhoeffer’s song “Von guten Mächten,” which we sang together at the beginning of the meeting. After signing this, Prof. Dr. Christiane Tietz announced that she herself did not sing along. She does not agree with some of the theology expressed in the song, and she finds the cheerful nature of the song contrary to the setting in which Bonhoeffer composed it. At this point, I heard loud murmurs of disapproval from those around me (I got the impression that the mostly elderly audience was also quite conservative), and many shouted, “Sie sprechen Quatsch. Quatsch!” Here is a snippet of our singing:
Another highlight from the meeting was Bishop Bedford-Strohm’s interview with South-African systematic theologian Professor Nico Koopman. Koopman explained that Bonhoeffer was an inspiration in his own struggle against Apartheid. Prof. Koopman spoke only in English, so Bishop Bedford-Strohm paraphrased his answers into German. This “paraphrasing” proved quite fascinating to me, as it turned out to be a sort of censoring of Koopman’s non-traditional remarks. For example, Koopman explained that Bonhoeffer was instrumental because,
“From him, we learned about transformation that leads to conformation of Jesus Christ.”
“He did not just call for commitment and obedience, he died for it. Thus, here we found an example of someone who lived and died the theology he preached.”
But most striking to me of all was the paraphrase of Koopman’s following words:
“For Bonhoeffer, Christianity was not about a religion or a theology, it was about a personal relationship with the living Jesus Christ, which transforms ones life and actions.”
This statement was paraphrased as ”Wichtig für Bonhoeffer war authentische Spiritualität,” which is a tamed-down reinterpretation of Koopman’s words.
Following this stimulating panel discussion, I then got to hear the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Opera, entitled, “vom Ende der Unschuld.” The opera was not so much about Bonhoeffer or his theology; it had more to do with the factors that brought Hitler to power, the reasons the Germans accepted such tyranny, and what then prompted Bonhoeffer’s opposition. It was fascinating to observe how the Germans are grappling with their history and what insights are being gleaned. Below is a clip from the opera:
When I get a chance, I will definitely be reading more Bonhoeffer. I came away challenged by three things in particular about Bonhoeffer. First, he was always drawn to the seemingly unimportant in society. Thus, he had a charm with children and could tell magnificent stories; in Brooklyn he attended an African-American church; and of course, he chose to associate in Germany with the minority. Secondly, Bonhoeffer chose obedience over worldly success, comforts, and advancements. A Professor at Berlin, he took the downward, costly path of resistance. And thirdly, Bonhoeffer had a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ, which is manifested in his writing. There are some writers who evince such a insight and profundity; I believe that C. S. Lewis and Bonhoeffer are among them. This quality in one’s writing does not come through education or genius, but, I believe, through a saturation in God’s word and a daily communion with Him. This is what I too want to strive for, not for the sake of somehow becoming a better writer or theologian, but simply that I may know Him and be conformed to His image.
May 6, 2013
My goal this week is to post a series of updates about my time in Hamburg at Kirchentag. These updates will be varied: some will be about the people and the city, some will be cultural observations, and some will be theological in nature.
First, to wet your appetite, I’ll post a video I took on the U-Bahn in Hamburg. This video is a glimpse into what Kirchentag is like: it is full of people and music.
Hamburg is also famous for its Harbor (and apparently also for Noah’s ark and U-boats):
In Hamburg, a city travel pass includes not only buses and U-bahns, but also the ferry boat. So, this ride along the Hafen on the ferry was part of the deal.
Pictured above is the Hamburg Rathaus
Lake Alstar in Hamburg
I hung out a good bit with Seth and Amanda. As you can see, Seth is quite excited about his burger!
We had beautiful weather all week (20 degrees), perfect for exploring
This sail boat was kind enough to pose as my subject for the picture. Afterwards, something quite comical happened. Notice how the poor chums in the boat are trying to control the boat with just two paddles, and how choppy the water is (due to a very strong wind); notice that they are using neither their sail nor their rudder. Well, within a matter of minutes, the wind carried them along to a bridge (just off the right-side of this picture), under which they got the boat stuck and had to be rescued.
In retrospect, I’m really glad I went on this trip. Leading up to the trip I was regretting my decision to go, knowing that I needed to stay in Munich and get work done. Once I was in Hamburg, however, I had a blast. The city is very pretty, the people were nice, and the numerous panel-discussions were informative. Many more highlights to come!
April 30, 2013
Lord willing, we will be travelling tomorrow morning by bus with a group of students to Hamburg, where Kirchentag is being hosted this year. I have no idea what to expect. Apparently, hundreds of thousands of people from churches throughout Germany will converge for the week in Hamburg to hear music, lectures, and discussions about religion in Germany. So, until Monday, farewell and blessings,
April 29, 2013
I got a laugh out of THIS article, entitled, “Beards Keep you Young, Healthy, and Handsome, Says Science.” On the positive side, the article states, “While both dead sexy and totally awesome, beards are also a boon to your overall health.” On the negative side, it’s time invest in “beard wash and beard oil, essential tools for looking and feeling your beardy best.”
So there you have it, beards keep you healthy and wealthy. Okay, maybe wealthy is a little bit of a stretch. But what about “Wise,” as in the title of this blog post? What is interesting is that many Greco-Roman philosophers argued that men should indeed grow beards. I quote Epictetus as my example:
Can anything be more useless than the hairs on a chin? Well, What then? has not nature used even these in the most suitable way possible? Has she not by these means distinguished between the male and the female? Does not the nature of each one among us cry aloud forthwith from afar, “I am a man; on this understanding approach me, on this understanding talk with me; ask for nothing further; behold the signs?” Again, in the case of women, just as nature has mingled in their voice a certain softer note, so likewise she has taken the hair from their chins. Not so, you say; on the contrary the human animal ought to have been left without distinguishing features, and each of us ought to proclaim by word of mouth, “I am a man.” Nay, but how fair and becoming and dignified the sign is! How much more fair than the cock’s comb, how much more magnificent than the lion’s mane! Wherefore, we ought to preserve the signs which God has given; we ought not to throw them away (Epictetus, trans. Oldfather, p. 111).
So you see, the key to health, wealth, and wisdom is in in the beard, which is more magnificent than the lion’s mane!
April 18, 2013
I have some catching up to do, so in this post I’m going to highlight some of our recent adventures.
First, I’ll begin with our day trip to Nürnberg.
Each pole along the Way has a different language
In this game, you have to figure out whose name is on your forehead
Julius guessed how many buttons were in the jar, and therefore was the grandprize winner of these chocolates
Nothing beats searching for easter eggs in the snow. This was the coldest, snowiest winter I’ve ever experienced. The snow began at the end of October, and continued through the end March. The winter here set several records: the darkest, cloudiest winter in 50 years, and the coldest March in 100 years.
My wife knows how to decorate!
There are more travels ahead, Lord willing. In a couple of weeks I will be going to a conference in Hamburg. In June when my folks visit we will see Venice, and in July I present two papers at St. Andrews. Living in Europe definitely has its perks
April 17, 2013
Here’s the update I promised with highlights from our semester trip last week.
Melody took her turn at the wheel
Some of our friends, relaxing the good old German way. In this picture, there are students from Germany, Greece, Ecuador, and Romania (and of course an American taking the picture)Hannah Joy and Amanda, exploring a small Gasse in Lindau
Melody has a knack for finding balloons any time we are out and about. In fact, she thinks that is the sole reason we got out and about A famous church council was held in Constance in the years 1414-18
April 8, 2013
Tomorrow morning my family and I, along with about 40 other students in our Wohngemeinschaft, will depart on our semester trip. This semester we are journeying to Bodensee, the lake where Germany, Austria, and Switzerland meet. Here’s a look at our itinerary:
Tuesday: take the bus to Frerichshafen, visit the Zeppelinmuseum, then arrive at our youth hostel in Lindau
Wednesday: journey to St Gallen, tour through the Stiftsbibliothek
Thursday: visit Pfahlbauten and the baroque church in Birnau
Friday: explore Klosterinsel in Reichenau, then tour the Altstadt in Konstanz. Hear a lecture on the council of Constance and the burning of Jan Hus. Return to Munich
We’re greatly anticipating the trip, which is basically an all expense paid adventure through our Wohngemeinschaft (sweet deal, huh!). I’m most excited about visiting the Stiftsbibliothek in St. Gallen. Who wouldn’t want a behind-the-scenes tour of a library dating back to the 800′s that looks like this:
Classical scholars from all over the world come to this library because of its magnificent collection of ancient manuscripts.
Needless to say, we are excited about the trip, about the library, and about the chance to see Switzerland for the first time. Many pictures to come once we’re back from our trip Friday night.