Friday, January 30, 2009
So I was sitting here yesterday, still having my mind wrapped around things, hearing and reading people complaining about the greyness in Berlin these days. Its chilly, overcast and we have not seen much in the way of sun in a while. It’s something about these old buildings during overcast days, as I wrote previously, that makes for a dreary scenery when looking out the windows. No wonder spirits might be down at times, little aches and colds are more noticeable and tiredness seems to way much heavier then usually. I was reminded yesterday of a G.K. Chesterton essay I read a while ago. In “The Poetry of Cities,” Chesterton argues against the dichotomy that reigns in our minds between the beautiful and the mundane, or as he puts it, between what is poetic over against the prosaic. The dichotomy he speaks of, is that between what we consider cities to be, namely prosaic – and that which we consider nature to be, namely poetic. In other words, we all strive for a look of the beautiful which we find most often outside of our places, of our cities, out in nature, out in the country. Just think of the most beautiful places in Canada for example. My mind immediately hands me a hit list of tourist attractions starting with the Rocky Mountains.
Chesterton, however finds this turn of events rather disagreeable. Thus he helpfully points out to us that “Nature has too much to do in her great project of satisfying our insatiable appetite for breakfast and supper to pay special attention to the lust of our eyes…we have no particular reason to suppose that a lily was intended to be beautiful; it was for the far nobler purpose of producing other lilies”(Chesterton, p. 20). Indeed why do I complain about the greyness of this city, the listlessness of existence during this time, or why do I let my moods be determined by the absence of beauty. Again Chesterton reminds us “It took man [sic] many generations to realise the poetry of the macrocosm it which he [sic] lives…[it may] take man [sic] some number of generations to realise the poetry of the microcosm in which he[sic] lives”(p 22). Regardless of colours, regardless of the absence of certain visual cues we now hold to be normatively beautiful (for a short time I might add, if history teaches us anything), what Chesterton reminds us of through this essay is this: That the poetry, the beauty of the city might not necessarily be found in its features, in the sun reflecting on windows of the TV-Tower, or the Bundestag lit up at night against a dark sky, but rather in the people that cross our paths:
“So many men pass us in the street who may have a rich and unique history that, for the sake of mere convenience, we fall back on the assumption that none of them has. We compel ourselves to pass by dramas as if they were Sunday School stories; we are steeled to fling romances into the waste paper baskets, cover and all, as if, instead of containing histories coloured and gilded with human passion, they contained nothing but coal circulars…”(p. 23).
Maybe it is that we refuse to notice the beautiful in the grey, the poetic in the mundane walk through the city. Maybe we close our eyes the drama, the poetry, the history of the people passing us by because it is easier, more comfortable and it allows us to remain closed, unaffected and passive. How much easier after all, it is to look at a mountain or to take a picture of a beautiful turquoise lake rather then to open up, invest and take time to relate to others. Could it be that we are scared of each other? Could it be that we are scared that we might have to invest to much? Are we scared about others finding out our thoughts and our fears? Is it just to much work?!
I give Chesterton the last word: “But the reason we fly from the city is not in reality that it is not poetical; it is that its poetry is too fierce, too fascinating and too practical in its demands.”
Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.
2. Corinthians 8:24
All quotations from:
Chesterton, G.K. “The Poetry of Cities.” In Lunacy and Letters. Ed. by Dorothy Collins. London: Sheed and Ward, 1958. pp. 19-23.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Oh, hello Team Blog! How are you doing today? I'm doing quite well myself, thank you. It seems like it's been so long since I saw you, what have you been doing? Waiting for me to post on you. Oh. Well...ahem. I'm sorry about that, but I've been slightly busy with...well, with what I'm going to write about :D
So, what has the last month held for good ol' Team Deutschland? Quite a bit. I can't remember all too much of it (although my memory really isn't good at all), but the most recent events stand out to me. I'll brush over those, as I must post something.
We enjoyed a nice New Year's with one of the youth from the church here. His name is Max, and, as he speaks English, we can do more than pitifully stumble through a 'conversation' with him. We spent the night at the church building to protect it from drunk youth and whatnot. We had no troubles of any sort, though, and enjoyed a time of Monopoly, and fireworks, which is quite tame for a German New Year's.
It quite surprised me how big a deal it is here. The whole city of Berlin literally sounded like an active war zone from all the fireworks and firecrackers (I'm not exaggerating). The air everywhere smelled of gunpowder, and, the day after, the ground was so littered with firework remnants and beer bottles that one could hardly take two steps without stepping on some trash or other. I was not expecting it to be nearly as important as it is. Our 80 euro worth of fireworks was meagre in comparison with what most people blow up in the sky.
The next morning, we found ourselves on an ICE (Inter City Express) train, en route to Borkenwirthe, which is a small farm-ly town right on the border of Holland. It was a little 'vacation' for us; a small break to regroup, and get some reading done. It was quite beautiful up there, especially after a night's snowfall. It was wonderful to look out over a flat, white landscape, red brick houses poking up here and there.
We made a trip into Holland, bought some superb Dutch cheese, saw a windmill, and bought old, rare books from a handy old, rare, English bookstore in an entirely unimportant, small town, which was a thoroughly wonderful treat (I bought a charming book about wild Otters, among others).
We also took a trip to a nearby German city called Münster, which is the location of several absolutely magnificent cathedrals (as well as a historical blunder of epic proportions, but this isn't a history lesson, so I won't go in to that). Going into the churches there caused me sorrow over the fact that churches are no longer built in that manner. They are so beautiful, and the appearance of them most surely brings one to a most reverent and thoughtful state of awe.
We spent some time with the director of MBMSI Europe, Johan Matthies. He was a fascinating person, who served as a missionary for many years in the Balkans, smuggling Bibles into Muslim countries, and other such shenanigans. He imparted some of his life experience to us, and led us in a study on the book of Daniel.
Our team was in charge of leading the Sunday church service at a local non-state church. We did the worship, our team leader preached (he speaks German), and it all went quite well. They were very welcoming and appreciative of our being there. Good people, all of them.
And we went on a frozen pond, but eventually got scared and left...
Upon arriving back in Berlin at around 7:30 pm, the guys of the team moved into a new apartment. It was interesting, arriving back from a trip to move into another new habitation. The apartment belongs to a family that used to attend the church we're working with, but have moved to Northern Germany because of work. They kept the apartment, however, and leave it open for guests of the church to use should the need to arise (and they use it whenever they are back in Berlin).
We're not sure how long we'll be living here, but nobody's really sure of anything around here, so we'll just have to wait and see how that pans out :)
And that, in a nutshell what we've failed to update you on for the last month. We'll try to be a big more regular with the update things...but I've said that numerous times. I'm just bad at schedules...and remembering things...and most every skill required to put out regular updates... Not that it's an excuse, I'm just saying.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
One really cool thing that I was reminded of this week was in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, where Paul says,
"But [God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore i will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."It's been difficult to be in a place like Berlin where I can see all sorts of people that are hurting, and yet not be able to do anything about it. For one, I can't speak that language that well, therefore I can't really talk to people at all. Secondly, the culture here is very introverted (I'm not sure if that's the right word); they keep to themselves a lot. As much as I want to go out and do things on my own, I can't. This means that I need to rely on God all the more and trust that He has a plan for why I'm here. It's freeing and frustrating at the same time.
Andre, the missionary we're working with here, talked to us about this passage, as well as Romans 5:1-11. One of the other things he said in regards to this is that when we reach our limits, then God can work, because we have no other choice but to rely on Him.
It's also been great to be reminded of this in situations within the TREK program. For instance, Team Brazil was denied their visas for a month, but through that delay they have been blessed probably more than if they had gone straight to Brazil (correct me if I'm wrong Team Brazil, but I've seen God work through your time in Vancouver.)
It's always exciting to trust God, because usually he doesn't reveal his entire plan at once. Talk about exciting!
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Often when confronted with stories of evil I feel powerless, senselessly mad and overcome by fury. But at then end the question always remains, every single time: Why? And how do we prevent it from happening again?
Team Germany had our first day off yesterday, and after sleeping in and buying groceries (which, by the way, judging by their price must be made of pure gold), we went downtown Berlin to see some of the sights, such as the Bundestag (before WWII it was called the Reichstag) and the Brandenburg Gate. Among our visits was the Jewish Monument, erected in rememberance of the Holocaust. It consists of rectangular cement blocks of different hights that stretch over a a whole city block. At night as by day it is kind of creepy and rightly so. After much searching we found a museum/exhibition located underground, beneath said monument. Right at the entrance we were told to shut off our cellphones and to take pictures only without flash. The atmosphere down there was quite and somber and the exhibition tasteful, powerful and very artistic. Once again, I was personally confronted by the extent of the evil thats was perpretated by a nation against a certain group of people. This was no accidental murder, or even another casualty to the Nazi thirst for power, but rather it was premeditated murder against a very specific group of people. And what once more became clear to me was that the Nazis went OUT OF THEIR WAY to find a Jewish solution.
In one of the exhibitions I sat down to read this:
"We would so love to live, but they won't let us and we will die" This is an excerpt from a letter that a 12 year old sent to his father before being pushed into that pit he describes. He was a Jewish boy.
I sat there for a while and then I decided to move. I entered another room that was dark. Against all four walls a name was projected, with the respective years of birth/death. I sat down as the name changed, and a voice first read a short story of that persons life in German, then in English, ending invariably with death by the hand of the Nazis: "Reading out the names and biographies of all the victims in the form presented [there] would take approximately six years, seven months and 27 days."(Information Brochure)
How do you deal with this? How do you deal with the fact that this was done by people like you and me, by people with thousands of years of history backing up their civilization? Done by a nation who has for centuries proclaimed to be a Christian nation (man how I agree with Bonhoeffer). I wish I had an answer, I wish I could give some practical idea, some glimmer of hope that this won't happen again, some remedy for the situation, but I am forced to sit there and here and stare...
Yet, I want to remind myself and all of you, that there is hope. Not, because somehow WE can make a difference. It won't happen through better diplomacy, or through inspiring U2 songs (as much as I like U2), or even through the Bill Gates Foundation and the millions of dollars its spends every year. Do not get me wrong, these are good things at times. But they are not what our hope is built on. Remember that song: "Our hope is built on nothing less, then Jesus blood and righteousness." One of my professors once asked us the question where God was in the Holocaust. And I confess my answer is limited, but I believe that the God of the Bible was with those people who were suffering comforting them, welcoming them, waiting for the; just as he was also waiting on the people of Germany and on the Nazi leadership. The God who in his son suffered on the cross was present there at the Holocaust.
You might ask, why did he not prevent it. I do not presume to be God and I will not answer that question. Maybe this is hard for us to hear: we do not know why this happened, we do not know why God did not act in a different way. But rest assured, God was at work through his love, confronting evil with good found in the tiny little riples of this society, in the cracks of this world, seeping in here and there: moments of light in darkness. And ultimately that is the hope we have. The hope and faith in a powerful God who is at work in little things AND in big things, but most importantly in the unexpected.
"Why war still? Why hunger still? Why a world still?" Candi took these pictures and she commented on the fact that we still ask these questions today. I don't have an answer. But I do not have hopelessness because then this whole TREK thing would be worthless would it not?
We proclaim a God who brings hope there where we do not really see it. My Bible reading from today gave me a little glimpse of that hope.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" No, "if your eneimies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
We are here at TREK proclaiming a God who overcomes evil with good, a God who in weakness makes powerful and who ultimately reigns, even though he often does not work in ways that we understand, that we consider fair or most sensible. Is that not the beauty of peace: "Our hope is built on nothing less, but Jesus blood and righteousness... On Christ, the solid rock, WE stand; all other ground is sinking sand." I will continue to sit and feel powerless when I read about genocides and other kinds of evil. But I will also always remember the Rock that I am sitting on and that God does not sit in powerlessness, but he is always already at work and he is always already waiting for us ready to tell us what to do and to use us in his work. What a privilege, and with that we start a new week.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
we are so very thankful to be connecting with andre and olga pritzkau, and their children joshua, mark, and claudia. today we had our first meeting with them to discuss plans for our time in berlin. we navigated public transportation back to their flat, and were only a little late. we had an awesome time of worship, and read and discussed 1 timothy 2:1-7 :
Saturday, November 1, 2008
As I write, Team Germany is sitting at Gate D64 of the Vancouver International Airport waiting to board our flight to London Heathrow. We are very excited and look forward to the next part of this adventure. We would appreciate prayer for safety on the flight, on a speedy integration into our new life in Berlin. We also ask for continual prayer for the people of Germany and specifically East-Berlin. Please pray that solid relationships might be formed and that God might do mighty things in East-Berlin through the church there and if he so wills, also through the TREK team.