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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Day 3 of Germany

Leftovers for breakfast, packed up, returned the rental car, then took a little train to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Hannover.  We took the train to Berlin.  I was hoping it would be a little more impressive.  Bullet train makes it sound so cool, but it was just a train.  We took the bus a couple of stops and then dragged our suitcases through the cobblestones and road construction of Berlin.  Nick read later that tourists pulling suitcases along the streets is a pet-peeve of the residents of Berlin.  Our AirBNB host was waiting for us.  We went up 3 flights of steep stairs--I will remember next time to ask what floor apartments are on and if there is an elevator.

We stopped for lunch on our way to see the sites and stopped by the grocery store.  We accidentally left by a different exit than we had entered and I didn't realize it until a half an hour later.  Thankfully I had "borrowed" the map from our apartment and got us turned around in the right direction.

We got to the lightrail station.  It took us a while to buy our tickets.  It turns out that particular machine was not working properly.  We got on the right train and off at the right stop!  We were pleasantly surprised.

We went to the Fassbinder exibit first.  The exibit was interesting.  I know I will enjoy Fassbinder films more, now that I understand more what the director was going for.

We saw the wall memorial and visited Topography of Terror--the museum that sits on the old SS and Gestapo headquarters and explains the history of the city related to the Nazi regime.  We went to the Jewish Museum and Brandenburg gate, then out for pizza.  We probably walked 4-5 miles.  Our feet and legs were so tired.

This was the first day I noticed the Stolperstein--the stumbling blocks marking places where people were removed from their homes by the Nazis.  On this day, I thought a lot about Valerie Scheftel, the subject of the book "Paper Love" that Nick gave me for Christmas.  She was a Jewish doctor who lived in Berlin and survived several years there under the Nazis before she was removed and killed in a concentration camp.  I wondered about her life before and after the Nazis came to power, what parts of town she used to go to and live in, and what sites we were seeing that she used to see.

Germany Day 2

Tuesday May 12, 2015 Day 2

We rose early--slept so good!  Nick made eggs and we ate some croissants with them.

We drove to Luebbecke, where my family is from.  We found the church where my great-grandfather was probably baptized.  The birds were nesting in the clock tower and flying all around.  I walked around the outside of the building, looking at the old wooden doors, stained glass windows, and other art.

The first door I tried was unlocked.  I entered through a small wooden door, down worn stone steps, into a dark entry area.  There was a small font directly in the center and some banner stands and other metal equipment was being stored against the walls.

I walked into the main sanctuary.  It was still decorated for the Confirmation celebration held there the previous Sunday, as I read in the bulletin.  All around the walls were works of art, carvings and paintings.  I tried to imagine my family worshiping there.  Where did they sit?  What songs did they like?  How early did they embrace the Reformation?  I felt very connected.

Someone came in the church through the door I had left open for Nick to join me.  I think it was the janitor.  The door was not supposed to have been unlocked.  I introduced myself in German and told him my grandfather had been baptized there.   I asked if it was ok if I took pictures.  He said yes, but he seemed annoyed.  We were there over an hour taking pictures and sitting in the different pews.  I went up to the choir/organ loft, looked at all the colorful woodwork, and paged through the hymnal.  Even if this wasn't the church my grandfather was baptized, it was a very interesting place to visit.

Afterward we walked down through the town and looked around.

We drove back to Hannover and found a place to eat lunch, then walked around.  We found the Frank Ghery building.

Seeing several church spires nearby, we chose one at random and walked there.  It is called Kreuzchurch.  It was Lutheran!  I went in.  It was much more modern inside than the one in Luebbecke.  A group was talking and I waited for them to finish up.  One of the women approached me as the others were leaving.

I introduced myself and explained that I was a Lutheran pastor on Sabbatical.  It turns out that she is the church historian.  Her husband is a pastor.  They served a church in the US and their son is stationed in the military in the US.  She had to be on her way, but first she showed us the altar tryptich, painted by Lucas Cranach in 1537.  It originally was painted for a Roman Catholic congregation.  She pulled out her flashlight and shined it on a small boy on the far edge of the painting, pointing at Christ on the cross.  The boy had the face of Martin Luther.  The painter had, subversively, painted Martin Luther into a Roman Catholic altar piece!

I was beyond excited!  I never imagined just stumbling across a great work of art like this.  And then to have the church historian there to tell us a little bit about it!  It was thrilling! 

On our way to look for dinner, we stumbled across the ruins of a church, called Aegidienkirche, that was destroyed in WWII.  Its ruin is now a memorial to the victims of war and violence.  

We went out for actual Greek food, which was so delicious, then went to the Rathaus all lit up at night, to take some pictures. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Our trip to Germany

I'm not that sure about this blog thing. When it was just my sermons, fine. That's all public stuff anyway. Going on about my sabbatical adventures is another thing entirely. How much sharing is too much? How much is too little? What will be interesting to other people? I am a pretty private person (I think?) so it just seems weird. Maybe I should have read more blogs before setting myself up for this. Anyway, here we go.

May 9:
We were leaving the next morning. Our boy was already at grandma's. Nick and I went out to grab a few things we needed and went out for lunch. When we got home, I started feeling absolutely terrible. I didn't want to admit that I was sick. I was shivering uncontrollably. I started downing the fluids and just went to bed and stayed there. I vaguely remember Nick saying he was going to the store and it seemed like he was cooking for hours. I felt terrible when he woke me up for dinner. I could barely eat a thing. My temperatures was 101.2. I called the nurseline and acted very brave. She said I should be able to fly as long as I wasn't coughing uncontrollably or constantly throwing up, as far as a doctor is concerned. But she also warned that the airline might not let me board if I looked visibly sick.

My fever had broken when I woke in the night. The next morning I felt like eating. My bones were very achy and my throat a little sore, but other than that, I was fine. Thank God we were on our way!

May 10:
We finished our packing and Nick went out to get a few last minute items. I dropped him off at the Max station with all our bags, drove the car back home, and walked the half mile back to the Max. PDX still mostly has the old carpet. Marlaina and Thor were there at the gate, LaVern's daughter and grandson. Turns out they were going to Germany, too! Everything went smoothly, arriving, checking bags, and boarding.We even had an empty seat next to us on the plane. We settled in for a 9 1/2 hour flight. My body was still aching from being sick, so it was very hard to get comfortable. I just drifted off when a toddler started screaming. His mom was nervous and he was upset and no one was getting any rest. I really wanted to go scoop him up and sing something to him to calm him down, but that wasn't going to be helpful. I kept praying that the mom would calm down, because I think he was feeding off of her nervous energy. So, 10 hours later we arrived sleepless. It would have been midnight Portland time. We had a 4 1/2 hour layover in Amsterdam, so it was almost 5 in the morning when we departed for Hannover. No sleep on that airplane either--it was only an hour flight. At least I bought some pain reliever in Amsterdam so that was helping my poor aches.

May 11: We arrived in Hannover! We got our bags easily and found the car rental. I spoke my first sentences of German to a German in a very long time and I was understood! I felt very brave. He switched to English for me, though. They commented that I was born in Germany, then upgraded our car to a Mercedes. Maybe those things are unrelated? I hadn't realized the rental cars all have GPS. That was going to make life a lot easier. Ours was set to Russian and we couldn't read the controls to change it to English, so I had to go in and ask the nice car rental person to come help us. It took him a few minutes to figure it out too, so we didn't feel so stupid.

Here's where we stayed the first 2 nights:

We drove straight to our AirBNB. It was out in the country a little bit. It was really beautiful in Hannover. There were wind turbines everywhere and fields of green and others of yellow. Check in wasn't until 6 and we were almost 2 hours early. We were so tired. But I asked directions to a grocery store from a nice man out watering his lawn and I understood enough to actually find the grocery store! We grabbed a few things we needed and then drove around wasting time and checking out this little neighborhood in Hannover. We arrived a half hour early, but they were happy to show us our room. Our host spoke mostly German, but we were able to communicate. The apartment is nice, clean and quiet. We laid down for a couple of hour nap. I was afraid I would wake up feeling worse than before and disoriented, but I woke up feeling ready to go.

One minor complication of our trip was that we had a limited data plan for our phones while were there, and we didn't want to always be looking up websites on our phones, so we would look things up using the free wifi in our AirBNBs and then go out and not use our internet, so if the restaurant wasn't there anymore or was unexpectedly closed, we had to come up with a new plan without having all the information we would have liked to have.

We went looking for food. The restaurant wasn't there. We drove back to another restaurant we saw on the way and arrived 20 minutes before closing. Another party arrived after us, so I didn't feel so bad. I mostly spoke German with the waitress, but they gave us a menu in English. It was Mediterranean food. It turns out it was Italian food. I hadn't even thought about the fact that Italy was on the Mediterranean until I ate that meal. It was fine, just not what I expected. We brought the leftovers home for breakfast. Before we left, they gave us each a shot of a licorice liqueur.

After this we looked up how much to tip and realized that we tipped too much. Wait staff are well compensated already, so usually one just rounds up when paying the bill. Also, you have to ask for the bill. They will never give it to you if you don't ask.

We tried calling our boy but he was napping. We went to sleep tired and relieved to be starting our trip.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May 2, 2015

Gospel: John 15:1-8
1st Reading: Acts 8:26-40
2nd Reading: 1 John 4:7-21

Last master gardener story for 14 weeks! This is my last Sunday before I leave for my sabbatical. A few weeks ago I took my Master Gardener Final Exam. Here was one of the questions: Which are the following are noxious weeds. Listed there was English Ivy. They wrote this question because people commonly have this in their yards and may have questions about it. I have english ivy in my yard. Every year I cut it down from climbing my Douglas Fir and every year I cut it back from spreading into my lawn. This year I am pulling it out. It is A vine, but not the true vine. The Kingdom of God has been compared to a noxious weed before—a mustard plant, a mustard seed. The Kingdom has some potential of growing out of control, like a noxious weed, and it grows big enough to shelter the birds, an analogy perhaps of sheltering those who have nowhere else to go. But English Ivy chokes out other plants, and I can't imagine it would be a good analogy for the Kingdom of God.

But a vine is a good image. God is the vinegrower. God sees everything that is going on. God plants the vine. God tends it. God can see when it needs to be pruned back so that it will produce the best fruit. In class we learned a little about pruning. There are many kinds of pruning. Some removes dead pieces of the plant. Some provides air flow. Some shapes the plant. Some improves productivity. Some removes disease. The best kind of pruning is different for each kind of plant. I've been afraid of pruning in the past, because I didn't know what I was doing. Now I know what a difference pruning makes, I have already started working on pruning the plants in my own yard and the azaleas here in the churchyard. Pruning may be a little intimidating, but plants are very forgiving, especially established plants like we have here at church, and the dangers of not pruning far outweigh the potential problems of pruning.

God is the vinegrower. God plants. God watches the life cycle of the plant and of the seasons. God has a vision for the health of the plant and for the whole garden. Maybe it sounds violent. It is about making sure the whole plant is healthy. We all have cuts in our lives. We've all been wounded before. We've all learned from those wounds. We've all grown after being pruned.

Their are protests going on in Baltimore. Parts of the plant have not got the tending and sunlight they needed. They have withered because other parts took more than their share. They will not just lay down and die. They are so frustrated that they are making their voices heard. Many of them are protesting peacefully. A few are causing damage to property and people in trying to be heard. Perhaps this is a pruning for our nation, to help remind us of those we forget and try to make this a more just place.

The people of Nepal are feeling pruned after the devastating earthquake last weekend. Lutheran World Relief was one of the first to respond, since we already have partners in affected communities. God has not left them alone, but is with them in their grief and loss, with us in our response, and shaping our relationships to be stronger and more prepared in the future.

The theme of our Synod Assembly was about pruning and the the root, the fruit, and the scar. Many analogies were drawn from the analogy of an apple orchard. The root stock determines the size of the tree. These days we like to grow shorter trees, so we can reach more of the fruit with less labor costs, ie. Less climbing up and down ladders. Therefore we use root stock that is smaller, so our trees don't get so big. Perhaps in our churches, too, we are not growing big sprawling trees, as we did in the past. Now we are more efficient, although smaller. We are also growing different fruit than we used to. Fruit used to refer to the number of people in the pews. Maybe that isn't the best measure of discipleship. Maybe the fruit is how many people we are able to touch with the love of God—maybe it is how many people we serve. Or maybe it is how many people volunteer, come to be part of the work we do in the community.

Some of the most interesting parts of the Assembly Bible Encounter were about the scar. Many apple trees are now grafted onto other root stock. To graft, one cuts a certain place on a branch. One prunes and cuts a V shape down into the branch. Then a branch cut into a corresponding V shape is shoved in that wound. Some kind of dressing is applied and in two years the branch may be joined to the tree. A tree is wounded. Something new is attached in that place. The wound heals. Fruit grows—delicious fruit to feed the neighborhood and maybe even world. We don't like to think about scars very much, but we all have them. I have the one on my chin from playing church league softball, , the one between my eyebrows from my car accident, and several on my arms from cat scratches. I have some scars on the inside, too, from where I've been hurt. But the scar becomes the toughest part of the apple tree—the part that is least likely to break. It is our toughest part, too, tough skin, and an inner strength, too. Because of those scars, we get better at ministering to those who are going through something similar. We can be there for them because we know how much it hurts. But we also know it won't destroy us, and that the person who is hurting will come through. They may have some scars, but new life will come and fruit will grow again someday, and God is always present.

Jesus wasn't immune to pruning. All the branches get pruned in the Kingdom of God. The ones who aren't producing fruit and the ones that are, so that they can bear more. Jesus was pruned back pretty far. He was really sticking out there and it was the authorities who wanted to hack back that plant that was encouraging the fruit of empowerment of neglected people. They hacked him right back to the ground. But we have this wonderful image of the root of Jesse. There is this stump, and out of it is growing a righteous branch, Jesus. This shoot emerges, so bright green where there was only death. This means new life for all of us, because we are being adopted, grafted onto that tree of life.

Philip was pruned, too, in the first reading for this morning. He was growing in a particular direction. Then the angel started training him in another direction. He had his expectations of how the Kingdom of God works. One by one they were pruned away. He thought he would open the scriptures to the man from Ethiopia. Instead the inclusiveness of the scriptures were revealed to him. He though he knew what could prevent this man from becoming part of the community—the color of his skin, his language, his religion, the scars he bore on his body from becoming a Eunuch. Instead, Philip was shown how there are no barriers in Christ Jesus. Philip experienced a pruning in this reading. And he grew from it, because he was still attached to the true vine, Jesus.

Maybe we're getting pruned. God is putting us in a situation through our sabbatical that is a bit uncomfortable. We don't know what to expect. Maybe our expectations will be pruned. Maybe the way we look at things will be pruned. I hope they are. I am excited about the new growth that God promises to bring. It is very difficult for me to let go and remember that God is the true vine, not me. It is too much of a load to carry when I think it all rests on me. It is God who sustains us all and we are being reminded of that. But also, you are all strong branches and you abide in love, you abide in God and you support one another. Abide, remain, take care of each other, show up, worship together. Part of the story of King of Kings that I love occurs in your interims. A pastor leaves. People are upset. There are deep wounds. But you are stubborn. You aren't going to let this ruin this congregation. You aren't going to let the Synod Office shut you down. You aren't going to sit around and feel sorry for yourselves. You get to work. I expect nothing less, this time. Be stubborn. Show up. Open yourself to the learning and leadership that God is calling you to. Love fiercely. Abide!

The first vines I was ever aware of are the vines on which Tarzan swings. These thick ropes hang throughout the forest. They are strong enough to support even Tarzan. As vines, we don't exist for ourselves, but when we are strong and lush, we reach down to the forest floor and provide a way to climb for those who have fallen below or who wait in darkness and hunger. We provide fun and recreation for those who would like to soar through the jungle. We receive new life and love from God and we share it with anyone who reaches out to grasp God's love.

I am going away for a little while to be renewed. You are staying here to be renewed. We will be apart for a time. You were King of Kings congregation before I came here, you will continue to be while I am away, and you will be into the future, whatever happens. I do not make this congregation what it is. Jesus does. It is God that makes us one. It is love that makes us one. Abide in God. Abide in love. I will do the same. When we return in a few short months, we'll compare notes and see what we've learned, graft that into our tree and move forward with new life and new growth emerging from our scars.