|Thank you to Dale and Andrea Phillipson
Our wonderful tour guides who got us through many moments
and taught us much about Germany
Blessings and our best wishes to you and for your next adventure!
Winging our way back home, I write these final reflections far above the Atlantic.
If you were hoping for a coherent blog that followed a logical progression, this obviously has not been it. My entries have touched on the history of the Lutheran Reformation and I shared some reactions to what we experienced during our ten-day tour in Germany. Here are some thoughts that occur to me as we are returning.
THE BEST THING ABOUT THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE for me was our group of people who traveled together. They were patient, kind to all, positive, humorous, and accepting even when days got long and all did not go exactly as hoped. I expected this would be a good group to travel with, but they were far beyond that. They enjoyed learning, exploring, and having fun together. I believe the faith we share enabled that.
HERE ARE SOME RANDOM REFLECTIONS on our time together, what we saw, and the state of Germany today. Of course, this is simply my opinion and I would encourage you to talk to the others of our group to hear about their experiences.
THE PLACES we visited are set in a country blessed with ample natural beauty. We saw some of God’s finest creative work during our travels. Bavaria was just stunning, but everywhere I have seen in Germany is very nice.
THE HISTORY of Germany is so often defined by wars, especially when one is learning it from tour guides in a short period of time. World War II ended in 1945, yet it still dominates the thinking and life of the people. For instance, every large shopping center I have entered has a major grocery store on its lowest level which is below ground. My understanding is that design grows from the survival instincts of a people who have lots of experience with bombs falling on them from the sky. Americans would think it quirky to have a grocery store in a basement. Tours guides told us that Germans talk about the holocaust these days because they believe being open about what happened is the best way to prevent it from happening again. Which leads to…
THE GERMAN PEOPLE: The evidence of their strong work ethic and corporate determination is everywhere. Life is ordered. When visitors unknowingly step outside of that order, that is not silently tolerated. That said, nearly everyone I met in Germany was helpful and courteous. A far lower percentage appeared happy. In my work I am routinely together with people animated by an abiding joy that flows from their Christian faith. (This joy is not to be confused with happiness for it goes much deeper and is not extinguished even in times of grief and tragedy.) Sadly, I sensed precious little faith or joy in Germany. The church buildings were grand. Yet, many function today primarily as museums and many are being converted into mosques for Islamic worship. I wonder if the crimes of Germany in the last century have created a national sense of shame which has stolen the soul of this people. To put this in theological terms: This is a people who have been slain by the Law, but not heard the Gospel/good news that brings forgiveness, new life, and the hope that will not disappoint. Germany is a secular society. Christianity is marginalized in Europe. The U.S. seems bent on catching up as America gets more and more secularized. Is that where we want to go? I hope not.
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Christianity was brought to North America by Europeans. As Lutherans we are indebted especially to Germans for our heritage that focuses on God’s gracious grasp on us. Much of the spread of Christianity in Africa during the last century and a half grew from the efforts of American missionaries. I believe it is time to reverse the direction of that flow. That is: I believe America needs missionaries from Africa today, and Europe needs missionaries from America. My last day in Germany included visiting with a Pastor and parishioner from a Lutheran church in the Netherlands. We are planning to begin building a relationship by regular communication. As Christians in America we have much to learn about living faithfully in a society that is working to push us to the fringes. And, I hope that we can share gifts God has entrusted to us to pass on this life-giving faith to a new generation of European Christians.
LAST THOUGHT: Travel is a great teacher. Life is a journey. Faith is a journey. I expect you have heard those slogans before. But, I commend them anew to you. And, I encourage each of us to have the sense of adventure to go somewhere new in our journeys of faith. That can be done whether we are at home or half way around the world because our Lord is everywhere.
NEXT YEAR JERUSALEM! Shalom.