Friday, July 31, 2009

Poetry and Palestinians

I woke up with this poem in my head:

Far From Home
As the old Muslim woman scooters down the bike path
I glide by glancing at the proud face shrouded by her hijab
My breath catches.

I've been writing poems for about a year and a half, based on something I see or a memory I have. I wrote this one in the style of Haiku, but I have no training and probably am violating rules about meter, and I probably am cheating by adding a title. (Which, by the way, is a reference to both of us.) All I know about Haiku is that it is three lines. I am attracted by the discipline of using as few words as possible to put a frame around a moment.

Beside seeing this regal woman driving an Amigo with her head held high the other day, I have had a few other Muslim encounters of late. Outside of 9/11, my reality in the US was that I rarely was aware of Muslims. There was one Muslim family in my kids' school. But here I see Muslim women every day - I'm sure I see Muslim men, also, but they don't self identify with head coverings like the women.

The other day when we were in Stuttgart, as we visited our friend Ele's church, there was a summer fair for children going on, and there were a lot of kids there. Some of them ran up to greet Ele when they saw her. They were all Turkish kids and they knew Ele as the "God Lady." An interesting thing about the German church is that it is organized in a parish system, so anyone living in a certain geography is in the parish. Ele has a lot of "immigrant" families, almost all Turkish, in her parish. When we drove through Helmut wanted to make me aware of the traffic situation and said, "This is Little Istanbul. German driving rules don't apply anymore, just imagine you are in Turkey." Ele considers everyone in the parish part of her congregation, and loving all the families is part of her job. I've been thinking about that. Maybe Catholic churches in the US have boundaries, but Protestants don't, and one result is we don't have much to do with anyone who doesn't come to our church. You really need to show up for us to love you.

Later that day we went on the Neckar with the Palestinian and Israeli group. Dieter, a German youth pastor, had organized this. How one even starts to gather groups of young people from Palestine and Israel and get them to come to Germany is beyond me. Amanda is helping with this conference, and both Amanda and Dieter mentioned that the day had been very intense before the relaxing trip on the river. What I observed in our gondola was that there was a marked difference between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis were a bit older and more mature, and they exuded a sort of relaxed confidence. The Palestinians were all raw energy. We had one guy who seemed like a perpetual motion machine, constantly moving from one end of the boat to the other. I wanted to sing, "Sit down you're rocking the boat!" from Guys and Dolls to him. I thought about what Dieter had told me: that the Palestinians had never been out of the West Bank before, and that to come to Germany they had to travel several hours to an aiport in Jordan, because they aren't allowed to fly from Tel Aviv. You could feel the anger below the surface with these kids, and it wasn't hard to imagine any of them picking up a rock or a grenade and throwing it. The question that ran through my head - which must not be original to me - was "are terrorists born or made?"

I don't have any answers today, just experiences of contact with people from very different places with different lives from mine. Dieter is convicted enough to try something - and a boat full of Jews, Christians and Muslims is a little microcosm of our world. I imagine we all need to sit down and stop rocking the boat.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Here are some pictures of our German weekend. You can see market day in Esslingen, where Amanda lives, the bridge in Heidelberg, and Amanda and I on the same bridge with the castle at Heidelberg behind us. Then there's me after climbing up to the magnificent elevated pulpit at our friend Ele's church in Stuttgart. You'd better have something to say if you are going to preach from a spot like that. It would be like hovering over the congregation in the Goodyear blimp. Unfortunately, I can't see how the pictures are going to be laid out on the page as I type this, so it might jump around a bit - but I am sure you are smart enough to figure out what's what.

A weekend in Germany

Gretchen and I drove to Germany for the weekend to visit our daughter Amanda in Esslingen, outside of Stuttgart, and also to visit some of our Young Life staff taking a theology class in Heidelberg. Here are some highlights:
  • Driving between 140 - 150 km per hour on the Autobahn (150 is 90 miles per hour) and having cars - mostly Audis, BMWs and Mercedes - blow by me traveling at least 40 or 50 kph's faster than me. It doesn't seem possible to nod off driving when that sort of thing is happening. A car driving 200 kph is going 120 mph.
  • Staying in Stuttgart in a beautiful 4th floor apartment with our friend Helmut and enjoying everything about city life.
  • Punting on the Neckar river in a gondola around Tubingen with a group of German, Israeli, and Palestinian young people participating in a peace conference. Gretchen and I got to crash the party. The peace conference was the brainchild of our friend Dieter, and he had his hands full with this group. They had been meeting all day and as you could imagine, it had been extremely intense. I thought it was a great strategy - take two groups that don't like each other and put them on a gondola floating serenely down a river. We punted in peace.
  • Worshiping in an ancient German church in Heidelberg on a special Bach - Mendelsohn Sunday with a group that included people who live in Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic and California. Among the people in the group were Rob Johnston and Cathy Barsotti, who are teaching the theology class. Rob made me laugh yesterday when we got into a discussion of street names in neighborhoods -- in our neighborhood here we can go to the intersection of Jean-Paul Sartre and Boris Pasternak, which is just around the corner from Herman Hesse. In the neighborhood his father lived in in California you could go to the corner of Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra, just up the road from Ginger Rogers.
  • Walking across a fabulous bridge in Heidelberg and having Amanda read a little sign in German for us that noted the bridge had been blown up in March, 1945 for no reason and reassembled after the war by the citizens of Heidelberg.
  • Visiting the spectacular church of our friend Ele Arnold in Stuttgart and seeing the cellar door of the church manse that is preserved there. The door has light pencil writing all over it, and as you exam it you see the writing is a list of dates and times throughout 1944 and 1945 - and it goes up and down the length of the door - there are hundreds of dates and times. Ele explained that the people who lived in the house at that time recorded every date they went into the cellar for an air raid and how long they stayed in the cellar. When you see things like that (and the bridge in Heidelberg) it is difficult to know how to react. I feel torn between "I'm sorry" and "you started it." Germany always challenges me this way.
  • Hearing from Amanda about a German caller on a radio show saying that Germany should accept all immigrants from Turkey, Italy, and other countries because people are people and you should be open and loving toward any person, except, of course, if the person is a Hollander. Another German commented - half in jest - that the Dutch were funny people with a funny language. There are some real feelings between these two countries, many of which also have to do with World War II.
So, that's about it from a long weekend away. We're going to work on some more posts later and add some pictures of Germany to this and also post some pictures of life around here for you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meeting A Local

Friends - Gretchen and I have been in the Netherlands for just over a month and have settled enough that we now will be publishing random thoughts, pictures, musings, etc. of our life here. Here's our first entry - next time we'll put up some pictures of life here:

It is more of less possible for English speakers to live here without knowing how to "spreek Nederlands." But you live on a surface level, not really able to go deep with people or really understand Dutch culture. Our goal is to get to the deeper level by knowing Dutch. We have a long, long ways to go. In the meantime, we have to be content with the occasional Hollander who is curious enough about our presence to take the initiative with us.

Take the other night, for example. Gretchen and I had a late dinner at Verhage, a sort of fast food restaurant in our local shopping center. There was an outgoing man at the table next to us with a few empty Heineken cans in front of him.

Most Europeans are reserved, quiet, and politically and culturally aware. This conversation sticks with us because our new friend was none of these.

"Do you mind if we talk?" he said across the tables as we were finishing our meals. "I think it's good for people from different nations to understand each other.

We certainly agree with that sentiment, and he asked what we felt was the difference between the United States and the Netherlands. Before I could say anything, he answered, and after he'd made a few statements I felt compelled to ask him if he'd ever been to the US. Turns out he hadn't, but that didn't stop him from being an expert on the US economy, the auto industry (and General Motors in particular), and then, of course, the kicker - presidential politics.

"I'm sorry," he said, "but I have to ask, are you for Bush or Obama?" I felt a bit at sea, because I wasn't aware they were running against each other, but then he said, "I really had to laugh about that Canadian woman." He'd lost me, but then clarified by saying she ran with that guy against Obama. "Oh," we both said, "you mean Sarah Palin. She's from Alaska." Alaska, Canada, same difference I suppose from this side of the Atlantic.

It only got better when his curiosity got the better of him and he asked how long we were staying in the Netherlands. "We aren't sure," we said, which puzzled him. Finally Gretchen said, "maybe five years," and he was stunned, because I'm sure that he thought we were tourists. "You better own a house, then," he said, mentally calculating how much staying in a hotel for five years might cost.

"We have a house...but we rent it, it's just around the corner from here."

"Well, then," he said, still thinking. "You better have a job here to stay for five years."

He has a job here," Gretchen said.

"Is it Young Life?" he said, and now it was my turn to be stunned, until I looked down and realized I was wearing a Young Life tee shirt.

"As a matter of fact it is."

"I'm sorry, but I've never heard of it. What is it?" I looked around and realized we had the attention of the entire restaurant, who, I am quite sure, had also never heard of Young Life. This is Holland, after all, not Holland, Michigan.

"It's a Christian youth ministry," we both said at the same time.

"I'm sorry," he said once again, "I understand Christian and youth but I don't know what that other word means."

More people were leaning toward us, interested in what the answer to this might be. I wasn't quite sure what to say, so I said, "It's a religious organization that works with young people all over the world.

"I'm sorry," he said once again, "I can't stand Scientology."