Beginnings

I’m writing this on Friday morning–as I sit by the window in my room in the Pfarrhaus (parsonage) in Lützschena, a village just outside the central city of Leipzig. Birds are singing and the sun is shining on the garden. The bells in the old Castle Church just chimed the hour. It’s a beautiful morning, and this has been a beautiful trip so far. Our hosts have been so gracious–meeting us at the train station and taking us into their homes. (I’m staying with Helge and Anke Voigt, who lived in Minneapolis last year as part of the Leipzig Connection’s pastoral exchange program.) On our very first day here, we were welcomed to a worship service in the historic Nikolai Church (specifically designed to celebrate the Leipzig connection) and invited to share a festive meal (for about 100 people!) in a restaurant right across the street. Then yesterday, on Thursday, we were treated to a spectacular day in Wittenberg, our hosts shepherding us through train stations and from place to place as we shared Bible study and a meal with our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and a lively, informative tour of the city of Luther.
Today, on this beautiful morning, my first thought is this: to express gratitude for the remarkable hospitality we have experienced thus far. Our hosts have so much to do in this year of the 500th anniversary of the reformation. And they are treating us like honored guests. It is heartwarming and humbling to receive such gracious hospitality.
A second thought has to do with remembering. We are here in this 500th anniversary year to remember the events of the reformation in Germany. Such remembering was unavoidable as we walked the streets of Wittenberg yesterday. However, one of the things that strikes me about our German hosts is how careful and keen they are to remember well. And that means earnestly seeking to remember not just what is glorious and great in their history, but also that which is painful and difficult to bear. At our opening meeting together, Pastor Voigt passed out information on the Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones” that one finds around the city–small brass plates embedded in the cobblestone streets with names and birth and death dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution. 
You’re walking along a charming cobblestone alley, and then you trip over one of these stumbling stones and you are invited–maybe even forced–to remember one of the most painful, wrenching moments in history. The other evening our hosts took a few of us by a public area in which Jews in Leipzig were held for days before being taken to concentration camps. A monument has been placed there. It’s a boulder-like bronze etched with the words, “Wo ist dein Bruder?” “Where is your brother,” Genesis 4:9. The words of God to Cain after he had killed his brother Abel.
This kind of remembering is so, so hard. And yet it is so necessary. If we have any hope of living honestly, if we want to live with any hope for healing and justice we must learn to remember well. We have much to learn from these German friends. It seems to me that we in the USA have a harder time remembering well. We like our history full of glories and accomplishments. We have a much harder time with ambiguity–and with the sin, evil, and injustice that are so clearly part of our American story, too. 
I’m so grateful to be here, meeting these dear sisters and brothers in Christ. We have important things to learn. 
Erik Haaland

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