Historical me – Voting

Voting ballot from 10 April 1938. ("Refer...

Voting ballot from 10 April 1938. (“Referendum and Großdeutscher Reichstag; Ballot; Do you agree with the reunification of Austria with the German Reich that was enacted on 13 March 1938 and do you vote for the party of our leader; Adolf Hitler?; Yes; No” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I follow politics. I think, part of it is the spectacle, almost like a soap opera at times, but the larger reason is that I know from the stories of the past that politics are very important. Knowing what you believe in, what is right and wrong, can make the difference for the rest of the country. And, of course,we can change things, especially by voting. I take that very seriously. Voting for me is not just a privilege (although I certainly cherish it) but much more a duty. As a good citizen, I have a duty to ensure that my views are heard because it is when people ignore what’s going on that things go down the drain. But there is another reason why I value voting so much. And it is the story of my great-grandmother.

It was during the Third Reich. My great-grandmother was visiting relatives in a small village and there was a vote. I don’t know what the vote was for (but it was a national vote, so there are only three option: 1. parliamentary elections in late 1933, 2. parliamentary elections and referendum of 1936, and 3. a referendum on the annexation of Austria and parliamentary elections in 1938). In all three elections, more than 99% of the voters officially voted ad more than 98% of the votes were in favour of the only party who stood in those elections. Clearly this is ot what happened in reality. Here is what my great-grandmother experienced (as told by my mother): Everyone was required to come and vote, even my great-grandmother who didn’t even live in that village. Since it was small everyone would know who did or did not vote. My great-grandmother was told what to vote and then some member of the SA (a kind of militia that served as a police force without needing to keep to police rules at the time) with a weapon stood behind her, looked over her shoulder and made sure she voted as intended.

Today we take the privilege of voting in secret far too lightly. I remember discussing this in a civics class and the teacher telling us how important it was that secret voting was required because if it was not, anyone who did want to vote in secret could become the scapegoat or outcast because people would know it was them who didn’t follow the majority (apparently this happened in East Germany during GDR times). I hope that these things will never happen again in my countries (I wish I could say never again full stop but we all know they are happening right now all over the world).

Have you had similar experiences in your life or in your family’s past?

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Filed under Current Events, Ethics, Family, History

The Nature of Calling

Molnár József: Ábrahám kiköltözése

Molnár József: Abraham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few days ago I wrote about how I had had two upheavals in my faith and I told you about one of them. The reason, that I didn’t talk about the second one is, that I am not quite sure myself yet. How do you know that God is calling you? There are many, many stories about God calling people in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and every calling seems to be quite unique ad at the same time they all seem to be similar in some way. It confuses me. I thought I knew what my calling was going to be and I was ready for it and happy but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that it is not happening and I am finding myself at a loss. What am I doing? Did I completely miss the point? How can I get back on track, and was it the right track? If not, how do I find the right one?

Reading about Abraham being called by God to just up and leave with only his faith in God as reassurance that things would work out, I feel similarly. In a kind of limbo, not seeing where I am going and even struggling with where I am coming from. I know I am just supposed to have faith and happily follow along but, honestly, I hat this. It is horrible not to know. I am sure as much as Abraham believed in God, he also had doubts and wanted to know where he was going to go. All he had was this vague promise, that God will show him the land. Well, I have a not-so-vague promise that God is always with me and guides me and will rescue me at the end of time but right now that doesn’t seem very helpful. Don’t get me wrong, I draw a lot of energy from my faith and God and the community in my church and all of this is amazingly helpful in itself. Yet, sometimes, rather often, I think to myself: But what am I doing? And I wish God would answer that question. And I know that eventually he will. (But can’t it be sooner, rather than later, please?)

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Historical me – Authority

I have an issue with authority – not that I mind when someone tells me what to do. What I mind is being told what to do and being expected to blindly follow those orders. I always ask questions when I don’t understand the reason for why I should do something (and I have gotten into trouble for it a few times) but I could never just do something because I was told to. I need to understand. Because if I don’t agree with it and believe it to be wrong, I want to have the option of saying so and the option of not doing it. The most terrible thing for me would be to do something wrong because I failed to have the courage to ask the question. To me it’s quite obvious where I get this from.

First of all: My grandfather.

Well, step-grandfather; you will find that there are three grandfathers in my family and this is the one I am not related to by blood. Let’s call him James. I grew up with his stories of what it was like to serve in the military during the war. It is often said in my family that he spent more time in prison and wounded than actually fighting and I have to say, I kind of think it might be true. He volunteered at the very beginning of the war (to me he said it was the most stupid thing he ever did) and somehow ended up in Paris where he started an affair with a woman who was black. I don’t know if you know but it was a crime to have “interracial relations” under Hitler and when James was found out, he was lucky to not be send to prison or to a Camp but “only” to be moved to the Eastern front. It wasn’t an easy way out, the Eastern front was known for being the most terrible of them all. The first day he joined up with his new unit, the Sergeant who was getting to know everyone asked where they were from. When it was James’ turn he said that he was from Cologne. Cologne is the West of Germany and quite close to the French border and as the French weren’t exactly liked very much at the time (you know, WWI and the reparations and… other stupid stuff) his segeant who apparently liked putting people into their rightful place, said: “Oh, so you’re a Half-Frenchie!” I am sure if my grandfather had just nodded and smiled, nothing more would have come from it, but my grandfather being who he was instead answered back (which is never a good idea to do to your superior in the military but in this situation was particularly – unintelligent). “If I am half French,” said my grandfather and gave back ass good as he got to the sergeant who was from the East of Germany (the part that’s now Poland) “You are a Polack” He spent his fiorst three weeks in the new unit in custody for insubordination.

Soldiers of the 1st SS Panzer Division near Kh...

Soldiers of the 1st SS Panzer Division near Kharkov, February 1943 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second of all: My country’s history.

Early on it was established in my mind that if people hadn’t been such good Germans as in that they did as they were told, Hitler and the Nazis would have had a much more difficult time trying to get to power and then abusing that power.Adolf Eichmann, the coordinator of transporting people to the concentration camps,  is, for me, one of the most despicable people in all of history and not because he believed in what he did (which I am sure he did) but because in the end it was a problem for him and in the end all he cared about was solving that problem. I don’t think he ever really thought about what he was doing. He was indifferent to that, the important thing was that he was given an order and, as a good bureaucrat, he made it happen. Indifference is a terrible thing and not questioning your superiors is another. Today, there is a clause in the rule book for German soldiers in that if they believe an order goes against the constitution they don’t have to follow it. That’s as it should be.

Thirdly: My mother.

My mother was undoubtedly influenced by all of the above and her example of thinking for herself, coming to her own conclusions and questioning everything helped me to become who I am today. Thanks Mom.

Interestingly, I learned from the other side of the family, that quiet opposition is possible, too. When everyone around them was becoming a member of the Nazi party, my great-grandfather refused, despite the threat to his teaching job, and while he did send all of his children to the Hitler Youth and the Federation of German Girls, he taught them at home that not everything they were told was necessarily true and to treat everything with caution. He taught my grandmother to question authority and he managed  to keep his family as safe as possible. Quite the feat at the time.

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Having faith

Abram Journeying into the Land of Canaan (engr...

Abram Journeying into the Land of Canaan (engraving by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my discipleship course today we studied (some of) the story of Sarah and Abraham. At first I thought, that since I already very much knew this story (backwards and forwards and all) it wouldn’t be a great session and I’d probably not get very much from it but it might be fun anyways. Well, the joke’s on me. I didn’t just have one but two major shifts in my perception of God and his nature. It was amazing how much a new perspective can change the meaning of a story and how talking about the Bible changes how you read it so much. I am starting to think that reading the Bible by yourself is really almost futile (although also important) if you don’t also read it with other people! Preferably with someone who knows what they’re doing.

But yes, I learned something today. I learned, by reading the conversation between God and Abraham, that it wasn’t important to God what Abraham thought or believed so much. He made him promises and “signed a contract” (by moving a torch between carcasses of Abraham’s sacrifice, there is no accounting for culture, is there?) and he didn’t ask anything from Abraham in return. He had faith in him and that was it. And when Sarah laughed at him, at the idea of her having a child, that didn’t matter either (so much for being vengeful and jealous, I always knew that was not the God I know), he just reaffirmed his promise. And when I thought about it, this happens again and again; he calls Moses and promises him he’ll free his people, and Moses says: No! Not me! but God has faith in him. And he talks to Solomon who says: I don’t know what I’m doing! but God believes in him. And then, of course there is Jonah who needs a lot of persuasion before he finally knows that he can do it, too. And eventually God sent the world his son and never asked anything in return. He had faith in all of us, that his suffering would not be in vain. It is an amazing feeling and I needed quite some time to process all of this. And now I feel very, very lucky.

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Open Church

Eglwys Gadeiriol S. Philip, Birmingham

St. Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham (Photo credit: Dogfael)

Every Saturday my church opens its doors to anyone who wants to come in. Volunteers staff it for two hours, and people come in to pray, look around, get a tour or just talk to the volunteers about church stuff (like weddings, baptisms, Christianity) or just chat. It’s great, I’ve volunteered myself a few times and you get to meet and chat to some very nice people. I don’t like that it is only open on a Saturday, though, Shouldn’t a church be always open to anyone, so that anyone ca come in to pray ad find a quiet space to just be for a while? I know, I know, you need somebody there to make sure nobody steals anything or vandalizes the place, for insurance reasons etc. etc. I am not talking about the practical side (which I understand makes it impossible for every church) but just generally, can we agree on it? Even the cathedral in the town centre is only open until 5 o’clock and then closes until the next morning. I get that it is expensive to keep a church ope but I also think that it is sad that we can’t make it possible in at least one church per city. A church should be a refuge for anyone who needs it whenever they need it, be it in the middle of the night or at noon on a Wednesday.

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1 John 4:16 (b)

 God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

And that is the most important truth about God. He loves us. Always. Whether we know it or not. And it is his love that brings out the best in us. Feeling his love can turn a life around forever.

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Creation and… well, what?

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do not believe in Evolution. What I mean by that is, that I know evolution took place and therefore I don’t need to believe it. Whereas I believe that God created the universe. I believe that because there is no scientific proof that he has. There is a lot of scientific proof that evolution happened. But this post isn’t really supposed to be about evolution at all (maybe I’ll write more about that later but it will be less a post about what my faith tells me and more a post on science and knowledge), it is a question I ask myself whenever I start thinking about it. About what? The Fall. You know, when Adam and Eve supposedly ate the apple (or whatever fruit it might have been) and found out that they were naked and so on and so on. The Fall is almost the second thing that happens in the Bible (after everything is created and named and told its purpose) and without knowing what the Fall actually is, I find it difficult to understand almost anything else. Because everything in me tells me that creation is a good thing, that God is proud of it and that none of it is bad or evil. Yet, obviously, I cannot say that humans are good and everything they/we do is exactly as God wishes it to be. I have put quite a bit of emphasis on free will (see my posts on Invictus and what it means to me) and I honestly do believe that God gave it to us as a present. But! If it is such a good thing, why do we need rescuing from it? For me, Jesus dying on the cross feels weird if it was necessary to redeem humanity from the Fall. And what might the actual Fall be anyways? Is it when humans started to think abstractedly, develop a sense of self (animals have that), became creative? All of these together? And, since I believe (but don’t know the proof) that evolution was ultimately responsible for all of these, were they in God’s plan from the beginning and if so, why didn’t he change the plan again? As you can tell I am thoroughly confused. Please help me, tell me what you believe the Fall was/is and how it fits in with God’s plan. I will continue to ponder.

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Historical me – why write about it?

We are all the result of our history. It can be what happened to us, what we read throughout our life and who we meet. But a largely overlooked part of this personal history is the actual history -may it be the history of our country or the personal history of our ancestors and their families. I was reminded of that last week after discussing how I perceived WWII with Jonathan who was alive at the time (of WWII, he is still alive and kicking now of course) and remembers it from an English point of view. We discussed howit had changed his view on war and its consequences and how growing up German had formed mine. It was a really interesting conversation and since I often experience British people to remember both WWI and II in a heroic, very patriotic light, and it really, really annoys me (more about that later) I was very happy, almost relieved to hear someone talk about it from a different point of view. Jonathan even almost apologised for everything the British army had done to the German people, which threw me completely because, like most people, I view those things in comparison to what the German army and SS did and, well, the British win. He in turn was completely surprised when I told him that most German people would say that we were liberated by the Allies at the end of WWII, since none of us today would like to have grown up under a Nazi regime and are quite grateful for their sacrifices. He said: “That is an amazing show of forgiveness.” I don’t know if it is, I still think the benefits of getting rid of the Nazis far surpass much of the suffering of being defeated in war. But looking back at my family’s experiences, there are some stories that would likely, taken by themselves, make me agree with Jonathan. Then today, I read something that made me bristle with indignation simply because it seemed to show the Nazi regime in a slightly favourable light and I was full of indignation and even anger, that in hindsight, was probably a bit of an overreaction. However, it gave me the idea of exploring my personal history and look at why I feel so strongly about some things and why there are some buttons very easily pushed. So over the next few weeks, I will tell you about what happened to my family (as far as I know, but I think I know quite a lot) and how it shaped me and my beliefs in right and wrong. I am lucky because I got to meet most of my grandparents and even two great-grandmothers. Some of them were more forthcoming with their stories than others but all of them helped me to become the woman I am today and I am very proud to be their descendant.

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God’s Holy Word

English: Bible in candlelight.

After writing extensively about the Bible (see here and here), I am finally tackling the big question: What is its spiritual value to me or, how do I actually use it as the foundation of my faith in God. Well, this is a difficult question for me and I haven’t quite figured it out completely.

Is it inspired writing?

I believe, that the people who wrote were mostly inspired to write it but I think that their inspiration is still coloured with their cultural preconceptions. I believe that they mostly acted out of genuine passion for the sharing of God’s deeds and were trying to write these down as truthfully as possible. I don’t think they were infallible in any way; they were human and therefore subject to human failures. Those who spoke to God were not protected from misunderstanding or misrepresenting because it suited them better.

So why bother reading it?

Apart from the intrinsic value of reading something as beautiful and interesting as the Bible, I find that it gives me a connection to those people in the past who had had that special connection to God and Jesus and wanted to share it with later generations. There are a lot of rules and advice in the Bible and most of it is really useful for everyday life – once you translate it to modern times of course!I don’t use it as a textbook for worldly matters (such as history or science) but rather for spiritual and theological matters. At the end of the day, we only have our own and other people’s experience of God to rely on.

Most importantly:

There are some verses or chapters or sections that just seem important; they can be inspiring or beautiful or sometimes they are neither but they still speak to me. They ring true. Sometimes they remind me of my own life circumstances. I believe that this is God speaking to me through the scriptures – and every time it happens it is an amazing feeling. I get to feel a wonderful moment of  connection with God. It doesn’t happen regularly, or even very often, but if I don’t read the Bible it cannot happen at all. So for me, the Bible is one of the ways that I make contact with God (or rather, he makes contact with me!) and while it is not the only way it is an important one.

How do you  read the Bible? Is it important in your everyday life?

I especially suggest you read Justin Hiebert’s take on the power of storytelling here.

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Doctor Who morals

The Mark 2 fibreglass (Tom Yardley-Jones) Tard...

I was watching the TV series Damages the other day and something suddenly struck me. One of the baddies was obviously feeling guilty and decided to help one of the people he had wronged. That made me remember one of my favourite quotes from Doctor Who. He is talking to another baddie:

You let one of them go but that’s nothing new. Every now and then a little victim’s spared because she smiled, ’cause he’s got freckles. ‘Cause they begged. And that’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in awhile—on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction—you happen to be kind.

And isn’t this true for many, if not most, of us? We do the wrong thing all the time, knowingly do the wrong thing, but every now and then we muster up the strength to do what we believe is right in difficult circumstances – and that is how we live with ourselves. That is how we survive the knowledge that we are not always a good person. We remember the things we did right. We pat ourselves on the shoulder and say: See I am not all bad after all. And, as contradictory as this may sound; I think that is really important. To remember that we sometimes do have that strength. Because God does, too. Yes, he knows all our deeds, good or bad, but through his grace we are forgiven the bad ones. And we please him every time we get it right; every time we go beyond ourselves he jumps up and down with joy – and so should we. Of course we can’t be complacent about it but if we only focus on the bad things and those we got wrong – we’ll simply break. So I say: let’s use this very human feature for a good cause. Let’s use it to do more good deeds and less bad ones. Let’s use it as a carrot so we can forget the stick.

So, today, do something right, do something good, do something you wouldn’t normally do. and then tonight, when you go to sleep, remember it, remember the warm, fuzzy feeling of complete goodness and thank God for experiencing that grace. And then, tomorrow, do it again.

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Filed under Ethics, good vs. bad, Prayer, TV and Film

Why bother?

English: An image of Psalm 23 (King James' Ver...

English: An image of Psalm 23 (King James’ Version), frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home. Scanned at 800 dpi. Français : Illustration du Psaume 23 (version autorisée par le roi Jacques), en frontispice de l’édition omnibus du Sunday at home. Version numérisée à 800 dpi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My post The Book poses the question of why would I read the Bible if I don’t think all of it is true? Well,  I will talk about the spiritual side later, but even if you don’t believe in God at all, I think, reading the Bible is not the worst decision you can make.

There is beautiful poetry in the Bible.

Everyone (or almost everyone) knows Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd… with all its beautiful imagery. And ther are many, many more beautiful Psalms in this section of the Bible alone; some of my favourites are Psalms 23, Psalm 100 (mostly because I sang it in an amazing song once) and Psalm 103. But that is not the only poetry in the Bible, not even close to it. Lamentations are heartbreakingly hopeless and regretful (plus a very small section that is heartbreakingly hopeful) and the Song of Songs… well you really wouldn’t expect language like that in the Bible! But you can feel the love the lover and beloved have for each other and it is full of joy. Ecclesiastes also has some amazing poetry. Then there are the many canticles; the song that random people sing to God throughout the whole Bible, my favourite being the Magnificat, sung by Mary after the visit of the angel who told her she was going to have a child. Maybe it is because I have heard and sung it many times over the years but every time time I read her humble and yet joyful praise, I feel the same way. Powerful language is present throughout the Bible but it starts right at the beginning with Genesis 1. A beautiful poem on the beginning of the world and its beauty.

Many, many good stories

Whether you like romance or adventure or political thrillers, there is something for everyone in the Bible. There are battles (in too much detail for my taste, but maybe you like that sort of thing), bad Kings (who tyrannise their people and decide that the Law doesn’t apply to them), wise men who get killed for telling the truth – you can find the whole nadwidth of human idiocy and its results in here. My favourites are the story of Susanna (actually in the Apocrypha, for Protestants and part of Daniel for everyone else) who gets falsely accused of adultery and is on the verge of being killed when Daniel the prophet rushes to her rescue and identifies the true culprits (who tried to rape her in this legal thriller) and the story of Deborah who shows the men of her time what a true woman is capable of (gender issues are not all that new it turns out).

There is a lot of wisdom to be found

If you’ve never looked into a Bible you won’t know this but a lot of the sayings and phrases in English (and also German, and I’m sure in many other languages) are direct copies of things written in the Bible. It’s because they are just universally true. Especially Proverbs is a great source of these, but if you have the chance to read the Wisdom of Solomon (again the Apocrypha for Protestants) you will actually find a lot of Wisdom there.
A lot of it, and this is true for much of the Bible actually, makes you think, it challenges you on a deep level and you start to consider how something relates to your own life. I like the challenge and often find, that even if I disagree with something I can usually find a way to learn from it.

How many books can do all of the above? (If you do know one, please tell me because I’ll want to read it, too.) Even if you are not at all interested in spirituality or the existence of God, reading the Bible can enrich your life and help you to understand yourself and the world around you in a different way.

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Filed under Bible, body and soul, History, Philosophy, Poetry

John 15:12

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

My favourite verse in the New Testament is this one. It really shows the priorities we should all have and what Jesus expects of us. If only it were as easy as it sounds…

 

 

 

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lemoed:

Interesting, interesting, interesting! A thought provoking look at women in the New Testament:

Originally posted on ben.edictions:

English: Jesus and Mary Magdalene

English: Jesus and Mary Magdalene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I decided to jot this down after reading an essay by Scot McKnight of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.  The point of his essay is that for whatever reason (he gives a few but I don’t necessarily agree) these women are pushed to the margins of both biblical studies and church teaching and have there for much of Christian history.  A few names on this list are familiar, but most I know only through scattered references and some not at all.  Even of the prominent, their true role as portrayed in Scripture and the implications of that role are almost universally minimized.  Simply put, I’m writing this post to stop being part of the problem.  After reading through the following I hope what I mean here will become clear.  I am not trying to advocate for any certain theology or way…

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The Book

bibles

Over more than a thousand years, many, many different authors and editors (most of which we don’t know the name) wrote, edited and combined the writings; the collection of which is commonly known as “The Bible”. The Bible has always fascinated me (as a child I read and re-read my children’s Bible semi-obsessively) because we know almost nothing about it for sure and yet, its story is alive and inspiring millions and billions of people every day. Therefore, and because the Bible was this week’s topic in my discipleship course, I will take the next few days to talk about the great, big, mystery that is the Bible.

Today I am just going to go over some general information that I am sure most of you know already, but it is important to make sure we are all on the same level regardless. So, first of all, we don’t know who wrote what in the Bible – mostly. Despite the Author being named for almost every book of the Bile, there are actually not that many we know for sure about. The New Testament epistles are actually the majority among those few. This, of course, leaves us with the question; if we don’t know who wrote it (and only have a vague idea about when it was written) how trustworthy are the accounts in the Bible? I am not going to pass judgment on this, I definitely don’t know enough about it. Wikipedia has some information about this, but, remember it’s good old Wikipedia and not necessarily trustworthy.

Then there are the apocrypha. They are those books whose presence in the Bible is disputed (see again Wikipedia) since quite a few books in the Old Testament are only acknowledged as scripture by some of the many Christian traditions plus a few books of the New Testament that didn’t make it into the official canon (which is the same in all traditions as far as I know).

On top of all this, the books of the Bible were written in Hebrew and Greek and even in the original languages there are quite a few different versions. Once you add the many, many different translations existing today, things become even more complicated. Reading more than one translation can both clarify the meaning or confuse it more.

Now, what the Bible is actually about, is, in my opinion and there are many, the history and the relationship between God and his people (mostly Israel). Over the millenia, the people refuse to listen to God’s rules and laws again and again and are accordingly worse off (the stories are told as punishments, but I don’t believe that). Every time they decide to return to their good ways, God welcomes them back with open arms. God communicates with and warns his people through the prophets. The Old Testament has its main focus on the Exodus from Egypt, the Davidic kingdom and dynasty and the exile in Babylonia. In the New testament, God (who apparently is finally fed up with the endless cycle of obedience and rebellion) has sent his only son to Earth and for three years, Jesus teaches and lives the Good News (or Evangelion or Gospel) of God’s salvation for his people. After Jesus’ death we read about the struggles of the new church and the early believers through their letters to each other.

How literal can we read it?

Looking at the picture painted above, I think it is save to say that literal reading, especially of the Old Testament, is not advisable.  I believe, that there is some truth to most of the histories and experiences described in the Bible but also that they were changed over time, or written down long after what they are telling us about happened and therefore I try to take everything with a pinch of salt. I know there are many Christians out there who believe that everything written about in the Bible happened exactly so but I do not share that belief. (Feel free to discuss this in the comments.) So, if I don’t think all of it is true, why would I even bother with it? I’ll tell you more soon…

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Blackmail

Taxes

Yesterday I read a story on the BBC that blew my mind. Apparently, the Catholic Church in Germany has decided to make people pay for their sacraments. To understand how this works you need to know some background details. Since the 19th century, when the State took away much of the Catholic Church’s property, the state has been collecting a so-called church tax in compensation. That means, when you register with the government (which you have to do whenever you move), you also register your religious affiliation and whether you register as Protestant, Catholic or Jewish, you will be required to pay a tax. This tax isn’t a lot; 8% of your income tax. That means, if you earn 100 000€ a year and you pay 10000 in income taxes (I simplified the math here), you will need to pay an additional 800€ in church tax. In the last few years (or decades), more and more people have de-registered their religious affiliation and it has long been in contention whether that means that they are also leaving their Religion. I think we can all agree, that this is not necessarily the same (and personally I think it is not the same at all). Well, now the German Catholic Bishop’s Conference has decided to make it so officially. That means that if you de-register with the State, you also automatically leave the Catholic Church and the consequence of that is that you will be denied all sacraments, except for the last rites. Even a church funeral might be denied you if the deceased was not registered.

I am outraged. I have joined the CoE a while ago but if I had not this would have the last nail in the coffin to make me automatically leave the Catholic Church of Germany. How dare they connect the giving of the sacraments with paying a tax? How dare they make people pay for spiritual anything! It is properly unbelievable.And why would the Bishops think that this would mean less people leaving the church? I think this is going to make more people de-register; out of anger. I would. I am so agnry at them, I could scream. This is not what being a church is about, it it is not about giving people a space and support to encounter God and Jesus and explore their faith. This is pure power play. If you don’t pay taxes, we won’t let you go to communion. If you don’t pay taxes, we won’t let you be a godmother. If you don’t pay taxes, we won’t give you a funeral. It’s blackmail.

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Filed under Catholic Church, Current Events, Ethics, good vs. bad

Serving during a service

English: Traditional German Magnificat (music ...

English: Traditional German Magnificat (music notes, transcription) Русский: Немецкий (протестантский) магнификат (ноты, транскрипция) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This last Sunday, I was reminded of a phenomenon that I had noticed before. When I sing with the choir (every Sunday) or have some other role during the service, I can get really distracted. The anticipation of whatever it is I am doing stops me from concentrating and enjoying the service, but also, even more importantly, it hinders my spiritual experience. I am not sure why this is the case for me, but it has something to do with nervousness and bad concentration in general. For example, after communion we all go back into our choir stall and this is when I usually pray to thank God for his sacrifice and for the opportunity to experience him through the bread and wine. However, depending on what we are singing with the choir, I find it very difficult to do that. This is, of course, amplified by the other choir members to the right and left to me who tend to not pray and rustle about and sometimes whisper to each other. I don’t blame then, though. I would be able to tune them out if it wasn’t for the song we are about to sing and when will we start and should I really be closing my eyes, what if I miss the cue? You get the gist. I wonder if I am the only one who feels like this. Many people are nervous when they have to get up in front of a crowd and read something or say something off their head. I certainly generally loose my breath when doing this because I am so nervous (unless the group is not so big, then I am fine). So should we make sure that the same person doesn’t have to read or pray or speak too many Sundays in a row? And I wonder, what about ministers? Can they ever really feel the same connection with God when they constantly have to concentrate on the service and what comes next? Or is their connection stronger, so it’s fine?

Personally I have been going to our Wednesday night communion services where I am just a normal member of the congregation and it has helped me. I am glad I have found somewhere because singing in the choir gives me a completely different but no less valuable connection to God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is just as valuable to me as quiet prayer time during a service.

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Susanna

flora and fauna of Mullum 019

Today I find myself grieving again. Almost 3 years ago a friend of mine was killed by her boyfriend and today I cannot stop thinking about her. So let me tell you about her. The funny thing is, I was never really close to her. She was the daughter in a family who were friends with my family, my mother is her sister’s godmother and so we kind of grew up together but also not. She was, after all, 7 years younger than me (18 when she died), and they also lived on the other side of the country; so we didn’t see each other very often. Yet, when she died, I was completely thrown. Maybe it was that she was so young (such a waste!), or maybe it was that I had always felt a kind of kinship with her because, like me, she seemed to stick out somehow from the rest of her family. I only really got to know her better through the stories about her that were told at the funeral and by her family since then. It was her death that threw me out of my complacent “God doesn’t have much to do with me” kind of mindset and it was seeing her family being comforted and reassured by their faith that made me enter a church for anything other than a Christmas service for the first time in about 5 or 6 years. That is why I call her my friend. She wasn’t, really, before she died but I feel that she has influenced me in my faith and my life ever since and I am deeply grateful for that. I wish though, that she didn’t have to die to become this influence. I feel guilty about not having gotten to know her better before she did.

Writing this has been good. The difficult days are rare by now and it feels good to indulge my grief now and then but now I can draw the line for today because I wrote it all down. Thank you all for listening.

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Isaiah 41:13

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

This is my favourite verse in the Old Testament. The promise expressed through it is truly comforting and heart-warming. Yes, it is true: We are not alone. Thank you, God, for giving me this message.

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The music says it all

Taize

On Friday I learned an astonishing fact. Apparently, our choir leader (who, by the way, is a really nice person and an amazing musician) refuses to let us sing in Latin (and they’d prefer not to sing any language other than English, really). Coming from a Catholic background, this kind of thinking is utterly foreign to me. Because it is not, that our choir leader doesn’t like singing in a foreign language; it is, that from a Protestant point of view it is apparently important that the congregation understands everything without a problem, even if it is sung by the choir only (like a communion anthem). So, I started thinking about it. Is it a good thing if the congregation knows what’s going on and can follow the service? Certainly! If you’ve ever been to a service, where you did not speak the language (I have been to an English one when I didn’t really speak it yet, a Latin and a Spanish one) you know that you are really lost and that it is really, really hard to find any kind of connection even if you know what’s going on. So, yes, I am very happy, that all of the prayers, blessings and many of the songs/ hymns we sing are in English. (Or, in my home village in Germany, in German). But. But, because I like singing in another language. But, because singing in another language opens the way to new and exciting music and rhythms. But, because it reminds us that we are not just the Church of England but also the Church of Christ which is everywhere and in every country. God is worshipped in many languages. If you want the congregation to know what you are singing; why not tell them? It’s how it works in Taize, for example. And yes, anything the congregation joins in with, you want to make easily understandable and pronouncable (pronunciation is not to be taken lightly!) but what if the choir is singing all by themselves? I honestly don’t think that most people actually listen to the words; they listen to the sound and how it all goes together. So if it was in a different language than usual, hey would notice and then enjoy the music. Singing African songs in their original language is one of the most spiritual experiences I have ever had – and I didn’t really know every word but only had a general sense of what they meant. The text wasn’t that important. The music said it all.

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Thoughtful entertainment

Iona

Iona (Photo credit: wjmarnoch)

Generally, I think, we divide what we do in entertainment (stuff for fun) and thoughtful things and we never quite expect them to happen at the same time. Today I was reminded that it is perfectly possible to make people laugh and not be frivolous at the same time. Also I was encouraged to think. What an evening! I was lucky enough to go to a workshop organised by John Bell, a member  of the Iona Community. Members of the Iona community, which was founded in 1938, live their normal lives but commit to the Rule; which means that they are accountable to the community for their income and time, they pray and read the Bible daily and they are committed to promote justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Also they meet regularly. There are centres on the Iona island ( which is where they get their name from), the island of Mull and in Glasgow where people can visit and join them for worship. You can find out lots more on their website. They also have developed their own style of worship. here is how they describe it:

 It is direct, and to the point, allowing the ancient buildings and beautiful surroundings to speak for themselves. It is relevant and challenging, reflecting the Community’s engaged spirituality and its concern to ‘find new ways to touch the hearts of all’. And it is inclusive and accessible in language and gospel.

Tonight we were talking about psalms and their role and place I worship. I only discovered the psalms as a medium for prayer fairly recently (before that they had always seemed very archaic and irrelevant to my life in the modern world) and after tonight I have become a convert to praying by psalm. We sang many. many songs that were just adapted psalms and they were all beautiful and meaningful. Some were sad, some triumphant, some atoning and others grateful. The whole spectrum of reasons to talk to God was covered with brilliant music and an even better speaker. John Bell really is hilarious, not least thanks to his Scottish accent (which to a German will always sound exotic and cute, probably like an English accent sound to an American). His stories made the psalms come to life and he gave a great many ideas about how to include them in everyday worship. Probably quite a few people feel similarly to how felt not too long ago about them and would resist their introduction. What nearly brought me down to my knees, was when he was talking about how in today’s songs God is always praised but we never bring our fears and sorrows before him anymore. He then gave us an example of what this might look like and I almost started to cry. It just pushed so many of my buttons. And that is when I realised that this is exactly what I had been missing; this is what God is best at: to bring my fears and whatever is wrong in my life to him and tell him about them and then receiving his strength to let me cope with them. We really don’t do that enough anymore. I am resolved to at least make it a part of my daily prayer from now on. I wish I could share this song with you, but, alas, it is not on youtube. However, if you have the chance to see or work with John Bell, do it. You will not be disappointed.

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