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01 March 2015

Okuli / Lent 3

Psalm 19



The heavens declare the glory of God; / the sky displays his handiwork. 2 Day after day it speaks out; / night after night it reveals his greatness. 3 There is no actual speech or word, / nor is its voice literally heard. 4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; / its words carry to the distant horizon. / In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun. 5 Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; / like a strong man it enjoys running its course. 6 It emerges from the distant horizon, / and goes from one end of the sky to the other; / nothing can escape its heat. 

7 The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life. / The rules set down by the Lord are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced. 8 The Lord’s precepts are fair and make one joyful. / The Lord’s commands are pure and give insight for life. 9 The commands to fear the Lord are right and endure forever. / The judgments given by the Lord are trustworthy and absolutely just. 10 They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold / they bring greater delight than honey, than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb. 

11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there / those who obey them receive a rich reward. 12 Who can know all his errors? / Please do not punish me for sins I am unaware of.  13 Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant sins; do not allow such sins to control me. / Then I will be blameless, and innocent of blatant rebellion. 14 May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight / O Lord, my sheltering rock and my redeemer.

(to be continued)

25 February 2015

Jews, Christians, Muslims: Covenant Siblings (Lent 2)

Genesis 17: 1-7(8). 15-16(17)
Psalm 22


In 1965 Flannery O'Connor published a short story entitled "Revelation". Ruby Turpin is a large Southern woman who is stuck in a narrow way of perceiving the world. She feels her actions and decisions make her superior to black people and those she calls "white trash." The story opens as she and her husband Claud enter a doctor's crowded waiting room. She insists that he take the last vacant chair. She notices a dirty toddler with a runny nose lying across two seats and is quietly affronted that the child's dirty, uncouth mother doesn't make him move over for Mrs Turpin to sit.

Mrs. Turpin strikes up a conversation with a "pleasant" woman who is apparently there with her college age daughter named Mary Grace. The daughter is studying a book with the title "Human Development," and only looks up from her reading to glare hatefully at Mrs Turpin.

She and the pleasant woman chat about the importance of being hard working, clean, and having a good disposition. They also talk about being grateful and how it is important to be thankful for the good things you have been given in life.

As the pleasant lady and Mrs Turpin chat, Mary Grace seems to grow angrier. The pleasant lady begins to speak about Mary Grace in the 3rd person: "I know a girl ... whose parents would give her anything..." and obviously frustrated, says that "this girl" should be grateful for all she has in life. Claud then suggests that "this girl" ought to be paddled.

Outraged, Mary Grace hurls the book, "Human Development", at Mrs. Turpin, lunges across a table, and clutches Mrs Turpin's throat. The book strikes Mrs. Turpin above her eye. The girl is subdued and given a sedative by the doctor and nurse who call an ambulance.

Mrs Turpin now has a visceral feeling that Mary Grace has a message of truth for her. Before Mary Grace succumbs to the sedative, Mrs Turpin feels the need to confront her: "What you got to say to me?" she asks Mary Grace. She sees some kind of revelatory light in Mary Grace's blue eyes. "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog," whispers Mary Grace as the sedative takes effect and she is taken away.

Mrs. Turpin finds this comment very unsettling, and she wonders if it may have been a message from God, who may be trying to intervene in her life. Hating the notion, and still upset, she returns home.

While hosing down her own hogs in their sty (which she calls a "pig parlor"), and obsessing on what she is terrified may be an intrinsically true message from God, Mrs. Turpin rages. She scolds God, demanding to know how she could possibly be herself -- the upstanding, polite, good Christian she sees herself as -- and a "wart hog" at the same time. As the sun sinks low in front of her at the pig sty, she angrily echoes Job's question to God: "Who do you think you are?" She then has a vision of redeemed souls winding their way to Heaven as if on a highway of crimson light "through a field of fire". 

What is telling about her vision is that she, Claud, and "proper" white Christians are at the back of the throng. In front of them, arriving in heaven first, are all the people Mrs Turpin considers inferior and unworthy of either her or God's love. At the rear of this great parade into heaven she sees the faces of herself, Claud, and her proper Christian friends as they appear "shocked and altered" as "even their virtues were being burned away." 

This seems to be her revelation: that even what she considers to be basic human virtues are incomparable and expendable to God's all-loving embrace. There, the vision ends and she stands stunned holding onto the walls of the pig sty for a moment, then walks back to the house slowly as the sun sets behind the tree line.

Each of us is familiar with Ms. Turpin's narrow ways of thinking.  We all know at least one narrow and inflexible "Ms. Turpin" among our acquaintances.  But do you ever look in the mirror and find yourself staring at Ms. Turpin?

This week's Old Testament lesson from Genesis 17 delivers one reason why none of us has any business running around spouting narrow-mindedness.


When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, "I am the sovereign God. Walk before me and be blameless. 2 Then I will confirm my covenant between me and you, and I will give you a multitude of descendants." 

3 Abram bowed down with his face to the ground, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer will your name be Abram. Instead, your name will be Abraham because I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you extremely fruitful. I will make nations of you, and kings will descend from you. 7 I will confirm my covenant as a perpetual covenant between me and you. It will extend to your descendants after you throughout their generations. I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 I will give the whole land of Canaan -- the land where you are now residing -- to you and your descendants after you as a permanent possession. I will be their God. ... 

15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for your wife, you must no longer call her Sarai; Sarah will be her name. 16 I will bless her and will give you a son through her. I will bless her and she will become a mother of nations. Kings of countries will come from her!”  17 Then Abraham bowed down with his face to the ground and laughed as he said to himself, "Can a son be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?"


As last Sunday's Old Testament reading brought us God’s covenant with Noah, this Sunday we are presented with God’s covenant with Abraham.  Covenants in the ancient Near East were not just legal documents but also expressions of a relationship between two partners.

This relationship aspect is even more pronounced in the covenants between God and the People of God. A central element of the Abraham stories is that God makes promises, mostly in the first person.

Note also that Sarah is not treated as a footnote or even a sidekick: in our text she receives a promise in her own right, not simply through Abraham. Kings of countries will come from her! (VV 15-16)

One of the striking elements in Genesis 17 is the emphasis on "descendants".  Four times in this chapter we hear of the great numbers of Abram and Sarai's descendants. The "exceedingly numerous" nations that will come from Abraham's line will belong to God, and God will be theirs.

וְנָתַתִּ֣י לְ֠ךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ֨ אַחֲרֶ֜יךָ אֵ֣ת אֶ֣רֶץ מְגֻרֶ֗יךָ 
And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings. (V 8)

When the captives sat "by the waters of Babylon", they were telling each other the stories about  these ancient ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. In the midst of their lonely exile experience, hearing these stories reminded them of the goodness of God, who can turn barenness into new life and utter hopelessness into a bright future.
  
I imagine the captives smiling as they recalled just how ancient Abram and Sarai were when God called them to get up and leave everything they knew to walk into the unknown. And now, some twenty years later, this ancient couple is receiving the ridiculous promise of land and descendants. 

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Abram is rolling on the floor with laughter (V 17) when he hears the outrageous announcement that the two of them would become the ancestors of a multitude of nations. 

The end of Psalm 22 fits perfectly into this discussion, as the Psalmist describes how God's blessings spread in ever-widening circles:

27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. ... 30 They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done*.

This is nothing less than the story of our ancestors in the faith. The outrageous promise of God begins to take shape when indeed this stone-old couple has a son, Isaac (which means in plain English, "Someone's Laughing"). Today we who are Jews, Christians and Muslims consider Abraham and Sarah our spiritual ancestors.  

Together with Jews and Muslims we Christians are "covenant siblings". That fact won't change just because we can't seem to find a way to make peace with each other.

As mystics in all three religions have asserted again and again, we are all One: not just as Jews, Christians and Muslims, but as all of humanity, to the ends of the earth.  In fact, we are also one with those who came before us and one with those who haven't been born as yet!

Since all creation is One, we have no business turning away from any part of creation ... to do so is not only an insult to God, but such narrow-minded and bigoted ways harm the human family as a whole.

I want to end with words by King Hussein I of Jordan: "For our part, we shall continue to work for the new dawn when all the Children of Abraham and their descendants are living together in the birthplace of their three great monotheistic religions, a life free from fear, a life free from want—a life in peace".

...

*While my Scripture quotations are usually from the NET Bible, in Psalm 22:30 I chose the translation still in my ear from many a Good Friday service: that of the Book of Common Prayer, as adopted by the LBW.




21 February 2015

Where Are You, Lord? (Reminiscere / Lent 2)

Psalm 22


Ravi Zacharias tells the story of Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner and survivor of the Holocaust, when he was forced, along with a few others in a concentration camp, to witness the hanging of two Jewish men and one Jewish boy. The two men died right away, but the young lad struggled on the gallows. Somebody behind Wiesel muttered, “Where is God? Where is He?” Then the voice ground out the anguish again, “Where is He?” Wiesel felt the same question irrepressibly within him: “Where is God? Where is He?” Then he heard a voice softly within him saying, “He is hanging there on the gallows, where else?”

Elie Wiesel's powerful experience describes the "shattering disorientation" Walter Brueggemann has called "the pit"; so does this Sunday's psalm.


My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? / I groan in prayer, but help seems far away. 2 My God, I cry out during the day, / but you do not answer, / and during the night my prayers do not let up.  3 You are holy / you sit as king receiving the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted /they trusted in you and you rescued them. 5 To you they cried out, and they were saved / in you they trusted and they were not disappointed. 

6 But I am a worm, not a man / people insult me and despise me.  7 All who see me taunt me / they mock me and shake their heads.  8 They say, “Commit yourself to the Lord! Let the Lord rescue him! / Let the Lord deliver him, for he delights in him.” 9 Yes, you are the one who brought me out from the womb / and made me feel secure on my mother’s breasts. 10 I have been dependent on you since birth / from the time I came out of my mother’s womb you have been my God.  11 Do not remain far away from me, / for trouble is near and I have no one to help me. 12 Many bulls surround me; /powerful bulls of Bashan hem me in.  13 They open their mouths to devour me / like a roaring lion that rips its prey. 

14 My strength drains away like water; my bones are dislocated /my heart is like wax; it melts away inside me. 15 The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery / my tongue sticks to my gums. / You set me in the dust of death. 16 Yes, wild dogs surround me— a gang of evil men crowd around me; / like a lion they pin my hands and feet. 17 I can count all my bones / my enemies are gloating over me in triumph. 18 They are dividing up my clothes among themselves; / they are rolling dice for my garments.  

19 But you, O Lord, do not remain far away! / You are my source of strength! Hurry and help me! 20 Deliver me from the sword! /  Save my life from the claws of the wild dogs. 21a Rescue me from the mouth of the lion, / and from the horns of the wild oxen! 

21b You have answered me! 22 I will declare your name to my countrymen! / In the middle of the assembly I will praise you! 23 You loyal followers of the Lord, praise him! / All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! / All you descendants of Israel, stand in awe of him! 24 For he did not despise or detest the suffering of the oppressed; / he did not ignore him; / when he cried out to him, he responded. 25 You are the reason I offer praise in the great assembly / I will fulfill my promises before the Lord’s loyal followers. 26 Let the oppressed eat and be filled! / Let those who seek his help praise the Lord! / May you live forever! 27 Let all the people of the earth acknowledge the Lord and turn to him! / Let all the nations worship you!  28 For the Lord is king / and rules over the nations. 29 All of the thriving people of the earth will join the celebration and worship / all those who are descending into the grave will bow before him,  / including those who cannot preserve their lives. 30 A whole generation will serve him; / 
they will tell the next generation about the sovereign Lord. 31 They will come and tell about his saving deeds / they will tell a future generation what he has accomplished.


By assigning only the "happy half" of our psalm on the Second Sunday in Lent, the lectionary steers us away from that stunning first verse (not to be heard in worship until Good Friday). But it doesn't quite succeed, does it?  

אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי

Even a quick glance makes me shiver; something about that cry of despair makes my blood run cold:

"My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? / I groan in prayer, but help seems far away."

The Hebrew verb עָזַב  (aw-zab') means "to leave, forsake, or loose" and is related to an Arabic verb meaning "to be remote or absent". This powerful word included in its ancient context the male prerogative to divorce (literally to “forsake” one's wife). The psalmist states that God has removed himself, left behind, departed from, or even “loosened himself”!

This Psalm of Complaint accuses God of being unreasonably, unexpectedly, and inexcusably absent.  The complaint is followed by a series of petitions that implore God to be present again; finally, there is a celebration of rescue.

In the following passage from Isaiah, God states that he has left Israel, for a time:

I left you (aw-zab'), but only for a moment.
    Now, with enormous compassion, I’m bringing you back.
In an outburst of anger I turned my back on you—
        but only for a moment.
It’s with lasting love
        that I’m tenderly caring for you.
 (Isaiah 54:7-8)

Even though those verses, too, have a "happy end," Israel consistently found that it had good reason to worry about its relationship with God, for now and then God chose to be absent. Brueggemann describes this as the tension between God's self-regard and God's regard for Israel.

Because God will not and cannot be controlled, but is free, there are no clear-cut answers to many of our questions. Walter Brueggemann illustrates the starkness of this by answering some of the anxious questions:

"Where now is your God? Here and everywhere, but in ways one cannot administer.
How long? Until I am ready.
Why have you forsaken? My reasons are my own and will not be given to you.
Is Yahweh among us? Yes, in decisive ways, but not in ways that will suit you."

Far from getting lost in feeling powerless, the waiting of the psalmist is the tough and tenacious sort that I alluded to in a recent post. Instead of crying incessantly or kicking someone, he begins what Brueggemann has called the way out of the pit:

First, he voices his complaint directly to God, the source of help. Second, he offers specific petitions. Finally, he thanks God.

Elie Wiesel was once asked whether he believed in God. He answered, "No", explaining that after the holocaust he could no longer believe in God;  but then he added, "I'm a Jew, I must believe in God, so what I do is believe against God."

Taking God with utmost seriousness even to the point of risking your faith --  as both Elie Wiesel and our psalmist do -- is hard work, and such wrestling is not very popular.

Denial is cheaper: "I never go to church on Good Friday," said one of my church members, "it's just too sad". Along with my member, many "happy-happy-joy-joy" people don't want to deal with suffering, so they skip over Friday and go straight to Sunday. But if we are honest, we know that's a bad idea.

Would I entrust a "happy-happy-joy-joy" brother or sister with my pains and tears, with my loneliness and doubt?  I'd be a fool to do that.

I would look for a person who is willing to stay with me on my "Friday of Pain" or on my "Saturday of Waiting". That person would never try to make me feel better or drag me away to a "happier" Sunday, but cry out with me in my Gottverlassenheit (Godforsakenness).

So. When you worship this Sunday, enjoy the "happy" half of Psalm 22, but don't forget that the psalmist started out at "My God, my God, why?", that before he got to praise and thanksgiving he had to wrestle, and give blood, sweat and tears.




18 February 2015

February 18: Martin Luther

Today marks the anniversary of Martin Luther’s death. He died on February 18, 1546, at age 62, during a trip to his hometown of Eisleben.



Among his numerous prayers, this is  one of my favorites:


Siehe, Herr, ich bin ein leeres Gefäß, das bedarf sehr, dass man es fülle. Mein Herr, fülle es.

Ich bin schwach im Glauben, stärke mich. 

Ich bin kalt in der Liebe, wärme mich und mache mich heiß, dass Deine Liebe herausfließe auf meinen Nächsten. 

Ich habe keinen festen, starken Glauben und zweifle zuzeiten und kann dir nicht völlig vertrauen. Ach Herr, hilf mir, mehre mir den Glauben und das Vertrauen. 

Alles, was ich habe, ist in Dir beschlossen. 

Ich bin arm, Du bist reich und bist gekommen, dich der Armen zu erbarmen. 

Ich bin ein Sünder, Du bist gerecht. 

Hier bei mir ist die Krankheit der Sünde, in dir aber ist die Fülle der Gerechtigkeit. 

Darum bleibe ich bei Dir, Dir muss ich nicht geben; von Dir kann ich nehmen. Amen.

....

Look, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it.

I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.

I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith. At times I doubt and am unable to trust You completely. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in You.

I have insured all my treasure in Your name.

I am poor; You are rich and You did come to be merciful to the poor.

I am a sinner; You are upright.

With me there is an abundance of sin; with You a fullness of righteousness.

Therefore I will remain with You, from whom I can receive but to whom I may not give. Amen.


(English translation from Martin Luther, Luther’s Prayers, ed. Herbert Brokering, Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1994)

16 February 2015

Waiting for the Lord: Tenacious Faith (Invocavit / Lent 1)

Psalm 25


There is a story about a young man in Japan who wanted to be the greatest martial artist of the land. He thought that to reach this goal, he must study with the best instructor, who lived many miles away. 

One day he left home to go study with this great Zen teacher. After travelling for several days, he arrived at the school and was given an audience with the teacher. "What do you wish to learn from me?" the master asked. "I want you to teach me your art and help me become one of the best martial artists in the country," the young man replied. 

He asked the master, "How long must I study?" "Ten years at least," the master answered. The man thought, ten years is a lot of time. I want to get his done sooner than that. I don't have that much time. Certainly if I try harder I can complete this task quicker. 

So he asked the master, "What if I studied twice as hard as everyone else? How long would it take then?" "Then it would take twenty years," replied the master. 

The man thought, That's even longer! I don't want to spend twenty years learning something. I've got other things to do with my life. Certainly if I tried really hard I could learn it much quicker. 

So the student asked again, "What if I practised day and night with all my effort, then how long would it take?" "Thirty years," was the master's response.  The young student became confused and wondered why the master kept telling him it would take longer. 

He asked the master "How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?" The master responded, "The answer is simple. With one eye focused on your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way."

The story above is about patience; it also is about focused waiting.  One of the themes in Psalm 25 is focused waiting.


O Lord, I come before you in prayer. 2 My God, I trust in you. / Please do not let me be humiliated / do not let my enemies triumphantly rejoice over me! 3 Certainly none who wait for you* will be humiliated. / Those who deal in treachery will be thwarted and humiliated. 4 Make me understand your ways, O Lord! / Teach me your paths!  5 Guide me into your truth and teach me. / For you are the God who delivers me / for you I wait* all day long. 6 Remember your compassionate and faithful deeds, O Lord, / for you have always acted in this manner.7 Do not hold against me the sins of my youth or my rebellious acts! Because you are faithful to me, extend to me your favor, O Lord!

8 The Lord is both kind and fair / that is why he teaches sinners the right way to live. 9 May he show the humble what is right! / May he teach the humble his way! 10 The Lord always proves faithful and reliable / to those who follow the demands of his covenant. 11 For the sake of your reputation, O Lord, / forgive my sin, because it is great.

12 The  Lord shows his faithful followers  / the way they should live. 13 They experience his favor / their descendants inherit the land. 14 The Lord’s loyal followers receive his guidance, / and he reveals his covenantal demands to them. 15 I continually look to the Lord for help, / for he will free my feet from the enemy’s net. 

16 Turn toward me and have mercy on me, / for I am alone and oppressed! 17 Deliver me from my distress / rescue me from my suffering!  18 See my pain and suffering! / Forgive all my sins! 19 Watch my enemies, for they outnumber me / they hate me and want to harm me. 20 Protect me and deliver me! / Please do not let me be humiliated, / for I have taken shelter in you! 21 May integrity and godliness protect me, / for I wait for you*!  22 O God, rescue Israel from all their distress!

There are several places in our psalm where we encounter the verb קָוָה (qavah). The first instance is in V. 3*:

גַּ֣ם כָּל־קֹ֭וֶיךָ לֹ֣א יֵבֹ֑שׁוּ. 

"Certainly none who wait for you will be humiliated." 

The verb qavah is considered a "primitive root" that eventually took on the meaning of "wait for" after initially standing for "twist", or "stretch" or "endure".

I discovered that a close relative of qavah in Arabic describes the silky material spiders use to build a web. That way the verb would mean something akin to "being tough like spider silk". Engineers have examined spider silk and found it stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar.

So the phrase "wait for the Lord" carries a whole lot more power than we think of when we say "waiting".

The idea of "waiting for the Lord" is a theme throughout Scripture, but it is an especially strong theme in the Psalms and in the prophetic books.  In the Hebrew language, waiting is never static, but always dynamic. In other words, Waiting for the Lord is always an activity. 

An activity? you say. You might be thinking of sitting in your doctor's waiting room, and of the fact that time seems to stand still when there's nothing to do but read those grubby old magazines and listen to a fellow patient reciting the endless list of all his or her aches and pains.

You know that you are in a tough spot when there is nothing to do but wait.  People who wait for a long time often feel abandoned and immobilized; they feel anxious and depressed, or angry.

Because it sometimes can seem as though God forgot about us, waiting for the Lord requires what the verb קָוָה (qavah) implies: the tenacity of spider silk, which is flexible and able to stretch, and even recovers when it is damaged.

Walter Brueggemann writes, "Our lives move between the pit and the wing, between the shattering disorientation and the gift of life. ... It is clear that the Psalms, when we freely engage them, are indeed subversive literature. They break things loose. They disrupt and question. Most of all, they give us new eyes to see and new tongues to speak."

The next time you sit in your doctor's office and wait, think of the extraordinary strength of spider silk.  The next time you are at your wit's end, don't think of yourself as a victim, but as a person of faith engaged in a powerful activity called "waiting". 

Wait for the Lord / be strong, and let your heart take courage / wait for the Lord! 

(Psalm 27: 14, NRSV)

...
* In Verses 3, 5 and 21 I chose to deviate from the NET translation and to translate קָוָה with the more active phrase "wait for" instead of "rely on".

15 February 2015

Fifty Years Ago: "The Eight Rebels of Dithmarschen"

Picture: Spiegel Magazine

This is the only English language document I have been able to find on my Dad's battle with my home town's Nazis. It' s an article published February 13, 1965, fifty years ago, in the Winnipeg Free Press.  

By the way,  the pastor's "eldest child mocked at school", that's me at age 7. One day, as we (my mom, my sister and I) entered the local butcher shop, the owner said to my mom, "You are no longer welcome here.  Something might happen to you if you do come back."  I have seen the "spittingly obscene postcards, unsigned".

...

"By Neal Ascherson.
WESSELBUREN, Schleswig-Holstein

... In the salt fens of Dithmarschen, six young school-masters, an old politician and a pastor are fighting a battle whose echoes are ringing through all Germany. Their enemies are the guardians of tradition in this dark, flat land by the North land from which the Saxons set out for the English shore, where Christianity came late and ineffectually, where faith in bonds of blood and earth survived among xenophobic farmer clans to find expression in the racial myths of the Nazis, and survives still.

Stinging wet snow blew across the graveyard of Wesselburen, as the minister showed me fresh tombs of the "Geschlechter", the clans. Huge dolmen slabs, they bear a family name but no Christian sign or prayer. Some of them are ornamented with reliefs, of horses dragging a plough, of a wolf rampant or a hooded rider. Here lie the men of Dithmarschen, the families who ruled a primitive agrarian republic destroyed in the sixteenth century, whose lineage is still retold and glorified by a Clan League with members. Local museums insist on the pre-historic origin of the "Geschlechter" - identifying them with the builders of the megalithic tombs of Dithmarschen.

Pastors find it hard to stay long in a parish like Wesselburen. There is, for instance, a sect here which among other rites celebrates the solstice on a mound called Wotan's Hill. Its members are often ex-Nazis, but three of them are school-masters in the parish, and the pastor says that the children are reticent about what they learn there. An Anti-Christian course ... he told me. "They talk about a 'Light in the North.' As a minister, I was taught that the Light came from the East."

In the cemetery stands another raw slab cut with a solar disc:  the new monument to Adolf Bartels. Mr. Bartels, a local savant with a pointed beard and gold-rimmed spectacles, died in 1945. He wrote novels rejoicing in the blood-and-soil mysteries of Dithmarschen, but he also wrote a mass of impossibly vile anti-Semitic propaganda which the Nazis, in their time found very savory. He remains an honorary citizen of Wesselburen, with a street named after him here and in the nearby market town of Heide. Those who during the Third Reich ran the "Adolf-Bartels-Bund" (self-guaranteed pure Arians sworn never to marry a Jew or traffic with Rosicrucians and Jesuits) continue busily to venerate his memory.

Relics Of Past. "Just relics of the past, of another [time]", the mayor of Wesselburen assured me. He looked uneasy. For the "relics" have become bold, these last years, and reached out for the generation of the young. They and the mayor want to rename the primary school after Mr. Bartels. They have put up the Bartels monument in a Christian graveyard, and the mayor swore on it to renew Bartels' fame in Dithmarschen. They plan to reissue his novels, of which one ends in triumph as Hitler speaks in Dithmarschen. They brought out last autumn a jubilee number of the folk- study magazine Dithmarschen; with an article which praised Mr. Bartels, spoke meaningfully of eugenic research, and sneered at the Weimar democracy. It also offered a select local bibliography, and suspicious readers followed up several references.

In some recommended pre-war books, passages like this were found: "Over the Oder poured the migrant rats from the East, bringing with them the stench and behavior of oriental ghettoes ..."

Then they went too far. Prizes were offered to local schools, for an essay on Dithmarschen, by the regional culture society which explained that, "through joyous competition, our youth will learn to sense our Dithmarschen as the primal source of their being." The society, one should mention, is run by a certain Mr. Zietz, an outspoken Jew-baiter before the war who served Hitler in the "Race and Lineage Bureau" in Berlin. The prizes are woodcuts by that respected local artist Prof. Gross, who taught at a "Nordic Art College" under the Third Reich.

Six young schoolmasters now decided that they have had enough. In a letter to the local paper they denounced the Bartels mythology and its pseudo-pagan manifestations, and charged that "for generations here, obvious laws of human existence and society have been sentimentalized into an esoteric folk cult, and dangerously schematized into rules or racial and genetic hygiene".

At the same time, Pastor Wendt of Wesselburen told his shocked congregation from the pulpit that "a man who must bear far more guilt even than Adolf Eichmann and his henchman is Adolf Bartels of Wesselburen".

The fight was on. The Six were harshly attacked by the Christian Democrat member of Parliament; the big men of Wesselburen called Pastor Wendt a "180 per cent pro-Jew" and called for his transfer to another parish.

In Kiel, the state government of Schleswig-Holstein offered no support to the breachers of the peace in Dithmarschen; instead, it sent down a gentleman from the education department who asked one of the Six a few solicitous questions: "Do you suffer from depression?" he inquires ...

It is a heartening experience to meet the rebels. The Six are led by Wolff Hattendorff, square and black-bearded, who taught for four years at the German school in Teheran. His flat has become a campaign headquarters piled high with incoming letters and Third Reich literature red-pencilled in the margins; his colleagues come in from the snow bright with "war-like" excitement, a Persian samovar bubbles, the telephone rings. All of these young men, come from Dithmarschen. None of them belongs to any political party. They told me: "If there was an Integrity Party, we would join that. The Christian Democrats here are behaving like a Mafia. They want to go on serving up this muck, and they demand that we help them. As teachers, we must stand up and say that we will not tolerate this return to the past."

They have been joined by Kurt Grosser, once their teacher, and until recently chairman of the Christian Democrats in the area. ... He says modestly, "I am not brave like the Six, I merely had a problem of conscience." Preoccupied with the political aspects, he is an elderly, intelligent conservative who sees his party infected by a deadly and intolerant extremism. In this constituency, he feels, it has become a union at the expense of Christianity and Democracy. The sitting member has begged him not to create a constituency scandal ... but Mr. Grosser goes on lecturing against Adolf Bartels and besieging Kiel with evidence of patronage and coercion in the local party machine.

He is not in serious danger. The Six, as civil servants, are. Their superiors watch eagerly for a "false" move. One was reprimanded for starting a class a minute late ... In Wesselburen, Pastor Wendt is being sued by the mayor for showing a television team some Nazi books in the town library; there are difficulties about getting served in some shops, and his eldest child has been mocked at school. But he says quietly, "Of course I shall stay on. Could I betray the decent small people here who resent the ruling clique but dare not raise their voice?"

And slowly, with gathering force, those voices are raised and the eight men of Dithmarschen find their allies. Firmly, they all believe that a majority in the land supports them and silently despises the nonsensical rites performed in its name. At first it was hard to fight alone, and the Six even thought of emigration to England. Then a professor of German at Kiel, an authority in the learned world, came to their aid.

... The national press and television "discovered" the affair in Dith- marschen, and steadily the letters in the local paper began to turn in favor of the rebels. The Social Democrats in Kiel weighed in, behind them, trade unions ... Now the mayor of Wesselburen must be dislodged from the church session there, and from the synodal council in Heide. The mayor himself, a few weeks ago bold and aggressive, is now plainly alarmed. He apologizes for the Nazi books in the library, and says that the Clan League has brought him into embarrassment. If only the press would lay off, he pleads, the council could consider renaming Bartels Street and revoking the honorary citizenship.

...Long, marvellous letters of encouragement from all over Germany arrive almost daily for the eight men; their enemies send short, spittingly obscene postcards, unsigned. This is, then, a story of hope. In this obstinate, reactionary corner, of Germany, a tiny group of brave men have challenged the oak-hard governing "system" and its poisoned traditions, and found support beyond their dreams. They have plans. Already, Mr. Zietz has been voted off the board ...

How far liberal, urban ideas can penetrate a self-obsessed farming community like Dithmarschen remains to be seen."

"Nothing Lasts but God's Love" (Ash Wednesday)


-Rushed to the clinic to get signatures from the psychiatrist on call.

-Rushed to the new ER and prepared paperwork for hospitalizing a 14 year old child with powerful psychotic symptoms, had her mom sign all three forms and ran downstairs to request the ambulance.

-Realized it's Ash Wednesday and chased down the hospital chaplain. Spotted Father in the hallway and got that ashen cross painted on my forehead, and -as he said stuff about dust and ashes and the fact that nothing lasts but God's love- slowed down for the first time this day.

-Rushed to the monthly supervisors' meeting and realized as I was wiping my sweat, I wiped Father's ashes right into my handkerchief, and thought of what he had said about nothing lasting but God's love.

-Got paged by my student who had just finished an intake and needed my presence in the clinic.

-Checked with the ER and realized the ambulance requested never arrived.

-Called around and realized that the people responsible for calling the ambulance had "gone to a staff meeting and forgotten all about it".

-Apologized to the hospital staff at receiving hospital who were as livid as I was, and did my best to rectify the situation.

-As I was eating lunch I learned that the ambulance had finally arrived at the ER and taken kid and mom.

-Got paged by my student again as she needed my presence in the clinic ...

.... Well, now I am having a beer, listening to an old old German hit, "Tulpen aus Amsterdam" ... I listened to that one first when I was 6 or 7. Quietly letting the day bleed away, I remember the few words Father said, "Nothing lasts, except for God's love".

(Written Ash Wednesday, 2013)