Friday, December 11, 2009

Our Conservative Children

My enthusiasm for seasonal decorating is waning. I still love the house to be decorated, I’m just tired of all the work involved. So, I find myself starting later, simplifying the process, cutting corners and generally trying to avoid baking altogether. But my kids will have none of that. Charis and Christa, especially, are my early warning alarm system, sounding off about the time that the first Lebkuchen appear in stores. Lest I forget my true purpose in life and think for even a moment I will escape recreating exactly the aura of Christmas’ past, they implore me to put up the advent stockings in time for the First of December, nag me to finally get around to doing the top of the piano and the bay windows, and with almost photographic memory, insist even on the specific placement of certain Ornaments. This year I was taken aback and began to ponder the deeper psychology of this behavior, after Christa grabbed one of the stockings and forcefully insisted, “We have to hang this one on this door, that is where it was last year. It has to go here!”

“Oooohkaaaay. Weird. What’s that all about?” Suddenly I saw us meticulously following a recipe, aligning all the pieces in just the right place, so that something would happen. A kind of time machine made out of one family’s collection of handmade ornaments, which, if set to exactly the same coordinates as previous Christmas’, would teleport the anticipatory joy, the warm glow, the comfort and good cheer of the past Noel into our experience of the present season. A kind of magic ritual to conjure up for our current pleasure that part of our past experience which pictures and videos were not able to capture. An almost desperate attempt to grab these fond holiday memories by the tail and pull them back up from the abyss of history to once more satisfy our nostalgic longings, conserving them like pickles in the mason jar of our annual holiday rituals. That is when the penny dropped: my children are CONSERVATIVES!!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Unholy Prophecy

Many are trying to block Healthcare reform by spreading bleak worst case scenarios of the mix of absolute political power and medical technology, extrapolating a dark future to which the legislation could ultimately lead. But I am wary of such prophetic projections, and, speaking from first hand experience myself, I am sure that huge jumps are being made in such calculations. Indeed, I believe it is a grievous misstep to incite fear against legislation being proposed today to HELP people who are CURRENTLY not being properly cared for medically, based solely on the premonition that it COULD lead to abuse of power and loss of needed care for others in some "Brave New World" of the future.

I personally find these tactics not only lacking integrity, but also unbiblical, disobedient to Jesus' teachings, and glorifying the darkness rather than the Father of Light, who has given us a Good News of God's victory in the world to be bearers of. I am mortified at how many Christians are spreading a message of doom and gloom, of the hopeless "inevitability" of man's depravity, using scare tactics and generally being caught up in a fear frenzy instead of being the torchbearers for the transforming power of the cross: A message of Faith, Hope and Love.

Jesus has warned us to not only not be overly confident about the future, but also not to "meddle" in it, not to "hang out there," not to overlook the present good we can do (each day has its own worries), by being too concerned with what evils might be headed our way in the future. My gut feeling tells me that these attempts at "foreseeing" are akin to witchcraft: trying to gain power over present circumstances by grasping beyond the veil, "divining" what only God can know for sure.

I personally can testify that such measures to insure all citizens of their basic medical needs does NOT lead to the kind of government, genetic Cherry picking, that they are suggesting. Wether it be our 90 year old, widowed landlady with no near relatives, who receives regular home visits from her doctor; the 3 year daughter of friends of ours, who has Down Syndrome and is getting the best treatment possible now for Leukemia, or my own expensive MRIs, OP and extensive hospital stays for a preexisting back condition, I can assure you that the Doctor-Patient relationship here in Germany is in good health. Any claims to the contrary are a misrepresentation of the facts, which are easily accessible and verifiable, and lacks the integrity necessary for an honest and serious debate. Here is good information for how healthcare is actually provided for now in the other industrialized countries (of which America is the only one without universal coverage)

(another two good articles describing Germany's system can be linked to from here .

I was very happy to find this morning that the bill in the house passed, and happier still to find that a good band of Democrats (64), led by Rep. Stupak, used their leadership to block federal funding for abortions and still get a bill passed that would make a tremendous impact on the lives of 36 Million Americans. So, again, it is just not accurate to make claims that "Democrats" are supportive of abortion loopholes. A good bloc of 40 fought hard for the amendment, 64 voted for it, and it was the only Democratic amendment that Pelosi allowed on the floor (to the vexation of abortion advocate party members). Post article

In addition, as reported by the Wash. Post:

"The complex package would affect virtually every American and fundamentally alter vast swaths of the health insurance industry. Starting next year, private insurers could no longer deny anyone coverage based on preexisting conditions, place lifetime limits on coverage or abandon people when they become ill. Insurers would be required to disclose and justify proposed premium increases to regulators, and could not remove adult children younger than 27 from their parents' family policies.

For the elderly, the group that has been most skeptical of Obama's initiative, the House package would immediately offer discounts on prescription drugs and reduce a gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage, closing it entirely by 2019. Uninsured people who cannot get coverage could join temporary high-risk insurance pools, and unemployed workers would be permitted to keep their COBRA benefits until the public plan and insurance exchanges started in 2013." Post article

These are good things, and they are long over due in a Nation that still claims to be leading the world in Democracy. I truly hope that we can bring the political will of the people to bear on the unjust practices of the Insurance and Pharmaceutical industries who have become the bullies on the block in our time zone, one of the "worries" of our "today," which we can legitimately be concerned about.

(Similar post)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Germany's Health Care System

I wanted to write something explaining Germany's Health Care system, and perhaps clear up some false assumptions and claims being made about "Socialized Medicine." Thankfully once I started to look for information to fill in my own blanks, I ran across these two great articles by a Professor at Princeton who gives not only a concise and informative (what we really need to know) summary of Germany's Universal Health Care Coverage, but also highlights the antipodal assumptions of our two countries' approaches to filling this fundamental human need. So, thank you Uwe Reinhardt for saving me a ton of work.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I’ll Have Those Words With Ketchup, Please.

For the seventeen years I’ve been living in Germany, my favorite way of describing the difference between Americans and Germans was to use the train-station illustration. If a German and an American were waiting for a train in a station with no announcements and no signs on the platforms, the German would sit until kingdom come before he got on a train that might be going the wrong direction. “The American,” I have, until now, proclaimed confidently, “would get on the first train out of there and then hop back off again if he found it taking him somewhere he didn’t want to go.” But thanks to the current debate on Healthcare reform, I have had to eat those words without any sauce to help them go down. Where did all those rugged, brave Americans disappear to? What has happened to their adventuresome spirit? What awful specter has struck this paralyzing fear into the hearts of my fellow countrymen?

During numerous failed attempts to convince friends and loved ones of the merits of getting on the Healthcare Reform Train, I believe I have caught glimpses of the apparition which is haunting them: The Spook of Slippery Slope. The logic is always the same: “If we take a left at this intersection, we will end up in Communist China.” “If you follow this to its logical extreme, you will see how dangerous such a first step actually is.” “Give ‘em a hand, they’ll take off your whole arm.” The most extreme example of such arguments came before Obama’s election in a letter from James Dobson from the year 2012 of an eventual Obama administration: A worst case scenario of all loathed liberal ideology; a conservative’s “Nightmare on Main street!”

Unfortunately, the scare tactics haven’t disappeared with election defeat. Blocking the way to meaningful reform is a large minority of Americans who appear to be stuck in this ideological cul-de-sac. In continuing to defer to some extrapolated future nemesis, this “un-American” brand of conservatism is not only holding the country hostage in “juncture station,” it is also dodging its responsibility for the actual and current suffering in America and is eluding the necessary systemic evaluation and reform of our run away free market. These voices of caution might imagine that they are trying to save Americans from some future calamity which reform would bring upon us, but many Americans are living through tragedy now, for which our present, undeniably flawed healthcare system is responsible. The fox is in the coop with a hen in his mouth, and some would warn us to barricade the farm house against an inevitable poultry revolution!

Of course there are “slippery slopes”: If I open a bag of chocolate chip cookies, chances are I will eat them all, and it is probably not a good idea to try heroin even once. But reality rarely fleshes out this law of extremism. When I leave the house and hang a left, I usually make a right before too long, and then another left and so on, until I get to Starbucks, to work or to my hairdresser. Most of us, most of the time, don’t dump the whole bottle of Tabasco into the chili, don’t place all of our money on one horse or press the petal to the metal just because the speedometer says we can. Most of us, most of the time, live our lives within the bounds of moderation and are better off for it. I have every confidence, that after hanging a right eight years ago, Americans can safely make this little left turn toward a pronounced healthcare reform guaranteeing everyone affordable quality coverage without waking up to find ourselves on a non-stop train to Animal Farm.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Redemption is A Pink Chair with a Floral Seat Cover.

I guess she was only doing the natural thing. How many times had she been in the car, when we stopped at a pile of junk in front of some building to look for something that seemed “interesting?” The three old wardrobes (two of which we have passed on to friends or family), tables, fold up chairs, old wood, stools and even picture frames are now a part of our home ensemble thanks to a habit both Jan and I have picked up from our parents: scavenging! Don’t anybody get grossed out, we don’t go through people’s garbage cans, just the bulky furniture and old “stuff” that people don’t want or need anymore. What in the states would probably be a sure sign someone had been evicted, is called “Sperrmüll” here in Germany. We clean out our basement about once a year, call the city’s waste management department and make an appointment for our stuff to be picked up. We then organize it into very tidy piles of metal, wood, and plastic the night before. The pile usually inspires the neighbors to do a bit of spring cleaning themselves, and so the pile grows (and then inevitably shrinks a little again) by morning.

One day this past spring, Christa, my then 7 year old, still 2nd grader, comes home to tell me that she passed by one of these piles on her way home from school. “There are some chairs.” I “should go check them out.” I guess I was really busy that afternoon, because I didn’t squeeze in even a few minutes for my compulsive hobby, wasn’t swept away by the usual fantasy flow, that maybe someone, unbeknownst to them, was throwing away a valuable retro-designer piece. Next afternoon my then 7 year old, still in 2nd grade, with a heavy school bag on her back, on an unusually warm day, comes home carrying one of these chairs!

If I had fallen in love with the chair, I would have rushed out and retrieved the other three, but I didn’t. Realizing what Christa had done, however, I knew that I was going to have to get creative with this chair. My little dumpstering daughter was just too adorable. Of course I took my time getting around to the project, so it wasn’t until months later, once we got back from our summer vacation in England and still had lots of good weather for working outside, that I got to work filling out the dents, sanding, spray painting, removing the nasty layers of fabric and then covering the seat with a fresh new, but retro floral fabric from Ikea. The neighbors were intrigued. I love the chair now, and regret that I didn’t go back to get the other three when I had the chance.

What took one sentence to describe, tho, took hours and hours to actually do. Our “new,” “free” chair wasn’t free at all. The swath of new fabric wasn’t costly, but the two cans of spray paint weren’t cheap, and if I would charge a decent hourly rate (a local charges 30€ an hour), few could afford to buy the chair for the amount I would feel obliged to write on a price tag. One could say, that a chair which had lost all of what value it might have once had for its original or previous owner, has become priceless to its new owner (me) primarily because of her own attitude and actions toward the afore mentioned furniture. This activity of making a renewed, creative and significant investment in an object, a system or a person, so as to reclaim its lost or inherent value, or uncover its possible/potential value is what I call Redemption. It is one of the most beautiful words in the English language, an immensely profound reality, a “deep magic” existing since even before the foundations of the world. Redemption is the ultimate joker; it’s the ace up a sleeve. I feel mischievous, almost cunning, when I have succeeded in turning something found on a garbage pile into something beautiful and functional, like I’ve circumvented some ubiquitous consumer principle; outwitted the odious constricting tentacles of decay, deterioration, and yes, even death itself.

The Redemption Reality offers us a way to view not only broken and unwanted things, but broken and unwanted people, broken relationships, dysfunctional systems and miserable circumstances. For a Redeemer, each is a challenge to be creative, make a significant and personal investment and cheekily break the rules of death and decay in order to make something beautiful and of immeasurable value. In this vein, beauty truly is in the eye of the Redeemer. I am immensely pleased that my daughter seems to already be infected with this kind of foresight.

Friday, October 9, 2009

cara luft in concert, 25.10.09, 18.30, liliom

herzliche einladung zu einem konzert mit der kanadischen folk-rock sängerin

So, 25. Okt 09 / 18.30 Uhr
LILIOM, unterer graben 1, augsburg


karten für den abend gibt es im LILIOM oder bei lee fischer
(tel. 7479914/

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I Just LOVE People Like This!!!!

This guy is just bursting at the seams with creative social projects.  He started a Ricksha-service, and then turned it over to students.  He came up with a bicycle version of the ice-cream truck, and turned that over to someone (with MINT-CHOCOLATE CHIP! a rarity!).  He has worked as a spinning trainer.  He was taking a course to be a city tour guide, when he got the idea to rev. up Augsburg’s image by initiating the worlds longest city tour!  It lasted 2010 minutes (basically the whole weekend) and was a huge hit.  He organized a semi-successful program for the youth of his area who could earn points for doing helpful services around the neighborhood, doing chores for elderly neighbors, clean up, various things, and then be able to “spend” those points at different stores in the neighborhood.   All this from a banker turned stay-at-home-dad! And I haven’t even gotten to the part that really gets me excited!

Living in Oberhausen, a neighborhood in Augsburg, where people from over 70 countries live door to door with little interaction between them, Bernd Beigel was wracking his head trying to come up with ideas of how to help especially the women overcome their isolation and become more integrated into their multi-cultural neighborhood within their new country.  He held language courses using methods similar to those of TEFL (using pictures/photo, real life trips to stores, doctors), and although they were well attended, the women dispersed back into their own isolated worlds after the course was finished.  Looking for something that would offer these immigrant women an integrated community over a longer time-frame, he found it in the one, world-wide common denominator: food!  The one thing that connects women everywhere, so Beigel, is cooking!  

Advertising in neighborhood kindergartens and schools for recipes from their home countries for an international cook book, and volunteers to form a cooking group to test the recipes, got a resounding response - over a 100 recipes, of which 60 recipes from 30 countries were published in the Oberhausen 5 Star Cookbook.  But this is only the beginning of the story!  The group of 15 women who formed the cooking group to test the recipes displayed such enthusiasm, initiative, team spirit, and appetite for learning new skills, despite the language barriers, that Beigel sought ways to expand the integration project.  The women were trained in the “how to’s” of a professional kitchen in a rented kitchen, and with the city’s Social Minister pulling a few strings (are we ever sad that he was replaced when the new elected mayor took office), they began cooking lunches at the main school in the neighborhood for well over a 100 kids and locals every weekday.  The Kulturküche (Culture Kitchen) was born!  

The 15 women from 9 different nations working on a part time bases, with two working full time, have since expanded their range and now include cooking for a second school, an afternoon Cafe, a Jam (as in strawberry) factory, and a professional Catering-service! (The one we engaged for Jonathan’s Confirmation Lunch).  The whole project just thrills me to death, because it brings together so many things that are close to my heart and addresses the particular social problems that have been becoming a growing concern to me.

I mean, way to go for bringing together compassion (seeing, and being moved, stirred to action by someone else’s plight or suffering) and creativity (out of the box problem solving, trying something new)!  What a rare breed!  Here is a man who had eyes to SEE these otherwise invisible women and the conflicted situations they are in: NO money, completely isolated by a language barrier from the host culture as well as the multiple cultures around them, often left alone with their children, and little to zero self-confidence or independence.  These women needed to learn German, gain at least some financial freedom if not full independence, regain their self-confidence and be included in true community.  And that is exactly what this project enables.  

Mr. Beigl makes a conscious effort to organize the cooking teams into a good mix of nationalities, trying his best to avoid putting more than one woman of a nationality together for the same shift.  This way they are forced to use German as the common language for communicating.  Katja had been in Germany for years when she began at the Culture Kitchen one and a half years ago, and even Mr. Beigl wasn’t aware of just how little German she understood when she started.  Thanks to the safe group of women, who were more or less in the same boat, and a language dictionary, she now has a good grasp of the language and is improving her skill steadily.  Finally being able to communicate with offices, schools, doctors, sales people herself, instead of being dependent on her husband and children, has not only given her greater independence, but has boosted her confidence and self-esteem as well.

A Turkish woman, perhaps in her mid-forties, is now able to afford what for many years seamed an unreachable dream: getting her drivers license!  Both the learning material for the extensive theoretical exam, as well as the many hours of payed lessons behind the wheel in preparation for the practical exam can run up to a couple thousand Euro in Germany and were well beyond her family’s budget.   Seda is not only proud of herself for accomplishing this long sought for goal, but she is also enjoying her new found freedom and independence.  A woman from South Africa is saving money, in order to return to her homeland, now that her husband has left her and their four children.  Two and half months ago, Mr. Beigl was approached by social services and asked if he would consider incorporating a war trauma victim from Serbia into his colorful catering service.  (Sergio) makes the first male employee in the Kulturküche and is already well integrated into the group of women.  

Because Beigl’s main focus is to address what he sees as the social concerns in his neighborhood, and less on just generating profits, his hiring and scheduling practices veer considerably from the beaten road of the “anything and everything for profit” corporate practices.  For starters, hiring a bunch of people who can’t talk to each other definitely won’t make the best sellers book of must do managing tips.  But the women, most of whom have children, also enjoy flexible schedules and a relaxed work climate, so that when their children are home from school or need to go to the doctors, the mothers can easily switch shifts or bring their kids to work with them, finding odd jobs for them to do as well.  Child labor?! Not in the least.  I am growing increasingly suspicious, that the separation of work and family life that has prevailed in our industrialized era is an unhealthy dichotomy and is one of the major contributors to many of our societal ills.  But that is a blog for another day.  For now, I see the opportunities and the climate that the Kulturküche is offering the women in this multi-national community to be strengthening and empowering the family rather than putting a strain on its vulnerable seems.  

And the Bavarian Minister of State for Family and Community, Christa Stewens, seems to agree with me.  She presented Bernd Beigl with the Bavarian Award of Women’s Advocacy for Best Practice last October.  And wouldn’t you know it, tho Beigl’s initial motive was not to start a lucrative business, the idea of an international catering service seems to have filled a gap in the market here in Augsburg.  The Kulturküche has several engagements weekly to keep track of, and is continually expanding its range.  And the Banker turned stay-at-home dad is not close to being out of ideas.  Not only is he hoping to expand the Kulturküche to another neighborhood this fall, but he is also looking for a location to open up an international cafe, where the cultures can find not only a place to meet, but also a space to embark on an array of other crafty projects, a sewing group being one idea of many.  

I am putting this guy on my Boaz list.  (if you haven’t a clue what that might be, you’ll have to blow the dust off your Bible, or go buy/steal one, and read the book of Ruth in the Old Testament).  Since Boaz is probably my favorite dude in the bible, this is a pretty honorable list, and in all honesty, not too many people have actually made their way on to it.  But Bernd Beigl is on it for sure... I just LOVE people like that!!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dupont Circle

It seems kind of kooky, but I have lots of fond memories of Dupont Circle.  My friend Niki and I, who were shopaholics even at the tender age of ten and eleven, loved to go to “Nicely Nicely,” a little shop with just the kinds of pretty trinkets and colorful shnick-shnack an eleven year old girl can embellish her fantasy with.  I would smuggle this wonderful world out of the store by purchasing the tiniest, and cheapest item I could find.  At home this small and insignificant purchase would swell and release its magic, transporting that entire store into my otherwise uninspiring room.  The magic never lasted very long, so we made frequent trips to Dupont Circle, or to Georgetown, which also had many such shops.

The middle school (6th thru 8th grade) I went to was on the other, better, side of NW DC, and to get there, I had to take the #42 bus down to Dupont Circle and transfer to the D2 bus. On the return tour, the bus stop for the #42 was right in front of Kramer Books and Afterwards.  Obviously a book store, but it was also a cafe, restaurant.  If I hadn’t already spent my piteous allowance at the penny candy store across from the school, I sometimes could afford to buy an ice cream at Kramers.  Mostly, though, we liked flipping through the picture books and magazines (especially in the Sex and Marriage section), the smell of coffee, the clatter of plates and glasses, the swish of the waiter’s apron as they passed by with delicious looking treats on their tray.  Sometimes we even caught a later bus, just so we could stay longer.  This was when I first knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: someone who can afford to go to breakfast at a cafe just like Kramers, drink coffee and talk all morning long!

I haven’ t a clue if it is still true, but back then Dupont Circle had the Metro stop with the longest escalator down to the underground subway, and it was at the top of this escalator that two historical moments in my life converged.  My first and only blind date ever, and the loss of my... gullibility (ok, partial loss, to the joy of my children, I’m still pretty gullible).  

The blind date wasn’t humiliating, but it was no winner either.  I had been to Europe twice at that point in my mid 20’s, mostly in England and Germany, but also doing my own version of the summer Euro-rail tour.  I never attempted to hit every major city between Stockholm and Rome, but instead visited friends in different countries and stayed with them for longer periods of time, getting the feel for life in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, etc.  The blind date was set up by my college roommate and was the brother of her best friend, who studied German and apparently also had a “thing” for all things German.  He (name long gone) had invited me to see a German movie, with subtitles, playing at the Goethe Institute on 19th, I think, just behind Kramers somewhere.  The movie was a bomb. Some advent-guard 60’s Psycho movie that seemed more like a recording of someone’s bad dream than any real artwork, but no harm done, he and it were quickly forgotten.

What I didn’t forget so quickly, was what happened while I was looking for this person I had never seen before at our meeting spot at the entrance of the Dupont Circle Metro station.  Since I wasn’t charging past like the other commuters, I was easy prey for the young pawn who was being payed to pass out flyers.  It was a glossy, designer flyer, eye catching and trust inducing with a picture of the sweetest old women you’ve ever seen.  On it were several points simply explaining why I should vote against the proposal to introduce deposit bottles in DC.  I wish I could remember all of the silly points on this otherwise very serious looking pamphlet, but I can only remember the tear wrenching claim that frail old ladies, like the one pictured, would have to carry those heavy deposit bottles back to the store, and we couldn’t be so heartless as to impose such a hardship on the elderly.  

And that was it! My moment of awakening:  the world is evil and full of liars, and even in broad day light at Dupont Circle, you had to be on your toes or someone was going to try and pull the wool over your eyes.  Growing up in Adams Morgan, I knew about being on my toes and what dangers were lurking in the neighborhood, but not until that day did I understand that even little old ladies and white people in nice suits would take me for bad, if I let them!  The really sad part is, that if I hadn’t spent over a year in Europe, witnessing first hand what a perfectly normal part of society the concept of deposit bottles are, I probably would have fallen for the glossy lies on that flier!

I haven’t thought about that day in a long time, and probably would have forgotten about the blind date altogether, if it hadn’t been for the recent debate and propaganda campaign against Nationalized Health care.  Until that day at Dupont Circle, I had assumed that “propaganda” was something the Russians did, a Russian word even, which we don’t need in our vocabulary, because Americans tell the truth!  But hearing of the recent parade of videos depicting Canadians dissatisfied with their health care, I can almost feel that glossy printed page in my hand, and I am on my guard.  Again, I think I would myself be easily duped (it all sounds so convincing and compassionate), if it wasn’t for my own experience these last 17 years of living overseas with “no worries” health care, and the testimony of the same from many, many others I know in countries with Health Care systems superior to that of the States.  It seems like a no-brainer to me, but I guess there are a lot of people who are still falling for the glossy fliers and biased advertising.  I can live without deposit bottles, after all, you do have to carry them back to the store, but I can’t live without health insurance, not in todays world of high medical costs.  What will it take to get people to stop being so gullible?!

Here are a few links to what I believe is real information about Canadian health care.  Please ignore the first paragraph of the first link, she wigs out on Republicans.  I know that is rot, but the following points she makes are good ones I thinks.  I had a third link on here, but there was really only one sentence about the survey of Canadians which found that 91% are happy with their health care.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Jonathan's Confirmation

April 19th we celebrated Jonathan’s confirmation (Lutheran version of Bar Mitzvah, without any of the really challenging parts!) with close friends and family from out of town. I’m posting this only now, because I waited for the photo’s from the “official” photographer, who is to thank for documenting the ceremony for the families. After the church ceremony, we celebrated with a lunch and afternoon tea in a newly renovated old school house, which has been converted to a neighborhood, multi generational community center. Among many other events/programs, they encourage the performing arts by hosting Sunday matinée concerts. Jan and I have performed one of our “story concerts” there several weeks ago, getting a positive review in our local paper. In addition to the great location for our party of about 40, we had the opportunity of engaging a catering service of which I have become a huge fan. I will write more about it in my next blog, because I am so impressed with it and with the man who started it. Fitting to our “into all the world,” international theme, we had a buffet with hot and cold dishes from a myriad of countries mostly in the southern hemisphere, the recipes of which stemmed from the home countries of the women who cooked them.

We kicked off the party with a champagne reception and game. Upon arrival everyone got a paper with a country and pertinent information about that country taped to their back. Then everyone had to ask yes or no questions to try and find out what country they had, asking no one person more than two questions. When everyone was let into the main dining hall, they found their table by looking for the one labeled with the continent of their country and got a “grab bag” of table mates. We also had a large, blank map posted to one wall, in which guests where asked to write in any and all of the countries they were able to name - we, as a group, filled in almost all of them- and then they could also use the post-it arrows to mark all the countries they had already been to or lived in. As you can see from the pictures, our World theme was carried thru the entire decoration as well.

Through the afternoon, however, Jonathan was the center of attention, and not only was he (and we even more so) overwhelmed with an abundance of very generous gifts, but he was also the subject of a fun quiz show, was serenaded by little Alex singing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” and was featured in a back drop of a running slide presentation with accompanying background music. Also his very creative God-parents, who are long time friends and have been very engaged in both Jonathan’s and Charis’ lives since their baptism, staged a couple of gigs. Stephen performed a song on guitar, and Hella peddled a sundry of costume hats and accessories for guests to choose from for their big photo debut behind a large antique frame, thus giving Jonathan a comical documentation of every guest.

Below are pictures of the day, and HERE is an open letter from me to Jonathan and a presentation (here the extended english version) which was shown as the climax of our theme that afternoon.

We are very thankful for the presence and participation of all of our friends and family at this celebration, and are even more touched and grateful for the involvement of so many in the lives of our children! We are truly blessed.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

The streets are crowded with pointed fingers,

open windows, scornful sneers

self-righteousness breathing past every

curtain sheer

Heads tossed back, noses high, 

lips are tightly curled and wry

Eyes are squinted, scornful, wild,

darting, dancing like a lusty fire

Under shade of shadow, 

dark and night

my heart is pounding, racing, aching, 

slipping hastily out of sight

Endless are the alleys- cursed this

wretched winding maze

No safe place for me – no where to 

escape their dreadful, daunting gaze

Down and down,

 swept out through the city gates

by their stinging jeers, “how dare you

stain our Holy place.”

One against a vast universe

One in an endless void

One roaming in a haunted silence

thoughts scoring a reckless noise

One tired of straining, reaching out 

for something to hold

awkwardly stumbling through this

blackened cold

Ascending rough and jagged 

steep incline

Hope for friendly years long poured out

like bitter wine

Shameful memories taunt,

painful pictures flash

as knees against these craggy rocks 

are dashed

The climb is over as the ruthless sun

begins its rule

breathless I stare at the city 

set and shimmering like a jewel

How fair and admirable you seem

taken at a far off glance

With veil of masked perfection, silence, and 

denial, you weave a master dance

But underneath the lying silken cover

lurks controlling, condemning an 

unappeasable, moody lover

How I strived to curt you, 

paying much too dear a cost

I played my hand at your game 

but like a fool have lost

And now from limb and geist 

Have gone the fight

And fitful, tardy sleep relieves 

this early hour of its deceitful sight

All at once my every sinew, 

muscle bound

wrenched from rest by a 

nightmarish sound 

The sharp and blood-thirsty cracking 

of a whip

mean and menacing shouts 

from a battery of mocking lips

fueled to a frenzy by their 

righteous cause

slandering the heretic

for breaking their laws

Fear fraught and horror stricken

I lie low and frozen to the ground

Panic struck and heart sickened

to have so soon been found

Cringing, shrinking, wishing every past wrong 

would disappear

all the while the shouting mob

draws near

Knowing all is lost

I hold my breath and wait

for the scourging blow

the culmination of their hate

But what is this?

One man alone so bold

stands with outstretched arms

to bid this band of fury hold?

And what such a man is he?

My wet and wishful eyes can barely see

this foolish act which may 

yet set me free

Beyond belief he stands exposed

and stays an army in its path

Suspending comprehension,

he remains composed 

as he consumes their awful wrath

Bruised and battered his skin in tatters

and soaked in blood red

Taunted and tired his honor mired

 a cruel and caustic crown upon his head

Solemn and sober he endures

their morbid glee

Sovereign and serene as they 

nail him to a tree

 Such noble assembly

does not stop to rest

they hurl their insults and abuse

they jeer and jest

hang a wooden sign 

as a last assault

 King of The Jews

they credit to his  fault

But naked outstretched limbs

withstand the fury of disgrace

and low and tortured whisper

   commands his final case. 

Arms open wide

 invite an enemy’s embrace

as stolen breath

 requites this ignorant, lynching mob

 with amazing grace,

Winding back up through 

the city’s malevolent maze

I will never forget the tears,

 the blood, his benevolent gaze

Love has subdued hate, 

subverted violence, swallowed shame

and needing no one’s permission

I am free to do the same

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"We're All Gonna Die"

Just found this link to a cool project (click on the title):

"100 meter long panorama picture of Berlin displayed online

Photographer Simon Hoegsberg spent 20 days on a bridge in Berlin taking photos of pedestrians from the same perspective resulting in a fascinating 100 meter long panorama image. The project with the rather gloomy title, “We’re all gonna die” captures the number of different styles and variety of people in Germany’s capital. The 100 meter long panorama photo features 178 people and was shot from a spot on a railroad bridge on Warschauer Strasse in the summer of 2007.

The Copenhagen-based photographer writes on his website that most people did not even seem to know that their picture was being taken.

The freelance photographer is no stranger to unique projects. In winter 2004, he packed a few belongings including his camera, pen and a notebook and set out to travel the 1700 kilometers from Copenhagen to the Mediterranean Sea with just 14 euros in his pocket."  Young Germany

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bowel Movement

Forgive me for moving back in time here.  When Jan came back from spending a few days with the kids at his parents this fall, and brought with him the delicious fruits of what has become a traditional father - son autumn photographic outing, I was quite touched and knew that I wanted to share more than just the pictures themselves.  But, as I confessed in my last blog entry, I let my Christmas addiction squeeze out any time for such reflections, and am just now finally allowing them to surface. 

Loading this latest batch of pictures up into iphoto, I became aware of how familiar these German countryside vignettes are:  rolling hills, each topped with their own fortress, like a cherry on a sundae; apple orchards; steep hillside vineyards and the beloved town of Beilstein, with its long history reaching deep into the Middle ages, the traces of which are slowly disappearing.  These are some of the themes of which there are countless versions in albums on our shelves dating back to long before I ever even met Jan and his family.  This is a world which father and son have captured again and again, from every corner of our four seasons, framed by an ever maturing and changing perspective, through the lens of an ever advancing instrument, first on slides, then paper and now digitally.   This is a world which a father loves and a love, which this father has passed on to his son.  Precious.

But the love that Jan’s father has for his romantic surroundings goes deeper than the hobby he shares with his son of reducing it to two dimensional images stored on our hard drive.  It is a love that is demonstrated in the various other projects that my father-in-law has engaged in over at least the last 20 years.  Some of these projects connect him to the organization Friends of the Earth (BUND für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland) and have their beginnings in the mid- 80’s, when the Fischer’s Protestant church held seminars and sermons promoting Intentional living with an emphasis on Peace, Justice and Creation Protection.  With a strong urge to get practical and inspiration coming from another area in Germany (Marktdorf), Jan’s father, Klaus, and two of his acquaintances set out to preserve natural habitats for local fowl, small field animals and useful insects by giving local farmers an incentive to maintain their organic fruit orchards. 

What began as a group of about fifteen people gathering 5 tons of apples from organic orchards themselves and financing the cost of cider production for consumption within their small community, has turned into the Steinkautz label, which produces up to 350,000 liters of organic apple cider/juice per year and is sold in a variety of stores in the wider area.  There are more than a hundred organic fruit orchards scattered over an area of approximately 20 kilometer, together comprising 2-300 hektare (about 800 acres) natural habitat for some 50-60 species of birds plus hedgehogs, wasps, bees, polecat and hazel dormouse, to name just some of the creatures enjoying this natural environment.  To motivate farmers to maintain these less productive organic orchards as opposed to the low growing, chemically protected and fertilized plantations, the Steinkautz Natural Habitat project, a non-profit organization, ensures farmers a much higher price for their fruit, when they sign to follow strict organic growing policies.  They have just recently celebrated their 20th anniversary.  

Related to this project, are the regular inspections of the orchards and the nesting facilities that have been placed in the apple trees.  It is a real treat for our children, when they can accompany their grandfather on winter afternoon “house cleaning” duty!  They eagerly take turns clamoring up the ladder to inspect and sweep out the nesting houses, being careful to first check for dead eggs, which, when found, are collected like trophies.  

In the nearby hills of Prevorst, Klaus supports an amphibian protection initiative, which has erected a system of fences and tunnels to keep the frogs, toads, and salamanders (newts?) from being killed by traffic when they make their way to the ponds to lay eggs.  Jan’s father is part of a team which checks the fences, makes sure the tunnels are free of leafage, and counts the survivors from year to year to determine the success of their methods and alter their strategy as needed.

My father in law is also a history buff, as the many boxes and armoires full of historical family documents and photos substantiate.  Having saved at least three, 300 year old houses in his home town from destruction, it is a given that he is also a member of a German-wide organization for conserving historical landmarks.   But I won’t say anything more about that, because the story of Klaus’ houses is my favorite story, and it will one day get a blog entry all of its own!

But Klaus’s charity is not limited to bugs and birds and buildings.  For almost 4 years, Jan’s father has been the local coordinator for an initiative to offer affordable, practical assistance to the elderly or infirm called Citizen for Citizen.  It is a program of volunteers who are listed with specific skills or services, and whom can be called upon when needed, for example, to drive someone to the doctor, fix a sink, or just come by with some chicken soup.  The recipients pay a small fee, but nothing close to the cost on the open market.  In the Fischer’s town of Beilstein and the neighboring town, Abstadt, my father in law coordinates 60 volunteers, who meet about 800-900 service-requests per year (although this number has declined more recently).

It is always a slippery business to second guess someone else’s motives, and I don’t want to be presumptuous here.  However, through the many years I have been a part of this family, I have come to witness my husband’s father as a deeply compassionate person.  He is someone who seems to feel pain himself, when others, even the smallest creatures, suffer due to loss, illness, erosion, decay, physical discomfort or pain.  It sometimes appears that his very insides churn and tangle with turmoil at the thought of someone else’s misery.  In fact, this is exactly the meaning of one of the Greek words in the New Testament used to describe Jesus’ response to human suffering.  

Splanchna means inward parts, entrails, bowels, and is metaphorical for the seat of emotion.  When someone “splanchnizomai,” literally their entrails are churning, their bowels are moving in response to someone else’s suffering.  And usually always this churning produces some course of action meant to relieve the observed suffering.  When I reflect on my father-in-law’s acts of compassion, I can’t help but think of Paul’s declaration that all of creation is groaning and awaiting salvation...from atrophy, entropy, disunity, erosion, decay, death, alienation, abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.  (19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Romans 8).  If this is the case, then it certainly couldn’t hurt if we all had more bowel-movement.

I am so thankful that my children have a grandfather who shows them by example how precious all life is, that we are connected with our environment as well as with each other, and that we each can do a small part to counter the forces of alienation, exploitation, decay and disconnection in the landscapes and communities around us.