Monday, June 5, 2017

marked.

Some of you know I just returned from ten days in Leipzig, Germany with a delegation of parish pastors in the Minneapolis Area Synod. Bishop Ann recruited this ragtag group of young clergy to help renew our partnership with the Lutheran Church in Leipzig. The potential for relationship and collaboration is great, especially as our countries face similar waves of conservative nationalism and refugee migration.

While I knew plenty of history about Germany related to the World Wars, I was less familiar with the GDR's communist regime and the church-ed Peaceful Revolution that crumbled a wall when I was in 5th grade. The pastors of Leipzig hosted us in their homes and congregations for part of this trip, which provided amble opportunity to learn their own stories. They were coming of age in the late 80s and early 90s, most of them 10 or 15 years older than me. Most of them grew up in Dresden and Leipzig, their families active members of congregations that participated in non-violent resistance of the regime. The simple act of attending church or holding membership at Nikolikirche in Leipzig gave the Stasi (the Ministry for State Security, which was trained and monitored by the KGB) good reason to monitor your family, your political actions, and your personal contacts.

Working to locate fellow citizens who went missing after protests or supporting the circulation of underground newsletters could affect your father's employment or your admission to university. The Stasi had countless informants, which made neighbors, coworkers, and family members suspicious of each other. One pastor shared that his brother and father had both been approached to spy on each other, but they shared this with each other instead of acting compliant.

When freedom and hope were drained by the state, the church remained a voice of truth. They did not have the luxury of steering clear of politics because politics were oppressing, starving, and dividing their communities. A psychological tool learned from the KGB roughly translates to "decomposition of life". The Stasi would create such despair, chaos, and paranoia in a person's life that basic functioning became difficult, let alone resistance.

Clockwise from top left: Small white squares among the cobblestones light up at night like those holding candles at peace prayers 30 years ago. A sign inviting people to church stood defiant of the regime. A pillar like the ones inside the sanctuary stands outside the church. It is a symbol of the ways the church met its community in the street during the Peaceful Revolution. A photo the Stasi took of Nikolaikirche as people gathered for the weekly Peace Prayer in 1989. The sanctuary's interior pillars.

So the church stood up. With candles and prayers, people began gathering at Nikolaikirche in 1982. Each Monday evening they defied the regime with their hope in Christ. Though attendance ranged from handfuls to hundreds of people over time, it was always dangerous to be seen and claimed by this ritual. And in the fall of 1989, several weeks known as the Peaceful Revolution unleashed that hope on the whole country.

Stories from these weeks are filled with the uncomfortable tension and pain of birthing something unknown and new. The fullness of their prayers were realized as people lived moment to moment, kissing their loved ones each morning in preparation for the worst and showing up in the streets to embody the best. A movement swept the people into one common voice that found assurance in peace thanks to seven years of prayers. They walked the streets believing with their bodies that something new was coming and that it could be born without violence.

The city of Leipzig is marked with generations of both trauma and rich history. They are doing their best to remember the whole story, the horrifying and the inspiring alike. We found stumbling stones that marked where Jewish citizens had been taken from their homes for death in the camps. We noticed symbols that route your walking musical tour of the city. We climbed a bell tower nearly 1,000 years old and learned that one of her bells was once melted down to make cannon balls. We listened to the Thomaskirche Boys' Choir, home to 850 years of choral music that includes Bach's legacy. We watched the cobblestones light up outside Nikolaikirche, reminding us to gather for the sake of peace, especially when it is dangerous to summon.

These conversations reminded me of the many political or cultural formations Germany has known over the course of centuries, including Gaul, Germania, Goth, and the German Empire. Germany's lens for the story is so much wider than my American view and still they remember.


The first photo is a picture of a church in Leipzig that dates back to 1231. It has a rich history in the Catholic and then Lutheran traditions and was the official church of Leipzig's University. It survived WW2 completely unscathed. Then in 1968 the communist regime of East German announced that they would blow it up with dynamite the very next day. Why? Because they could. It was an effort to silence the people's faith and destroy the building's legacy.

Fifty years later it has been rebuilt, in renewed relationship with Leipzig's University. The blue glass design is meant to look asymmetrical and crumbling, the rose off center as though falling. I am in love with this architecture, a vision of our messy motion and resilience during communal resurrection. They could have built something more perfect and powerful than last time, but instead they chose to remember with vulnerability that tells a longer story.

Fifty years. That's a long time to wait for resurrection. And yet there are 25 year old men and women who have spent their whole lives in Dadaab refugee camp who have been told they will wait decades more. Today there are only 200,000 Jewish citizens of Germany, a country with more than 81 million people.  There are Americans who have been waiting centuries for reparations of land, dignity, and speaking lines in the script for The Democratic Experiment.

The people of Leipzig refer to the Peaceful Revolution as "The Change". I remember watching the wall come down, people scrambling across to embrace anyone they could get their hands on. But until this trip, I could not begin to understand the fullness of death and resurrection experienced by those who marched, those who sat imprisoned, those whose lives had been decomposed by their own government.

Thirty years ago the Stasi turned over keys and files to the church leadership. Soon after, citizens could apply to view their personal file, which included all kinds of data about the Stasi's observation and meddling in your life. For some, this opportunity provided closure that was necessary to move on. For others, it divided their friendships and families when informants were revealed as classmates, neighbors, or even siblings. Some never applied for their file until their children were old enough to ask about it.

The Superintendent of the Leipzig Church said simply, "Germany has had two words for the world in these last thirty years. The people can effect change without violence and yes, we can receive refugees." They are marked by so many stories already, which continue to inform their word for this generation and the world they fought peacefully to reengage.

The church where Martin Luther was baptized in 1483. Reconstruction has devoted this space to the theology of baptism. The whole sanctuary is one level, symbolizing our equality in Christ. A font and pool are focal points at the front, the table and pulpit simplified. Christians from all over the world come here to remember and give thanks for their baptism.

Which leaves me to wonder: What is our world for the world? Are we, the Christian church of the United States of America, showing up with candles and prayers even when it feels futile or dangerous?  Can the earthly powers see our faith spilling from the sanctuary into the street? If we invite God's will for peace and justice, are we willing to be disrupted by that kind of transformation?

We, too, are marked with a story that is both horrifying and inspiring. Let's be brave and honest in remembering the whole story while we discern and speak our word for the world.

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