Address to European Moravian Synod

Address to Synod – May 24, 2016

Brothers and Sisters, it is an honor and blessing for me to be able to bring you greetings from the Brothers and Sisters in North America. I am here for a month to study and teach at the University of Heidelberg. I am teaching a seminar on the history of the Brüdergemeine, especially our mission to North America. This is my longest visit to Germany, and I am enjoying it greatly. I read about the old days when Americans would come to synods that lasted for weeks, and I think that in many ways that was good. It meant people got to know one another better. I have visited Herrnhut on several occasions, but this is my first time to be here in Bad Boll and to be able to be in one of your synods.

Some of my friends in this room keep me informed of life in the Brüdergemeine in Europe, and I know that you are struggling with similar issues that confront us in North America. We have conflict over theological issues and financial issues. Like you, we are facing difficulties with declining membership and several of our congregations are so small that they are unlikely to be able to have pastors in the future. We are struggling with conflicts over sexuality and marriage. But many Moravians in the U.S. are struggling with a growing sense that we as a church are dying. It seems as if society is changing and our ways of worship and preaching are no longer attractive to people. People still seek God in my country, but many of them no longer seek for God in churches. The scandals in the Catholic Church have undermined everyone’s confidence in pastors, even Protestant pastors. The fact that so many American politicians try to use Christianity to promote their agenda has convinced many people in my country that churches are simply places to voice conservative and hateful ideas. Eastern religions, new religions, and spirituality without religion attract many. But many more have simply lost faith. And then there are those who use religion to justify violence and terror, which convinces many that religion itself is violent and terrifying. Our church is small, but it cannot be protected from the changes that affect the nations in which we live. We are facing difficult times and must make hard decisions if we are going to continue to bear witness to Christ in a world that so desperately needs Christ.

At the theological seminary in Bethlehem, I teach the history of the Brüder-Unität. I know you have heard a lot of history through the years, and I do not want to bore you with stories of the glory days of the past. It is easy to say that we should be more like David Nitschmann or Leonard Dober and risk everything for the gospel. Or that we should give more sacrificially like Erdmuth Dorothea von Zinzendorf or Abraham Düringer. But today I want to draw our attention away from the heroic era of missions and building congregational settlements. I want us to look at the big picture of our church’s history.

The Brüder-Unität began with a small group of men and women in Prague who were convinced that the churches of their day had become corrupt and were no longer leading people to Christ. Gregory and his companions were like many young people today who are tired of materialism and commercialism and want to live meaningful lives. Some of the young people today join protest rallies or go out to serve in poor countries of the world. They seek to heal the earth and prevent war. They occupied Wall Street and protest at Davos. The founders of the Brüder-Unität or the Jednota Bratrska were like that. They sat in the big church in Prague and heard sermons about following Christ, but did not see people following the teachings of Christ. So they left and formed their own community. The law of Christ was to guide all of their actions. They refused to take part in the violence of the world. They started schools to teach women as well as men. They met in simple buildings instead of large churches. And they were persecuted. But the more the powerful attacked them, the larger they grew and the farther they spread. They published Bibles and other writings to lead people to the way of Christ, and their greatest bishop was also one of the greatest advocates for international peace, Jan Amos Comenius.

That early Brüder-Unität was finally destroyed by religious persecution. Thousands bravely chose to be exiles rather than submit to the authorities and give up the gospel. They knew that if you have a home in Christ, you make your dwelling anywhere in the world. Today many of the Brothers and Sisters I know in America are afraid that our church will die. I remind them that our church has died before. It was destroyed by the Habsburg Empire. The Empire destroyed the institutional forms of the church. Buildings were given to the Catholic Church. Bibles were burned. Pastors were arrested. But the faith of the church survived the onslaught of war. Today there are over a million members of the Brüder-Unität around the world, but the Habsburg Empire is gone. Faith endures even when governments and economic powers collapse. And now we have Brothers and Sisters in Cuba.

You all know the story of the rebirth of our church in Herrnhut, so I will not discuss that today. Let me just remind you that during the time of Zinzendorf our church was often threatened with extinction. He was forced into exile from his home, but he did not abandon his brothers and sisters. We were forced to abandon Herrnhaag and other communities because our ideas and practices were too radical for the rulers and the powerful. Missionaries were arrested in St. Thomas, America, Russia, and other places. Georg Schmidt was forced to leave South Africa, but today we have brothers and sisters in that land. People published terrible things about Zinzendorf, but it seemed that the more the world turned against our church, the more people wanted to be part of this community.

In the 18th century, like today, there were many people who felt that the churches of their day had lost the spirit of Christ. Religion had become a hobby and worship was something to do on Sunday morning when the shops were closed. People were pious perhaps, but their piety did not touch the deepest corners of their souls. Young people responded to Zinzendorf because they wanted something beautiful and meaningful and true. They wanted their lives to mean something and they hoped to make the world a better place. They were inspired by the vision of the Kingdom of God on Earth, and they were willing to risk much because they knew that they would be with Christ for eternity.

And then Zinzendorf died. The church was facing bankruptcy and scandal. People were frightened, and the leaders of the church decided it was best to jettison Zinzendorf’s radical vision. They hoped to save the church by turning away from the radical faith that had attracted thousands in many lands. They were so afraid of dying that they turned away from the world and its troubles. Our congregations had once been schools of the Holy Spirit where people learned how to be courageous witnesses to the way, the truth, and the life. They became safe havens where people could be protected from new ideas. This does not mean that nothing good was preserved in our quiet villages. People still prayed and sang and loved the Savior, but something was lost. Young people were told to avoid the new ideas of the philosophers and political movements. They should focus on the Brüdergemeine and leave the world behind. Even in our mission fields, European missionaries became paternalistic leaders trying to protect their flocks from the burdens of governing their own affairs. We still had courageous people, like Brother Jaeschke who went to Tibet, but our church had lost its courage and it placed its hope in conservative theology and tradition.

And it was almost destroyed again. This time it was not religious oppression, but the wars that nearly destroyed Europe in the 20th century. World War I, the ensuing depression and hyper-inflation, and especially World War II almost brought our church to an end in Europe. You know this better than I do. You know people that endured those hardships and who toiled to bring something good out of the ashes of destruction. You know how the forces of evil almost triumphed and for many years held sway over the hearts and minds of millions. Some of you here today endured the hostility of Communist governments toward religion, and you remained faithful.

In some ways, the 20th century was like another period of the Hidden Seed. Our church had to focus on survival. It had to find ways to continue to sing praises to our Savior and bring up our children in the faith, but the hardships of the past century left us crippled in many ways. We survived, but we gave up much that was vital. We survived, but our hope was diminished and our courage faltered. We no longer dreamed of the Kingdom of God on earth, but focused on preserving traditions and buildings. We no longer dreamed of bringing heavenly joy to those who are in despair and misery. Instead we enjoyed the memories of the past. My country did not suffer like your nations during the past century. Our history was a different, but we also turned away from the future. We also placed our hope and trust in endowments and buildings and institutions rather than the Spirit of God in the hearts of humankind. We also focused on small goals and petty conflicts.

Jesus said that those who would save their lives will lose their lives but those who give up their lives will live. We have been so focused on saving our church that we may be in danger of losing any reason for existing as a church. We know from our history that death is not the worst thing that can happen. Our church died and was resurrected as something even bolder and more radical than it was. In 1957 we held a Unity Synod in Pennsylvania and took the courageous move of creating a new constitution and structure that set provinces free to follow their own way so long as they remained true to the things that bind us together. And because of that radical change there are now more Moravian Brothers and Sisters in the world than have ever lived. It is not here in Europe or in North America that our church is growing, but in Africa. It is growing because they found a way to communicate the essential truth of the Gospel in terms that people in that culture could hear and respond to. We must do the same in the North. We must be open to the future, we must be open to the question: what is God calling us to be? How can we serve Christ today?

Now, here in the Northern hemisphere, I often encounter a sense that we have lost our courage and our hope. We retreat from the world and its challenges instead of rushing out to engage the world. Our young people leave our church because they find more meaningful ways to live elsewhere, and we are content to let them go. We know that humans are destroying God’s good creation, but we have little to say. We see refugees from war and poverty, and we feel helpless. We live in a society where many people no longer know God, a society where Christians are increasingly becoming a minority. The biggest mission area is right in front of our door steps, but we are unprepared. We have wonderful traditions, but we often don’t have words to speak the good news of God’s salvation to our neighbors. We, and I do include me in that we, value our history and remember the glory of the past instead of asking the simple question: “What does Christ wants us to do today?” Our ancestors did not risk their lives and their fortunes to preserve something; they risked everything because they had hope that they could change the world and make the future better than the past.

I believe that in our world today, what we need is hope. And in our churches: we need hope. We need to hold on the hope that is within us. Yes, we experience conflicts in our congregations. Yes, we are facing financial difficulties. Yes, we may be facing the decline or even death of our traditional church life. But these things should not rob us of our hope and courage. Our church has died before. Our church has faced worse challenges than these. We have thrived when we have been the most radical and courageous, when we have embraced the teachings of Jesus most passionately, when we have looked into the future with courage and hope because we know that we belong to Christ and that Christ has called us to love his world with the same passion that he loves the world.

My hope for this synod and the synods that will be meeting in North America this year is that we are willing to let things go that we no longer need and that we take up the mission that Christ is giving us today. May we be bold in our love and courageous in our ministry together. If we do that, if we take the risk of faith, I think we will have no problem raising money to support our mission. I think that our conflicts will melt away in the warmth of the love of Christ. I trust that we will be filled with hope strong enough to master the challenges that lie ahead.

Hope, my brothers and sisters, is what lifts our eyes away from our own fears and allows us to look at others with compassion and understanding. Hope is what allows us to labor in works of mercy because we know that our work is not in vain. Hope is what allows us to plant trees today that our grandchildren will one day enjoy. Hope will help us make the sacrifices we need to make today so that our church may serve God in the future. We can have hope because we know our Savior. We know he loves us and has called us to be his people and is calling us to carry on his mission in the world today. So let us be open to God’s future and let us be filled with the joyful hope that there’s always new life with Christ. He has conquered, let us follow him.




Today my co-teacher, Jennifer, is driving me to Herrnhaag near Frankfurt. We will be accompanied by her five-year old, Jacob, and I recent PhD from the American Studies program named Heiki. We had planned to stop by to see the ruins of the Ronneberg Castle where Zinzendorf lived briefly after his exile, but it is closed for the Pentecost holiday. There is, however, a medieval faire with jousting. Since the boys, Craig and Jacob, love jousting knights and faire food, we are stopping there for lunch. We should get to Herrnhaag this afternoon about 3 and the Moravian pastor has agreed to show us around. We had planned on going Saturday, but there was a major Moravian youth festival over the weekend and it would have been hard to wander the grounds freely. There is something exciting, though, about hundreds of Moravian youth gathering in Herrnhaag.

Herrnhaag has a special place in Moravian lore. It was the first major community built after Herrnhut and in many was was the model for other planned communities more so than Herrnhut. In the 1740s it was a glamorous place with beautiful buildings, artwork, and festivals. Moravian music was perfected at Herrnhaag and the neighboring castle of Marienborn. It was here that the Christmas candlelight tradition began, and it was here that the Moravians invited people like John Wesley to visit to see if they wanted to be part of this multi-cultural, joyful community dedicated to the Lamb once slain. Most of the great Moravian leaders spent some time in Herrnhaag.

But it was also here that the so-called Sifting Time took place in 1748. Paul Peucker has written a book that examines all that can be known about the events of that year, but much will never be known since the church destroyed many revelatory documents. We know that Christian Renatus von Zinzendorf was at the center of it, and it involved mainly single people. It appears to have been antinominian and probably sexual in nature. And it frightened Zinzendorf, Spangenberg, and a whole generation of Moravian officials. It continues to affect how people read Moravian history. Were the rumors true about Herrnhaag – and was such fanaticism a natural outcome of Zinzendorf’s theology? Was it a symptom of something inherently unhealthy in Zinzendorfianism? For two hundred years Moravian historians treated Herrnhaag as a morality tale to warn the church against the enthusiasm of Zinzendorf and some dismissed most of what happened in the 1740s as the Sifting Period. But the zeal and energy that built Herrnhaag was also behind most of the creativity and mission of the Zinzendorf era. Over a thousand people lived in Herrnhaag because there was something deeply attractive about Zinzendorfianism. Hundreds of people left Europe to bring the good news about the Lamb of God to people who were being abused by European colonialists. Moravians have let the Sifting Time in Herrnhaag overshadow the beautiful things that Herrnhaag represented.

But in 1749 the local count insisted that the Moravians in Herrnhaag either repudiate Zinzendorf or leave his realm. The Moravians voted to abandon Herrnhaag. The church relocated about 1000 people, some of them to Bethlehem. London became the new headquarters of the church. By 1752 the beautiful buildings built by the Moravians were empty. Herrnhaag, the jewel of Moraviandom was left desolate and slowl fell into ruin. A more radical Pietist group known as the True Inspired were invited to occupy the buildings and keep up the property. They formed a religious commune led by prophets. Eventually some of them built a colony in Iowa called Amana. So there is a connection between Herrnhaag and American refrigerators and microwave ovens!

Today I am making my second pilgrimage to Herrnhut. By first was back in 1998 when the restoration work was just beginning. I’m looking forward to seeing the progress that has been made and being able to imagine the glorious festivals that took place in the days of Christian Renatus. And to wonder what Christianity might have been like if Herrnhaag had not been left desolate. Is it possible to have a form of devotion to Christ that embraces art, mysticism, beauty, ritual, sexuality, joyfulness, and sacrificial service to the poor and downtrodden? Is it possible to worship the Lamb of God without mortifying the flesh and rejecting the beauty of creation?



On the way to Herrnhaag we stopped by the Ronneburg Castle, a medieval ruin that the Zinzendorf’s stayed in immediately after his exile in 1736. It just so happened that there was a medieval faire at the castle today. So we got to enjoy the jousting – very skillful events with lance, sword, and bow, and I had a cup of hot mead.And then went up into the castle tower. Fun day.



Holy Mountain and Philosophers Way



This afternoon I took a five mile hike from my apartment, across the old bridge over the Neckar River to the Philosophers Way. It was a steep climb of several dozens stairs up to the Philosophers Way, but it was worth it. It gives you a great view of the old city of Heidelberg from across the river, and there are a great variety of flowers, trees, and other plants. I chose to start at the lower end and finished by going down the narrow, twisting, steep Schlangeweg (snake path). From the Philosophers Way I took the footpath up the Heiligenberg (Holy Mountain). It’s about 1400 feet above see level, maybe 1200 from river. I’m not a serious hiker by any means, and it was strenuous for me to go so steep and so steady. I had water, nutella on bread, and chocolate, so all was good. The trees were enormous and most of the time I was the only person I saw, which was a relief from the crush of tourists in the old city.



I finally reached the top, and guess what I saw? A bus stop. Yes, I could have taken a bus – or car if I had one. But there was also a biergarten, which I knew would be helpful later. My goal was to reach the old Celtic, Roman, and Christian holy site on the very top of the mountain. On the way I passed an amphitheater built by Dr. Goebels to promote the Nazi neo-pagan ideology – a start reminder that spiritual places can be turned to evil purposes. Higher up the mountain, though was the location of the old Celtic settlement and shrine. Some of the old wall remains from the original 6th century BC hill fort. When the Romans conquered that part of Germany they built a temple to Mercury on the site. Mercury was associated with the German god Wodan. Some of the old Roman work remains. And then around 1000 the Christians began building St. Michael’s monastery. Only the ruin remains, and some of the stones were used to build a tower for 19th century tourists to see Heidelberg. Even in ruins, the monastery is beautiful. It was so peaceful to sit there and remember the people who brought their prayers to God (or at least their god) for over 2,500 years. So I prayed as well.



From there I walked back down to the biergarten to have refreshing Radler. I order goulash since I was famished by the hike, but I meant the soup. Instead I got the special of the day which was a huge pile of stewed beef and egg noodles with a salad. I could barely eat it all. Stuffed and relaxed, I ventured down to the site of the St Stephen’s cloister at the other end of the mountain top. It is smaller than St Michaels, but is very close to the old Celtic wall and has some very ancient graves. There is a tower built to see Heidelberg, but since the trees were cut away, I just sat on the bench looking down on the castle. It didn’t look like a ruin from that vantage point. I could also see my apartment building more than 2 miles away.



The walk down was much faster, but very steep. I could have taken the easier path, but decided shorter and steeper was better. I found the famous Schlangeweg of Snaky Path which twists up the mountain from the river. It has high walls and lots of irregular steps and cobble stones. Even going down it was a bit rough, but it was beautiful. And so many generations of writers and thinkers have trod upon those stones through the years. It lead me straight to the Old Bridge and back into the old city. I have to admit that the most exhausting part of the hike may have been the final two flights of stairs to my room. I was tired in a very good way and renewed in body and soul. A bunch of water, a shower, and a sparkling wine did much to revive me. Since lunch was late and large, I think dinner will be ice cream tonight. I’m not sure that people who teach pilgrimage recommend ice cream at the end of a steep climb to an ancient holy site, but it sure works for me.




Sunday in May

Last Sunday was one of the best days of my trip to Germany. First I attended worship at the Peters Kirche, the oldest church in Heidelberg. It is now the University Church and professors from the theology faculty teach there. One of my students was in attendance. I sat with Jennifer, my co-teacher who had provided an English translation of the sermon and parts of the service. There was an international group of theology students in attendance. The service was a familiar Lutheran service, but most of the hymns were new to me. The texts were beautiful. One by Paul Gerhardt. We all stood in a circle in the choir behind the altar to receive the body and blood. On the wall were memorials for some of the most prominent people who had studied and worshiped in Heidelberg. I felt the communion of the saints.

Then Professor Stievemann took me to his home for lunch with his family. He lives in a village called Dilsberg on one of the mountains overlooking the Neckar River. I am a little envious of his house in the woods. His study was formerly a workshop for a potter and is a perfect place for a scholar to work. His wife and two children were simply charming. His son is reading Harry Potter, and I used the little German I have to talk to him about that. They have a big black dog named Tom who reminds me of Sirius Black. The food was very good. I realized how much I’ve been missing home life when I was allowed to share some of their domestic happiness. Jennifer joined us with Jacob who was younger than Theodor, but before long they and other boys were romping through the gardens and woods. It brought me back to my childhood when the boys of the neighborhood roamed freely in and out of each other’s houses.

Then Professor Stievemann took us on a tour of the village itself, which is a walled medieval town on top of a hill. It was remarkably hot, and Mrs. Stievemann made sure that I had a hat. She does almost the same work for the university that my wife does. The village is lovely and has many layers of history. During the Thirty Years War, General Tilly captured Heidelberg, but he could not capture Dilsberg. The ruins of the old citadel with its battlement are still there, and we climbed to the top of the wall. It provides a commanding view of the river and the valley. Then we followed a tunnel through the side of the mountain into the deep well. It was fascinating to look up to the light shining above and down to the water below. Mark Twain visited this very spot during his travels in Europe, but he was not very kind to the Dilsbergers. I’m now wondering if it was Twain who inspired my boyhood fascination with Heidelberg.

We returned about 5 p.m. tired from the walking, the sun, and the energy of several boys. I was very contented and Skyped the people I love back in Pennsylvania. Sunday was a good day.

Monday was less so, but there is not much to report. I found a laundry, but they will take 3 days to clean my clothes, so I have almost nothing to wear. I decided to explore outside the old city a bit. I knew someone years ago who had lived in Eppelheim, so I took the tram there. Wasted trip, but I guess it was good to see what the suburbs look like. And I read and worked on plans for later in the month. Today rain is predicted, so my planned hike will be postponed. Today I will work on Zinzendorf!

On the train

On the train to Heidelberg – May 2, 2016

I’m on the train traveling through the French countryside past fields covered in yellow blossoms with tiny villages, some ancient some modern, and windmills that would have daunted Don Quixote even at his boldest. I love traveling by train, and this time I splurged on a first class ticket. Someone brought me a sandwich and a beer, and I’m listening to Steely Dan through my ear buds. Earlier I was listening to vintage jazz from the 1920s. All about a woman’s love and heartache and longing, and the sweet melancholy that comes from being away from the one who has half of your heart. It’s perfect music for the train with its slow rhythmic swaying. If you are traveling alone.

I just spent a wonderful week in Paris with my wife visiting museums and cathedrals and eating two delicious meals a day accompanied by good French wines. Now I’m heading to Germany for a month at the University of Heidelberg. Alone. Alone like I’ve never been alone before. I’ve been alone for a week, maybe two, but never for a month. And in a foreign country no less.

I love traveling by train. Airplanes are too cramped and crowded. Buses, too. I love traveling along the ground seeing the world go by.Part of what I like about trains is that you can see the transition from one place to another. With planes you make your way through the surreal culture of the airport, shuffle down the jetway and aisle to your seat, and voila eight hours later you are in a new land. It is magical and beautiful in its own way, but the train lets you slowly adjust. You see yourself leave the metropolis of Paris and all of those sites and memories behind as you say goodbye to a part of your life, and then you watch the green hills and blue skies as your mind turns toward the future. Looking toward your new life, even if it is only a May adventure. The anxiety of travel, of getting to the Gare l’Est, finding the train, and finding your seat slowly melt away like the foam of your beer. Where there was anxiety and regret for past mistakes, there is now peace. For a few hours there is nothing to worry about.

Later, you will worry about where to meet the person who is meeting you at the Bahnhof and whether the apartment has the things you need and how much money you just spent on a once in a lifetime spree with your wife of a quarter of a century and how the children are doing at home and whether the German students will like your lectures and whether you will work on your book and what to eat and what to drink. But for another two hours you can live as Jesus instructed. Give no thought to those things. Let today’s trouble be enough for today. And for the moment, today has no trouble. Only a good book written by a close friend. Good music. And the piney grove that just passed by the window.

Paris – Day 7 – Orsay

Day 7 – Saturday

Really? It’s Saturday. We’ve been in Paris for a whole week, and we are starting feel at home. At least as home as you can feel in a tiny hotel room with only one chair and a shower you cannot turn around in – and your ability to speak French is exceeded only slightly by your ability to name all of the stars in the sky. In other words, we’ve gotten comfortable with the Metro and the RER trains, and can find all of the major tourist spots, and have eaten French food every meal save one. Today the weather was again cold and rainy. The brief bit of sun we’ve had the past couple of days decided to leave us while we were at Versailles. So it was a good day to spend at the Museé d’Orsay. It is in an old railway station, which does not begin to describe what a beautiful building it is. It was one of those stations that were cathedrals to the modern engines of transportation and commerce. I liked the building almost (but not quite) as much as the art. I am particularly fond of the clocks, especially the large exterior clock that you can stand behind. There is just something fascinating about the effort to mark the minutes and hours of the day, knowing that nothing can stop the progress of time.

Orsay Interior

The art is wonderful. It is the largest collection of Impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world. People whose works I’ve admired for years, like Monet and Manet, and some I hardly knew like Sisley. I wish I could remember all the things I see in these museums. It is so wonderful just to wander through or better still to wonder through them. There was a special exhibition of Rousseau, and it was fascinating to watch his progression as an artist. I liked most of the pieces, even the earlier “amateur” ones, but the late “jungle” pieces are astonishing in person. Of course, we had to visit the Van Gogh room. There aren’t that many pieces, but they are beautiful. The self-portrait is so much more beautiful in person. I don’t know why he moves me more than any other painter. It is in part the paintings and in part the fact that he never lived to know that he was great. To do so much, so beautifully without having anyone other than Theo affirm him and support him is so profound. Many years ago I saw Don Mclean on some talk show, probably Dinah Shore, singing Starry Night with images of Van Gogh’s artwork. “And on that starry starry night you took your life, as lovers often do, but I could have told you Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.” But it was. It is we who destroy the beauty and those who long for it. This week I have looked at face after face of people who sat for artists, hoping that the artist would give them a bit of immortality in exchange for a fee, and yet we remember the artists and not the patrons. We remember the creators of what is beautiful. And perhaps that is as it should be. That we remember the Creator of all that is beautiful as we marvel at what has been created.

2016-04-30 16.28.55

After the Orsay, Julie and I parted ways. She went to do some shopping for people we care about back home, and I took the Metro up to St Denis to see the Basilica. It is built on the site that legend says was the burial place of the first bishop of Paris, St Denis or Dionysius, whom legend confuses with other Christians named Denis or Dionysius. The Merovingian kings built the first Benedictine monastery and abbey church on the hill where he was buried. I saw a foundation stone of one of the pillars that was laid when Charlemagne was a young warrior and not yet King of the Franks. It was at St Denis that the Carolingians were crowned and where most of the kings of France were buried through the centuries. St. Louis had effigies carved of all of his predecessors, and his successors had their own carved. The kings are no longer there. The Revolutionaries opened the crypt and threw their bones into a common grave, hoping to end the monarchy forever. But the church survived. I went to see it because of Abbott Suger. He was Abbott in the days of Peter Abelard and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and he was deeply interested in the theology of Dionysius, a sixth century mystic who was mistakenly identified with the Christian martyr whose bones lie under the abbey. Dionysius wrote movingly about Light as the first creation and the best image of God in the world. Light helps us see the truth and it gives life, but we can never see the light itself. So it is with God. Suger hoped to build a church that was based on light instead of stone and earth. So he, with the help of some brilliant 12th century engineers and architects, invented a way to create tall thin walls supported by a forest of pillars and exterior buttresses. This allowed him to have walls that were almost entirely windows, which he then filled with stained glass. He said that the cobalt blue windows cost more than the stone of the basilica. It was Suger who in essence created the Gothic style of church architecture that became the defining style of public buildings for the next five hundred years. I can almost forgive him for evicting Heloise and her nuns from their convent. Almost. I think my Christian Tradition students are going to be seeing a lot of pictures of St Denis!

When I got back to the room, Julie had bought wine, pâté, cheese, and baguette for our supper from the local market. It cost less than our usual breakfast croissants, and was very good. Tomorrow is our last day in Paris, and it is a holiday (May 1). We are hopeful that the weather will be dry and warm. We are planning to end on the boat-bus to see all the usual tourist sites: Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, etc.

Paris – Day 6 – Versailles

Day 6 – Friday

Today we went to Versailles. We were afraid that the rail strike might affect our trip, but everything went smoothly. Versailles is one of those places you read about and you pictures of, but the reality is still overwhelming. It will never be my favorite place because my tastes tend toward the natural and simple, but it is magnificent. You walk up a wide boulevard toward a gold-leaf gate. Behind it is one of the largest palaces in the world. It had been an impressive hunting lodge for the Bourbon kings, but Louis XIV spent a vast amount of the state’s treasurer turning it into the most beautiful palace in Europe. He viewed himself as Apollo re-incarnated and called himself the Sun King, and the decorations of the palace draw heavily on Greek and Roman mythology. Each room is a different vibrant color and the curtains match the wallpaper. There is so much beautiful marble of different colors that one wonders if any were left in Italy when the architect finished. The Hall of Mirrors is as magnificent as you’ve heard. It was here that the King of Prussia was declared Kaiser Wilhelm I of the German Reich after defeating the French in 1871. It was also here that the Germans signed the papers that acknowledged their defeat in World War I. We also visited the smaller palaces, one of which was built for Marie Antoinette. The Grand Triaton was worth seeing, and was a much more pleasant building than the daunting Chateau. And the gardens were lovely. We were simply too exhausted to walk down to the faux village that Marie Antoinette built so she could play dairy maid with her friends.



I honestly do not know what I think of Versailles. Parts of it are stunningly beautiful, especially the Hall of Mirrors, but some of it is almost garish. Looking at all the gold on the gates makes you understand why the Revolution happened, but it is a shame the mobs pillaged the palace and destroyed so many beautiful things. The grounds are lovely, but I much prefer the English style of gardening to the French stylistic approach. Marie Antoinette’s little personal palace was a bit disappointing, but the mobs left almost nothing there but the marble walls. We stopped at a confectionary shop and the nice woman behind the counter gave me a free macaroon to taste. I tasted and gave it to Julie who appreciates such things more than I do. And we bought a variety pack of chocolates. The chocolate eggs were beautifully decorated like bird eggs and very yummy. Versailles left us exhausted, and we had a long rest before venturing out for dinner at the Tunisian Restaurant next door. The owner was extremely friendly and the food was excellent. It was a first time thing for both of us. I was so stuffed with couscous and stewed vegies that I could barely move, but the very hot, very sweet, mint tea was the perfect digestive!

Paris – Day 5 Pere Lachaise, Catacombs

Day 5 – Thursday

Today was our Day of the Dead. We slept late and then took the Metro to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery to visit the graves of some of our favorite people and celebrities. The cemetery is an enormous walled city of tombs. There are so many different styles, from simple flat stones covering the whole grave to enormous edifices. Nearly every available space is covered in some kind of stone marker or mausoleum. It was the first day we had any sunshine, and the birds were singing, which was a welcome relief after all of the sirens on the Rue St Jacques where we are staying. I imagine that the cemetery is creepy at night with all of the different sized tombs casting shadows, but today it was beautiful. There are many newer burials. Most of the time the remains are removed after 20 years to make way for new burials. Many of the tombs were family tombs. We bought a map, which was wise, and Julie led us straight to the tomb of Heloise and Abelard. This is what I came to see. They were two of the best theologians in the history of Christianity, although only Abelard was recognized as such. I studied him in graduate school, and I always include him in my lectures in the Christian Tradition class. Such a tragic and beautiful life. The best part of his life was Heloise who loved him with intense passion even after he was emasculated by her uncle and guardian. At one point Heloise and her nuns were evicted from their cloister and Abelard gave his home to them. He ended his wandering at the Cluny Monastery where Peter the Venerable, perhaps the most humane man of the Middle Ages, gave him shelter and let him teach the young monks. When Abelard died, Peter the Venerable sent his body to Heloise. When she died, the nuns broke tradition and buried her with him. They’ve been moved a couple of times and now lie under a beautiful faux gothic chapel. After that we found the grave of my favorite 19th century illustrator, Gustave Dore, and went on a quest to find my daughter’s favorite artist Modigliani. Of course we stopped by Jim Morrison (of the Doors), Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Bizet, and Serat. I was surprised by the monuments to victims of the holocaust that were not mentioned in the guidebook or marked on the map. Very moving. I was also surprised by how beautiful the crematorium in the center of the cemetery is.



We had a nice Panini near the cemetery and then took the Metro to the catacombs of Paris. There has been a rail strike in Paris this week, and it just happened that the square near the catacombs was the scene of a major labor rally. At first we thought it was some kind of street fair since there were several carts serving street food (smelled great) and beverages. There was music everywhere and a festival vibe, but there were clearly angry political speeches and people with protest signs. We figured out it was connected to the strike. The good news for us is that the line was very short at the catacombs. We had tried to go on Tuesday and it was a nightmare, but today was only a ten minute wait. The catacombs are not all like those in Italy. Those catacombs were dug in the limestone for the expressed purpose of burial, and the newer graves are in the lowest sections. The catacombs of Paris were actually tunnels dug by the government in the 19th century to manage the foundations of the growing city of Paris after some buildings had collapses. There are miles and miles of carefully crafted tunnels throughout the city. But what makes them famous is that the government decided that the city’s cemeteries had become a health hazard. About 150 cemeteries and charnel houses were emptied and the bones carefully placed in the catacombs. Ancient, brown femurs stacked like cord wood with a row of skulls, and then other bones. At times both sides of the tunnel are nothing but human remains and various inscriptions from the Bible and other ancient literature reminding us to remember our own mortality. Macabre, yes, but also deeply moving as you look on the last remains of thousands of Parisians and remember that they once lived, labored, and loved just as we do. Each bone was carefully placed in these catacombs by people born generations after the owner had died, and we today walk along the paths of the dead. The stairs leading up into the land of the living were steep, narrow, and circular, which also was a reminder of how hard it is to make it through this thing called life. It was with joy that we felt the cool breeze on our faces, happy to be alive.

We took the train to the Luxembourg Gardens where Cosette and Marius fell in love in Les Miserables (when he thought her named was Ursula) and refreshed ourselves with an ice cream rosette of seven flavors. Then into the Pantheon, which was to have been the church of St Genevieve. It is a beautiful building in its own right, with a fabulous dome under which Foucault’s famous pendulum swings to prove that the world rotates. We visited the crypt where rest the bones of some other heroes – especially Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and Madame Curie. After honoring the dead and remembering the great things they did for the human race, we wandered past the Sorbonne and enjoyed fondue. That’s just cheese and bread, my friend.

Paris – Day Four

Day 4 – Wednesday – The Louvre

Craig.Assyrian.winged horse.Louvre

Today was the Louvre. This was the only thing we pre-planned and bought tickets for, and so it was the only thing we had to make sure we set an alarm for. We had a hearty breakfast, navigated the metro, and got to the Louvre pyramid early. It was not very crowded, and we did not have to wait in line at all. Like everyone, we headed straight to the Winged Victory and Mona Lisa (La Jaconda). I really expected I would be disappointed by them, but I wasn’t. The crowds were too big to fully appreciate them, but they are lovely works of art. I’ve seen so many bad, comical, and ironic versions of Mona Lisa that it was refreshing to see the original by Leonardo. People say it is small, which is true compared to the massive paintings all around, but it is appropriate for a portrait. She really is beautiful, and I can see why people have loved her for centuries. The Louvre is a wonderful museum, and we spent much of our time in the Italian Renaissance. After we had sensory overload from beautiful (and some lesser) paintings, we made our way to the antiquities section. Somehow in my life I always wind up in Egypt and Babylon. It was fun seeing things from the palaces of Sargon II and Darius I, whom I read about in seminary. A highlight was the unrolled scroll of the Book of the Dead, but all in all, I think I enjoyed the Cluny Museum most. Nothing equals the unicorn tapestries and the Limoges enamels (blue). We were completely exhausted after several hours in the Louvre navigate all of the stairs, and so after a rest we went out for a fabulous dinner at a bistro near the hotel. We started with escargot. Yes, I can check that off the list. I like mollusks. Julie had duck and I had beef with the best au poivre.

Paris – Day 3

Day 3 – Tuesday

Every long trip has one bad day. That’s why you go for week instead of two days. We meant to get up early to go to the catacombs, but did not think to get advanced tickets. And we severely overslept and my back was killing me. I tried my yoga stretches, which got me functioning, but still I was not the happiest man in Paris. A little breakfast at a local restaurant and then a long subway ride to the station near the catacombs. And then a long walk trying to find the end of the queue. In the cold. With a backache. After 45 minutes we had not even moved halfway up the queue, and so it was time to bail. Back on the subway to the hotel. How do we rescue the day? Time to go inside one of the greatest buildings in the world. Notre Dame Cathedral is so iconic that it is easy to forget how amazing it is. I still think the York Minster is just plain out more beautiful and spectacular, but I’ve never been in a more stately and magnificent house of worship. It was one of the first truly gothic cathedrals, and you can almost feel the weight of the stones soaring over your head. The windows live up to their reputation, especially the rose windows. It was disappointing that you cannot go into the upper level like you can at St Paul’s and other churches, but the main level is beautiful. An unexpected treat was finding a monument to Cardinal Noailles, the primate of France who was Zinzendorf’s friend. Yes, I can relate everything in the world to the Moravians! Unfortunately when we left Notre Dame we went to visit a very disappointing archeological dig, and there at the entrance, a young female pickpocket made off with some of our cash. Despite our diligence. Thankfully it was only cash, and not that much.

We thought we would wander around the Cite for a bit and maybe have a coffee, but suddenly the weather changed as if it to match our mood. Driving rain and sleet. Yes, sleet in April in Paris. With a crowd of tourists we dashed into a café, and thankfully there was a table available. Not coffee, this time. When the storm passed, we found Sainte Chappelle, and what had been a bad day became an extraordinary day. It was the chapel built by King Louis IX in the 13th century as a free-standing small gothic church in the middle of the palace. It is literally surrounded by the Palace of Justice today. The main floor is surrounded by the most beautiful stained glass I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of biblical scenes depicted in blue, green, and red glass. It reaches so high you cannot begin to guess what the figures are. The sun came out while were there and it was like standing in the middle of a gemstone. The rose window in the back depicts the apocalypse of John, but it is the least violent apocalypse I’ve seen. And the vaulted blue roof with fleur de lies is stunning. I know that this was built by kings who exploited the people, but they certainly had style. I’m so happy that friends strongly recommended visiting this site.



After a much needed rest, we walked up to the Pantheon, which had just closed, and had a lovely meal at the Comptoir du Pantheon. It was so nice to be in a place frequented by students and scholars. Three people had their Macs open and were drinking coffee. I felt right at home. Our waiter was the friendliest person I’ve met in France, who was very understanding of two Americans. We decided to splurge after our rough day and shared a bottle of an excellent eco-friendly Rhone wine followed by the best braised pork chops with mushrooms I’ve ever eaten. Julie had a very tender leg of lamb, and I do believe that some duck liver was consumed as well. We walked around the Latin Quarter a bit, and visited a church named St Etienne du Mont. More famous was St Genevieve who had an abbey there. She helped convert Clovis the first king of the Franks, and he built her abbey. Her body lay there as a sacred relic until the Revolution when her remains were burned and through into the river. The Pantheon was originally built in her honor, but the revolutionaries took it over and made it a monument to intellectuals.

While wandering around the Latin Quarter, I was overwhelmed by the thought of all of the great thinkers who had studied or taught at the University of Paris. Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, John Calvin, and the list goes on. Is there any city like Paris? Rome is older and was the great city of antiquity. I love Rome. Florence is the great Renaissance city. Venice is beautiful. London is both ancient and modern and was briefly the center of the entire world. But Paris is unique, at least in the West. It is the city of scholars and artists, architects and artisans, dreamers and doers. It is a beautiful city that set the standards for Western culture for hundreds of years. What other city has seen the birth of universities and the revolutions that defined modern politics? The city of Robespierre and Madame Curie. There has been no century since the early Middle Ages when Paris was not important. Is it any wonder that so many American writers and artists were drawn to this Mecca of culture? I’m so glad we came.


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