One of the most interesting parts of this trip has been to witness the role that religion has played in Europe. From the Begijnhof to the Cathedral, the reminders of hundreds of years of religious devotion are still blatantly evident. But unlike the Begijnhof, some of testaments tell a story of greed, wealth, and power rather than faith and love.
In Amsterdam and Brugge, we saw a section of the city set aside to care for those who needed protection from the outside world, widows and orphans. They were secluded safe havens to care for the neglected. This was perhaps the single most purely Christian example that we saw. In just about every city that we stopped in, towering steeples stood out as testaments to an age gone when the Church was revered. For the most part I loved these buildings. While they may often have been grander than was necessary, their size and ornateness could be read as a tribute to God. Over the course of the trip though, I began to wonder how much was really meant for God’s glory. In Heidelberg we visited a castle that was once the property of a protestant king. It was besieged and burned down by the invading catholic army. I had read about the prosecution of Protestants as an impetus in the founding of America, but I never read that to mean war. I must have learned about the wars at some point, but things get far more real when you stand in the ruins. In Wittenberg we toured the Luther’s house; a reminder of indulgences and the enormous wealth that the Catholic Church reaped over that. In Prague, we saw the 1100 kg pure silver casket of a sanctified priest. He had disagreed with the pope and after heeding the pope’s summons was weighed down with stones and thrown in the river. After hearing these stories, the gilded cathedrals felt far darker. I am not trying to assault Catholicism or the Vatican, it is just sad to reflect on a history. Christianity was supposed to bring light, but our legacy is intertwined with war, greed, murder, and cruelty. Even though the gold in the cathedrals may have been our fault, the stones still stand as proof of hundreds of generation’s walks with God. That is where I found their beauty.
It’s 1 a.m. I’m sitting in the lobby of our hotel, trying to fill a blog post about the gilding cathedrals instead of feeding the poor, but I really haven’t done my research. Instead I want to talk about how this trip has gone. I guess my laziness is coming out again. Even Wikipedia would probably have been enough, but this trip is such an incredible experience.
Today, I sat on a tank. Yesterday, I toured a collection of 700 year old bishop clothes, and polished the day off by again deciding that I am not a huge fan of beer in a German pub. The day before… I can’t even remember what we did the day before. Wait! I think we watched heavy machinery stamp out door panels at the Mercedes-Benz plant. Before that day, I saw the Berlin wall with a gaping hole in the middle; a testament that humanity can get its act together. I climbed tower after tower, from Delft to Brugge to Paris to Ulm (still can’t believe that thing exists. it’s actually insane). I have seen gas chambers and the a cemetery that stand as a reminder that humanity did not bow to the whim of that madman. I have toured castles and rivers and museums and churches and cities. I have seen some of the greatest works of art in the span of human history and the artifacts of peoples that I have read about since childhood. At every turn, I have been confronted with, well, life. Life that spans back thousands of years. It is hard to describe what I feel or exactly what I am thinking, but I guess it is an acceptance of time. Back home, life feels so fixated on the world ending now, or at least very soon. There is very little past, and even less planning for the distant future. I am getting tired now, but I really don’t want to sleep.
I love the time of night when everyone else has gone to bed. In this time, I feel free to think with the endless hours of comforting night spread out before me. I wish that I could master this moment. Freeze it and share it. The dull light of the closed hotel lobby; the mixture of antique and modern furniture scattered about the room. The impending sense of departure for normal life. But this is my struggle. I wish so desperately that time did not span before me and beyond me. I wish that these moments would return someday. I wish that I ‘could relive my childhood summers, my vacations with all the family, the time spent diving off one tree and under another in the Merced river, the fun times of high school, or those moments when all the world’s answers seem to spring forward from the murky mess of reality. But I can’t. Those moments are gone. Just like this moment will pass. By the time you read this, I will be back in G.R. Probably sound asleep.
That has been this trip. A string of incredible moments that drift away in the rushing current of time. It sounds sad, and I regret their loss, but these moments do not compose my life. I will never live out these moments again, but I hope to visit these places again. Maybe then I can glimpse these old moments just long enough to let them go and to let the new ones sink in.
First let me say that this trip has been amazing. The past 14 days have deserve far more space than I can give them in this blog post, so for the time being, I want to focus on one strong moment. It happened as we walked through the Anne Frank house. The house itself was a bit disappointing (an empty house encased in steel and glass), but as we walked through one of the rooms, I glanced at a section of wall protected by glass. Behind the glass, height markings of Anne and her sister were penciled in. In that moment I understood how real this all was. Back home we have a similar section of wall dedicated to witnessing the growing of our family. In that moment I saw Anne run up to that spot in excitement to see how tall she was getting. I saw how young she was, and how wrong it was that she was not just persecuted but hunted. I saw my little brother and my little sisters back home measuring up to my old markings, and I could not stand it. Had we lived there, only 80 years back… I need to move on. Real men cry but preferably not on a crowded bus.
I could go on about how if feel about the Holocaust, about listening to the survivor in my DCM, about the Ten Boom and Anne Frank houses, about the concentration camp that we just left, about seeing the gas chambers and the crematorium, about the insanity of this world, about pain and sorrow, about hope and redemption, about forgiveness, and about a thousand other things (believe me, I spent the last hour trying to form my thoughts). But until I get it worked out, God is good, today and everyday.