Friedensau

 

[Thursday 1 August] Friedensau University is in the midst of nowhere, in a forest, just over 30 kilometers from Magdeburg. Until some twenty years ago this region was part of the DDR (East-Germany). Some rusty watchtowers and other remnants of the terrible separation between East and West are, as you travel on the highway towards Berlin, a vivid reminder of this period.

Friedensau University was founded by the German Adventists in 1899. Ever since, Friedensau has served as a theological school. In the DDR-era the school received university status, which remained in force also after ‘die Wende’ (the turning point). Since the German unification Friedensau is the theological center for the entire German Adventist church. I visited Friedensau a number of times in the past and had the consistent impression that it is the church institution in Europe that is more ‘academic’ in character than any other.

It is a pleasure to return to the beautiful campus of Friedensau. For the first time I saw the magnificent, new library building, as well as another recent addition: a small café. Since Tuesday I am, together with my wife, a guest for a summer activity, for which a few hundred church members from all over Germany have gathered. They have come for a few very full days of lectures and a spread of 4-5 hour workshops. I am presenting a workshop on the theme of ‘Adventists and Other Christians.’ And I am invited to be the speaker during the festive service on Sabbath, the high point of this event.

The over-all theme of this ‘Friedensauer Sommerakademie’ is: Adventist Sein in 21. Jahrhundert. (Being an Adventist in the 21st Century). Some other congresses and meetings which I have attended in Germany in the past few years have given my the feeling that many Adventists in Germany find it rather challenging to speak about their faith, and to live their faith, in their rapidly changing society. And many are not sure what to think about some trends in the worldwide Adventist Church. These past few days I sensed further confirmation of this.

In his opening speech on Tuesday evening the president of the Adventist Church in Northern Germany (Johannes Naether) told the audience about some of the challenges the German church is facing. He underlined the necessity of a re-evaluation of the term ‘freedom’. The German church wants to be loyal to the world church, yet, he argued, the church in a given region of the world must have a definite freedom to put its own accents. And the church members must have freedom to develop and express their own thinking. I can only agree most strongly.

There is, in visiting such a meeting as this, often the unexpected bonus to meet special people. One of the participants in my workshop is Manfred Böttcher. He does not look his 87 years. I had not heard about him for a long time. For over 14 years Böttcher was the leader of the Adventist church in Germany in the DDR-time. His was the difficult task to steer the church through those difficult years. I was delighted to meet him and to hear him tell of his experiences. Yesterday he gave me a copy of the book he wrote about the relationships between Adventists and other Christians during the Communist period.

Today my wife and I spent a few hours in Magdeburg, the historic city where Martin Luther in 1487 spent some time at the school of the ‘Brethern of the Common Life’ and where later, in 1524, he would preach and kick off the reformation movement in this area. From my elementary school time I remember how Magdeburg was mentioned as the place of the famous Magdeburger Halbkugeln experiment to demonstrate atmospheric pressure. But today we were mostly interested in the magnificent Dom church and in the adjacent Green Citadel—the complex of small shops, restaurants and apartments, that was to be the last project of the famous Austrian/New Zealand architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (2005). With its capricious lines and its range of colors it is truly spectacular and worth a special trip.

However, this stay at Friedensau will also enter my memory as the time and place where, on August 3, my wife celebrated her seventieth birthday!

 

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Heat wave

 

This past week the Netherlands experienced a heat wave. We were informed Ad nauseam by the media that there is no official heat wave unless there are, in the center of the Netherlands, five uninterrupted days of at least 25 C degrees, with at least three days with temperatures exceeding 30 C. Well, it happened. The way in which it was reported, however, gave the impression that it was due to major efforts of the Dutch population that this important feat was finally realized. I must admit that I am quite fed up with the constant overload of weather info on Dutch TV and radio. It already starts when I watch my first news program of the day at 6.45 am. The weather-man or –woman appears for a few seconds to announce that in in due time it will be revealed what weather we may expect! So, stay tuned . . .

Well, whatever. I have not been bothered too much by this heat wave and have not spent the week at the Costa Zeewolde) the beach along the strip of water separating the polder from the main land), complaining and puffing, and constantly wiping the sweat off my forehead. I spent much of my time with my laptop, on the balcony of our apartment. The good thing about my beloved MacBook Air laptop is that the screen is sufficiently sharp to allow me to work even when the sun shines abundantly. I have made good progress with the Dutch translation of a new book by Jean Claude Verrecchia about the biblical sanctuary. Jean-Claude is a Frenchman. Being a professor at Newbold College in the UK, he speaks English fluently, if not without a heavy accent. But most of his writing is in French. And thus I have to enlist up my proficiency in the French languages, which improved significantly during my recent assignment in Belgium.

It is a pleasure to be involved with this project. At times I have been translating something, all the time wishing that the author would have been more concise and longing for the moment the work is finished. But in this case each page makes me curious about the next, and it is exciting to meet new ideas all the time. The Dutch Adventist Church wants to publish this book no later than in September/October. In the fourth quarter of this year the weekly Bible studies will be devoted to the theme of the sanctuary. There is much to be said for providing the members with something that will not merely repeat what has already been said a hundred times.

But in between the intensive translation work, this week brought a few exciting moments that kept me out of the heat. On Sunday my wife and I visited an exposition in a building of the University of Amsterdam, dedicated to the history of slavery, and, in particular, its abolition. The temperature in the exposition rooms was pleasantly cool and there were only few visitors. The exposition proved to be extremely instructive and impressive. It was a pleasure to see how my friend Kenneth Boumann from Gent (Belgium) has made a significant contribution to this exposition. He has made many of his books and artifacts available. Kenneth is a passionate and erudite bibliophile/collector who has concentrated on certain aspect of the history of the Caribbean, in particular Surinam. It has been a joy to get to know him through his wife who, for many years, played an important role in the Belgian Adventist Church.

On Tuesday morning my wife drove me to Almere, where I got on the train for Brussels, via Schiphol. Since the debacle of the high speed Fyra train between the Netherlands and Belgium to travel to Brussels getting to Brussels has not become easier. But after a very pleasant train journey I found myself just after 10 am with a good cup of coffee on the terrace of my regular café on the Place du Sablon. This day I was to make good on a promise to a recently retired Belgian colleague to make our rounds along a number of good second-hand bookstores in Brussels. It proved to be a most pleasant day that also gave us the opportunity to compare notes during our excellent lunch on a shadow-rich terrace.

It may have been rather warm this past week, but the week gave me very little to complain about.

 

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Sakae Kubo

 

I am a moderate user of the social media. Until now I have no Twitter account. I am familiar with LinkedIn; my current network stands at just under 500 connections. In addition, I have a Facebook account, but I am not a very active user. Regularly I find in my mailbox announcements that my ‘friends’ have done or have written something, and from time to time I take a bit of time to read some of this.

Earlier this week I saw a few lines written by Sakae Kubo, who is a lot more active on Facebook than I am. From time to time he shares some deep insights, which are well worth noting somewhere. Sometimes he cites others with statements worth pondering.

Recently I saw this quotation about ‘eternity’ on Kubo’s Facebook page. It originated with a certain Henrik Van Loon (a Dutch-American historian and journalist who was born in 1882 in Rotterdam):

“High up in the North in the land called Svithjod, there stands a rock. It is a hundred miles high and a hundred miles wide. Once every thousand years a little bird comes to this rock to sharpen its beak. When the rock has worn away, then a single day of eternity will have gone by.”

I must admit that reading such a statement tends to make me rather jealous. I will never be able to find such marvelous words.

One of Kubo’s most recent notes informed his readers that one of his colleagues had come to collect a quantity of books. Kubo lives in Southern California and has donated a portion of his library to La Sierra University (also in Southern California).  I quote:

Doug Clark with his wife came by from La Sierra University and HMS Richards Divinity School to pick up my books which I had donated to them. I hope the books serve a useful purpose. I had already given a small portion of my library to Newbold College and our school in Thailand. It’s a strange feeling to see my shelves empty, somewhat like being naked. It’s part of my downsizing project. Now I’m working on my files. It’s hard to dump things you’ve collected your whole life but that’s what one has to do.”

Kubo was one of my favorite professors when, in 1965-66, I studied for my Masters at the theological seminary of Andrews University. Since then I have only seen him a few times. He came to see me once or twice during the short time I worked in Friesland as a pastor. At that time he was in charge of the theology section of the university library at Andrews and had come to Franeker to buy books from a well known theological antiquariate.

Kubo is now 86 years old. He is, as far as I can tell from his Facebook presence and from the articles that I see from time to time from his hand, still reasonably active. When I asked him about three years ago to contribute an article for the Festschrif for Jan Paulsen, he immediately responded positively and submitted a very worthwhile chapter.

I have always enjoyed reading his books. Some would say that he is a liberal theologian. I would rather call him ‘progressive-constructive’. Through the years he has certainly experienced that it does not always help one’s career if one is not afraid to say what one thinks. When he was my teacher, he opened my eyes for a way of reading the Bible that differed significantly from what I had been taught before. Through him I discovered that each book of the Bible has its own history, its own Sitz im Leben, and often its own theology. And he helped me (and doubtless many others) to realize that not every question needs an immediate answer.

And so, it appears that Kubo is currently giving away his books and clearing his archives. Realistic as he is, he knows that he does not have all that many years left. And it is good to ensure that things are in order.

I am afraid, I am still buying books rather than getting rid of them. But then, I am not yet 86. Nonetheless, once again Sakae Kubo has given me food for thought.

 

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Wolf and Lamb

 

A few weeks ago the newspapers reported about a 63-year-old woman who had received an implant in her retina and, as a result, had regained her sight. A chip had been attached to her retina and she had received glasses with an in-built camera. The treatment costed about 100,000 euros. It was not covered by the insurance, and therefore is not available for everyone with the same eye condition. But I can imagine that one would be willing to go heavily in debt if it would mean regaining one’s sight.

Last weekend I was at a family party. A relative told me that a cousin of ours had recently undergone surgery, that brought back much of his hearing capacity. There is a considerable amount of deafness on my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother was deaf and we had a hard time communicating with her. She spoke with a raspy voice (that she could not hear herself), but was very good in lip reading. Some of her sisters were deaf and so was one of her daughters. This woman (a now deceased aunt of mine) had a son who could hear, until after his adolescence he gradually became deaf. And now, after a period of some decades, he can suddenly hear again! According to what I was told, he hardly believes his ears, as he gets accustomed to all kinds of sounds that were hitherto unknown to him.

Yes, there is already a lot of tinkering with our bodies and who knows what will become possible in the future? Especially for those over 70—a category to which I now belong—this is good news. The aging of the population may bring a lot of extra costs for society, but I think it would be sadder if we were obliged to die at a somewhat younger age, just to keep the national treasury in balance.

A Danish study, which was recently published in the leading medical journal The Lancet, has shown that the ninety-year-olds of today are physically considerably fitter and mentally more alert than those of just ten years ago. There is every reason to think that, if these findings are correct for Denmark, they would also apply to the Netherlands. It strengthens my hope that I have a good chance to be in a reasonably good physical and mental state twenty years from now. This hope was also fueled by the bestseller (as it may well be called) by dr. André Aleman, a professor in Groningen—about the brain of seniors (Het Senioren Brein). It should be read by the old as well as by the young.

This all fits well with what I read during the past week in an interesting book, that I happened to come across, entitled: Should We Live Forever? The Ethical Ambiguities of Aging, written by a (Christian) professor of ethics in the U.S. (Gilbert Meilaender). He discusses the obsession of western man with attempts to retard the aging process, as much as possible or preferably altogether. His comments are rather thought provoking.

Through our scientific progress we may still be able to reach wonderful things, but, Meilaender maintains, this can never provide a kind of life that would remain satisfactory if it continued forever. We wait and hope—at least that is the position of the Christian—for a different and better world. A world where no expensive devices are required so that people may see and no operations are necessary to give people their hearing back. Meilaender says he sees many developments that make him happy, but he has never yet seen the wolf and the lamb lying peacefully together. That will only happen when everything has become new. Our desire to have a longer life here should not obscure the hope for that new and perfect life that only God can give. It’s good to be occasionally reminded of this important fact.

[For a moment it seemed last week that the fulfillment of the dream of peaceful co-existence between the wolf and the lamb had come a bit closer, when it appeared that the wolf had made his comeback to our country. However, most likely, it is a false rumor.]

 

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How the glamor of travel disappears

 

It was at the end of my third year in secondary school that I first left the country.  Our class had organized a holiday week in the small German city of Tecklenburg in the Teutenburger forest—some fifty kilometers beyond the Dutch-German border. I had, in fact, had the privilege of making the preparations.  We went by train.  It was the very first time I could use my passport. The border police entered the train at the last station before the border and checked every passport carefully, stamping each one of them. We looked intently though the windows of the rather rickety train carriage, trying to discover any change in the scenery that would indicate that we had indeed crossed the border from Holland into Germany. Yes, in those days, borders between countries were very real.

And, indeed, there are still many real borders in the world, with serious officials distributing their stamps. Just a few days ago a tourist was arrested when he crossed the Norwegian-Russian border by daring just one step onto Russian soil. Even at Schiphol airport one may have to stand in line before being admitted to the Netherlands. But when passing by car from one EU country to one of the 27 other EU countries—the number of EU-members is now 28, since last week Croatia was admitted—one simply continues, often even without reducing one’s speed. During our last Sweden-trip, from which we returned last evening, my passport never left my briefcase. And thus travel in Europe has last one of its somewhat exciting aspects.

There is, however, something else that has caused travel to lose something of its glamor. Until a few years ago, checking your mail, upon your return after a few weeks’ absence, was a significant event. Usually, there was quite a pile, with inevitably some pleasant and less pleasant surprises. But little of that has remained.

Our neighbor next door always looks after our plants and our mailbox when we travel. Upon our return we find three neat stacks of mail on the table in our living room: newspapers, magazines and items in large envelopes, and letters. Gradually these piles have become less impressive. When coming home, yesterday, after an absence of some five weeks, it did not take us very long to evaluate the harvest of those five weeks.

The stack of newspapers consisted mainly of the local paper, since we usually try to remember to temporarily stop our subscription to the main paper, when we plan to be absent for more than a week or so. Neither did the pile of magazines amount to very much: Ministry magazine, and some monthly publications of organizations we belong to, and a few other items that one would hardly miss if they had not been delivered. Yes, I picked up the Spectrum journal, since I was curious (and perhaps vain) enough to check whether it contained the article I had written.

The third pile likewise was little impressive. I noted gratefully that this time there were no blue envelopes from the tax office, nor any envelopes from the office that deals with speeding fines. And hardly any invoices. Just a few banking matters and some information from our health insurance, to explain some extra charges I had to pay. But that was about it. Everything now comes to us via our computer. Why would someone write us a long letter, if you can send a short sms at any time, write a short mail message, raise us by Skype, or phone us for almost nothing? Most of our financial matters are processed digitally. The church (in the past always a main source of mail) only sends e-mails. Undoubtedly, things have become far more efficient than they were in the past. But, coming home after a trip, there are few surprises. And thereby, travel has lost one nice fringe benefits. In spite of the good cares of our next door neighbor.

 

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