Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Preserved by Poverty

Rothenburg, Germany founded in 1170 was strategically located on the Tauber River on the main trade routes from Paris to Prague and Scandinavia to Rome.  Not only was the city situated in a prime geographic location, it also benefited from rich farm and pastureland surrounding its well protected walled environs.  In addition to this, the Holy Roman Emperors granted the city the freedom to print its own currency and dictate its local affairs.  To say that the city was wealthy would have been an understatement.

But in 1631 a different picture began to be painted.  During the 30 Years War (1618-1648) a cold, wet, and hungry Catholic army passing by decided to make the Protestant city it's home for the winter (maybe being on two major trade routes wasn't such a good thing after all!).  The Catholic occupation lasted longer than expected and destroyed the local economy.  For the next 250 years Rothenburg was preserved by poverty.  While other German cities changed, Rothenburg was unable to modernize, so the old houses, buildings, and the cobblestone streets remained the same.

Around the turn of the 20th century Rothenburg became the haunt of poets and artists and they began to promote the medieval charm of the small but scenic city.  A brisk tourist trade was started and the town began to rebuild the wealth of its glorious past.  But in 1945 though the city was insignificant to the German war effort, 40% of Rothenburg was bombed by American forces trying to break German morale.  Fortunately, most of the damage was away from the oldest and most beautiful parts of the village.  Further carnage was avoided when Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, whose mother had visited Rothenburg before the war, made sure that no artillery was used against the city.  McCloy's restraint and foresight paved the way for the tourist trade to continue to bless the people of Rothenburg into the 21st century.

November 20-23, 2010, the Smiths and some of our Dublin friends joined church workers from across Europe along those ancient trade routes to the city on the Tauber and enjoyed its sights and sounds as well as some good Christian fellowship at the Euro American Family Retreat. - Shay       

Monday, November 15, 2010

Das Land meiner Forbearers

Like most Americans, I'm a mutt.  When I fill out the ethnicity section on a form, I'm always disappointed to discover that there's not a box for Danish, Scots-Irish, German, Welsh, French, Native American.  But rather than checking "other" and writing in the above, I usually just settle for white or Caucasian.  Of course, I may be something else as well, that's just the ancestry that I'm aware of.  One of these days I hope to find out what other kinds of DNA may be floating around in my gene pool.  In the meantime I have the goal of at least visiting the known homelands of my forefathers and mothers.  So far I can check off the USA (that was easy), Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and France (if you count hanging out in the Paris airport for a couple of hours - we did actually walk out on the tarmac before boarding our plane).  After this week, I'll be able to check off Germany too. 

The Hutson, Karnes, and Smith families are headed down to Rothenburg for the Euro-American church retreat.  Phil Jackson of Missions Resource Network will be speaking, while Keith Lancaster will be leading our time in worship.  I doubt I'll be seeing many sights that my ancestors would have seen as Jakobsweiler where they were from is over an hour and 1/2 from where we'll be, but it will be nice to be in the vicinity anyway.  Then in 2011, I can start thinking about heading to Denmark, the birthplace of my grandmother, Augusta Jensen.  Six down, one to go! - Shay

Monday, November 8, 2010

Come on Arsenal!

I was at the Raheny Inn yesterday watching Arsenal lose 1 nil to Newcastle United.  I've been an Arsenal supporter for 11 years now, but because the majority of those years were spent in Austin, TX, I haven't been able to keep up with the Gunners as much as I would have liked.  It's been great to be back on this side of the pond where I can actually watch most of the matches that the north London squad contests.  Football (soccer) supporters are some of the most passionate fans in all of sports.  They take fanaticism to a whole new level.  At every match, regardless of the score, the fans are singing, shouting, and slagging the opposition's players and supporters alike.  They don't just watch their team play, they identify with their club.  Part, if not much of their identity is tied directly to their team of choice.  They rejoice when the team is playing well and they mourn when it's not.     

So as I watched Arsenal suffer through a frustrating afternoon against a team that they had just recently hammered 4 nil, I couldn't help but listen to some of the other Arsenal supporters both encourage (as much as you can through a television set) and criticize (let's just say their language wasn't 100% G rated) the boys in red.  I was reminded that supporters sometimes criticize and question their team or their manager, but they never quit being fans. 

Isn't it great that God Almighty isn't just our creator and king, but also our biggest fan.  God wants nothing more than for each one of us to be rescued from our lives of sin.  He is so much the supporter of humanity, that he didn't just watch our match from the sideline, but he took on our jersey and entered into the game on our behalf through his Son Jesus Christ.  On top of the eternal provision that he's made for each one of us, he also gives us every good thing in this life for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17).  Even when we stink up the pitch, he doesn't bale on us or switch sides at the last minute, he cheers us on and gives us the encouragement we need to pick ourselves up and keeping kicking the ball until it eventually finds the net.  God's the kind of supporter who will shout for his team just as enthusiastically in defeat as in victory.  And with his backing, we can be sure that we will eventually win the ultimate prize.  For those of us in Christ, the only way we'll lose is if we give up on God and quit the team.

So for us Arsenal supporters who missed a golden chance to close the gap on Chelsea yesterday, and even more so, for us Texas Longhorn fans who have forgotten what's it's like to win a game, keep shouting "Come on Arsenal" and "Hook'em Horns" regardless of the numbers on the scoreboard!  After all, that's what fans are for. - Shay  

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bonfires, Fireworks, and The Usual

Believe it or not, Halloween was invented in Ireland.  It was originally a pagan festival called Samhain and it was celebrated to mark the death of summer and the birth of winter.  As the leaves fell to the earth and much of the plant life went dormant, the ancient Irish believed that the separation between the realm of the living and the dead was precariously thin.  So, they did what they've always done well, they threw a party!  The costumes were meant to scare off the spirits and demons and the loss of the summer was, surprisingly, celebrated.  Hey, if its turning darker and colder, you might as well enjoy it.

Like so many pagan holy days, Halloween was eventually "christianized" (I use this term deliberately with an under case "c").  And like so many Christian holy days (holidays), it was eventually commercialized by Americans and shipped back to the old world for their consumption.  So last night as I walked to Scott and Denise Karnes' place in Baldoyle for our worship and communion, I was greeted by the usual sights and sounds of October 31; children dressed up like goblins and superheroes running, laughing, and trick-or-treating their way through the neighborhood.  Well, I might add that I was also bombarded with the sounds of fireworks going off and the sights of bonfires burning on the community greens.  Leave it to the Irish to take a party and make it even better than before! - Shay