Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hamburg 17.12.93: Advent Wreaths and Ausländer Aus

Sitting in a café in Blankenese where we’ve just ordered coffee and torte. On the table an Advent wreath, which the waitress lit—three candles. A beautiful sonata on the piano, which I recognize but can’t name.

Outside, the wind is blowing briskly off the Elbe: I see a row of cedars bending over. But of course we know the wind is cold, because we just walked in, after having taken the Wandernweg from Nienstedt. The sun shines intermittently, then rain in between.

Yesterday, our presentation, which was actually at the University, not the Missionsakademie. It seemed to go well—students fairly attentive, and asking what we do to combat racism, whether there is an international neo-Nazi connection to the Ku Klux Klan, etc.: all those serious questions German students ask.

Then E. drove us to the Missionsakademie, where we immediately attended a Gottesdienst prior to a Christmas party. Barbara M. led the former, in the little chapel beneath the guesthouse. Very moving. Barbara M. had a Christmas story, most of which I got, because it was directed to the children (who had just had a Christmas party with presents). The gist was that the three kings could not identify Jesus, who had nothing to do with their gold and silver (or, in the case of one, with his intellectualism). But a child could: he saw the Niedrigkeit of the Christ child, his helplessness and dependence on others.

(N.B. If I write any theological autobiography pieces, talk about how Gélin’s book on the poor of Yahweh deeply influenced me as I began to read theology.)

All this was the more touching, because it was addressed to a multiracial, multicultural audience, mostly people from cast-off countries.

After the reading, we read a litany, in which Barbara M. voiced the sentiments of common sense and power (war and poverty are ineradicable, the only hope is in heaven, etc.), and the audience responded by reading biblical passages about Christ which affirmed his this-worldly salvific import.

Then the party. We were seated at a table with Frau R., the cook (whom we had met last time), a student from Togo, a young German woman from Bochum who will be ordained and pastor a church, and S.W., a theology student from near Lübeck, who will be ordained.

The food was good, if unexciting—a pork roast stuffed with apricots and prunes, a pork tenderloin, a spanakopita, fish in innumerable salads and smoked, two kinds of cole slaw, and a Römmergrot and a chocolate mousse, with bread and cheese, of course.

The big surprise: at table, I mentioned Thomas Mann to S.W. (when I found he was from near Lübeck), Death in Venice, and he winked as he told me the book was a favorite of his. Then, when the young German woman told Steve the “Father” Christmas at the children’s party was a woman, Steve mentioned that this transgressed gender lines, and S.W. winked again.

Gradually S.W. and I found ourselves sitting side by side at the table and I admired his ring. He told me it’s a Ghanaian ring given to men who enter a certain “club” as they mature. It was given to him by a Ghanaian friend.

One thing led to another, as they say, and he offered to take us out to Café Gnosa in St. Georg, which we had wanted to see. I can’t say I loved it. I can count on my fingertips the number of times in my life I have been to a gay bar, so I have nothing really to judge the experience by. Maybe it was the hour or the season, but it seemed a bit dreary—a long, narrow, smoky place with two rooms and tables along the wall.

The waiter was very sweet, though, and we met a cabaret performer and his boyfriend, who were enchanting—or whatever is between nice and enchanting.

Then home, very late, and I slept hardly at all. At 10:30, E. took us to the Stafford café in Nienstedt Marktplatz, where we had been before, for a breakfast of bread (and bread and bread), eggs, sliced meat and cheese, jam, butter, and coffee.

He told us the future of the Missionsakademie is in doubt. As more and more Germans declare no church membership and the church thus loses the 9% tax they pay, there’s talk of financial crisis, compounded by the economic hardships they country faces, the debt the West has assumed from East Germany, and, in particular, the debt the Western church has assumed from the East. At bottom, though, it’s political, he believes, and the talk of cutting expenses by closing the Missionsakademie is really motivated (he believes) by resistance to the “frivolous” third-world concerns of the Akademie.

E. told us that the front door of the Missionsakademie has been sprayed with anti-foreign neo-Nazi slogans. He and others have told us that Bischöfin Maria Jespen of Hamburg is increasingly embattled, attacked by the Right for her socially critical stands.

And now back to Nienstedt and, I hope, to sleep before our evening lecture.

No comments: