Who is my neighbor?

 

If you are anything like me, you are fed up with the same forwarded posts on social media sites. When the Christian community finds a pop culture person of interest to disagree with, the open letters come out! Then there are the floods of fake news pieces, from untrustworthy sources, which seem to pop up everywhere. No Betty White is not dead (as of the time of this original post), I checked! 

If you are tired of reading about the Syrian refugee crisis, you picked the wrong blog to click on. I’ll do my best to keep this simple though. You can’t close this window if I tell you this post is about Jesus, can you?!

Take a moment to read a portion of Luke, chapter 10. (Don’t want to read the following passage? Enjoy this McGee & Me throwback: https://youtu.be/A8VRSFuFDGk)

The Most Important Commandment

25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

27 The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Parable of the Good Samaritan

30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins,[c] telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

This man who “showed him (the Jew) mercy” was somebody that a Jew would have gone to great lengths to avoid. The Jews despised the Samaritans, because of their beliefs and their mix with pagans. It may be extreme to say that Samaritans were the enemy of the Jews, but they typically didn’t associate with each other. Yet, Jesus clearly illustrated that the man who showed mercy was the man most like Him.

If this parable didn’t stir some kind of response, check out this challenge from Jesus, in Matthew 5:

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

If the parable of the Good Samaritan left too much for interpretation, this command stated our responsibility clearly. We are to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. The fear of Muslims, Al-Qæda in particular, is common among believers and unbelievers alike. We act, or don’t act at all, out of that fear. We don’t want to be fooled. The cases of those who have assimilated to a culture for the purpose of future destruction has given us the ultimate excuse for remaining complacent. Instead of showing compassion, we choose to remain cautious. Does this sound familiar? To me, it sounds like the priest and the temple assistant which crossed the road. We say that we are being “cautious,” but really we can’t be bothered.

What should we be doing?

First of all, stop changing the channel when these stories come on the news. I know, sometimes they are too much. Do what you can to educate yourself about what is going on. Second, pray. Join the worldwide conversation by talking to the Father Himself. Prayer sounds like the easy answer, but it’s only easy if we merely SAY we will pray. Be honest. If you aren’t feeling burdened for these displaced people groups, confess it. Thirdly, give financially if you can. (http://donate.unhcr.org/international/syria)

Back to #1, watch this video for a little background:

It’s easy to discuss this situation with little empathy or concern for the effect our words have. If we had to endure such a hardship, we would certainly hope for the compassion and understanding of others. Most people don’t enjoy being separated from their family, fighting for inches of space on trains leaving the place they call home, hiking across deserts without supplies, and living in tents in a foreign country. If we were to insert ourselves in the parable of the Good Samaritan, would we be the priest, the temple assistant, or the Samaritan?

For news about refugees in Germany: http://www.leximcnair.com/dresden/

(photo source: the guardian)

Jan

My second Sunday in Dresden, I attended the Evangelical Free Church which the church planting team is working with. Unpredictably, everything about the FeG felt comfortable and familiar. This was most surprising because the entire service was in German, and the church held its service in a modern reconstruction of an old ballroom. I could just feel the love of the community.  

After church, the bass player introduced himself to me and to Roger. I complimented his impeccable talent immediately and struggled in deciding whether or not to mention that I pretended to play the bass, compared to his talent. (For the record, I believe that I did). Jan was very friendly and well spoken, in English. After a short chat, he told Jeff that he would like to show us around Dresden. We gladly accepted the invite, expecting Jan to have a different perspective than Klaus.

Klaus had taken us to the old part of the city and explained its history. Jan took us out to what locals call the Switzerland of Saxony- beautiful gardens, rock formations, and scenic views of the Elbe River. Along the way, Jan happily answered all of my questions. I’m sure I wore him out with conversation. 

Surprisingly, Jan offered a perspective on Communism that I had not yet heard. He had been a young man during the time of Communism and became a Christian in the same year that the wall came down. I believed that he too would have a story of suffering. Instead, Jan said the limitations of Communism really pushed him creatively and mechanically. Not having access to anything from the west, or basic parts in some cases, Jan had to build things on his own. He wanted a computer, so he built one. If his bike needed a repair, he had to make his own pieces. Limitations helped him to grow intellectually. The German word for this state of being without is “mangel.” It means “shortage.”

As a school teacher, Jan said that he didn’t see this in the lives of teenagers today. He said that they were meant to be “consumers, not inventors.” Ultimately, Jan believed that the oppression produced good character and creativity that is lacking in modern culture.  

On the other hand, Jan didn’t speak positively of the DDR (Deutsche Democratic Republic). The system, in general, was terrible. People had nothing to gain by working hard, but they had a lot to lose if they didn’t. So, Jan and his friends made plans to escape the east and move to the west. They never went through with it, but the idea was tossed around a lot.

Jan wouldn’t say that Communism was good, but he didn’t seem to have the rough experience others spoke of. It may been a matter of perspective. Like Klaus, Jan had also ordered his Trabant car from the government. The wall came down before he got the car though. He shrugged and laughed when he said this, but I think most people would be pretty mad about waiting years for a car they would never receive. Like he said though, more important things were happening. In that same year the wall came down (1989), Jan heard and accepted the Gospel through, what I gather was, a revival meeting his friends had invited him to.

When Jan returned home, he joined a state/Lutheran church. Having new life, Jan had a hard time with the state church. People didn’t have a relationship with Jesus and didn’t know how to answer his questions. The state church did not preach or reflect the Gospel message, but Jan chose to stay and to do everything he could to change the church from the inside. He didn’t feel like leaving the church was the best option. 
Around that time period, however, he spent a year in the states- where he attended an Evangelical Free church. The difference was like night and day. He grew in his faith there and desired to be a part of a church like that in his home country. Frustrated with the state church, he joined the FeG (Freie Evangelische Gemeinden/Evangelical Free Church), when he returned to Germany. 

Jan’s Comparison of the German and American Church

Jan wrote a paper, comparing the Petri-Nikolai-Kirche (Church) of Freiberg with the Crystal Evangelical Free Church of Minneapolis, for an English course. He was happy to share his paper with me. Finding his comparison fascinating, I have posted some excerpts below. 

My experiences in Crystal Evangelical Free Church in Minneapolis and my long experience with the German system of state churches led me to the following questions which became the starting point for the project:

1. How do the fundamental differences of the American and German church systems influence individual churches?

2. Which differences and which common aspects can be seen in the work of the two individual churches?

For individual members, the German system is characterized by the following aspects: 

1. Baptism marks the beginning of membership. Since most of the people are baptized as infants, they become members of the church without a conscious decision about their own membership.

2. Besides offerings and donations, the churches major financial receipts are taxes and are imposed on the members by the state – similar to the states taxes.

3. Every member belongs to a local church according to her/his place of living. This placement is carried out by the state authorities. Every time a church member moves to a different home, the member has to register and is subsequently assigned to a local church. Only recently however, have there been new regulations established allowing members to change churches.

It is undoubtedly true that large numbers of church members have no personal relationship to their church. Tradition is the only reason for their membership.

The following questionnaire was completed by members of each congregation.

Question #1 demographics.  

Question #5 demographics. 

 
Asked for the reason for membership, it was option 2 in Freiberg (I am assigned to this church by place of living) and option 4 in Minneapolis (I like the services and other activities of this church) that were chosen by majorities.

Question #8 demographics. 

 Question #9 demographics.

  

Just as I had expected, almost all German interviewees are members of the church in Freiberg, while only about two thirds of the interviewees and Crystal Evangelical Church are members. Since I know from experience that it is quite unusual for Germans to attend worship services without being church members, one can assume that most of the 8% non-members attended the service as guests although they actually are members of another church.

One can clearly see that membership is interpreted differently in the two different systems. While it is mainly considered a traditional feature in Germany, which millions of German received as infants, it is connected to a clear statement of faith in the USA.

Question #10 demographics.  

Question #11 and #14 demographics.   

Question #17 demographics.   

While 88% of the American interviews read at least frequently, only 12% answered sometimes or rarely. A comparatively large group of Freibergians answered they read every day 28% and frequently 20%, while many more people then in Minneapolis use to read only sometimes 27% or rarely 25%.

Question #18 demographics. 

 
While not as much emphasis is put on baptism and loving one’s neighbor, much more importance is attached to developing a personal relationship, to prayer and to reading the Bible by the interviewees in Crystal Evangelical free Church. In Freiberg, all options scored relatively evenly. With this result, this last question of the questionnaire again seems to reveal a stronger consciousness about individual faith with the interviewed people in Crystal Evangelical free Church. There seem to be many people in Freiberg who are not as conscious about their faith in who attach greater importance to all sorts of things. 

Conclusion

I’m unable to hide my sympathies for the structures and activities of the American church. If one considers the fact that both churches do not only have the same biblical assignment, but also nearly the same number of members, it is amazing to see how difficult things are in Germany, while the American church seems to be very dynamic and full of life.

When Pastor Rodquist called it his church’s actual task to spread the gospel and to live for outsiders, it made me very concerned about the situation in my church where internal problems are predominant and nobody seems to care about outsiders. The determination to live the Christian faith which has an impact on all aspects of life can be experienced much better in Crystal Evangelical Free Church, while in Freiberg the church’s status is often that of a traditional ritual.

Für den König

German Folk Worship Song, performed by the worship band Jan plays in.

  
Johnson Grass

The German folk band Jan plays bass for.

Klaus

Huddled over a mound of dirty clothes and unpacked suitcases, Roger mumbled: “I don’t like this.”

After spending a week in the woods, our leadership team returned to Dresden with about an hour to spare before our debrief dinner. Within that small window of time, Roger was to get ready for dinner and repack a  bag for an overnight stay with a German couple he had never met. Previous to this moment, Roger had: endured a very long trip from South Carolina to Dresden, spent his first night in Europe with a German couple (whose English was limited), and survived a challenging week of sports camp. You can imagine that it was hard for him to pack, with a moments notice, for another stretching cultural experience. The couple he was to stay with only spoke German. Roger would be joining a teenager who had also helped at camp that night, at the home of Klaus. Luckily Micah spoke German, which meant that he would become Roger’s interpreter.  

   

At church, the next day, I was eager to catch up with Roger. I couldn’t wait to find out how his stay with Klaus had been. That night, Roger and I would be switching housing situations. Micah was to leave for the States and my friend, Katrina, was to fly in. 

Roger reported that the apartment was very “East German.” He described the apartment as small, with a strange layout. The furniture was old and the apartment was slightly cluttered. Operatic music lingered in the background. Stranger yet, Roger explained the art he had seen on the walls and the trinkets that sat around the apartment. He was surprised that all of these things were Jewish. I too was surprised by that fact, but I figured that I would get the story later. Having just finished a long week of camp and a heavy dinner, Roger admitted that he faded in and out of the conversation that night. Not trusting his observation skills in that condition, I wasn’t at all sure what I was walking into. 

  
When Katrina and I walked into the apartment, I couldn’t keep myself from exclaiming “Chagall!” It’s true, I have a rare condition. I can’t help but yell the name of artists that I spot work from across the room. I can keep the volume in check in museums, but it’s harder in situations where I am not expecting to see a masterpiece. Covering my mouth, I felt embarrassed about my outburst. Klaus smiled and confirmed that many of his pieces were Chagalls. Originals (!!), in fact. His wife, Annette, scrambled to get a book from the exhibition where they had purchased the paintings. From that point on, the books and the stories kept coming. Fighting the heat and my nagging exhaustion, Katrina and I kept Klaus and Annette talking for 2 to 3 hours. 

 

When I asked Klaus and Annette about the Allied bombing of Dresden, they handed me a book with pictures of the aftermath. I cautiously turned the pages. I was surprised by the charred remains that appeared before me. More surprisingly, Annette shared that her mother had been a part of the Bund Deutscher Mädel and that she had come into the city the day after the bombing, to help clean up the victims left hurting in the streets. She described her mother wiping the ash from the eyes of those suffering. About 25,000 Germans died in the bombing. Annette then told us about the 100,000 Jews that were spared because of the chaos. They were to be taken to camps by train one week later. 25,000 Germans lost their lives but 100,000 Jews were spared.

Klaus told us about the town he lived in, outside of Dresden. His great grandfather had been the mayor of this town and was well loved. In WWII, the Nazi party approached him with a “request” for his support and participation. He refused at first, but conceded when his family was threatened. Similarly, his grandfather was pressured into joining the Communist party. So when Klaus was growing up, his father told him that he was free to be whatever he wanted to be. Klaus chose to be an atheist. 

Annette, however, gave us quite a different account of her own life. When she was a young woman, she had seen advertisement about a meeting that was going to occur by her apartment. Curious about it, she followed a small crowd into the meeting. The gentleman running the meeting was a preacher who wanted to begin an Evangelical Free church in Dresden. Annette was intrigued. She went back for the next meeting but she was the only person who had shown up, other than the preacher. Thinking that this Evangelical Free church could turn into something, she decided that it would be good to stay and be a part of it from the very beginning. Annette did not speak of any kind of conversion experience. She said her journey to becoming a Christian was long. I’m unsure about the conversion of Klaus. I only know that the faith of Annette was they key factor that brought him into a relationship with Jesus.

When Klaus and Annette met, during the time of Communism, they had very little. The guest bedroom we were staying in had once been their entire apartment. It had a separate entrance from the front hallway. Many years in their marriage passed before they were able to afford the whole apartment. 

  
Klaus shared how rough Communist times were. He told us that he ordered a car, which was the only way that you could obtain one, and it arrived 10 years later. I asked him if he was ever paranoid about Communist spies. He didn’t say that he was, but he told us that the #1 way that they spied on people was through the telephone. So, he and Annette didn’t get a phone until the 90s. In their entire apartment building, only one person had a telephone. They were suspected to be a spy, of course.  

Listening to the stories of Klaus and Annette was unbelievable. I felt as if I was living in a documentary. Roger’s reaction to this encounter was: “you can’t pay for this!” He was right. This experience was invaluable. To top it all off, Klaus eagerly volunteered to take us around Dresden. Here is a small video clip of Klaus explaining the history of Dresden to us: