It feels strange that after almost 5 weeks in Peru, a few days in the Mournes and a week in Berlin I’m not going anywhere in the next few weeks. Life on the road isn’t all bad. Berlin is a fascinating city. We (some of my colleagues and I) were there for a conference on missional leadership by the excellent Innovista. Charlie Hadjiev – a Bulgarian Pastor, recently finished a PhD on Amos led some great sessions thinking through what mission and the gospel actually is, pushing us not to settle for a narrow inadequate and simplistic understanding:
“Often when we think about mission, we make a fundamental mistake. We think our mission is to save people from ‘the fires of hell’. This is all good and true, but inadequate. The gospel is not about avoiding death only. It is about new life.”
Having been in Berlin last year, I enjoyed a bit more time sitting in cafes. My boss now agrees with my last year’s assertion that the coffee in the Starbucks at the Brandenburg Gate is among the worst I’ve had in a coffee establishment. Dunkin Donuts offering wasn’t too hot either, but the local places were pretty good. Being in Starbucks – for usage of their fine toilet facilities, listening to English music was unsettling. It reminded me how bland and dull globalised franchises are – totally lacking in character. Looking forward to my return to common grounds.
If you’re ever in Berlin – do the walking tours. We did a Third Reich one – 4 hrs walking around with an excellent guide who knew his stuff and was pretty funny – and had the best walking backwards technique I’ve ever seen. 90% of the city was destroyed in the war so a lot of the tour is “this car park was the site of Hitler’s bunker”, it was disturbingly fascinating to see the remains of cells in the basement of the SS and Gestapo HQ – now site of a Typography of Terror Museum, and to hear how Berliners call the Soviet Memorial to the Unknown Soldier (commemorating some of their 20 million war dead) – ‘the memorial to the unknown rapist’ due to the 90,000 Berliners raped by conquering troops. War isn’t a pleasant business, and our guide was at pains to point out that the Nazis weren’t superhuman monsters but humans like each of us capable of acts of extraordinary evil. Sobering stuff. The national guilt in Germany over the war and the Holocaust is incredible, and their process of coming to terms and living with that. Having seen what the Spanish did to Peru and Bolivia, and aware of the mess the British Empire made of much of the globe, I wonder how much remorse Spaniards or British people have for the actions of previous generations. And where do you begin to draw a line? For those of us living on Northern Ireland, that’s the question – how do we deal appropriately with the events of the past, what does it mean to move forward?
Hope becomes an important concept – despite growing up in a ‘hell and brimstone’ culture – seeing and being reminded of stuff like this, the thought that one day those who perpetrate horrendous acts will be held to account gives me hope, while i tremble and throw myself on God’s mercy and grace because (to paraphrase Gary Haugen) I know that the same attitudes and thoughts that existed in the hearts of Hilter and Stalin are in mine…