Worshipping in Old Places

After the service in the Castle Church, Wittenberg (under renovation).
After the service in the Castle Church, Wittenberg (under renovation).

Last Saturday I went to church in Wittenberg, at an English service in the Castle Church. Led by a Lutheran minister from the United States, the congregation was comprised of Christians from every continent (save Antarctica). We sang “A Mighty Fortress,” read Scripture, recited the Apostles’ Creed, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. The minister preached on the feeding of the five thousand.

All of this took place not ten feet from the grave of Martin Luther, Continue reading

The Importance of Story in Travelling – Reformation Tours

I’m having a great time holidaying in Germany and the Czech Republic this summer, but one thing I’m missing from the university travel study trips I lead and the Reformation tours I’ve done is a sense of purpose or cohesion. As anyone who has travelled much knows, after awhile even the beautiful churches, museums, and palaces all begin to look the same. It’s always a challenge to remember what you have seen, and why it mattered.

Castle Church
Wittenberg’s Castle Church getting spruced up for 2017.

What I love about travel study and Reformation tours is travelling a story. Continue reading

The Challenges of Memorialization

As I holiday in Berlin this week, my mind is still pre-occupied with the topic of memorialization. Berlin is like that–on virtually every corner (and this is only a slight exaggeration) there is some aspect of memorialization going on, from the thousands of “stumbling stones” marking the homes of Jews victimized by the Hitler regime to signs at U-Bahn stations, plaques in parks, statues on shopping streets, and preserved ruins thrown in for good measure. Memorialization is everywhere in Berlin.

But yesterday, as we rode around the city on bicycles, enjoying the cool, dark beauty of the Tiergarten and the serene  majesty of the Gendarmemarkt, I encountered two cases of memorialization which disturbed me greatly. Continue reading

Encountering the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial and Museum

My main reason for being in Berlin this past week has been to work on some new research relating to genocide, memory, and place. The roots of the project are in my own questions about the power of places like concentration camp sites–the scenes of so much suffering, death, and evil–and in my search for richer language with which to describe and assess genocide in the classroom, for students who are responding intellectually, but also morally and emotionally, to what they’re learning.

imageSo off I went to the site of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, along with my dear wife Colleen, who periodically pays a price for being married to a historian of Nazism and genocide. In terms of my project on “Evil Places as Sacred Spaces,” what I’m trying to understand is the layers of meaning at a place like Sachsenhausen, through an understanding of the events, landscape, ruins, memories, memorials, rituals, emotions, and the ways people make and/or consider the space to be sacred in some way or other.

During our visit on Friday, I took all kinds of field notes about the impressions the camp made on me, Continue reading