Tuesday, March 03, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Twenty

Sunday, 25 December, 1988
Christmas Day

I figured out this morning why I feel so resentful about the missing clothes. If you base your life upon the idea that one of the chief aims is to cause no one else any trouble, naturally if they force you to cause them trouble by asking them for things only they can give and which are essential (like access to your clean underwear), they’ve caused you to commit a major sin. And that is intolerable.

Now, if they do things for you voluntarily, without having been asked, or if you’re paying for them to do whatever, that’s different.

Decided this must be ridiculous from a Christian standpoint so got mostly dressed and went up and asked Frau Renzberger*, rather stumblingly, I’m afraid, about the unmentionables.

I was up a little earlier, relatively-speaking, than yesterday. Lukas* was only just stirring himself.

The main feature of breakfast was a traditional bread called a Topf,† braided in a large round. Frau Renzberger makes hers without eggs, so it will keep longer, and it doesn’t have as much sugar in as my egg bread recipe. Had it with the rose hip butter (Hagenbutter) one of the neighbors brought over Friday.

Frau Renzberger (ok, Greti*) admired my dress and was amazed to find I’d made it. She pointed this out to Lukas, saying, "She can do everything!" In any other situation, you’d think she Meant something by it. But as things developed, no . . .

Lukas, his father, and I were the only ones who went to church. It was a beautiful blue sunny day and a pleasant walk to the little white Reformed church with its landmark steeple. Built in the 1500's, I think, and nicely restored.

No choir this morning, though they did have an ensemble of recorders that played in the intervals. And the organ. None of the hymns were what you’d call Christmas warhorses from American standards, though the tune of the last one was Sicilian Mariners. I was told at dinner that it just wouldn’t be Christmas without that one.

I understood the Gospel reading, the gist of the words to the hymns, and the Scripture references in the sermon. The minister preached from the first chapter of John’s gospel and brought in other Christological themes from the same book. But I couldn’t tell you what the exegesis was or if I would’ve been willing to add my Amen had I heard it in English. Still, when the minister ended by bringing in something about Hoffnung-- hope-- the very concept brought tears to my eyes. Yes, hope, that someday all this will be behind me and that my greatest cross will not be my own personality.

At Communion time, the minister consecrates the elements, then two of the church council help him distribute. The people went forward, two rows at a time. The minister gave each one of the Bread, and then the Cup is passed from hand to hand. I received it from Lukas then passed it to his father. Then the pastor pronounced the declaration from Isaiah that "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light," adding, "Alleluia, amen." And we took our seats and the next group came up. The organist played "Wachet Auf" during this; not the Bach chorale version, though.

On the way home we saw a duck in the stream and a horsedrawn carriage out for a drive (Don’t I sound like a three year old?) and discussed preaching styles and theological education. Lukas is appalled that in England (America, too) you can qualify for the ministry after only three years of divinity school. In Switzerland and Germany, they can’t be ministers till after they’ve studied theology for seven years. I refrained from pointing out that maybe that’s why so much goofy doctrine and outright heresy comes out of those two countries. The ministers become too ivory tower and too much removed from the actual practice of the gospel. "Another damned theologian comes grunting out of the Black Forest"‡ is a quotation that came to mind, though not to the lips . . .

Lukas and I had our inevitable theological argument back home before dinner. We were discussing the service and the style of giving Communion and he said that the elements in his church are just like any other bread and wine anywhere, no symbological value whatsoever . . . In fact, he said, a pint of beer and a ploughman’s lunch at the local pub is just as much Communion as what we did in church this morning.

I said, well, what do you do with the verse in I Corinthians that says whoever eats and drinks the Communion elements without recognising the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ eats and drinks condemnation on himself?

And he said, oh, his church doesn’t put as much weight on the epistles of Paul, rather on the Gospels.

(Ye gods.) OK, say I, what about Jesus saying, "This is my body, do this in remembrance of Me?"

Lukas says, it’s only a remembrance.

I wasn’t about to accept this "only" but I wanted him to see what he was overlooking even in the little that he was allowing Holy Communion to be. Yes, I said, but it is a remembrance, something that doesn’t necessarily happen at a normal meal.

He wasn’t moved. The root of his argument seemed to be the urge towards inclusiveness, that no one, not even non-Christians, should be left out of what he seems to see as a token fellowship meal (as opposed to a sign of the Christian's special relationship with God through Jesus Christ).

He’s telling me his point of view and smiling as if to say, "Surely you see I’m right!" And I’m thinking, God, I wish he were, he’s such a sweetheart, I wish I could honestly agree with him-- but I can’t. As I see it, he and his church as a whole are still reacting against that horribly erroneous trend in Roman Catholicism in which the mysteries of the faith were reserved only for the initiated few, the clergy. But the Swiss Reformed have really gone crazy with it, it seems to me, not only saying that the mysteries of the faith are available to all, but also that there are no mysteries.

I tried to compromise with him, saying I could see his point of view if he meant that Christians should have the same sacramental attitude to food outside the church as they do to that given within it . . . but still, I think we could have had a good bang up argument if his father hadn’t called us to dinner. I was trying to see his point of view without prostituting what I see as the truth on this, but he was making no effort to do likewise. Most frustrating.

Happily for the preservation of the Christmas peace, the only explosion this afternoon was from the cork of the bottle of Champagne I brought. Herr Max Renzberger* opened it just before dinner. The cork flew out the open french windows into the yard, who knows where. Bringing that seems definitely to have been a good move.

Christmas dinner was interesting. It did not focus around a major meat dish like turkey or a roast. Rather, it was raclette, a traditional Swiss dish in which each person melts a certain kind of cheese in individual dishes in a special heating unit brought to the table, and drips the cheese over boiled potatoes, mushrooms, onions, olives, artichokes, and other such items. There was wine with this, and Christmas cookies after.

At the end of dinner Lukas declared that if I wanted to go for a walk after supper, I’d have to go with his father, he was tired and was going to bed. I did not express a desire to follow either of their examples; neither of these options, a walk with Herr Renzberger* Senior nor a nap, seemed like a particularly fun way to spend an already short day.

Not that I spent it any more usefully. I looked at a cathedral book that’d been gotten out for me, then tackled my French version of Hector’s Mémoires. Have to confess it’s more fun in English, where I can just read through, but I’ll get the French eventually.

So the afternoon passed quite quietly (no football games around here), only broken up by the general farewell to Thaddeaus* when his father made ready to drive him home.

At 6:30 or so everyone left was ready for a walk, so shoes were changed and we all went for a tour of Löhenthal under the stars. First time I’ve seen the Big Dipper since I’ve been in the Eastern Hemisphere.

I’m impressed with the solicitous care Lukas took of his grandmother, supporting her on his arm. Me, I found it awkward, because if I hung back to be with them it would look deliberate. And somehow it seemed essential I not appear to have any ulterior motives towards him. So I tended to walk with his parents, holding back every so often when it seemed we were getting too far ahead. Still, I found it disconcerting that when I did rejoin him and Granny he never engaged me in conversation, only talked with his grandmother in German.

Back at the house, there were the leftovers from last night’s charcuterie and more cookies and wine.

They were kind enough to let me call Mom in Houston to wish her a Merry Christmas . . . Got her right away. Nothing much earthshaking said, only that Leila* [my 17-year-old niece] wasn’t going to be there for Christmas dinner, she actually has a job, in a movie theater. Shock. Hope it goes well.

I couldn’t tell Mom much, not having the time at international rates and also because I was feeling more than a little subdued. It had occurred to me that Lukas really hadn’t spoken to me since before dinner, though it couldn’t’ve been the theological discussion, we’ve had those at Coverdale* and it’s never bothered him before. But I’d noticed that if anyone addressed me in English, it was his parents. And my ability to find sufficient enjoyment simply in the sound of him speaking Swiss German was beginning to wear off.

Another awkwardness at bedtime this evening. Greti had taken not only my shirts to be ironed but also my nightgown. I had to go to the master bedroom to inquire in usual tongue-tied fashion after its whereabouts after she and Max had already started getting ready for bed. The thing was sitting in their bathtub . . . It was rather difficult trying to make her understand I do not need an ironed nightgown, I need something to sleep in. Especially difficult saying so in front of Max.
†Seems I misunderstood and it's actually called a Zopf, and it's usually formed as a braid.
‡The saying is by the writer Wilfrid Sheed, and I probably got it from an article by Cullen Murphy in the December 1986 Atlantic Monthly. So far (Feb. 2009) I am unable to discover in what context Mr. Sheed first said or published it.


Viola Larson said...

I had a large laugh over this. "Another damned theologian comes grunting out of the Black Forest"‡ is a quotation that came to mind, though not to the lips . . ." A great comment which I hope I remember.

Sorry I haven't commented for a long time. I got behind in reading because of Presbytery, but I am very much enjoying reading your post.

St. Blogwen said...

Yes, I've found it useful over the years . . . And if you or anyone can discover the original context for it, I'd be most grateful!

The funny-peculiar thing about this whole theological argument thing is that at the time I was an Architect and intending to remain one. I think God was working on me, though . . .

Has your Presbytery voted on New-B? We're up for it on the 24th.