Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From the Pastor of First Chritian Church (Disciples of Christ) Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Minister's Corner
Minister’s Article
Since 1992, I have not been able to celebrate a single Christmas without remembering Klaus. I first met Klaus in the late summer of that year. I had just begun a volunteer position serving at a local soup kitchen in Magdeburg, Germany. Really it was called a “Tea room” (in German, Tee Stube). The Tee Stube was part of the City Mission and consisted of a mid-sized room, connected to a small-ish kitchen with a big pass through window and a long hallway that led to restrooms. The Tee Stube was open from 5 - 9 p.m. every evening and for six months, I was there nearly every night it was open. So was Klaus.
Klaus was only 36 years old. I remember looking at his ID once and being amazed. Because he looked more like 56. Years of near- homelessness had left his face more leathery and wrinkled than it deserved to be. I never once saw him in even half-clean clothes. Chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes left his fingertips and moustache a color somewhere between dark mustard and burnt umber. When he smiled, he flashed only 4 teeth, positioned symmetrically at the corners of his opened mouth so that he resembled a hippo. He had been in prison multiple times, though he didn’t talk about it much. Nor did he ever mention any family – and no one ever asked. I never encountered Klaus sober. He steadfastly upheld the Tee Stube’s strict policy prohibiting smuggling in alcohol. But he was in a constant state of inebriation, such that one could easily catch a whiff of last week’s drinks seeping through his pores.
Klaus ruled the roost in the Tee Stube. The first to arrive and the last to leave, he would stake out his regular seat at the main table and lead non-stop games of dice and cards. During the four hours of daily operation, worlds of activity would take place around him as people of all ages would come and go. But Klaus never moved from his throne from which he surveyed his kingdom. Tea at the Tee Stube was free, but coffee was 5 Pfennige per cup. Germans love their coffee and it was a treat when one of the staff or regulars might splurge for a pot so that everyone could drink on the house. Otherwise it was tea and cigarettes. At 7 p.m., Frau Thurau and Frau Balzer would put together some sandwiches and whoever was there would gather around Klaus at the head of the main table. Grace would be offered and then all would eat. Klaus respected the two women immensely. Frau Balzer worried about his epilepsy and scolded him about drinking, which exacerbated his condition. Once, when seated next to him, Klaus had a seizure and nearly crushed my forearm – the closest thing he grabbed when it began.
From my first day, Klaus took me under his wing. East Germany at that time had a strong undercurrent of resentment of foreigners. As this was formerly Communist, I was always uneasy about meeting new people and what they would think of me – the American enemy from Cold War times. The kinds of people who inhabited the Tee Stube were more likely to harbor that resentment. But Klaus made sure that I was “one of the guys” and that opened doors to conversations with people that otherwise would never have taken place. When one regular – who became angry and unruly when inebriated – would periodically fly into a rage (once at me, in fact), it was Klaus who calmed things down.
As Klaus and I were two of the only ones who really spent every minute at the Tee Stube when it was open, we became quite friendly with each other. When it was warm and I would wear shorts, Klaus would tease me by saying the same thing over and over, in his thick South Town accent (Mit den Beenen wurd’ ick oof die Haende loofen – “With legs like those I’d walk on my hands”). And he’d laugh every time as though it were the first time he’d ever said it. And at some point nearly every night, he’d break into a crooning voice, schmalzing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” I found this at once annoying, but also highly intriguing, as this was the only English he could speak and he never mentioned why only this bit of the language stayed with him.
That Christmas, 1992, a friend and I talked with Frau Balzer and Frau Thurau and we decided to open the Tee Stube for Christmas Eve. Normally not done, we would open it for two hours after the early-evening city-wide worship services. We let all of the regulars, like Klaus, know. On Christmas Eve day Lorenz, Barbara and I purchased a tree from the lot north of town and rode it to the Tee Stube on our bikes. We put together care packages for each person consisting of a sweater, scarf and gloves, coffee, tobacco, chocolate and cookies. That night Klaus sat at the head of the table while the tree was decorated, a holiday cassette played on a tape player in the corner, and the care packages opened. Frau Thurau made a full meal and coffee was on the house. I even brought my trumpet and played “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” for Klaus before we all went home. The whole evening, if he wasn’t beaming his beautiful four-toothed smile, sobbing tears rolled down his cheeks.
I don’t know where Klaus is now. If he were no longer living, I would not be surprised. But at some point during every Advent season since 1992, my mind wanders back to Klaus and that Christmas Eve night we shared together in the Tee Stube. And when I think of that child born in a manger I think of how he came for Klaus. Not the Klaus that you or I might want him to be. But the Klaus that he was. Not for what he might become or first do in order to receive Christ. But just as he was. And I believe that is why Christ was born in the base, dirty, gritty stable. Because that is where life is lived and faith is found.
I would not want to be presumptuous and assume that Klaus’ life somehow improved because I was part of it. But I know that mine has because of him. My pastor and mentor in Germany said once that no matter who we are, we all have some fond memory of Christmas in our pasts. I think that was true for Klaus. It was why he would sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” off and on throughout the year. And, in part because of him, it is true for me as well.
Peace and God bless,Michael
© 2009 First Christian Church of Baton Rouge8484 Old Hammond Highway, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70809Developed by Colton Brugger

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In this my personal Christian blog, I hope to be discursive and now and then critical. What I write here is tentative and tensive. I post thoughts, feelings, and observations somewhat randomly and often in immediate response to current events and posts on other blogs.

"Serendipitous Creativity" from Gordon Kaufman

"I suggested that what we today should regard as God is the ongoing creativity in the universe - the bringing (or coming) into being of what is genuinely new, something transformative; …

"In some respects and some degrees this creativity is apparently happening continuously, in and through the processes or activities or events around us and within us(…) is a profound mystery to us humans(…) But on the whole, as we look back on the long and often painful developments that slowly brought human life and our complex human worlds into being, we cannot but regard this creativity as serendipitous …

"I want to stress that this serendipitous creativity - God! - to which we should be responsive is not the private possession of any of the many particular religious faiths or systems …

"This profound mystery of creativity is manifest in and through the overall human bio-historical evolution and development everywhere on the planet; and it continues to show itself throughout the entire human project, no matter what may be the particular religious and or cultural beliefs."

Gordon Kaufman, Mennonite Life, December 2005 vol. 60 no. 4

Melville is a rational man who

"Melville is a rational man who wants God to exist. He wants Him to exist for the same reasons we all do: to be our rescuer and appreciator, to act as a confidant in our moments of crisis and to give us reassurance that, over the horizon of our deaths, we will survive." (John Updike)

And that is a problem for me.

Fragmented Notions

Fragmented Notions
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