25 April 2009

Introducing Holy Disorder - looking back 20 years ...

This first post on the Holy Disorder blog is mainly a repost from Jane's personal blog.
Gradually as the year progresses Dr B and Rev J hope to post some bits and pieces about the GDR's peaceful revolution to this blog. Dr B has recently finished a doctorate on the role of the churches in the peaceful revolution. Rev J was living in the GDR from August 1989 to August 1990, studying theology and working as a trainee pastor in the Protestant Church. We hope this will be a place for us to remember what was an important time for us personally, but also to jot down some random and not so random thoughts about modern church history. We also hope to be able to keep track of some of the events taking place in Eastern Germany to mark the 20th anniversary and of course this title is just a translation of Gesegnete Unruhe - the official title of the anniversary events.
Dr B sets off on his own on a week long train journey around South Eastern Germany tomorrow. With some of our blogging it may be a little difficult to tell which of us is writing we'll try to sort that as the blog develops. Anyway what were you doing 20 years ago?
There was a lot going on, here's what I wrote just over a month ago:

Twenty years ago this spring I was trying to sort out the various formalities for getting a visa to go the German Democratic Republic to study theology for a year.
In the end it all worked out well and I arrived in Wittenberg in early September 1989. Even today when I mention I studied theology in the GDR many people look very puzzled and ask whether that was really possible.
I lived through world changing events and experienced churches fuller than at any revival meeting. Early on in the demonstrations I also felt real fear about how things would develop. It is quite an experience to stand up in church to lead prayers and face a dozen secret police sitting on the first row.
It was the first and only time in my life that I kept a diary. One of the things I must try and do this year is transcribe some of what I wrote then.
The churches in central Germany are marking the 20th anniversary of the process leading the fall of the Berlin wall with a series of events called "Gesegnete Unruhe"- Holy Disorder. You can even send Holy disorder e-postcards to raise awareness of the anniversary and the events.
This was the revolution of candles, Psalms and Taizé songs, it was the revolution of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. You can read an interview with the year's coordinator Ralf-Uwe Beck in which he talks both about ordinary household candles as an important symbol but also about how marking the anniversary is important for people in the region today, a way to encourage people's self-confidence and faith - look at what we managed to do together 20 years ago.
When I finished my year in the GDR and went back the UK I wondered whether I would ever again experience the Bible having such immediate personal and political resonance. I grieved for that short-lived time when faith and life and action somehow seemed to dovetail. By the time I got back to the UK the country I had just lived in for a year was about to no longer exist.
"What is past is not dead, it is not even past. We cut ourselves off from it, we pretend to be strangers." is how Christa Wolf begins her book A Model Childhood. Many people from the former GDR have lived through that - a sort of wiping out of their experience. For a while in conversations with West-German friends I felt I had become a sort of honorary "Ossi".
Today this well-known quote from L.P. Hartley also resonates, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
It may be a foreign country but as the year advances and particularly as the autumn approaches I intend to go to that foreign country and revisit some of what I lived through in that time of Holy Disorder.


Angus said...

Looking forward to reading the reflections; 20 years ago, I was looking for a job, and thinking about the Evangelischer Kirchentag which would take place in June 1989... fascinating. Hope you're both well!

Jane said...

Thanks Angus - we're surviving and as you can see Stephen is enjoying himself having a great train journey around the past and present in "Mitteldeutschland"

Lac19 said...

Why "565" and not "1989" or "20"? Anyway, congrats on the new blog. Good to read Dr B's words outside of the headline-lead-body "camisole de force"

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