Monday, September 24, 2012

Germany and the Czech Republic in July 2013

St. Thomas Church - Leipzig
Next summer I will once again be leading a 12-day tour to Germany and the Czech Republic. Not only will we visit significant places connected with the lives of Martin Luther and J. S. Bach, but we will also explore other sites that are important in the history of Germany. The journey begins with a few days in bustling Berlin. From there we will travel through Wittenberg, Leipzig, Erfurt, and Dresden, and then on to historic  Prague.

Along the way we will visit the home of "Hitler resister" Dietrich Bonhoeffer, explore the rich cultural opportunities in the German capital, tour the state-of-the-art Luther museum and other exhibits in the town he made famous, undertake a pilgrimage to the Wartburg Castle (and see its rich variety of religious relics and artwork), visit the Bachhaus museum in Eisenach (where we will learn about and listen to all things Baroque), experience world-class music at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig and at the recently-renovated Frauenkirche in Dresden. There will be shopping and museum-exploring in Berlin and Prague, people-watching in various market places and town squares, eating wonderful meals in such places as Leipzig's Auerbach's Keller (made famous by Goethe), and lingering in an art museum or two. We will engage German history and culture from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first. So we will learn about Goethe and Schiller, but also walk the haunting grounds of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp and wrestle with the dark side of Germany's more recent past.

What better way to spend a late afternoon in July than to sample a good German beer or wine over conversation at an outside cafe in the shadow of a medieval cathedral, as you watch others going about their business in the town square or market place... And then to catch an early dinner before heading off to a cabaret show or the opera or an evening concert...

Zwinger Museum - Dresden
As one who has taught university courses on Luther and Bach (and who lived and taught in Germany for two years [2007-9]), I will be providing "color commentary" on the places we visit and the histories we uncover. While there will be several guided walking tours, there will also be much time for informal conversation and discussion.

I should stress that one does not need to be a Lutheran Christian to enjoy this experience! Just ask the several non-Lutheran participants from last summer's trip! In fact, two of them told me after last year's journey that they planned to publicize this upcoming trip to friends at their local Roman Catholic church.(Several of the participants are also Valparaiso University alumni, but one need not have any connection to my university to join us!)

Our tour company is Trans World Travel, located in Highland Park, Illinois. They have been organizing and leading tours to Europe and elsewhere for several decades.

To download a color brochure about the trip, visit
Then click on the link that will take you to "Luther/Bach Trip 2013."

To register for the trip, simply print off the brochure and send in the registration form to Trans World Travel. They are handling all of the actual travel arrangements.

Since space is limited, I encourage you to register soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Religion in the Economist

Among the more interesting journals about religion that I read on a weekly basis, none is more insightful and provoking than the British Economist. First published in 1843, its original purpose still graces the masthead: " take part in 'a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.'" Given this nineteenth-century liberal, modernist aim, one might think "religion" and even "theology" would be relegated in its pages to the wrong side of that "severe contest." Not so. Or, at least, not always. Perhaps in a way not foreseen in the mid-1800s, "religions" have persisted into the present. Whereas less than a century before the magazine's founding, David Hume confidently predicted that "within 300 years" most all religions would cease to exist within modern, scientific societies, such has not been the case. If anything, a well-educated business person today needs more knowledge of the world's religions and their impact on societies and regions than was the case in Hume's eighteenth century. Careful reporting on human beings, their hopes and fears, their beliefs and behaviors, cannot avoid the long shadow of "religion" and even "theology." The faith-dimension to many of the most troubling of problems in the contemporary world cannot be avoided: the growing gap between rich and the poor, the population explosion, ongoing violent conflicts between different racial, cultural, and religious groups (the arming of which no one seems able to stop), the global environmental crisis.The list could go on. So it is not surprising that "religion" and even "theology" appear in such a secular-minded magazine as the Economist.

Witness this week's edition (Sep 15, 2012). Beyond the several pages devoted to Muslim rage and violence in response to a vile, online anti-Muslim film made by a Coptic-American Christian, attention was given to:

(1) two letters to the editor on "atheism" (in response to an earlier article on "growing disbelief" in America). One of the letter writers wrote, "I can't imagine how belief or unbelief in a god would made any difference in my life. I'll still try to treat my fellow man and woman like I'd like them to treat me. It really is possible to try to be good without the aid of an organized religion or belief in the supernatural." But did you invent the notion of "treating your fellow man and woman as you'd like them to treat you?" And how well are you doing at that? What if you are not the only judge of your behavior?

(2) no easy choices in Syria, now that the death toll is approaching 30,000 and the refugee count ten times that amount;

(3) religious differences among the Syrian rebels and how that is complicating their resistance;

(4) moral-religious issues relating to women's health care and their impact on the US presidential election;

(5) gay marriage ballot measures in several US states;

(6) the lack of much debate about foreign policy between the two US candidates (the editorial makes reference to Pres. Obama's failed "ambitious plan" to "reach out to Muslims" so as "to reduce the antagonism of Muslims toward the West and Israel");

(7) the growth of private universities in Brazil, some of which are Roman Catholic;

(8) the Haqqani network that is straining US-Pakistani relations;

(9) the heated election for mayor of Jakarta (Muslim-Christian tensions in Indonesia);

(10) the new moderate Islamist president of Somalia;

(11) the elections in the Netherlands (Christian Democrat setback; anti-Muslim politics);

(12) Peddling religion in Turkey (relationship between Muslim theology and modern sciences);

(13) Angela Merkel's (Lutheran?) austerity in the euro crisis;

 (14) moves among British Tories toward better relations with gays (which is upsetting to conservative Christians);

(15) the pros and cons of circumcision (and controversy surrounding communities that want to ban the religious practice);

(16) reinventing Bach (review of a new book about how modern musical technology has allowed Bach's music to be reinvented by its interpreters);

(17) a review of the book, "And Man Created God: Kings, Cults, and Conquests at the Time of Jesus" (a review that would have been better had it paid closer attention to the work on Jesus by Albert Schweitzer, who is mentioned in the earlier review on the Bach book);

(18) an obituary of peace-maker, Roger Fisher, whose knowledge of the world religions was central to his work as "a fixer."

This was not an atypical week. When time is limited, one is hard-pressed to find better analysis of global events, including their religious dimensions than this weekly newspaper.