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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bygones

     I dredged up my high school German to translate the words on a stained-glass window in a Protestant church called Martinskirche in Langenau, Germany. Just after Christmas in 2005, I was there to chaperone the Orlando Deanery Boychoir and Girls Choir on their Prayer for Peace International Tour. While the children rehearsed the evening's concert program, I studied the window in the 400-year-old building. A list of names cascaded from ceiling to floor. A date followed each name, 1916, 1917, the First World War, the "war to end all wars." Among the names were the words I translated as "They gave their lives for others."
     Nearby, more names were painted on a wall. This section was dated 1939-1945. A wreath stood in front with a banner that read, I think, "We remember our dead." In my mind, I had to peer around the horror of Hitler, but finally it struck me: these people reacted to the loss of their soldiers in exactly the same way we react to the loss of our soldiers. And this day, grandchildren of their enemies had come to sing to them. The choirs sang carols in German and traditional church songs in Latin. They sang American spirituals with contagious enthusiasm. They sang "Prayer for Peace," written especially for the choirs after Sept. 11, 2001. It asks God to protect us from evil and to strengthen us to stand for what is right. 
     The tour was meant to extend a hand of friendship to the people of the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. It seemed to work. The audience of dignitaries at the Ambassador's Concert Series in Prague (where men with dogs and pistols swept the room beforehand) demanded encores. One was a carol in the Czech language. They sang along. At an informal performance in Munich, I saw a woman singing along with the lovely Latin round "Dona Nobis Pacem," which means "grant us peace." Another woman leaned toward us choir moms and said, "They are wonderful!"
     In Vienna on New Year's Day, an American deputy ambassador heard them sing on an outdoor stage and followed them to the cathedral where they sang for a mass. Afterward, he told them that his job was to present the best of American culture to other nations, and that they had done exactly that with their singing. In the Martinskirche, though, there was something more. A reporter who covered the concert for the local paper noted a "spiritual dimension" that made the performance "intensive and expressive."
     When I told the story of the window and the wall of remembrance to a friend at church, she said, "We all come together at the foot of the cross." That was it. In Langenau, they read the Bible in German, but they learn the same truths, and they serve the same Savior. In this place of humility, we could all recognize our own flaws and reach out to one another as human beings in the name of Jesus Christ, even if there had been hatred and destruction between us in the past. We offered our music, and we held out our hands.

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