An American in Paris (and Louvier, and Brugge, and Brussels, and Berlin, and Rome)

[NOTE: This was actually written a couple of days ago while we were still in the air, but this is the first time things have settled down enough after our return for me to put it out here. — WGS]

My apologies if some of you had comments waiting in the moderation queue for a while and if you came out checking the blog for the last two weeks or so only to find that, yet again, there was nothing here. I have been negligent in posting because my wife and I have been in Europe. (You might have noticed the tweet I did a couple of weeks ago, which was, I believe, my last dispatch before leaving.)

The Arc de Triomphe -- also known as the Crazy Traffic Circle of Guaranteed Death
The Arc de Triomphe in Paris — also known as the Crazy Traffic Circle of Guaranteed Death

Actually, it was my goal to blog from Europe while we were there. That (plus being very busy) is why I did not post about the trip before we left. I thought a surprise “Ah ha! I am posting from Paris!” post would be fun, but I should listen to my wife more, who has pointed out to me that my desire to surprise sometimes doesn’t work out well. It was my goal to make video dispatches for my congregations from various locales, as well. But the pace was so hectic (and WiFi so unpredictable) that all I managed to do was produce a couple of Friday Night Greetings videos for my local churches and make sporadic e-mail checks. So, a “post-Europe trip” post it is!

And why were we in Europe in the first place? Would you believe that Francis wanted to look at some of our literature? No?

Brussels Town Hall at night
Brussels Town Hall at night — gorgeous and creepy all rolled into one

Mr. Meredith has mentioned to me many times that it would be beneficial for my outlook and my ability to serve to have some experience in Europe, even if brief, and that’s what this trip was about, much like he had asked of Mr. Ogwyn several years ago. After consulting with various helpful ones, a two week trip was planned, ultimately involving visits to Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and Rome. Along the way, side trips to Louvier (visiting with our friends the Boyer family!) and Brugge (accompanied by the delightful Mr. & Mrs. Rees Ellis) materialized. Of the two Sabbaths, only the first involved being in an area where we have a congregation: Charleroi, Belgium. The congregation there in Charleroi was wonderful — I really enjoyed getting to give the sermon there and I wish we could have had more time with them! What a great bunch of people. The second Sabbath my wife and I spent together in Rome in personal study, much-needed rest, and waiting for Signore Francis to call requesting a Bible Study. (He didn’t.)

Actually, as I write this the trip is not technically over, yet. I am, at this particular moment, approximately 35,103 feet above the Atlantic Ocean where it is a balmy -73 degrees Fahrenheit outside and we are still 3,030 miles from our stop in New York, where we’ll hop a second plane to Cincinnati after passing through customs. But I won’t be able to post this until we’re home, so it will be done by the time this gets posted.

Ruins from a market gate entrance to ancient Miletus (the city mentioned in Acts 20:17 and 2 Timorhy 4:20), present at the Pergamon museum in Berlin
Ruins from a market gate entrance to ancient Miletus (the city mentioned in Acts 20:17 and 2 Timothy 4:20), rebuilt at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

While I had more grandiose plans when starting this post, I think I will have to make it a bit more perfunctory. I wanted to gather my thoughts a bit about the trip and begin making some observations, but–wow–there is just so much! Mr. Meredith believed that some time in Europe–again, however brief–would expand my viewpoint a bit, and I certainly believe it has. I did visit England very briefly when I was a pre-teen, but he felt that focusing on the cultures there on the continent would be more beneficial for these purposes, and I think he was right. But, to borrow a metaphor I sometimes use too much, all of this in just two weeks was much like drinking from a firehose, and my wife and I both think that it will take a little while for out thoughts to settle and for so many disparate ideas and observations to mature. I’d like some time to categorize what I’ve seen and experienced, as it really seems as though I’ve got a few too many thoughts for my teeny little brain to process efficiently. Still, I’ll mention a few things here before I wrap up.

The Brandenburg Gate (one of my favorite structures in Europe). Beautiful Wife (my favorite structure on any continent) can be seen in the lower right corner taking a picture.
The Brandenburg Gate (one of my favorite structures in Europe) in Berlin. Beautiful Wife (my favorite structure on any continent) can be seen in the lower right corner taking a picture.

Though the trip was very rushed (in a sense, it seemed as though we only had enough time to realize that we need to come back to spend more time!) there was a benefit to seeing several different approaches to life on the continent in such a small span of days. The iron and clay nature of the future European power really stood out as one culture differed in so many ways from the next. It’s a political union, to be sure, but the sense of national identity is still very strong–so much more so than the individual sense of identity that American’s attach to their state. (Well, except Texans, perhaps…) It really will need something to bind it together and to influence individuals to think of themselves more as Europeans. In Brussels, though, the Parlamentarium exhibit (which was a very interesting place to visit, by the way) embodied the very opposite of that spirit, as a place where a single “Europa” lives and breathes. It strove to celebrate the EU, sell the EU, and explain the “why” behind the EU. On this last point, I thought the Parlamentarium was most valuable. While some of the ideas would seem abhorrent to many Americans, our country hasn’t experienced what European continent has, and seeing it from that perspective (part of the purpose of the trip) changes the calculations entirely. I’ll revisit that another time and try to blog about it.

Detail in the Arch of Titus, depicting the treasures of the Temple in Jerusalem being carried away in victory.
Detail in the Arch of Titus, depicting the treasures of the Temple in Jerusalem being carried away in victory.

On a more practical note, let me say here that one of the most valuable things we did was to take two bike tours from the “Fat Tire” tour guide company while in Berlin. The first focused on the Jewish experience leading up to and during WWII and the rise and fall of Nazism, and the second focused on the post-war period, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, and the East-West divide in Germany. Both were headed by excellent guides who helped us bike around Berlin in groups visiting significant places related to each theme while educating us on the topics. Not only was it nice to have some wheels on those days (my feet and I are no longer on speaking terms after this trip), but the educational experience was fantastic. While both Beautiful Wife and I have learned much about these things over time, having such a concentrated focus while actually visiting the relevant sites was amazing. If someone is ever going to Berlin (and they also serve other cities) and is able to ride a bicycle, I highly recommend a “Fat Tire” bike tour.

The last trip in Rome–which did include the Vatican–was amazing in a number of ways. Again, I need some processing time to put it all together into some coherent points worth dressing up with words. But it was very humbling to walk around among the ruins of the Palatine Hill, the center of the famous Seven Hills of Rome, gazing at the few weathered, impotent columns and stones that remain of the once impressive Roman Forum. Two words constantly came to mind, over and over: “Empires fall.”

Beautiful Wife had some particularly interesting thoughts while were where there, both in Rome at the Forum and walking around the (so-called) St. Peter’s Basilica and I look forward to sharing them eventually. Actually, her observations in all of these cities was very helpful and insightful (if I do say so, myself), and I’ll be sure to mention them when I get to writing more.

Gluten-free bruschetta in Italy -- easily the most "gluten-free friendly" country on our trip.
Gluten-free bruschetta in Italy — easily the most “gluten-free friendly” country on our trip.

I should warn, though, that it really might take a while. Not only will I likely be only semi-verbal after landing (jet lag, mind knot, experience overload, etc.), but also we have to turn around and gear up to leave in less than a week for one of the regular Council of Elders meetings, and some tasks (camp, Feast, and good old pastorin’) have built up a bit while we’ve been gone. Plus, I’d hate to put off blogging about whatever goofy things come up while my thoughts continue to bake–if scientists discover a new pair of quarks (fuzzy & bald? apple & pc?), I want to be there to say something inconsequential about it! 🙂 Besides, I’ve learned than when I have bigger thoughts that are taking a while to come together, if I force them to be “next in line” then I go for a long time writing nothing, which gets me out of a writing mode and doesn’t do my scripts or articles any good. So, I’ll try to blog inconsistently and inefficiently like usual, while allowing observations from the trip to come out in a natural way from time to time.

Until then, just accept my apologies if your comment waited unusually long in the moderation queue before being approved! And I will try to use many of the new foreign language words I learned on our trip in my next post–maybe even all five or six of them.

6 thoughts on “An American in Paris (and Louvier, and Brugge, and Brussels, and Berlin, and Rome)

  1. Wow…..I didn’t know you were in Europe…..but what excellent timing for this post. I’m going to Israel for the Feast this fall, and JUST met with a travel agency an hour ago about the possibility to making a stopover in Europe on my way to the Feast. How encouraging to see that you were encouraged to go, and that it helped broaden your understanding of certain things. Food for thought as I decide whether to go to Europe or not this fall…..

  2. Wonderful, wonderful blog! And the photo ops you had make it wonderful squared. Cubed!

    Yes, new vocabulary words can only make you more dangerous, can’t it? 😉 (Didya ever hear the Cajun French expression, laissez le bon temps rouler? 😀 ) I know they’ve made me dangerous indeed. So nobody had better take me on in a carnal fight; I know karate, jijutsu, tai chi chuan, and five or six other Japanese and Chinese words and phrases. 😀 LOL

    Good, GOOD thinking on Mr. Meredith’s part.

    And, welcome home.

  3. Shana

    My husband and I spent the summer in Europe after college. One of our most memorable days was a walking tour of Berlin by an excellent tour guide. We visited both WWII and post war sites. It was very sobering to look at man’s inhumanity to mankind. We had the opportunity to tour two concentration camps (Dachau and Auschwitz) as well. It is almost impossible to grasp what went on there.

    Looks like you had a profitable and informative trip.

  4. Robert

    Just out of curiosity, who paid for your trip? Was it out your own pocket or were your expenses covered by the Living Church of God?

  5. Rachel: Hey, I’m glad it worked out that way for you! And I believe I owe you an e-mail big time. Please forgive me!

    John: Yes, Mr. Meredith has felt for a very long time apparently that it was experience I needed to be able to serve better in a number of capacities, and with the experience behind me I believe I can see where he was coming from. It’s already impacting some of the things I’ve planned and considered for some future telecast projects, and I really look forward to “processing” more of the experience going forward. As my wife and I have both noted, it is really a lot to think about, and our minds are still spinning, a bit.

    Shana: I agree: the right tour and guide really helps. Part of Mr. Meredith’s goal in sending me was to help me understand a “continental” perspective on a number of things, and the educational guides was an excellent aid to that. I think that as Americans it is sometimes hard to understand the impact of World Wars I and II and the Holocaust–not to mention all the other wars and upheavals Europe has experienced–from the perspective of those who have lived through such things generation after generation in their own lands. Being separated from our battlefields by oceans really affects our perception of things, and being there personally while discussing that history was immensely more illuminating and clarifying than I ever thought it would be. Again, the guides who spoke to us really helped in that process.

    Robert: It was a combination of both. It was Mr. Meredith’s decision that I be sent to Europe, though he let me choose a time that would work best within my schedule. He wanted the trip to focus on places of prophetic significance and places which would provide what he thought would be the best opportunity to be exposed to the culture and approach of the continent, and he asked that I submit a suggested itinerary for approval, which I did. (Most of the sites I visited were those he suggested in the meeting when he told me he was sending me.) It was a lot of “budget”, no-frills travel and we did not bring our children, though I’m thankful I was able to bring my wife — not only do I appreciate her thoughts, but she’s the closest thing to a “security blanket” I have! That enabled us to cover the most ground to satisfy Mr. Meredith’s intent and purposes for the trip. I was also able to visit one of our European congregations while I was there to speak and give them some “behind the scenes” news of the Work, which they seemed to appreciate very much. (And they really were a delight to be with. My thanks, again, to the wonderful people of the Charleroi congregation!)

    We didn’t do all the things we would have done if it were a vacation, and we’d love to be able to go back one day and do those things if we can save up for such a trip in the future. But frankly that wasn’t the purpose of the trip, so with few exceptions we purposefully chose our activities in various locations so that they would best reflect Mr. Meredith’s priorities and purposes for my being there. And, as I said above, now that I’m on the other side of the trip I can see why he “commanded” that we go. My thoughts on certain topics haven’t been the same since, and I pray that I am able to reflect the education that trip represented in my telecast and writing work as soon as possible.

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