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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Luxembourg

     It was a true honor to be invited to the All Nations Church of Luxembourg's autumn retreat as their speaker. The pastor and his wife have become good friends of mine through the International church association Immanuel belongs to so it was also a real bonus to get to spend time with them. They are a warm, gracious, hospitable couple and it was really great to meet so many wonderful people in their church.
     Luxembourg is an interesting city. As one of the seats of the European Union, EU employees make up a huge percentage of people living there. The church reflects this reality. Because Luxembourg is small yet very expensive, people often choose to live in Belgium, France or Germany and commute into town. After living in Stockholm for 16.5 years, where the nearest border is at least 8 hours away, this represented a new and fascinating concept for me. In fact, the retreat itself was in a small town called Kyllburg, Germany, a mere 1 hour and 15 minute drive from Lux City.
The retreat center was very lovely. The rooms were very comfortable each equipped with private bathrooms. The food was basic German fare...heavy breads, lots of meat, simple salads. All good. Beer and wine were available all weekend long at a very low cost. This was different than most church retreats I have been a part of and it was refreshing to not have such a taboo attitude toward alcohol. There was no over-drinking at all and it simply reflected how beer and wine are really just a couple of beverage choices in central Europe. I had a bit of free time before the retreat began so took a little wander through the village. I came upon this war memorial and cemetery. I realized that every village in Germany has felt the devastating impact of WWI and WWII. Innocents along with the rest of the world, simply doing what their government expected of them. The listed names represented the young men of the village and the percentage of men lost in relationship to the overall population of the village was likely quite high. Upon awakening Saturday, this amazing view with sunrise colors mingling with fog greeted me.
     Over the course of the weekend, I spoke 4 times and enjoyed a variety of conversations with a broad array of people. Highlights included a quiz night and a bonfire under a wonderful canopy of stars. We were blessed with a near summer like day on Saturday where the temperature hovered around 21°C or 72°F. A bbq lunch had been planned and it turned out even better than we ever expected due to the warmth and sunshine. After lunch, I enjoyed a beautiful walk in the woods with several folks and took in the autumn color against a sapphire sky. Sunday was my birthday and the congregation greeted me with a rousing round of the birthday song and even baked a cake to serve after lunch. Very nice indeed. Sunday night we returned to Lux city, happy, content and tired.
     Monday was an extra day I'd given myself considering the fact that I won't likely be returning to Luxembourg any time soon! After a very relaxing morning, Paul took me to La Table au Pain...a bakery that two people who used to live in Lux highly recommended for their lemon tarts. Feeling in the mood for a sandwich on a crusty baguette, I trusted Paul's French to lead me to a beef sandwich smothered in parmesan. I was a bit surprised when it turned up as steak tartare. For future reference, if you see (cru) next to the beef, it means raw.   I have never had steak tartare and thought, well, when in Rome...so I bit into the hamburger and found it, well, interesting. The bread was heavenly so I simply decided to enjoy it as a new item in my taste palette. Frankly, I didn't find it so very good or so very bad. Needed more seasoning and there are other textures that I would enjoy more. Anyway, that was just something to munch on before dessert. Since we were taking an entire lemon tart home for dessert that night, I tried the cherry tart instead and was not disappointed.
     A walk through gorgeous, quaint Luxembourg city awaited us. There were beautiful overlooks to take in, fascinating architecture, and lovely squares dotting the city. The Protestant church in town was very beautiful. Paul shared with me that during WWII, families sent their boys into the woods to shield them from serving under the Nazi occupation. But the Nazis took hold of the baptismal records and discovered that there were many more boys available than families had stated. They imprisoned and tortured family members in order to find out where these boys were. To this day, many Luxembourgers do not want their information written down, a residual of this betrayal. It was fun to just wander the streets taking it all in. Luxembourg has an interesting motto that deeply reflects their fight to retain who they are even though small in size:
In LuxembourgishMir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn" which means, "We want to remain what we are."
     As an added treat, my friends had arranged for me to have a rejuvenating afternoon at the hands of a dear woman from their church who is a masseuse. I cannot quite explain the delight I took in this very relaxing and restorative afternoon. That evening, Paul and Beth hosted a dinner with our good friends from the International Church in Brussels. It was a delight to connect with these dear friends, talk a little church life and share broadly and warmly from our current contexts. The lemon tart did not disappoint and I went to bed clearly grateful for a day of total indulgence.

I am writing this from a Swiss Air flight from Zurich to Stockholm. The flight attendant has just delivered a small piece of Swiss chocolate so I think it's time to close and savor yet one more gift from an incredible weekend.