It doesn’t take much to create a huge distance between people

2015-08-30 13.55.34-2This past week I was in Berlin for a work conference aimed at equipping young(er) leaders across Europe to pursue healthy Christian leadership. For some reason, Berlin has never really been on my list of “places to visit.” With so much going on leading up to this trip, I hardly even had time to brush up on its history and figure out what I might want to see during down time. Well actually, in my ignorance, I didn’t think there would be all that much to see … and I wasn’t really counting on any down time. When Sunday rolled around I was ready to hit the ground running for five hours of exploring before heading back to the airport.

01d59673cea20fedef28aee44749bb62bdadd4e913Climbing the steps out of the belly of the city into the heat of summer, I was surprised to see so few people near the Brandenburg Gate. It was large and impressive but not more spectacular than structures I’ve seen in Paris and Rome. As we passed through to the other side, my co-explorer for the day explained some of the significance of it during WWII. The significance of it isn’t tied to what it looks like but how it was used and what it meant to the people who lived on either side of it. As we walked further through the waves and blocks in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, I looked up to see the colour and the shapes in modern buildings surrounding the square. There was a story in each of these – in the hands of the people who designed them. You could nearly feel the heartbeat of the architects as they tried to convey a message to everyone who can see the sky above and feel the earth below. Words were only introduced when we entered the Topography of Terror, explaining how the city under our feet took shape in the last 100 years. Exposed and free of charge, it felt like a public announcement of repentance for past sin and a warning to never return.

2015-08-30 11.51.28-1A good few tram stops north of there, we joined the bohemian crowds filtering into Mauerpark for Sunday afternoon festivities. Passing by musicians and artists we made our way into the large flea market where we jostled our way in search of lunch. Currywurst in hand, we sat listening to a couple of different bands performing under the shade of the trees. A hill ascended in front of us and at the top stood a piece of “the wall” – a colourful backdrop for the lighthearted summer Sunday celebrations of the city. In front of it swings lifted people up and down from sturdy, tall wooden frames. Swings: flying, freedom, play, peace. Families gathered to release a hiss of colour onto the wall, creating something beautiful.

2015-08-30 13.44.15-112 feet high – the wall was part of a death strip from 1961-1989, an area designated to make sure no one crossed from East to West alive. If I had been born near there, I would have grown up with death in my backyard until I was seven, not swings. At the end of that portion of wall, I stopped where a fence replaced the concrete. A security guard in a high viz vest on the football stadium side looked at me strangely through the fence as I just stared at the abrupt end. It was less than a foot thick. I was struck in that moment by how little it takes to create such a huge divide between people. The obstacles themselves are easy to overcome but it is our militant effort to ensure that no one overcomes them without our permission that makes them dangerous.

Leading people towards hope is deconstructing obstacles and helping people move from oppression to freedom, regardless of if they are one of us or not. It is public repentance of how much harm has been done under the false illusion of good. It is recreating something beautiful and useful in the place of damage. It is rebellion against symbols of death by setting up swings in front of them. Can you hear the carefree laughter? That is hope.

Thank you, Berlin, for what you have taught me.

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the downton experience


As a little girl I loved my stash of costumes and fancy clothes. I wore my best pink dress and frilly socks while keeping up with the boys as we hunted rabbits in the woods outside my place. If there weren’t any there, we’d pretend that there were. The costume box never seemed to be too far away and imagination was always closer. In this world of make believe we worked through our problems and dreamed of possible futures. One week we would suit ourselves up in Olympic hats and imagine the crowds cheering as we were the finalists competing for the gold medal. The next week it was time to play teacher and help students work out their math equations. When inflicted with boredom, we were forced to play, to become.

In a world of “should haves,” I probably should have grown out of the desire to play and dress up. But I didn’t. There are just too many stories that I’d just love to jump into and try out for a while! Who wouldn’t want to step into a scene from one of their favourite movies, tv shows or books? Take Downton Abbey for example. Imagine living in this upstairs, downstairs world … where of course I would live upstairs. And without all the terrible drama. I could do without the drama! Ok, just give me the costumes, the house and the setting. When I heard that my friend’s hen party was going to be at a place that advertises as a Downton experience, I was over the moon!

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The Victorian Escapade at Clonard House was so much more than it advertised! From the outside, the house is just a large country home. Except it did have the huge vine spreading possessively across the entire front, made only more beautiful in the winter as it bared its skeleton. As one of the people in the last car to arrive, along with the bride-to-be, I felt the full impact of entering the house after her! At least 10 others stood in two perfect rows just inside the door ready to curtsey as soon as the guest of honour stepped inside. It even took me a minute to realise that it was the rest of our party dressed in black and white with their hair tucked away in their caps. We soon joined them in costume and were brought downstairs where the laughter really began as we tried to out-do each other in baking apple cakes, scrubbing out stains and tossing rings. Following our final outdoor task of chamber pot racing (in which we lost all the contents onto the ground … and each other) we were told that we would just not do as downstairs help. Upstairs we entered a room filled with satin, silk, lace and fur. In order to play parlour games and sit down to afternoon tea we had to look the part.

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When we finally entered the dining room we were convinced that this was no ordinary hen party. The table was set with an exquisite array of sweet and savoury foods that tasted as good as they looked. The staff were so genuinely kind and played their roles perfectly throughout the entire day. Never once did it feel like we were in a cheesy role play or crude costume party. When it was time to re-enter the present and leave all the house behind we were all satisfied with a fantastic day of play filled with laughter.

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Child development scholar Joseph Chilton Pearce wrote: “play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” I’d like to think that he is right not only for children but also for adults.

me and my little fox