Greetings from Munich, where the weather is lovely and we can at least afford a beer - one thing a trip to Norway will teach you to appreciate. Coming back to Germany after three other languages and currencies really does feel a bit like home, and we cheered wildly with the rest of the beer garden when Germany won its semifinal of the European soccer championships on Wednesday.
So much of this time away has not been what I expected. It will take me months to sort out, but perhaps some of it my be worth writing about some time Thanks to all of you who keep checking in. I expect to return to lectionary blogging some time in August.
In our small sample of European life (sample of countries so far: three), we have witnessed a lot of interest in the American election over here, particularly in Obama’s candidacy.
For good historical reasons, Germans in particular pay a lot of attention to politics, and don’t view it as a taboo subject. A few weeks ago we met up with an older couple who were out on their bikes for a Sunday afternoon. After “Guten Tag” and “Woher kommen Sie?” (where are you from), the next question was, “who are you voting for in the election?” The third question! Likewise, the German rail magazine featured an interview with Jodie Foster this month, and the first question posed was about whether she's supporting Obama.
As for Obama, again our relatively small sample shows lots of support for him. When he sealed the nomination last week, the papers were full of front-page pictures of him. Die Zeit had a half-page headshot with the headline: “A President for the World: what it would mean for the most powerful man in the world no longer to be a white man” (it’s a little snappier in the German than that). Taz, a left-leaning more gossipy paper had a picture of the White House with the title “Uncle Obama’s House” – which isn’t quite as snarky as it sounds in the English.
In France there's at least as much interest, if not more because there's a sizable African emigre population. The headline of the Parisien, which appeared larger than life all over the city this past weekend, translates “How he’s changing America : the Obama Revolution.”The French, of course, are very fond of revolutions.
Despite Bill Clinton’s enormous popularity in Europe during his Presidency, there don’t seem to be too many people grieving Hillary’s losses. One thing is very clear: people around here are really hoping that the U.S. will take a different course beginning in 2009.
We like to think that work is the reason we are miserable. If only we had less of it, perhaps, we would be satisfied. We romanticize the places we visit and imagine that life there is slower, more peaceful.
For a month we’ve been on sabbatical (well, I have – Will has continued to work) at Weingut Landmann, a family-run winery and farm. As far back as anyone has been able to trace, both sides of this family have produced wine, in this corner of Baden. Twelve years ago, the two sons of the family took over the business, one serving as the oenologist and the other as the business manager. They run a farm stand seven days a week during asparagus season (April – June), rent out five vacation apartments, offer wine tastings with food on arrangement, and produce 100,000 bottles of wine a year.
The irony for us is that this sabbatical on the farm in fact puts us right in the middle of a lot of very hard working people. With Spargel (asparagus) season in full swing, the tractors and work crews start heading out by at least 7 a.m. every morning, the farm stand is open by 8 and people do not shut down until sundown, which is 9p.m. or later. Frequently there are people in the office, which is just outside our front door, until 10 or later. We are surrounded by people working very, very long hours, and mostly we feel its our dutyto stay out of their way. The lush green landscape that for us is a picture of peace and tranquility must look very different through their eyes, where a good portion of the year’s profit must be removed from the ground and gotten into saleable form in a relatively short time.
Is the rural life more peaceful? Certainly one couldn’t say that if you count work hours,noise levels, or the numbers of people and vehicles coming and going. There is a sense, though, that life here is more integrated than the equivalent life would be for us back at home. When we work 60 hour weeks at home, we are away, in the office, and if at home, often barking at the children to keep their fingers off the computer. Here, three generations are all engaged in the common work, except when the children are in school.The oldest child in the family is drafted into service washing and peeling asparagus. The youngest ones may not be working, but they are very much about the place as their parents work. Three generations plus a lot of neighbors and helpers are part of the effort, from dawn until dusk. Long days, no doubt, but days in which they are together -- or at least together in a common endeavor.
David Wood of the Fund for Theological Education has argued that the pastoral life (the ministerial kind) also offers some of that same integration, though it is limited to the degree that we operate the church like a business. My children have no idea what Will does for a living (even I have difficulty understanding it sometimes), even when he’s working from home, because the projects are abstract and the communities he serves are miles away. My work, at least a good part of it, is tangible and visible. My kids see me lead, preach, sing, preside. Katie insists on going with me at 7 every Sunday morning to church and knows many members of our community by name – and nearly everyone knows their names. I do not take them to the office much, because they would be as disruptive there as in any office setting, but the public element of my ministry and its communal nature offers them an access point that few children have to the work world in urban places. Every Sunday is Take Your Children to Work Day for me. That’s a gift.
This afternoon we had a little glimpse of the German medical system. As we stuck Johann in the bath we discovered a tick had crawled into his side right under the waistband. Having seen signs in the local pharmacies about Lyme disease and other scary things, we were of course eager to get it out, and we even had our very special scary-sharp tweezers along for the job. But this little bugger was definitely burrowed in, and after some work at it (and a lot of resistance from J) we gave up and did a little more research. Asking around to our hosts, our German relatives and our clinic at home confirmed the notion that we should see a doctor to get the thing properly removed.
So, off to the hospital --of course the only thing open on a Sunday evening anyway. Our hosts graciously gave us a ride and seemed not to think that this was an extreme reaction for a tick. When we arrived we were directed to the medical clinic, where two women at the desk informed us that usually they only treat adults there – but, since it was just a matter of a tick, why not ask? They did, and we were soon ushered into an exam room. There was 30 seconds of screaming bloody murder while the doctor did the job, and then we were out again with reassurances that things would probably be fine from here, but if he develops the telltale ring to come back for antibiotics.
Then, we paid. They did ask about insurance at the beginning of the whole affair, but of course our U.S coverage meant nothing to them. Our efforts to determine our insurance coverage or get any pre-approval came to naught, because the 800 numbers supposedly provided for that purpose don’t work from here.
“Hmm. .. “ the woman at the desk said. “You’ll have to pay cash, and because it’s Sunday it will be more expensive.”
“Like, how expensive?” we asked timorously, thinking of the bills that have come our way from J’s previous trips to the ER for stitches.
“Maybe fifty euros!” she answered.
I’m thinking, that’s a bargain!
In the end, the total was 34 euros. . .about $50 U.S., which is probably what our co-pay alone would have been at home. Toto, we’re not in American health care system anymore.
The other big difference in the whole affair was something we didn’t have to do – sign things. In the hurry I completely forgot to bring any ID, and, let me add, the Germans are usually quite fond of asking for passports for such minor offenses as renting a bicycle. But no one asked for ID. No one even had us fill out a form. Will gave his name, Johann’s name, and a local address to the woman at the desk. We signed nothing – not one single piece of paper. No waivers, no release of medical information, no lengthy medical histories, no authorization to treat, nothing.
Imagine that, a health care system in which the focus is on getting people treated, rather than making sure it’s paid for, or preventing lawsuits!