Sunday, May 11, 2008

Heidelberg, Day 2

Today is Sunday. I woke up at 9 am, which means I got nearly 12 hours of sleep last night. I am stunned, simply stunned, that I slept so long. I honestly can't remember the last time I slept for 12 hours. It's nuts. Even in Hawaii when I was on vacation with my wife, we didn't sleep that long. Well, clearly my body needed the rest after the 10 hour 40 minute flight yesterday and 9 hour time-shift. Looking in the mirror, my eyes are both totally blood-shot, my right eye especially. Maybe this second night's sleep will do me better, as I won't be sleeping too long or too short.

Anyway, as it was Sunday this morning, and as I learned that church doesn't start until 1:30 pm (that's, uh, 1330 military time, which everything is listed in around here), I woke up and had plenty of time to relax. I slowly took a shower, slowly had breakfast, slowly ironed my shirts (for the whole week!), and slowly had my lunch. It was one of the most relaxing mornings I've had in ... um ... well, a long time.

Just after noon, I left the hotel room and started walking. The church is about 1 1/2 miles from here (okay, that's about 2 1/2 kilometers around here ... everything's in metric! Do you even know how long a 15 centimeter Subway sandwich is?! It's the short one! *doh*). It took me almost an hour to walk it, but I took my time and enjoyed myself on the way.

The ward I attended was the English-speaking military ward. Apparently there's plenty of U.S. military people around here at the various mini-bases near town. Funny how it is, though, even in a military ward they practice Mormon Standard Time; church started about five minutes late and people were trickling in even after the sacrament was done.

Somehow, showing up a half hour early, I managed to pick the one spot in the entire chapel where all the families with little, noisy kids usually sit. In this particular ward, that'd be towards the back right of the chapel, when viewed from the stand. Kids were everywhere! The strange part is that the kids were all very young. It took me a while to figure it out, but most of the families are young families on assignment from the States. Their nursery was a zoo while their young men and young women meetings were a ghost town. It was strangely unbalanced. In addition, the ward was mostly composed of short-timers who were either on the way in or on the way out of the ward -- that's the way the military does it, though, and they were used to it. It seemed only slightly more stable than a student ward.

One thing I realized as I was sitting behind a little girl that kept giggling at me, next to two little boys who were fighting over Legos, and in front of a few little girls who kept crying, is that my experience walking around town suggests that kids are actually pretty rare. Most families I saw had one child, maybe two, but certainly never as many as most families in the ward had -- three or four or more.

To the typical German, it seems that kids are rare -- families are small. All the children I saw were accompanied by adults; their lives seemed to be miniature versions of adult lives. While it was true that most adults were interacting with their younger children, it seemed that the adults were basically dragging the children around doing the things that adults in the States do when children are not around. Very strange. And the teenagers? Never did I actually see them with their parents. And they were all over town. Double very strange.

So back to church. It was Mother's Day today (I've really gotta make it up to my good wife somehow ...) and the program was, of course, about Mother's Day. It seems that the military ward keeps all the same holidays as back in the States, the kids go to American-sponsored schools, and they interact almost exclusively with other English-speakers. That, too, was kinda weird.

So, uh, back to church. Sacrament meeting was pretty interesting. The whole congregation sang, and sang loud. There was one woman who was extremely warbly, screechy, and opera-y. At first, I suspected that the rest of the congregation sang so loud in an attempt to drown out this other women. Later in the meetings, somebody commented about the military drills they do, and it occurred to me that the men sang out so well because, well, they're used to hollering, "Sir! Yes, Sir!" at the top of their lungs.

The talks were very good. The youth speaker was a young woman who got up, chewing gum like a cow, and started making really dumb jokes. It was evident she wasn't comfortable up there, and she admitted that she had "googled" for material for her talk that very morning. Nevertheless, after she got down to the business of talking, it was quite moving to hear her as she described how her father had recently been killed in action, and that she was so grateful for her mother who has been helping her through this terrible experience. After she spoke, she went and sat down with her mother, who put an arm around her. I counted 5 kids, and there may have been 1 or 2 more I couldn't see.

The next speaker was the wife of the 2nd Counselor in the Bishopric. She was very nervous, too, but gave a great talk about several good mothers in the scriptures. She started with Eve and described how it must have been to watch Cain and Abel go at it, and how difficult it must have been knowing that not all of her children would be saved; she was a truly brave woman who sacrificed so much for what she knew to be right. She also spoke about Ruth, to whom her future husband once said, "... all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman." Tough to beat that. Then she went on and spoke about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and what a remarkable woman she must have been. As she was carrying Jesus, she must have been somewhat of a social outcast, knowing the public circumstances of that child's birth.

Then she mentioned a few people I didn't know about, Eunice and Lois, the mother and grandmother of Timothy, of whom Paul the Apostle said, "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also." It was by the amazing testimony of these good mothers that Timothy became the man of faith that he was.

The last speaker spoke of testimonies. He said that there's several ways to find out if the church is true. First, one can examine the "blueprints" of the church by reading the scriptures, examining the attributes of the church mentioned therein, and then comparing the known churches of the day to find one that most closely matches. Second, one can live the teachings of a church to find out how they work out. Third, one can inquire about the "deep" questions of life (where did we come from? what's the purpose to life? is there life after death?) and see if the received answers are satisfying enough. But at the end of the day, the speaker said that the thing that must truly occur is that one must be instructed by the Holy Ghost. Real truth is unchanging, eternal, and can be gained exclusively by the instruction of the Spirit. It was a pretty cool talk.

After Sacrament Meeting I went to Gospel Doctrine where they had a lively discussion on the Noah/Abinadi story. The discussion veered everywhere it seemed since there were some wild cards in the class, but the teacher did admirably pulling things together. One interesting question was posed about why Abinadi instructed them not to touch him lest they be smitten if it was true that Noah wasn't going to listen in the end, anyway. The answer? Somebody else was listening, and Abinadi wasn't done delivering the entire message. The first thing Alma did was write down all the words of Abinadi, and clearly there was something in the latter part of that message his people needed -- and that we need today. Good stuff.

The third hour I went to Priesthood Meeting where all the men were together. There were 8 visitors -- a very high number, even for their ward, apparently. By the time we were all done introducing ourselves, a third of that hour was over. After introducing who I am and what I do, the 2nd Counselor of the Bishopric pulled me aside and asked that I attend Deacon's Quorum with him. I agreed and went in and filled these 12- and 13-year old minds with all sorts of information about Mars, about the complexities involved with a Mars mission, and most importantly about how things in life can be hard (like getting to Mars), but we can look to our Savior for support. They're young, so I doubt it made any difference to them, but I sure had fun.

Afterwards, I took a walk along the Neckar River. Apparently, nearly the whole north bank of the river near downtown Heidelberg is given over to a public park. It was really neat walking along the river with people playing frisbee, soccer, volleyball -- even table tennis! Families were out for barbecues and tons of people were out sunbathing. Apparently, it's been raining for weeks and so the locals are just nuts about being out in the sun right now.

One strange observation I made, though, is that Germans don't smile unless actively amused. They don't smile to strangers, nor do they wave or nod their head in recognition. And they never say anything to anybody unless they intend to carry on a conversation. Maybe it's just me, but that's the way it seems. I smiled at people in my passing all day long, and received more double-takes than I can count! I think I'll keep doing it all week long! ;)

Anyway, so it's evening -- I need to crash soon. I missed calling my wife (on Mother's Day!) because I socialized too long with friends from home who arrived today when I registered at the conference center. She's at church as I type this -- I left a message and I hope they call me on "Skype" so I can say hello later tonight (they'll have to wake me ...). It's been a good day, though -- I think I walked over ten miles!

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