Thank God for GPS! We managed to squeeze our rental car through the medieval gates of Brugge (Bruges if you are coming from France instead of the Netherlands) and then navigate the cobblestone streets to our bed and breakfast. Every time we walked out our charming accommodation, I turned the wrong direction, but my phone delivered us. So we found our way to the significant sites where I learned a few stories of what happened in Bruges.
I am not writing this to tell you all about my trip to Europe; you can go to Brugge yourself sometime; Lord knows everyone else does. The city is so attractive, It is like Disney made Main Street, Belgium and dragooned people onto tour buses. With a chocolate store on every corner it’s irresistible.
I’m writing to tell you one little story that seems appropriate for Memorial Day, when we remember people who have died in war. Belgium has been a big battlefield for about 400 years, so it seems appropriate to include them in our remembrance. Today, many of us will remember the valor and convictions of lost soldiers and the nobility of their sacrifice. Even when I think they were deluded and abused, I still respect their honor. Others of us remember how awful and senseless war is on Memorial Day, how it is a cyclical outbreak of evil that proves how much we need a Savior. No matter what it causes, gratitude or tears, I think turning the holiday into an excuse to BBQ is debasing what it means; not protesting the wickedness it signifies undermines our credibility as Jesus-followers; and just ignoring it diminishes our love. So let’s have a moment of seriousness, my friends.
My little story has to do with the war memorialized in architecture on Burg Square in Brugge — a war between church and state in Europe that is one of the many memories that make the church seem like a thing of the past throughout most of the continent.
We stumbled out of the bed and breakfast, disputing which way to turn, until I led Gwen the wrong way and Siri rerouted us. We were headed for Burg Square, the center of ancient Brugge, where we found the landmark (above) which Rick Steves told us would be the best vantage point. I opened my big, blue Belgium book, which flashed a “tourist” signal to the others in the square and began to read. A nice man speaking Dutch-seasoned English came up to us and began to embellish stories we had just started reading. One was about the two towers we could see from our vantage point. One was the tower on the church in the opulent Archbishop’s compound. One was the municipal tower connected to the civic authorities. Word is that the bishop made sure his tower was taller. The guide kind of sneered at the bishop and mocked the civil authorities because their fighting was so absurd. The constant fighting about which power would have the upper hand is embedded into Europe’s idea of the church.
On the same square was Brugge’s medieval claim to fame: the Church of the Holy Blood, in which resides a relic a Crusader brought back from the Holy Land – a vial of God’s blood. Periodically, this treasure is paraded through the streets for general veneration. We soon suspected that our friendly storyteller was working on a commission for being our unasked-for tour guide. So we told him we needed to make our pilgrimage to the afore-disparaged church.
This memory sits in my mind like an indigestible bit of foreign food. I studied the investiture conflicts in history classes, but every time I run into the after-affects memorialized in European architecture I get a sick feeling. It is the same kind of queasiness I feel when Franklin Graham calls Trump God’s choice for president, or I hear of a white supremacist in Portland channeling the political zeitgeist by threatening Muslims on the train and then killing their protectors (about which Trump is so far silent, BTW). These kinds of actions are why people desert the church and and despise its search for coercive dominance. Gaining power does not mean justice. The only justice we’ll get is the kind Jesus distributes by the means he chose and chooses. When I remember war and the wars sponsored by the church, I get sin sick.
So, like I said on Friday, i expect to have some tears on my burger along with the ketchup today. It is a sin sick world and the leaders of the church, in general, let’s admit it, have been painfully susceptible to fighting for power in the name of Jesus while Jesus is fighting the powerful in the name of love. God help us to be the alternative.