You know what’s beautiful? The Eifel. It’s Germany at its finest. The Eifel National Park’s green mountains are rolling, its streams rushing, its lakes blue, its picture-perfect hamlets timber-framed. In fact, a few weeks ago I was thrilled to once again stay in my favorite village there. It’s just quintessential Deutschland.
Except for the Vogelsang, that is. It’s just creepy. Haunting. Evil.
Perched over a vast lake tucked deep in the Eifel’s pine forest, this massive fortress clinging to a mountainside is perhaps the largest sprawling remnant of Nazi Germany. The Ordensburg Vogelsang was a training camp. From 1936-1939 at this National Socialist school for mind, body, and soul, thousands of leaders for the Nazi Party were forged. The Vogelsang is where men became monsters. And deep in its labyrinth of buildings lay its most sacred space—a long hall, much like a church nave, that led to a holy of holies of sorts. Except upon this holy of holies’ pagan altar was a statue of an Aryan man, the giant bronze embodiment of the herrenmensch, or master race. This Übermensch, this superman that was to be worshiped, was exactly what these young men at the Vogelsang were training to be. To be anything else was to be weak, less than, untermensch (subhuman).
Subhuman. That shouldn’t be too hard for us to grasp here in America. It’s how our laws treat the unborn—weak, less than, untermensch. Not to mention 300,000 human beings, many of them children, that are victims of human trafficking in our country each year—yes, even along I-80 in Nebraska.
Now, there are even those here in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the legislature who think Nebraska’s “Good Life” should include our ill and elderly loved ones committing suicide. So what about our weak, our less than, our untermensch? Is that creepy to us? Haunting? Evil? What does it mean that in our land and in our time for so many it is not considered haunting or evil?
Well, God’s answer to all of these questions and the issues that we face as a people can be found in His “training camps.” In fact, just an hour before our visit to the Vogelsang a few weeks ago, I led a group of 20 Lutherans traveling with me in worship at one of God’s “training camps”—a church. We gathered there in that sacred space, that long church nave, yet in its “holy of holies,” there was no Übermensch upon its altar. No, just a body given and blood shed for the weak that gathered that Sunday along with an untermensch, a pastor (me), that led them in their gottesdienst (divine service or worship) that morning.
In fact, we worship a God who loves the life of those whom the world counts as weak, and less than, and subhuman—even us. He loves us so much that He came to earth to die for us, even embodying those things we count as naught. Weak—a lowly peasant who led an insignificant life. Less than—seen and treated by others as so. Subhuman—tortured and murdered as such. Why? To make us sinful monsters into men. To forge us into new creations in Christ. To forgive us, give us life, and save us.
Think about it. Every gift that was given, every word that was proclaimed in that church the morning we visited the Vogelsang, stood in total opposition to every evil that was proclaimed and lessons that were learned in that evil place 80 years ago. And you know what? The same thing happens in your church—God’s training camp for you—each Sunday.
There each week, the same God comes and gives you His gifts in Christ through Word and Sacrament—gifts that are given; God’s Word that is proclaimed, that stands in total opposition to the evil that is proclaimed as good; and deceitful, sinful lessons that are taught as true in our own land and in our time.
God has come in Jesus Christ to redeem life at all stages, in all places, and at all times—so that one day we have ruins like the Vogelsang in our land. Overgrown landmarks where once death and evil reigned, but they do no more. And when we visit those places, I hope they feel just as creepy, haunting, and evil to us. Yet until that day, we gather in God’s training camps to receive God’s gifts in Jesus Christ, letting God’s Word and Spirit strengthen us and forge us into New Creations. Then, strengthened and nourished by God’s Word and Sacraments, we go out into our various vocations each week and live lives of love and service to the weak, the less than, and the subhuman among us. And you know what’s beautiful? That is.
Rev. Michael Brown is Spiritual Advisor to Nebraska Lutherans For Life and associate pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lincoln (www.redeemerlincoln.org).