To Understand Rather Than to Be Understood

Pastor's Corner

Brother Roger, the beloved founder of the Taizé Community in France, once observed, “Throughout my life, I had the desire not to prejudge anybody. In relating to everyone, it was essential for me to rather understand than to be understood. In order to understand, faces are even more important than words.

From here, Brother Roger went on to describe his appreciation of the human face. We, here at First Reformed Church, have been blessed with manifold opportunities for following Brother Roger’s intent. For years, we have participated in the tradition of Taizé. We have also come to realize that peace on earth is only possible if people begin to understand each other and develop empathy and appreciation for each other’s situation.

For this reason, we co-hosted with our Turkish neighbors from the Peace Islands Institute another friendship gathering on Oct 25th. We enjoyed Turkish food and fellowship with one another and engaged in an interesting PowerPoint presentation by Dr. Levent Ko on modern political and religious history in Turkey.

“How is this my history?” you might ask, and Brother Roger would respond that it is more important to understand than to be understood. If global peace depends on relationship building, then sharing in our Turkish neighbor’s perception of the world is in our own interest.

By now,you may have had a chance to encounter yet another culture on the premises of First Reformed Church. On Oct 28th, Raíces Cultural Center opened its Day-of-the-Dead Exhibition in the cemetery and inside our buildings. The exhibition includes artwork and small religious objects. It will end on Nov 5th.

What do we know about the Day of the Dead (el Dià de los Muertos)? It’s a Latin American holiday with origins in a pre-Christian Aztec tradition, now connected with the Roman Catholic holiday of All Saints Day. It is celebrated in Mexico, where it is a national holiday, but in other countries as well, including Brazil and Spain. Customs include gatherings of friends and family to pray for and to remember the ancestors. This includes the building of private altars as well as the visiting of graves with small gifts.

We Reformed people do not have altars, and we have preference for worshiping collectively. And yet we, too, know that there are many ways of encountering God. At the same time, we want to understand and lay the foundations for empathy and appreciation. From this vantage point, we can only be grateful for the exposure Raíces Cultural Center is offering us at this time. Come and marvel at cultural expressions that have significantly contributed to the diversity of our life experience.

About Rev. Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills

Hartmut Kramer-Mills, a native of Jena, Germany, began his theological education at Heidelberg University. After the Middle Exam in 1986 he received a scholarship from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He graduated from McCormick with a Master of Divinity in 1988. He graduated from Marburg University in Germany with the Ecclesiastical Exam in 1990, and received a Dr. theol. from Greifswald University, Germany, in 1997. From 1990 to 1991 he was vicar at St. Wenzel in Naumburg, Germany. He was ordained minister of word and sacrament in 1993 through the Protestant Church of the Church Province of Saxony. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant pastor in Stoessen, Goerschen, and Rathewitz, Germany. At the same time he was lecturer for Church History at Erfurt College in Germany. From 1999 to 2000 he served the Spotswood Reformed Church in New Jersey as interim pastor. Since 2000 he and his wife serve the First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, as co-pastors.
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