I send this missive from Copenhagen, where I am on route from a conference in southern Denmark. I arrived here yesterday and leave tomorrow, and so the day afforded me the opportunity to do a little looking about. This is not the first time I have been to Copenhagen, a city I find to be utterly charming. This morning I made my way to Marmorkirken, a dome marble church across from the Royal Palace. The music was beautiful, and the service meaningful even though my Danish is less than elemental. Today is All Saints Day, and taking communion at a half round altar rail (whose other half extends into eternity, where it is attended by those we remember today) is always a powerful experience. I then went to the Danish Jewish Museum, where I learned a bit more about the incredible (and successful) efforts of the Danish people to protect Jews during the Second World War. Late in the afternoon I took a train ride to the Swedish city of Malmö, not so very far from Denmark and had a lovely walk and meal before returning.
The conference that brought me to Denmark was entitled “Luther from the Subaltern –the Alternative Luther.” Scholars from around the world spoke to themes either neglected in Luther studies or to new challenges that emerge in studying Luther today. My modest contribution addressed the manner in which the earth and its well-being were especially important to Luther and provide us with a meeting place for him and our contemporaries as we consider ecological concerns. I thought of that as I returned from the railway station and passed an electric charging station for cars. Increasingly people are mindful of the need to tread the earth carefully, which is somewhat easier in a place like Copenhagen. Major parts of downtown are car free, and so you see a plethora of bicycles and many people on foot. The public transit is to die for and unsurprisingly people are generally more fit. Of course, to some degree, Copenhagen and like cities are beneficiaries of wise planning in the past and careful contemporary regulations. Rules about the height of new buildings in the city core, and a concerted effort to keep historic buildings beautiful and functional make for a very fetching city.
When I returned from my train trip, I was going to read in the hotel, but the siren call of the city had me out again. It is rather like an affectionate cat wrapping itself around your leg; begging you to pet it (cat haters please insert an appropriate dynamic equivalent here). The city is inviting, well-run and simply fun to be in. It strikes me that the success of the Danes in design might not be unrelated to their living in well-designed cities. Our environment shapes us, and we shape it as well, which brings me back to Luther. In the mid-20th century there was a school of Luther research in Scandinavia that spoke of Luther’s interest in creation and created matter, asserting that it held as much importance for him as redemption. If we read Luther as if all he offers us are insights into the soul then that is all we will get. But if we anticipate that he has interest in caring for the earth too, we might well find some fodder for future reflections. Luther can’t do our theological work for us, but he can give us tools to attend to our relationships with God, one another and the world as well – a world that includes not only natural beauty, but charming urban space too.