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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No Condemnation

While we've been in the United States, Doug and I have gone to church with our folks. Both attend wonderful churches and we enjoy going as "spectators" rather than leaders! The sermons in both places were challenging and well done. One line from Doug's parent's church has stayed with me. The minister, in speaking about Jesus' response to various individuals in need said the following about our own response to other people's needs: "Pity is what you feel when you encounter someone with deep needs. Compassion is what you do when you encounter someone with deep needs. Jesus felt pity and acted with compassion." It made me realize in a deep manner that it is easy to feel for another person. The greater challenge is perhaps acting on those feelings in a manner that might be sacrificial, difficult or awkward. And yet, it is the core of the gospel as far as I'm concerned.
This past Sunday at my parent's church in Palm Springs, California, the minister was speaking on Christ's encounter with a woman who had committed adultery and who, under strict Jewish law, should've been stoned to death. Instead, Jesus responded to this woman with no condemnation and challenged the rest of us to do the same. He sent the woman on her way with the gentle challenge to "go and sin no more." The minister's point to us was plain and simple...if Jesus responds to our sin with "no condemnation" then should not be able to do the same? We ourselves do not live under the crippling tyranny of our sin so why in the world would we impose such a thing on others? He also brought out the truth that when someone does do something wrong, it is rare that they are unaware of their failure. In fact, one of the greater problems for people is an inability to forgive themselves. In my experience as a minister, it is the rare person who feels the conviction of sin in their lives and wants to continue to revel in it. Sometimes overcoming the temptation to sin is too great, but rare is the person who loves to stay mired in their wrong doing.
We love to convict others of their sin, especially if it something that we ourselves do not struggle with. But imagine how different our interaction with society could be if we humbly examined ourselves and sought redemption and forgiveness for our own shortcomings instead of engaging in the finger pointing at others that is so often a public hallmark of the church. This turns people away from the love of God in Christ. It does not draw them in. When Jesus encountered the woman who had committed adultery, he did not begin his encounter by pointing out her shortcomings. Instead, he approached with compassion, love and grace. This allowed him to have a hearing with her. If we start with condemnation, why would anyone stay and listen? Inevitably, when one person points out the sin in another person's live, it becomes a glaring example of the pot calling the kettle black, for who among us can convict another of their sin while being mired in our own shortcomings?
So why is it then that the Christian church often feels that one of their central roles is to convict people of their sin? Is that really our job? Is not our more central purpose to lure people to the love of Jesus through compassion and care while allowing the Spirit of God to work in their lives? Why do we so often feel that if we don't tell another that they are wrong, they will never figure it out? Do we not believe with whole hearts that God will convict each and every one of us of our wrong-doing as we attune our lives to His will? What kind of impact do you think the Christian Church could have on society if we left convicting people of their sin to the Holy Spirit and instead did as Jesus did...offer no condemnation and instead shower with compassion and care?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh Happy Day

Today marks the inauguration of Barack Obama as America's 44th President! I have waited with great anticipation and excitement so you can imagine my disappointment when I realized that we would be traveling between Minneapolis and Palm Springs right during the critical moment. By a wonderful stroke of luck, we deplaned in Phoenix for a plane change 2 minutes before Obama took the pledge and made his speech. We dashed into a small airport bar, took a seat, ordered a beer in celebration of the event and sat riveted to the television. It was awesome to watch people gather with their gaze fixed on the screens and to sense that something amazing was happening in our midst. As I watched him take the oath of office, tears welled up in my eyes and I just found myself at a place of utter amazement and gratitude that our nation actually got to a place where we would elect a young, African American man to lead our country.
My personal reaction is rooted in my relief that the Bush years are over. I actually leaned over to my husband at about 12.30 p.m. and said, "Bush is no longer going to be making decisions for our country!" It is a relief as I have felt quiet disappointed in his leadership and nervous about his decisions. So for me, no only am I glad that the old administration is gone, I am also thrilled that the President is now someone in whom I can feel confidence. I like Obama. I think he will be a great leader and help to restore a positive view of America. His line, "We have chosen hope over fear" is such a powerful signal of how his leadership will differ from Bush's. For a long time I have felt this administration wanted to keep us very afraid so that we would simply look the other way when they wanted to assert power in inappropriate and oppressive ways.
But on an even deeper level, the fact that we have elected a minority to the highest office in our country is truly memorable and deeply moving. One important question we all need to ask ourselves is this: Have we ever felt what it is like to live as a minority, denied the rights and privileges of the powerful? This question gives us empathy that should indeed transcend party lines. And if you ever have had the visceral experience of knowing the oppression of being a minority, you will more fully understand the wonder of watching a minority rise to the place of power and privilege with the grace and humility with which Obama has done so today. I feel so deeply moved for African Americans who have waited a lifetime for a moment such as this. I can only imagine, in small, empathetic ways what a victory this must feel like.
For me, today, there is no room for bickering, for the petty racist comments that I know are being made, for the "disappointment" of those who feel a loss of power. For those who feel this way have truly never understood the privilege of their own lives.
And so today I celebrate the joy that it ours in this historic moment. And I am utterly grateful that I got to experience first hand, with tears running down my cheeks, in a small airport bar in Phoenix, Arizona.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Made it.

I really hate the day we make the long haul to the States. It is a day that goes on and on and there is no way to avoid feeling really crummy at the end of it! But all in all, it was a smooth, uneventful trip. We left our house at 7.30 a.m. Stockholm time and headed for the subway. We always bring extra luggage so we can fill it up with delights from the US. Fortunately we have big bags that nest into each other thus lessening the number of bags we have to lug through town. The subway is a drag with bags. Down the stairs, onto the train, up the stairs. It was a busy time in the city as kids and adults were heading to school and work. One major complaint I have of the Swedish people is that they think nothing of pushing, shoving, and crashing into you. To make matters worse, they say NOTHING when they do so. No excuse me, or oh, sorry about that. Just simple (and in my opinion), rude bashing. Drives me crazy. So when I was struggling with my big 'ol bag while heading up the stairs of the subway, I was shocked and thrilled when a young Swede took one of the handles on my bag and asked, Can I help you? It was a very redeeming experience in the midst of the sea of bashers and crashers.
We noticed immediately that the airport was not very busy. Our flight was not full which is good news for us because we had plenty of room. But signs of the struggling economy definitely showed their face at the airport. When we landed at O'hare, it quite apparent that fewer people are traveling.
The flight seemed long this time around. Bad movies, my cold was rearing its ugly head causing enormous discomfort and in spite of the extra room, it wasn't all that comfortable. But the crew was lovely and we were able to land on time as the blizzard that was forecast for Chicago never materialized.
I marveled at how bright the sun was as we began our decent. The day was crystal clear and you could see the entire Chicago land area spreading out beneath our wings as we came into the city over Lake Michigan. I was taken aback at how much daylight was streaming around me. At noon the sun was blazing in all its shining glory and I realized that I hadn't seen it that high the sky since October! I actually had to shade my eyes are we landed as the combination of the glistening sun reflecting off the snow white ground was too much for my mole like eyes to handle. It was wonderful and painful all at the same time.
It was freezing cold in Chicago, minus zero Farenheit so I was glad to feel the warmth of the sun through the window. Customs was easy and we were on our way to terminal 1 for our final leg up to Minnesota where by the way we had heard that the temperature was hovering around minus 9!
We stopped for a snack and marveled at the huge plate of homemade tortilla chips that were placed before us. We browsed around the book store to see what titles people were reading. We sensed the excitement of Obama's inauguration, the home town crowd happy to draw attention to their President and away from their governor. It was great to be back in the US in spite of the jet lagged fog that was buzzing in my brain.
We arrived safely and soundly and braved the winter chill on the way to Doug's parent's house. It's warm and cozy inside and it really is beautiful outside. But I think our time outside will be pretty limited! We got to the house at 5.30 p.m., 12.30 a.m. Stockholm time, so all in all, about a 17 hour trip door to door.
Our tradition is to eat dinner at one of our favorite burger joints. Doug's sister joined us and we got in on the premier of American Idol. I'm immersing myself in magazines and making a list of the places I want to visit favorite shoe store DSW, Target, Talbot's outlet, Bath and Body works. It's fun to be back.
It's 4.00 a.m. and my jet lagged mind won't let me sleep anymore. I sense that a nap will be a part of my day today! I'm looking forward to seeing family and friends and enjoying having nothing I have to do.
Even though it's cold, the daylight is a welcome addition. It wasn't dark until almost 5.00 p.m. yesterday...quite a switch from the 3.30 p.m. sunsets we've been having. And oh that high noon sunshine. Even at minus 9, I think I'll have to stand with my face turned to it for a bit today.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Flying Across the Pond

We're off to the United States in a few hours. We often take a long vacation after Christmas. Gets us out of the long, dark winter in Stockholm and gives us some needed rest after the demands of Christmas. I feel very lucky that we can return to our home country as often as we do. We have folks in our church who can never go back because it's not safe, or they don't have the money or time to do so. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty that we are able to travel back and forth to the States as often as we do. But mostly I just feel thankful and seek to enjoy every opportunity. I love to go, but I miss my dog a lot. He's not exactly a hand luggage canine!
It's not so stressful packing for the US because even if we need something or forgot something, it's very easy to purchase, at a low price. We will stimulate the American economy, for better or worse! But we are headed to Minnesota first and it is absolutely deep freeze there. The only thing that saves it for us is that the days are longer and the sun will shine brightly. And, truth be told, we're not outside all that much. House to car to mall to car to restaurant to car to house. Sitting in a car in sub-zero weather does leave much to be desired. But we are excited to spend time with Doug's family, eat at our favorite burger joint, watch American football in the right time zone, go to movies that have just been released, and quite frankly, have nothing that we absolutely have to do for almost 3 weeks. And the anticipation of warm, sunny Palm Springs, California keeps me smiling.
Moving between the two nations is always interesting. I love going to the grocery store in the States. I love shopping in the States. I love the casual ease of American society. But I do feel overwhelmed by the vast consumer choices that are available. It's odd to see how overweight our society is. I get a little nutty being in the car all the time instead of walking. It's always a barrage on the senses, reverse culture shock combined with joyful delight in going to my favorite places.
Of course, we always miss Tanner while we're away...ever grateful that we have a family with 3 children who wait with eager anticipation for us to go on vacation so that Tanner can move in with them. They are lovely and they love him. We are very lucky. We'll miss him, but are grateful he's in good hands.
I have to include some photos of our silly dog, so that I can look at them while we're away.
Bad weather is forecast for Chicago, our entry city. Temperatures are below zero Fahrenheit both there and in Minneapolis. It hardly ever gets that cold here.
I'll let you know how our trip across the pond turned out. Weather aside, however, I'm excited about being in the States, hanging with family and friends and being on vacation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Winter Time

I am no fan of winter. When people inquire as to whether or not I ski, my simple reply is this: "If I am going to spend a significant amount of money on a vacation, then there better be a beach involved." Now granted, the Swiss Alps in all their winter splendor are a little hard to beat, but I am drawn to the coast. I did, after all, grow up just a few minutes from the Pacific Ocean. But even the most committed warmth mongers can have an occasional moment when appreciation for the beauty and wonder of winter comes into view. The first snow of the season is always a bit magical. The white stuff really is pretty great when it first falls. I love the way it sticks to trees and rims the rooftops. I love how it shushes under your feet when you walk on a fresh field of the stuff for the first time. I love the way it quiets a city, giving one the illusion that life has stolen away to a still and peaceful place. The crispness of the air and the freshness of the cold, icy environment can be a delight to the senses. Too bad that the reality is that it falls off of the trees and turns into a slushy black mess all too quickly. Fortunately we don't have to shovel and rarely have to drive in it, two activities that make one long for spring in a hurry. Now, I also have to admit that if one is going to live in a cold climate where winter is a reality, then I do believe it's better to have real winter weather than just pathetic winter weather. Pathetic winter weather is lots of rain with temperatures that hover just above freezing. The sky is gray, the ground is wet and muddy, and yet, it's cold enough to make life quite unpleasant. Real winter weather drops below freezing so all the moisture falls as snow. Then it stays cold so the lakes freeze and the white stuff sticks around for more than a minute. Also, the good kind of real winter weather involves temperatures below freezing, but not way below. anything in the 20's F is fair game. Below that and we return to the bad kind of winter. And I have to say, since Christmas Stockholm has had pretty good real winter days. Bright sunshine, crystal blue skies ( it's only that way for 6 hours a day...still, it's pretty while it lasts) good snowfall and not too deep freezer on the temperatures. We have woods close to our house that Tanner and I love...the story that is told by the beauty of these surroundings even brings joy to me, the most ardent fan of the non-winter seasons. One thing that I will say is a fair critique of winter is that it just doesn't know when to quit. By the end of February, winter should know that he's done. Time to let Ms. Spring come into view. But old man winter just won't go away so that by the end of March, early April we're not so much thinking that there's anything beautiful about winter at all. So have a look at this winter wonderland which for now is truly wonderful. If these scenes are still around in March, you can be sure that I'll be screaming about the winter wasteland that just doesn't know how to move on. By the way...these shots are taken at about 2.00 in the afternoon.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January 6: Epiphany

Today is a holiday in Sweden. It is called trettondag, the 13th day after Christmas Eve. In English it is known as Epiphany, an aspect of the Advent-Christmas cycle that is often unknown and uncelebrated by the church. Many cultures refer to this day as The Day of the Three Kings and celebrate the visit of the wise men to the baby Jesus. In Sweden, most are just happy that they don't have to work today. They have little or no idea why today is a "red day" (how holidays are referred to here in Sweden). But to be fair, perhaps there are many Christians who are unaware of this tradition as well. Some churches may have celebrated Epiphany on Sunday, but many likely did not as well. I would guess that most Americans do not know that today is Epiphany.
So what is Epiphany anyway? Literally speaking, the word means to come into light, to come suddenly into view, to present oneself, to appear. Epiphany celebrates the light that is Christ being born in our world and now flooding our lives with his hope and his love. Epiphany reminds us that while Christmas is over, Christ lives on. The light of Christ that we dared to hope for throughout the advent season has dawned and is not quenched. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome...even in January when life seems a bit glum. Even in February when we begin our longing for a season change. Even in March when spring is supposed to arrive yet seldom does. The light that is Christ is not related to weather. Rather, it is constant and comforting.
May the light of Christ be your guiding light throughout this new year. May the light of Christ shine forth where darkness threatens. May the light of Christ comfort and calm you as the challenges of the new year become apparent. May the light of Christ shine brightly wherever you most need it.
One of the hymns we sing in church begins like this:
"Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness, opened my eyes, let me that made this heart adore you, hope of a life spent with you." The gift of Christmas lives on because Christ entered our world and to bring light and life to our lives.
May this truth reign in your heart throughout the coming year.
Happy New Year!