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Friday, July 31, 2009

Wacky Wonderful Wednesdays

Alberta Birdsong the Third, aka, Birdy

Many churches celebrate summer with Vacation Bible School. VBS has been a staple of most American Children's lives, at least those who go to church or had friends who do so! I loved VBS as a kid. Games, stories, crafts, music. What was there not to like?! As I grew up, I began to volunteer for my church, leading games, sharing about missions and eventually acting in the skits. My husband is a brilliant skit writer and so summer after summer we were able to provide hilarious skits that were laced with great gags, ridiculous antics and loads of silliness. Laced throughout it all was a Biblical concept that set the tone for the day's lesson. The typical American church holds VBS for one week during the summer. 5 nights of high energy, full-on energy and fun. When we moved to Sweden, we wanted to offer a children's program during the summer, but we knew that a one week blitz wouldn't work. People don't live near by, the whole concept of VBS is quite new to those who live outside of America and so we envisioned doing a 5 day VBS, once a week for 5 weeks. The concept has taken hold and now Wacky Wonderful Wednesdays is an institution at Immanuel International Church. Two years ago we moved the program to the evening and made it an all church event. The success of that decision has far exceeded our wildest dreams as the adult and teen groups now outnumber the children! The Swedes can hardly believe that we can pull this off as the Swedish habit is to exit normal life for the month of July and that includes not attending church. But for International families, the opportunity to travel, go to a summer home, or take long vacations just isn't an option and being here can get a bit lonely and boring. Wacky Wednesday fills that void in some way.
This year, our theme is Son Rock Kids Camp. The main characters are Stoney Mountain, camp director (Doug), Alberta Birdsong the third, aka Birdy (me), Crash Cargo (Chris, our youth pastor), Candy Cloudberry, (our Children's Director), Roxy Waves, (a high school student) and Beve Kerwin (another student.) The music is electric and as we head for week 5 of our program, the kids know the words and the actions.
I love leading the music and motions. To make eye contact with the kids, to get them all excited about the great message the songs convey is very special. I am also a ham and so love to over act in the skits, being silly and getting a laugh out the audience. I also think it's great that the children of our church get to see their pastors being such silly, down to earth characters. It is a great connection for us to the children of our church and I do believe that the adults and teens eat it up as well.
It's always so much work and such a mad dash to get everything ready. And then it starts, and we have a ball, and then it ends. But I love the different rhythm it gives our summer. I love to see so many different people showing up for an experience that for some is totally new to them. I love to hear the kids shout out the Bible verse, sing with joy, love being at church and learn a little more about how much Jesus loves them. Wednesdays at Immanuel International...they are Wacky and Wonderful and I am thankful.

Race and Perspective

So the issue with Professor Gates, the Cambridge police officer and President Obama's comments has created quite a stir. Once again, I believe, it illustrates the complexity of understanding the pain of both being treated in a racist manner as well as being accused of being racist. I also find it remarkable that as far as I can tell, the Republican mindset is siding more with the police officer, the Democrats with the professor. What does this reveal to us? I'm not entirely sure. Here's what I think from my vantage point.
I think it's a shame that Gates answered the door in a defensive manner and that the police officers felt compelled to arrest to him. Where in the process the whole exchange got threatening is unclear to me. Yes, police officers have a very dangerous job. Yes, they must enter uncharted territory unsure of what awaits them. But where in this exchange, when asking for Gates' I.D. to ensure that he belonged in the house and was not an intruder as a neighbor had suspected, the police officers felt threatened, is a mystery to me. Why, after showing the I.D., was Gates arrested? Because he yelled at the police? I don't fully understand the law, but if Gates is standing in his house, showing a valid I.D. that proves he actually lives there, and is a bit annoyed that the police are accusing him of being a robber, maybe the police could've understood his annoying behavior and realized that he wasn't a real threat. On the other hand, it also reveals to us the suspicion that people of color carry in their belly and rightfully so. Indisputable statistics reveal that people of color have reason to be suspicious of law enforcement's motives for approaching them. So what am I trying to say?
A nerve was likely hit in Gates when he saw the officers at his door. Again, I am not sure about the tone of the meeting or how aggressive the officers were. But I can admit this if it was my house, and I was being asked to prove that I lived there, and I was already suspicious of law enforcement, I may react with anger as well. Not excusing anyone's behavior, simply trying to understand it. While I respect that the police officers were unsure about what they were walking into, when Gates showed his I.D., what is it that kept them from being the calming influence in the situation?
The case is further complicated by two things that happened in the aftermath. President Obama commented that he felt that the police officers acted in a stupid manner. I must admit, I wish he wouldn't have used the word stupid. It is an inflammatory word from the get go and the press bit upon it. It did make it seem that he was putting the police officers down which created a stir among many. On the other hand, the fact that he was willing to address the reality that people of color are often suspicious of law enforcement agents due to proven track records of racial profiling, made him a hero among civil rights activists. It is too bad that his off hand remarks led to so much anger and accusation. At least he had the where with all to call all parties together, have a chat and try to clear the air in order to move forward. The fact that the press has made SUCH A BIG STUPID deal about the fact that they had a beer while doing so proves to me that sometimes the media really does major in the minors.
Finally, however, the worst thing that has come to light regarding this entire incident is the email that the police officer wrote after a Boston Globe columnist went after him. He referred to Professor Gates as a "banana eating jungle monkey." When confronted by Larry King about the language he used in his email, he apologized and expressed regrets. He then went onto say that he didn't intend to make racist or derogatory remarks, that he treats people with respect. C'mon...didn't intend racist remarks? How do you not intend to be racist and consciously write "banana eating jungle monkey"?
OK...we all lose our cool sometimes and say things that we later regret. The problem however is that sometimes, some of the things we say when we are angry point to a truth that lurks deep beneath the surface of our lives. The fact that he would take the time to write out the offending phrase tells me a little something about the police officer. I believe he is racist. I believe deep in his heart he has a low view of African Americans. I believe that he brought all of that to Professor Gates' house the day he went to check on the burglary call. We can debate for hours whether or not Gates acted in an appropriate manner. But what seems indisputable in light of the police officer's email is that he carries with him some deep seated racism that is hard to explain away. He does admit his mistake, but it's not easily forgotten. I hope at the very least it will cause him to do some soul searching about why those words even came to his mind.
Once again we see how divided our nation is regarding race. White people tend to think that we've come along way and that things are quite good for minorities. Minorities feel the deep sting of old attitudes and perspectives that surface when people get a little distressed. I think the most valuable lesson I walk away with regarding this incident is the fact that people of color worry all the time about being treated poorly or unfairly simply on the basis of skin color. As a white person, I rarely think about my skin color and certainly never feel that being white is a disadvantage.
Can each one of us examine our own minds and hearts and see where the ugliness of racism lurks so that we can face it and address it? Having racist attitudes in our lives yet never being able to name them or address them perpetuates the myth that none of us are racist. We all have prejudices lurking deep beneath the surface. Best to deal with them before they bubble to the top.
I'd really like to hear what people are thinking on this issue. Please feel free to comment.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


On another blog I read a conversation regarding female submission in the Christian family has emerged. It annoys me because I just wonder why and how this helps us live better in the world. I posted a response today. Here's my note.
I've had a long journey with the Christian woman stuff. I grew up in a very traditional family. Stay at home mom, chauvinistic but supportive father. Very athletic family as well. I was a good athlete and I inherited my father's intensity. As I grew as Christian, the whole "gentle and quiet spirit" description of Christian women was a clash with my basic personality and I wondered how a gregarious, out-going, often loud and opinionated woman fit into the Christian woman world. Then I discovered that I had public speaking gifts, but no where in my upbringing was being a (preaching) pastor a career option. I began to think about Christian education. At one point, as a young woman I remember thinking that I'd like to marry a pastor in order to be close to ministry and even said to my mom once, "If I were a boy, I'd for sure be a pastor." I did carry an ingrained notion that I would need to be able to submit to a man in my marriage and in fact heard so often that I would need a really strong man in my life in order to be able to do so. This led to my being involved in a relationship with a Christian man who totally dominated my identity. The dynamic in our relationship, my need to feel submissive, his need to lead, led to the absolute disappearance of my identity and personality. After that relationship failed, I began to question many things and this is when my pastoral calling re-emerged. I was single for all of my 20's and early 30's and so began to wonder what life as Christian woman meant for me. I went to seminary as a single woman to sort out the pastoral question and discovered that I was gifted for ministry. My seminary (North Park) and my denomination (Covenant Church in America) were both affirming of my call even though many churches in the denomination were not. Then I met my husband who was the most affirming male presence in my life I'd even met. He encouraged my pastoral gifts and as our relationship grew and developed, the issues of submission and spiritual leadership never even emerged. We've now been married for 15 years and power struggles are not a part of our life together. We make decisions based on what's good for the marriage. We seek to love and care for one another's needs. I can't think of one time in those 15 years that Doug needed to assert himself and just make a decision. When we made the decision to come to Sweden, I was in a very satisfying position as campus Chaplain at North Park University. After we received the call, Doug said to me...I want to go, but this one is your call. I need for you to feel called and if you are hesitant at all, we won't go. That was Doug loving me as Christ loved the church and I suppose is what made it possible to "submit" to the call to move to Sweden. But Doug first submitted to my happiness. Isn't that what it's all about?
My story is further complicated by the fact that Doug and I have suffered the pain of infertility. Never becoming parents has been one the most difficult journeys we've ever been on. But because so much of American Christianity lifts up the stay at home mom as virtuous, here I was again, faced with a situation where I swam upstream. I have been made to feel less than because I'm not a mom and that is painful. And the whispers of "if she wasn't so focused on her career, God would've given them children" have not built my confidence in the Christian community.
OK...bottom line. What does it mean for us to be Christian men and women in the world? What does it mean for wives and husbands to honor one another and Christ? If power is at the center of this discussion, it's all wrong anyway. Why can't we celebrate the giftedness that God has given each of us...celebrate the ways in which he uses the diversity of his creation to accomplish his purposes instead of wondering if women should be subservient to men?
I'd really like to see a discussion of what it means for men to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Why isn't that a hot topic? I guess I have to ask, why are we so interested in submission? It's not that hard. We are called to submit to one another in we do that usually works itself out in the individual relationships. And again, if it's about who has the power in a relationship, then we are really way off course.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sometimes, Life is Hard

The past week has been the carrier of bad news. Monday I found out that my parent's house flooded while they were away on a holiday weekend with friends. A pipe burst at some point during the weekend and water just gushed and gushed into the house. Every inch of the floor was soaking wet and water had begun to rise up into the walls as well. Lots of furniture and fixtures were moved out onto their driveway and everything else was piled on top of beds and counters. It is one big mess. They were told by the flood control guys that their house is what they call an unlivable situation. They will pack everything up, move it out, then pretty much destroy the entire interior of their house, making sure that every bit of water gets removed. In the meantime they are living in a condo provided by some good friends at their church. They are coming here on August 13 so they have about a month to endure living in a displaced situation. I hate living so far away when these things happen. I'd love to be able to be there to help them pack their clothes, sort through what they need and ultimately make decisions about the house. So far it sounds like the insurance company will do right by them, but it's clear that the entire house will have to be re-done. In 6 months they will feel better. Right now it's a stress-filled burden that threatens to overwhelm them. Did I mention it's also 115 degrees F where they live? The house is like one big sauna with the heat of the day, the driers and the amount of moisture in the air.
Of course, they are grateful that it's only stuff, no one is injured, they have insurance, etc. But it's not such a good feeling to see your house upended. Every day something new, usually bad, comes to light. Our biggest hope is that it gets fixed properly so that they won't have mold issues down the road.
The second bit of really bad news I received this week is very serious. A friend from high school died of pancreatic cancer on Thursday. I haven't seen Liz in probably 25 years, but it has touched me. She married her high school sweetheart and they enjoyed a 26 year marriage that also spawned 4 kids. Her husband played football for my dad and they were well-liked by all. I attended my 30 year high school reunion last fall and since then have reconnected with many classmates, mainly through Facebook. It's been amazing to reconnect with these old friends with whom I have shared a special part of my history. I guess Liz's passing is especially poignant to me as so many have shared their thoughts on Facebook. The bright spot is that her death has allowed me to reconnect with many classmates. Still, I find myself thinking about Vic and the kids, praying for all who knew her well and wishing I was close enough to Orange County to attend her funeral on Tuesday. It's a weird connection that I someone I haven't seen in years and yet with whom I share a significant past. Peace to Liz's memory. She was a great person who made all who knew her laugh and smile often.
Finally, yesterday I got word that my sisters-in-law will have to put their dog, Cheyenne, down today. She is an old girl and it's time, but this is never easy. That dog has been in their life since I met them and the hole that her lack of presence will mean for them and their kids leaves me longing. Putting down a pet is such a significant event. The kids will have to figure out how to grieve and deal with this loss and Jan and Cindy will have to adjust to life without Cheyenne for the first time in years.
So for now I'm thinking quite a bit about losses, both great and small, and how they affect us and shape us and make us who we are. I'm praying for peace and comfort for those in pain and happy that there is indeed hope beyond the grave.
Sometimes life is hard. It's good we have one another to walk beside.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

4th of July

Obviously the Swedes do not celebrate American Independence Day on the 4th of July! But sometimes we try to do something with other Americans just to acknowledge our national day. This year we were invited to the reception at the American Ambassador's residence on June 30. It was an afternoon affair, mostly for the Swedish business connections the embassy maintains here in Stockholm. Why we were on the list is a mystery but we were happy for the invite. It was a modest affair with good Gallo wine from California and of course, Sam Adams beer. A special highlight were the cherry and apple pies from good 'ol McDonalds! I hadn't had a McDonald's pie in, well, I actually can't remember the last time but it seemed appropriate to indulge at this celebration of America!
On the actual 4th of July we had made plans to meet up with some of the women from my book club along with their husbands for a little grill picnic. The plan was to meet up in Djurgården, a beautiful park in the middle of the city alongside the Stockholm canal. Doug and I rode our bikes out and about half way there noticed the looming, giant rain clouds. Doug said, "That doesn't look good." As we traveled further from the warm and dry confines of our home and deeper into the wide open spaces of the park, little by little we began to get hit with raindrops. By the time we arrived at our party, it was coming down pretty hard. Even so, we parked our bikes, grabbed our umbrella and joined the other couples under a canopy of trees.
Initially it seemed that the good cover from the trees might actually help us avoid getting completely drenched. That was before the squall like conditions blew in! In the 11 years that we've lived in Stockholm, I've never seen it rain like it did on Saturday. Torrential downpour! One of my friend's husband graciously lent me his heavy duty rain coat, Doug huddled beneath our meager umbrella and I also used our picnic blanket as a wrap. One side was plastic and it helped, well, a little. It rained really hard for about a half hour. Once it began coming in sideways there was little to do except accept that you going to be drenched. It wasn't cold so that was a blessing, but it was quite the site...4 American women, 1 American man, 2 Swedes and an Australian, both men, huddled beneath the trees, standing under umbrella's, sipping wine and celebrating America!
Of course, the women were all bemoaning the fact that their once very cute appearance was now a soggy mess. Some had dressed in patriotic attire. I had recently had my hair cut and wanted to show that off. The women wearing white trousers were definitely the saddest! True to form, my buddy Judy, a skin care expert actually had enough optimism to let us know that rain water was very good for the skin so in reality we were getting a $100.00 facial for free!
At one point, Doug broke out into song and thus began the revelry! We sang God Bless America, This Land is Your Land, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and America the Beautiful. When we ran out of songs about America, we decided to sing old television tunes. So in came the themes from the Brady Bunch, Green Acres and Beverly Hillbillies. Slowly but surely our singing drove the rain away! Finally, blue skies broke and we decided to have our grill party after all! We moseyed on down to the gazebo that was now vacant and set up camp. We were absolutely soaking wet but no one seemed to mind! Tracy's husband Dag got the one time grills going.

One time grills are a brilliant Swedish invention.They are little aluminum boxes of charcoal that you carry with you. You light them, you cook your food, you throw them away. Brilliant! We staked out the American flag using one of the trusty umbrella's as a flag stick. The boys set up a game of boule and the women messed around getting the food ready. The paper plates and napkins were soggy so we had to improvise. But in the spirit of the American pioneer, we made it work!
In the end, the food was delicious, the company great and the sun broke through leaving us with a gorgeous evening and great memories. In the end, it was a joyous celebration amidst great friends and good food. The only thing that was missing were a few fireworks. Have to wait until New Year's Eve for those!

Friday, July 3, 2009

I'm Irritated

I'm interested to know what people think about this. I recently received an email from someone who shared with me that a speaker at a Covenant Camp publicly shared that he felt the ordination of women by the Covenant was a huge mistake. He sited I Corinthians 11 as his basis. Now...people have very different ideas about how to interpret this passage. In fact, the rest of the email was informing me that she recently came across an old talk that my husband and I did at Seattle Pacific University where we also sited the same scripture passage but dealt with it in such a manner that didn't undermine women's ordination.
OK, so we disagree. Here's the rub for me. Our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church of America ordains women and has established a Biblical and theological basis for such. So I'm wondering how appropriate people think it is for a speaker at at Covenant supported institution, like one of our camps, to publicly undermine the Covenant's position with his own? I just wonder where being part of a denomination that believes things that one personally does not becomes a problem and do we as leaders and people of influence have the right to assert to our opposing position when we are working in a situation where we are in the service of the denomination?
Do you get my question? It's late in Sweden and I'm tired and irritated by this whole discussion. It's a good thing I'm preaching on kindness this week. 'Nuff said. weigh in please. I am open to a conversation with integrity even though I am personally a little put off.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Night Watch

One night each year we have to spend it in our boat yard, "guarding" the marina. Each member takes a turn and hence we have security all summer long. The funny thing in this arrangement is that it's not really dark enough through the night for a would be robber to really get away with a big take. But, boat theft is actually a pretty big problem here in Stockholm so we are thankful for the security measures our boat yard takes to ensure that none of us get robbed throughout the summer months.
I actually like our "vakt" night. (Vakt means guard or watch in Swedish.) Well, I should qualify that statement. I like it when the weather is good and this year the weather was spectacular. Not only was it clear and sunny, it was warm as well. I love to sit up and watch the night sky play with the dim light that lingers just below the horizon and then marvel at the full day light that breaks by 3.00 a.m. Tanner is a big fan of the night. He has free reign of the entire marina and he literally runs around like an idiot all night long! He's in and out of the water, chasing the ducks, fascinated by the herring that are flopping around the shore, and just generally pleased to be off leash in such a fun environment!
There are strict protocols about the things you have to do in order to complete a successful vakt night. An entire notebook with fastidious instructions awaits you. I read through them with great care. The last thing we wanted was to be the "stupid Americans" who couldn't figure out how to get it right! Posted throughout the boatyard are small wooded squares with a large X on them. As I write this I am fully disappointed that I didn't get a picture of one of them! Oh well. Next time. Throughout the night you must walk the boat yard, taking a photograph of these x's to ensure that you are actually making rounds and not just sipping red wine whilst sleeping in the clubhouse! It's actually a bit fun to walk around the yard, down every pier, eye-balling the various watercraft that grace our marina. In between the "guarding", Doug fished, I took pictures of the night sky, Tanner ran around, and we just generally speaking, had fun.
It was never dark. When we arrived at 11.45 p.m. the night sky had that lovely bluish hue that you see during late twilight. It hovered like this until about 1.30 when it began to get much lighter. By 3.00 a.m. it was fully light and looked like it was midday. It had started to get a bit chilly around 2.00. I climbed into my sleeping bag in order to stay warm and it was pretty cozy just sitting in my lawn chair on the pier. I was pretty happy to sit out and enjoy the changing sky but at 3.00 everything imaginable came to life! The ducks starting quacking like there was no tomorrow, the seagulls starting flying around in search of an early breakfast, and worst of all the mosquitoes woke up from their slumber. It was awful. They were swarming and actually forced us inside. Once inside, it's very hard to stay awake as it is warm and cozy inside our clubhouse! Tanner was not at all happy about going inside and so he pranced about the clubhouse, his nails click, click, clicking on the wood floor driving both of us completely crazy! Finally he settled down and decided to snooze with us. I got up at 4.00 to take pictures, then again at 5.30. I was a little disappointed that I had slept through the moment when the sun actually rose above the tree line. By 5.30 the harbor was still, the water was glassy, the sky was bright with the warmth of another beautiful summer day in Stockholm. Doug took his last lap around the boatyard, I cleaned up the clubhouse hoping to leave little trace of the dog's hair and footprints and at 6.00 a.m. we checked out, feeling quite satisfied that we had completed our vakt well.
I love the Stockholm "night". It is so wild and beautiful and I find the overwhelming amount of light that passes over me right now so refreshing. I don't know if having total light for a few months really balances the darkness that envelopes us throughout the winter, but I have come to truly love the long evenings that a sunny summer in Stockholm brings to our life. Here's another beautiful day breaking in Stockholm. This is what the harbor looked like at 6.00 a.m. when we departed. Boats were safe. Sun was shining. Life is good.