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Monday, September 28, 2009

Autumn Splendor

This September has been one of the best ever. Summer-like temperatures have graced us day after day and the blue sky and warm sun have done a good job of staving off the impending darkness that most of us are starting to dread. We awakened yesterday to yet another stunning day and thought that it would be our last opportunity to enjoy the Stockholm waterways from our boat. So we grabbed a sandwich, packed up the dog and headed out.

The sun was gorgeous but the wind was up and the air is pretty chilly this time of year! Our fleece jackets felt pretty good by the time we reached the mouth of the Djurgården canal that leads us into the city center.The autumn color was just starting its slow burn and it was a visual feast as the dazzling colors of fall blended with the water, sky and greenery. I love this time of year...when everything is strutting its fall finery, the leaves are still on the trees, there's a chill in the air but not frost on your nose. It is so invigorating and fills the senses with calm and inspiration.

We dropped anchor here and ate lunch. The views were great. The wind was strong so the boat spun in a circle. The air was colder than expected and I found myself adding layers as the afternoon wore on. Finally, we decided to pop up the canopy and take a warmer ride through town. The view of the city as pictured below never ceases to delight me. When we hit the Djurgården bridge and that signature Stockholm architecture pops into view, I think that I must live in the most beautiful city in the world.As we puttered along, I just took it all in. I already noticed that the sun was lower in the sky. I am acutely aware of how full and alive the city foliage looks and in about a month, all this loveliness will be replaced by the stark emptiness of winter. I was thinking as we drove through the canal, that in a few months time I might be able to walk on the frozen canal way.
The sea was rough heading back to our marina. I even had to lie down as I felt a little sea sick. At one point I was asleep on the back bench, Tanner snoozing on the floor, Doug navigating the boat. I felt at peace. Such a gift to relax in the back of a boat, cozy and warm due to the protection of the canopy. Wonderful dog sleeping beside me, wonderful husband giving me the gift of a relaxing afternoon by his willingness to drive the boat and keep on top of the important matters.

I think the 2009 boating season has ended for us. We have to pull the boat out of the water on October 10 and from now until then our lives are quite full. And, truth be told, it's cold out there now! But I still love the gift that our boat has been for us to be able to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us and take in the splendor of living near water. Spring, summer and now autumn have all brought a special beauty to our city and I am thankful that the little Finnmaster helped us enjoy it so much.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Waning Days

mid-July, 10.00 pm

We've been lucky to have a stunningly beautiful September. It has definitely made up for what I would call about a B- summer. Some of the summer was perfect, but there was a pretty good stretch in July where cloudiness reigned. I remember being very grumpy about it all and my husband wondering aloud if I could just accept that weather is weather and does not have to be the great determinate of a satisfying life. But I live in Sweden I argue. I have darkness imposed upon me for several months of the year so when the light season is upon us, is it too much to ask that the sun actually shine for all of its 23 hours?shadows at the summer soltice

We just passed the autumn solstice and never before in my life have I paid so much attention to the solstices . September 21 marked the beginning of more hours of darkness than daylight. I may have cried a little that day. From now until December 21 we descend into a darker world. And even though it's really dark and the days are really short for about a month after the winter solstice, I somehow feel a bit of joy when the longest night has passed. At least I feel that we are ascending into light again. It feels very theological, but I'll save that for another day.
I have had genuine feelings of sadness as the summer light has faded. I woke up at 6.30 the other morning and it was still light outside and I was so thankful. I am so happy that my daytime and even early evening walks with Tanner are in the light. Soon, all of it will be in the dark. It is hard for me. It is hard for everyone. I have rarely heard someone say, "Oh, I just can't wait until the days get shorter."mid-July, 10.30 pm

Of course, you do find your rhythm and figure it out, but I don't think I could ever grow to like it. People will say to me, "Oh, I couldn't live in that kind of darkness." And I answer, "Well, you could if you lived in Sweden!" If someone had told me 12 years ago that I could live for 11 plus years in a place where you only got 6 hours of daylight I would've laughed in their face. My goal in life was to head south to warmer, lighter destinations. Too bad God had different ideas! So it's not so much about being able to do it...you just do it because you have no choice if you are going to live in Sweden. But you do have to figure out coping methods. So, in order to stave off the jarring affect of those early short days, we're going to the Italian island of Sardinia mid-October. We should be able to walk on the beach, sit on a terrace, wear light weight clothing, maybe swim in the sea. I should be able to boost my tan which, again, shows how shallow I really can be. Being tan helps me cope with the darkness. And of course, in God's great grace, he knew that if he moved me this far north, he needed to provide an outlet so he's kept my folks firmly planted in Palm Springs, California where we head every winter for a couple of weeks.
It's not soooo bad living here. But I will miss getting up in the morning and opening my blinds and seeing the day sky. I hate walking the dog in the dark all the time. It's hard to slog through the afternoon when it feels like the middle of the night and all you want to do is go to bed. I think the bears have it right...just sleep off the winter and reemerge when spring arrives. Today looks like a nice day. I better get out and soak it up.

Longings, part 2

Here are some other things that I find my heart longing for right now:
Watching high school sports with kids I know. Sweden doesn't have school based sports so everything is neighborhood, or club type and it's just doesn't have the same community flavor that school sports in the States do. I miss the excitement of Friday nights when everyone I knew went to my dad's American football game. I miss the opportunity to coach little league and be involved in kids lives through sports.
Many of my friends are attending women's retreats this fall. I'd love to go on a women's retreat, I'd love to speak at women's retreat. Good memories of crazy times with women who behave differently away from husbands and kids.
My college's homecoming weekend is next weekend. The class that is having their 25 year reunion is full of people who I grew close to as I was their Resident Assistant while they were freshman and sophomores when I was Junior and Senior. Again, Facebook has provided the opportunity for our lives to cross once again and as I hear them speak of how they will converge on our little school in Chicago, it makes me want to book the first flight out next Friday.
I miss the vast array of food choices in American supermarkets. This is a double edge however because I also feel sickened by the overwhelming amount of choice and excess. Still...I can't get refried beans here right now. I've looked everywhere, and generally find grocery shopping here not so exciting. I know this sounds shallow and insignificant, and well, it is. But I'm talking about the longings of my life, not creating world peace.
So there ya go...a few more things that tug at my heart these days.

Retreat

Last week the pastors of Immanuel church took 3 days away to do some serious talking about our life in ministry. The group included the 3 pastors from the International Fellowship, the one pastor from the Korean fellowship, and 5 pastors from the Swedish fellowship. Admittedly, we were a little skeptical going in as sometimes these multi-cultural meetings haven't yielded much positive or helpful interaction. This time was remarkably different. For one thing, the Swedish fellowship has a new Senior Pastor and he is open to deep and complex conversation. Additionally, most of us in pastoral leadership have had a deep longing for a better sense of who we are in ministry together under one roof even while our congregations are quite different. The conversation was rich and honest and sometimes a little bit painful. We came to a much better understanding of what it means to be a diverse community, what it means for us all in good ways and difficult ways to pursue greater integration. We affirmed that it's also OK to have our own clear identities as language groups and that healthy integration affirms the right to gather in our own groups. We all left with a greater sense of optimism that Immanuel Church can become a much better integrated community between the language groups while at the same time celebrate the unique mission that we each must pursue based on our target audiences.
The bonus in these days was the beauty that surrounded us at our lovely retreat center. We had 3 days of Indian summer, or Britt Sommar as the Swedes call it, and it was truly as lovely as the some of the finest summer days we enjoyed.
We actually drove our boat up and enjoyed a couple of early morning rides that were breathtakingly beautiful.








One of the afternoons we shuttled everyone to a small island where we relaxed, continued our heartfelt conversation, enjoyed a Swedish "fika" (coffee and a little something) while languishing in the waning but warm and wonderful September sunshine. The evenings were spent around the campfire sharing about what makes us happy, sad, bored, excited and angry. Even though it was initially hard to commit to 3 days away from the office during this very busy season, I came home refreshed by the conversation, renewed by the weather and best of all, confident that God is alive and working in wonderful ways at Immanuel Church.

Longings

I'll always feel like I want to be in two (or three or four) places at once. Through my re-connection with high school friends through Facebook, my longings for California and the wonderful beaches there has heightened. I see by their posts the plans they are making to meet up and enjoy a day at the beach and sometimes I sigh and feel a little sad...I want to go. And my parent's house is almost completely redone after their awful flood and I wish I could fly over and help them unpack. It would be so great to be able to go be with them for a long week-end.
But then if I think about actually moving back to the States I know that other longings would pop up. I love our church and when God does eventually call us away, it will be excruciating to extrapolate ourselves from that beloved community. And after being in our home for 11 years, it is ours and it's lovely and cozy and I love living here. And I love my friends here and the crazy book club I'm a part of and the fun group of American women I hook up with now and again, and my wonderful tennis group, and our long vacations and our fabulous Finnmaster boat. These are all things that I would imagine longing for whilst living in another place.
So what's a girl who grew up in Southern California and married a Minnesota guy and moved to Sweden to do? Enjoy. Enjoy the memories of the sweet life I've known and savor the sweetness of the many life experiences I've had. Enjoy my present for all of the gifts and joy it brings me. Enjoy wondering about the future and all that God has in store for us. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians was onto something when he said, "I have learned to be content no matter my circumstances." In spite of my longings, I thank God for my past, present and future.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Let the President Speak to the Children

Another news item that has left me utterly flabbergasted is the absolute hysteria around President Obama addressing our school children. The talk of his wanting to brainwash and indoctrinate our school children is again, untenable. I really do wonder if Americans have completely lost their minds. At the end of a news clip that I watched of kids responding in a positive way to the President's address, the news reporter mentioned that originally the administration had planned on offering kids a chance to post comments about the President's policies, or some such thing and that THAT was what was creating a hullabaloo. A friend of mine made a comment that the study hard, discover your gift speech I think pretty much all can agree on. But sadly, during this entire discourse, very few people who oppose the President actually acknowledged this. Instead, they chose to focus on the brainwashing, indoctrination thread that wasn't true from the beginning, but whatever program had been proposed, was dropped early on. Still...the opponents took it and made a mad house of it. It is disappointing. Some of the people who are showing the most disrespect towards President Obama are the same ones who gave me the "respect the office" speech at the end of Bush's term. It would be nice to see them cry out again for respect of the office of President even when their guy isn't in office. Additionally, is teaching our children a fundamental lack of trust in what the President would say to them what we really want out of life? Seriously Republicans...what in the world did you think President Obama would say on national TV in a nationwide address to school children? A dumb man he is not.
So...at the end of all this, I found this cartoon and it has made me laugh out loud more than a few times today. So I share it with you here because it is sooooo funny.
Is this what we are afraid of?

Socialism and Socialized: NOT THE SAME THING

I have watched with dismay how the conversations in America around health care reform have gotten so vitriolic that it makes me wonder how in the world I could be from such a country. Where in the world is our civil discourse? One thing that is making me particularly crazy is the cries of socialism that are emerging because of some of President Obama's ideas. People do not understand socialism. There is nothing about what he is proposing that is socialist. But most folks aren't willing to do their homework and understand what it is he is talking about.
I live in Sweden, a Social Democracy. Sweden is NOT a socialist nation. It has SOCIALIZED programs, but the people have elected their leaders and have chosen their way of life. Yes, taxes are high and yes there is a contract between the people and the government, but the people have chosen this and they could un-choose it in any given election. We are not living behind the iron curtain. In fact, life is pretty darn comfortable for us here in this little Scandinavian country.
In case you need a little more help in understanding the difference between socialism and socialized programs, please understand that America already has Socialized programs. Check out this link for a cute way of looking at it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jng4TnKqy6A
So, what I really want is for people to quit saying that President Obama is trying to make America into a socialist nation. It's just wrong and ignorant and does not help us get closer to a good solution for a bad problem like health care in America.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A New Day Dawned

Just before the first worship service began.

For the past 15 months our church has been undertaking a renovation project of the entire level on which the International Fellowship meets for Sunday worship. The project began as a response to the growth that the International Fellowship had experienced and the need for more space. After months of planning and meeting, they finally began work on the space in June of 2008. At that time, the International fellowship moved upstairs into the large sanctuary on the main floor. In order to accommodate this move, the Swedish fellowship moved their service to 10.00 and we held ours at 12.00. It was a year of sharing facilities, learning to live together with limited space and adjust to things not being perfect. Overall, the 15 months went well.
In the meantime, the work continued on our level. Sunday, 6 September, we were able to move back in! The changes that have been made are remarkable. Not only do we have a much bigger space, it is a much more beautiful space with lots of wide open areas. The sleek Swedish design philosophy of function coupled with beauty could not be more evident. Curtains in greens, blues, and purples line the walls giving the sanctuary a distinctively international flavor. With over 50 nations of our world represented in our fellowship, this is indeed a deep reflection of who worships in the space.
Additionally, we have now moved into the modern era of being able to project song words, scriptures and other aspects of our liturgy onto screens. This will enable people to sing with their eyes up and free their hands from a cumbersome program. It is a much "greener" situation as well as we can now print a program on one sheet of paper as opposed to four that we needed in the past.
As pastors, we are close to the congregation now. It feels good. The sound is wired in such a way that provides balance throughout the space. It feels cozy and warm and forward looking.
Our theme has been that while the building is beautiful and a great gift to our congregation, it is how we use it and fill it that really matters. We've urged our congregation and ourselves to consider the renovation that God wants to do in our lives and in our congregation alongside of the building renovation.
The first service in the new space was a wonderful experience with few mistakes. It was a smooth transition. As people came down the stairs or in the new entrance, it was a delight to see the wonder on their faces, surprised by the amazing transformation that had taken place while we had been worshiping upstairs.
Two verses from a hymn in the Covenant Hymnal really sum up the vision we have for our new worship space. I leave you with those words.
"Each man and woman raise your voice, come children sing out loud. For everyone is welcome here within the house of God. For everyone is welcome here within the house of God.
The lonely find companionship, the refugee a home. Each race and culture sing as one and all to God are known. Each race and culture sing as one and all to God are known."
Words and music by Richard Carlson