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Monday, May 31, 2010

Confirmation Week-end

This past week-end we celebrated Confirmation at Immanuel International Church. I was reminded of my own confirmation way back in 1975. I even found my photograph from that special day! That's me, front and center!
On Saturday night we have a family night where all the kids share something from their year in confirmation. We also eat delicious cake!It is a great time watching the kids share their deep and careful thoughts about their faith journey and where they are landing today. They always share from their hearts, showing an amazing willingness to be vulnerable about their weaknesses and open about some of their hurts. Our kids come from a huge variety of backgrounds and it's always incredible to see how God has been in work in their young lives through various circumstances and people.
The final thing we do on Saturday is baptize the students who have never been baptized and are now ready to take this significant step. Immanuel church has a great baptismal pool in the large sanctuary so we gather together around the pool and take part in this wonderful moment in these young people's lives. Our colleague, Chris Peterson, does an awesome job as he communicates to the students a bit more of what is happening at this time. He always ends each baptism with these words: "Remember you baptism and the grace that God pours into your life at all times." I love it. It is a reminder that we all need in order to stay the course in our Christian lives.
Sunday is a big day for the students as they don their white robes, stand in front of the congregation, recite the Apostles' Creed and answer questions about their intentions to follow Christ and continue to be a part of His church. Some of the students share their faith journey during the service and others read scripture. At the end of the Rite of Confirmation, the parents join their children up front and lay hands on them as the pastors pray for each student. It is a powerful visual image seeing these kids with their parents standing behind them.It is such a great day for our congregation. All are inspired by the confession of faith that comes forth from these young lives. All get inspired for being a church that helps young people grow and mature in their faith. All are inspired to follow Jesus more closely by listening to the testimony of how the youth are seeking the same.
Confirmation is a great part of being a pastor. Oh, I'm not saying that some times it isn't a huge headache. And of course there are moments when you feel so frustrated that they don't complete assignments or when they don't give their parents necessary information. You wonder if they are learning anything at all or if the entire process is lost on them. I remember how much I screwed around during my confirmation. We must've driven our pastors mad with frustration! And yet, here I am, an ordained pastor seeking to do the same with the young people in our church!
And then Confirmation week-end rolls around and here they come with their insightful comments, looking all grown up, fearlessly proclaiming their faith in God in front of the entire congregation.
What a blessing! What a gift! What a privilege it is to be a pastor on Confirmation week-end!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Special Occasions are Special

Yesterday Doug and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. We have always tried to set aside time to acknowledge and celebrate our anniversary in some way. It's not always extravagant, but we do prioritize making a special effort on May 28.
Yesterday was no exception. We didn't want to spend a lot of money as we've had quite the year in travel and still have the expense of fixing the boat motor ahead of us. Even so, we knew we could still take time to celebrate us.
The one thing I wanted to do was to walk down to the water and sit and have a drink seaside. The afternoon broke out in a lovely way and it was so wonderful to be outside, sitting in the sun, me enjoying a nice rosé (not my favorite wine but so beautiful to look at and at times a nice in between to white and red) while Doug imbibed on a Swedish pear cider. Tanner enjoyed being in on the action.
I did manage to write Doug a card expressing how grateful I am that he is my partner, willing to walk the journey of life with me through ups and downs, good moods and bad ones. Doug made the day very special for me. There were 16 red roses, and champagne, and a card with writing in it! We went down to a special food hall nearby and picked out some entrecoté steaks, sort of like rib-eye but not quite the same. Good steaks are hard to come by here. It's just not part of the Swedish cuisine. We got some fresh bread, fresh raspberries and strawberries, lovely baking potatoes, fresh vegetables for a salad and cracked open a beautiful bottle of red wine that our friends from France had brought when they were here last month.
We don't have a grill right now but Sweden has these little "one time grills", a brilliant invention where you have the charcoal and grill top all in a little metal container that you light and use and then dispose of. For grilling big stuff, not so great, but in a pinch, it gets the job done! I have to say, the steaks were as close to the yummy ones we eat in California all the time as we've ever had.
We had a lovely day together by simply prioritizing time together and making sure the focus was on us. And shouldn't special occasions be just that...special? It's important to remember that in order to make something special you don't have to spend a lot of money or give extravagant gifts. There are perhaps times and places for that as well. But the most important thing about a special occasion is that time is set aside to break the ordinary routine and lift up something worth celebrating.
My marriage to Doug is worth celebrating. I am so grateful that he is my husband and I look forward to the adventure that spending our life together will continue to be.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Books and Why They Touch Us

I've always been a fairly avid reader and can rarely remember a time when my nose wasn't in a book. One of the great highlights of my life while living here in Stockholm is my book group. It is comprised of American women living in Sweden and we have rip-roaring discussions and loads of fun together. We also subject, I mean, expose, one another to all kinds of books that under other circumstances we might not ever read. Sometimes it's a real score, like The Help was this past year. Other times, there are total stinkers, like Inheritance of Loss, which I chose a few years back. Everyone hated it, including me, but at least the cover looked cool, which is more than we could say for The Senator's Wife, which the wife of the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden picked and was really, really, really bad, in my humble opinion!
Book Club is over for the season so now I'm reading stuff that been on my shelf for awhile. I just finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird. I'm not entirely sure I had ever read the entire book or at least it has been so long that the details were buried deep within my sub-conscious. I got interested in it by reading Truman Capote (A book club nudge...we read In Cold Blood a few years back. Loved, loved, loved it and was not disappointed by the movie Capote that came out a few years ago.) The movie revealed the close relationship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote and thus To Kill A Mockingbird came back onto my radar. Of course, I loved the book and desired immediately to travel to Maycomb, Alabama, even though it's a made up town. I want to rent the movie and watch Gregory Peck in this great role. But even beyond the actual story, it got me thinking about what makes a book a classic. Why is it that a book Like TKAM has had such an enduring quality? Why is it referred to as a Great American Classic? Are there any classics that are being written and read today? When will they emerge as classics and then eventually be self-described as a classic?
I don't have answers to these questions, but I am genuinely interested in what bookies think about how a book becomes a classic.
For the record, I have several books that are favorites of mine and I really don't know if they would be considered classics. But in my opinion they are stories worth reading and savoring certainly more than once in a lifetime. So here's a sampling of Jodi's Classics.
My all time favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany. I LOVE this book. I love John and Owen, the two main characters. I want them in my life. I love the theology, the commentary on war, the way in which the relationships are complex and meaningful. I love Owen's good heart and John's need for his friendship. I love what they mean to one another and how they influence one another. I seriously doubt another book will ever emerge as more beloved than this one.

My favorite book when I was a kid was Harriet the Spy. I read it again as an adult and was amazed by some of the humor and references that I know I more fully understood as
an adult. I could read it again, with ease. This is a great story. I so wanted to be Harriet. Probably still do in some ways. I may have to go get a red sweatshirt.

My Name is Asher Lev and The Gift of Asher Lev are two books that are worth lingering over. Set within the Hasidic Community of New York, the stories trace the life of a young Jewish boy seeking to figure out his life as he discovers the artistic gifts that lurk within.

Glittering Image by Susan Howatch. This is actually the first book of a 7 book series that is set within the Church of England. Lots of theology, sin, forgiveness and redemption.

Life of Pi. Beautifully written, full of deep and abiding themes. Surprises all along the way. Must read it more than once to fully appreciate what the author is doing.
If I sat down with a list of books, I'd likely come up with other titles that I would rate more highly than these. For but today, these come to mind and I suppose in one way or another, they would always make a favorite book list and now, I am dying to re-read each and everyone of them!
How 'bout you? What are your favorite books?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Love the Stockholm Archipelago

We've had an unusually wonderful string of warm, sunny, summer-like days here in the latter part of May. It's always such a pleasure when the high pressure comes in and you can enjoy being out without freezing! It's funny how often I've wondered if this early warm weather is a sign of things to come or the sum total of what summer will bring in terms of warmth. I hope the former...I fear the latter.
But, rather than moan about the bad weather that could come our way, I think I'll concentrate on the wonderful ways in which we've been able to enjoy this early glimpse of summer. A couple of Saturdays ago, I read that the forecast was for a reasonably warm (20 C, 70 F) day so I put out a call to some friends for how to enjoy it. I hit the jackpot with the response. Some friends with a boat talked to some friends with a home on one of the islands in the archipelago and Voilà, instant amazing plans unfolded for us! We met up with our friends and their boat and headed out into the amazing Stockholm archipelago.
A quick stop for boat fuel and human fuel got us going! Olle and Doug sat on the roof of the boat for awhile and Olle showed his multi-dimensional skills by steering the boat with his foot! Tanner loves to come along and was one happy dog. Time for a snooze says the hund.It was warm enough to sit out for a bit. It was warm enough to wear shorts! It was stunningly beautiful and it felt great to be on the water again.
Not all stugas (summer cottages) are created equal. Here are a couple of homes by the sea that I would like to inhabit.We arrived a our friends' place and enjoyed one of those magical summer days that refresh and renew one's spirit.The view of their island paradise from the water.Our wonderful island hosts, Kjell and Mare.Hanging in the sunshine with a glass for champagne with our buddies. How could it get better?
We toasted with champagne, we feasted on a delicious assortment of food, including the first grilled food of the season. I missed taking a photograph of the lovely little raspberry tart type things that Judy made for dessert. Wow. Delicious. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Yes, I ate more than one.
We enjoyed one another's company and took in the beauty that surrounded us in this archipelago paradise.The view from the deck where we feasted on food and conversation.These views are behind the house. Those chairs beckon me to come and read a few books while lounging in that spot!
As the day was coming to a close, we boarded the boat for our journey back to Stockholm. Even in the evening, it wasn't all that chilly. I love being out on the water late in the evening. The sunsets and colors that emerge all around are breathtaking.While getting the boat settled in at the dock we spotted this mother duck with her brood of little guys. They were adorable. They had to scurry like mad to keep up with mom and several of them decided to hop aboard for smoother sailing!This day was a wonderful day that was filled with the joy of being with good friends while being surrounded by the beauty that Stockholm brings to our life. I really hope this is a sign of the kind of the summer that awaits us and not a small tease that will leave me longing for heat all summer long!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Holidays in Sweden

Today is Ascension day...Christians acknowledge this 40th day after Easter and usually celebrate it on the Sunday following the Thursday. Because Sweden used to be a country where Church and State were joined, most all of the public holidays are tied to the church year. So today, Kristi Himmelsfärd dagen, is a holiday. Literally translated, the holiday means Christ flies to the sky, or Christ journeys to heaven, but because it is a somewhat obscure Christian holy day falling on a Thursday, the Swedes who do not practice any religious tradition (approximately 98% of the country) don't really know why they get this spring holiday nor could explain its significance. They are just happy for a Thursday holiday that also then invites them to take Friday and turn it all into a 4 day weekend!
Swedes love their time off. If you ask a Swedish person if they'd rather have more pay or more time off, I would guess that at least 95% of the time, they would say more time off. Of course, this could be related to the fact that a pay raise also means a tax raise so they don't really see the point of earning more money to just pay higher taxes. Even so, their attitude about time off vs. higher pay is quite compelling. And they know how to make the very most of their holidays. So, whenever there is a public holiday (known as a Red Day), employees have the right to take a half day the day before the holiday because you know, you have to prepare for the holiday. Then you get the holiday off as well. But here's the real kicker. Most of the time, you also get the day after a holiday off, commonly known as the second day of Easter or Christmas or whatever holiday you've just had off because you also need a day to recover from the holiday! Now, in the case of Ascension, Friday isn't a real holiday, but because you get Thursday, most think that going back to work on Friday and then having the weekend would be such a waste of good holiday time so they take what's called a squeeze day in order to enjoy a 4.5 day holiday weekend. Many employers give the squeeze day as a day off (much like the Friday of American Thanksgiving) so you don't even have to take a vacation day in order to get this lovely long weekend. So today, I'm off for Ascension day. And yesterday we left at noon. And tomorrow we are also off. And it is actually quite nice!
A little side note on the Kristi Himmelsfärd holiday. When we first moved to Sweden, I saw this holiday on the calendar and because I didn't realize that all of the holidays were linked to the church and because I didn't know any Swedish at all and because Kristi is a woman's name, I simply asked Doug, "Who is this Kristi chick we get a holiday for in May?" He was very happy that I hadn't asked someone else from church the same question! Now I know that Kristi means Christ and Himmelsfärd means Ascension, in its own inimitable manner, and I shall enjoy a half day on Wednesday, a holiday on Thursday and a squeeze day on Friday 40 days after Easter for as long as I live in Sweden.

Yale Alley Cats in Stockholm

Yesterday we were invited to the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to hear a concert by the Yale Alley Cats, one of the all male A cappella groups from Yale University. These types of groups have a long and storied tradition in America and it's great to see them when they pass through Stockholm on one of their tours. The last group that was here were the Whiffenpoofs of Yale and that was 4 years ago. Because Immanuel Church's main sanctuary is such a great venue for concerts, we are often asked to host a community concert by these groups. We are happy to accommodate these types of requests and so if you are in Stockholm next Thursday, 20 May, feel free to come by Immanuel for the concert which will begin at 19.00. And the reason that we were invited to attend this more intimate gathering at the ambassador's residence is because we are hosting the concert. Being nice has its perks!
It's always fun to go to the residence and it was great to see how the new ambassador (arrived last August) and his wife have changed the decor. It looks great! Right now, an exhibit of American art is displayed throughout their home. We loved the giant portrait of President Obama that was gracing one of the living room walls! I was especially impressed by an enviable terrace that looked so inviting. I could only imagine how much time I might spend out there if I lived in that house! Meeting the young university students was also very fun. They had just finished finals, flew across the Atlantic ocean, arrived in Stockholm that morning and were greeting guests and performing songs like old pros. They are very talented, funny, and warm young men and it was great to get an up close and personal look at them!
The afternoon was also fun because we were off work and the sun was shining and even exuding warmth. We ended up walking home along the waterfront of Stockholm in the company of a good friend. It was such a great afternoon. Experiences like these cause me to realize how unique and special our life in Stockholm can be. We do get to do some pretty amazing things and I feel grateful for the ways in my life is enhanced through these various experiences.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kungsträdgården and the Cherry Blossoms

As soon as winter begins to wane and signs of spring slowly begin to appear around Stockholm, the local buzz turns to the cherry blossoms in Kungsträdgården. Located in central Stockholm, this row of trees creates one of spring's most treasured dazzling sights. As mentioned in a previous blog, we wandered through there a week ago. Some of the blooms were out but many were pregnant buds just waiting for enough warmth to jump out. I had heard from others that the trees were finally in full bloom and have been pondering when I could get down there during a time when the rest of Stockholm isn't to soak it all in! Once the trees bloom, day after day, the steps and the benches that surround the area are filled with happy people who want to surround themselves with such natural and fragrant beauty. The weather has also been quite un-inviting with the climate more reminiscent of November than May. But this morning I woke up early to a bright blue sky and knew that if I didn't get Tanner and myself out the door for an early walk, I would regret it. The forecast for the rest of the week is for more of the grim and after a few good rain storms and plenty of wind, the blossoms disappear for another year.It was gorgeous this morning. Bright sky, and the sun was even warm. The city was just waking up and Tanner was happily sniffing out the new day.
Arriving in Kungsträdgården after about 10 minutes did not disappoint. Very few people were in the square and those that were had cameras, just like me! The carnival of pink that was bursting forth in the middle of an urban area made my heart sing. I began to snap photos while Tanner searched for food and trash! I had to laugh. He didn't care one bit about the blossoms...I was feasting on the beauty around me while he was feasting on the trash that was left behind from yesterday's visitors!After snapping away and taking it all in, I began my walk back home. The sun was warm and I actually slightly over dressed in a long sleeve shirt, sweater and down vest. I'm anxious for sustained warmth to hover over Stockholm. But at least I know that once the cherry trees have bloomed, in a way, we've officially entered the beautiful season here in Stockholm. Let's hope the sun agrees with that philosophy and decides to take long, warm holiday here in Stockholm this summer.
All of the photos on the blog today were taken this morning around 7.30 a.m.