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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Sad Reality of Human Trafficking

I went to a seminar today on human trafficking and Sweden.  It was a good day, filled with much to think about.  It's easy to think that a country like Sweden isn't so involved in this heinous crime, but sadly, that is not true.  In fact, Sweden is quite the outlet for Russian women/girls in particular and it's so disheartening to think about how to put an end to this horrible crime.
I learned a lot today.  I learned that 66% of the world's work is done by women, 50% of the world's food is produced by women, 10% of the wages earned in this world are earned by women and 1% of the world's property is owned by women.  It's easy to see why women jump at the chance for a better life when offered dreams in Europe and America.  Unfortunately, those dreams turn into their worst nightmare.
I learned that most women who get involved in human trafficking have a very hard time getting free from this intricate web of deception and abuse.  They are shipped to foreign countries, kept in sub-humane conditions, stripped of all sense of well-being, selfhood, and identity, and subjected to horrible sexual abuse.  They earn very little and are given no voice.  We wonder why they don't reach out for help.  They cannot speak the language of the country they are in, they have no knowledge of what is normal, they are fearful for their very lives.  How do you ask for help when you don't even know how to say hello?
There are safe houses here in Stockholm and this is one of the ways that we as a church might be able to get involved.  It's difficult because the women involved do not speak Swedish or English and are often so deeply injured that trusting strangers is almost impossible.  But perhaps we could plant flowers and paint rooms and make their living situations a bit more lovely and easy.  We'll see.
I learned that when rescued, rather than build what could be a better life in a foreign country, most women want to return to their homeland.  They have family there, often children of their own.  Even if it's bad, it's familiar.  It's hard to know how to truly help these women emancipate out of such an oppressed situation.
I learned today that 98% of the agencies that work with human trafficking are run by women.  At the seminar today, 99.9% of the participants were women.  How can we engage more men in this issue?  I thought a lot about the men who use these women.  How can we come to a greater understanding of why men want to use sex slaves?  What drives that desire?  The profile of men who most often use women like this is startling...well-established, good economy, often happily married.  What's going on here?  How are we as a society promoting the titillating desire for men to want to use a prostitute?  If we work hard at reducing demand, that will also reduce the profitability of the human trafficking issue.
Sadly, it is very hard to prosecute these crimes and the jail sentences are not long anyway.  Providing real hope, real change, real opportunities for a better life are a goal but are laced with challenges.  We have to keep up the fight however.  It is estimated that there are approximately 700,000 sex slaves in the world today.  400-600 come to Sweden annually.  That's quite a high percentage.
So what can we do?  Seek to understand the complex issues associated with poverty and why becoming a sex slave might even represent a better option than one's current reality.  Seek to better understand why men are driven to use sex slaves and provide redeeming, healing ministries for them as well.  Make use of sex slaves illegal under no certain terms and raise the punishments for such use.  Befriend foreigners, especially women seeking to help them find their place in society through humane means.  Above all, remember the worth of every human being and seek to be a healing presence wherever you are.
Today was a good experience.  I'm glad I went.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Stockholm is Springing to Life

We've had a string of warm, sunny days here in Stockholm.  The entire personality of the city and its inhabitants has changed!  I was able to wear shorts all weekend and I gotta tell ya, I'm a totally different person when the warm weather hits.  I have had loads to do over the past several weeks, being a pastor and it being Lent, Holy Week and Easter after all and on Saturday I had errands to run, preparations to be made, a dog to walk and friends to visit.  I woke up at 6.30 and hit the ground running.  Usually by mid-afternoon on days like these, I'm totally worn out and ready for a long winter's nap.  But the sunshine and beautiful air of Saturday kept me going and going and going.  I got a lot done and was ready to wake up to a beautiful Easter morning.
Yesterday was a public holiday in Stockholm and it was gorgeous.  Our boat doesn't go into the water until Saturday so we did something that we haven't done in ages...we packed a picnic and headed out to one of the city islands, Skeppsholmen, on foot.  (Holmen means islet.)  The city of Stockholm is actually made up of 8 or 14 (depending on how you count it!) different islands and it is so much fun to cross bridges, enjoy the water views and find a sunny spot to relax.  I do not grow tired of looking at this beautiful city with its amazing views on the water front.  What a joy to walk through a quiet city, with the sun heating us up.  Tanner swam, we found a sunny spot, and enjoyed a wonderful picnic from the leftover bounty of our Easter table.  After we had napped and relaxed and taken in a bit of people watching, we walked over to another island called Kastellholmen.  Beautiful buildings adorn this small island in the middle of the city bay.  Tanner was roasting in the afternoon heat...about 75 degrees (22C)  which is really, really warm even in the middle of summer let alone the end of April!  He had no problems jumping into the icy waters of the Baltic!Eventually we wandered back home, taking in the lovely flower pots that people had planted. 
The city is beginning to bloom...the moment when spring becomes complete however is when the cherry trees on Kungsträgården pop.  I am watching and waiting with eager expectation.  It is indeed one my favorite moments of spring in Stockholm.

Easter Dinner and Fun with Friends

We ended our Easter day celebration by hosting a few friends for a bbq.  The weather cooperated perfectly and we were able to sit outside and enjoy some pre-dinner drinks and appetizers.  The food was delicious.  Sadly, I have no photos of it.  But the taste of shrimp cocktail, and feta cream cheese balls, and grilled Halloumi cheese linger on on my palate.  It only got better from there as we feasted on entrecote steaks, lamb kebabs, and spicy, delicious sausages.  Salad, potatoes, bread, asparagus, and sauteed mushrooms and onions filled our plates and our bellies to overflowing.  To ease the fullness, I made everyone participate in an old fashioned egg toss!  We always did this at Easter on my uncle's farm and I thought it would be fun to engage in a friendly competition!  We drew names for partners and headed out to our back courtyard.  A few of our Swedish neighbors saw us and just shook their heads once again at their weird American neighbors! I thought Doug and our friend Robert would be tough, but turns out Sean (the youngest one there) and yours truly were the toughest team!  We emerged victors of the egg toss! 
We came inside and indulged in vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries and mint chocolate molten cakes.  I wasn't sure I would recover!  We had a grapes and cheese platter to boot but that never got served.  We were all too full to try for another course!
It was a wonderful way to close a beautiful Easter weekend.  Good friends and good food.  It's a combination that is hard to beat.

From Good Friday to Easter Sunday

Good Friday is the one service all year that we have no fellowship time afterwards.  The sanctuary is dark, the music in a minor key, the candles black, the flowers sparse.  It is time to go deep into your soul, see your sin and be glad that Jesus died for it.  Then we wait.  We wait all day Saturday for Easter morning to break and we enter the same place of worship where we were on Friday and yet the color is back, signs of life abound in freshly cut flowers, even the daffodils sing their song of praise to the Risen Lord. 
Doug preached and I was responsible for the kids time and the prayer for the day.  The kids time was great fun.  I took an egg, with the insides blown out (almost needed medical assistance by the time I finished!) and then proceeded to explain to the children that I didn't understand why eggs were such a big part of Easter.  After all, they had nothing to do with the surprise his friends encountered when they found the tomb that Jesus had been laid in was empty.  I said that I was so mad about eggs getting so much attention that I just want to smash it to pieces...and then I cracked it on Doug's head!  The gasp was loud!  Then the delighted laughter when they discovered that it was empty!  I excitedly shared that this egg really did have something to do with Easter...it's empty, just like the tomb!  It was great fun and they were all delighted and surprised.  I was surprised!
Here is my prayer for the day:
Lord Jesus,
     You are the resurrection and the life, all who believe in you will never die.  Today is a day of victory and celebration because you have conquered the power of death.  As the people of God we have come together to celebrate your victory over death, which ensures that our future will be filled with hope and joy.  Our earthly lives know all too well the sting of death, but today dear Jesus, you have diminished that sting by overcoming death itself and we are here today as thankful and joy-filled people. 
     Lord, today we rejoice in the reality that the empty places in our lives are now filled because of the emptiness of the tomb.  Your living, your dying, and your rising again hold the promise for us of a life worth living, not because of anything that we’ve done, but totally and utterly because you have lived and died and risen again.
     And so we ask that you fill us with your love, that we might love others with a love that transcends reason.  Fill us with your grace that we might offer grace to another who is desperately in need of forgiveness and renewal.  Fill us with your joy that others might be drawn to you and find that even when life is challenging, you are there for them, waiting to embrace them and journey beside them through life’s most difficult valleys.
     Lord, we know that for many today those difficult valleys include the sting of loss from the death of a loved one.  We remember today those who have lost loved ones in the past year and ask that you provide relief and comfort to them as they grieve and adjust to life without their dear ones here with them on earth.  May the hope that is ours through Christ overcome their sorrow and ease the sting that death brings to our lives. 
     Lord, we pray for those for whom today is anything but hopeful.  Whether it be an unclear future, or waiting on news that they have permission to stay here in Sweden, be it the longing for family from whom they are separated, the financial strain that crushes them, or the concern that their children are struggling, or other significant relationships are breaking…Lord, whatever it is that is pulling hope out of people’s lives and filling it with despair, minister to them this day.  Surround them with the same loving presence that you assured Mary with at the graveside, that her sorrow will be turned to joy, that her anguish will end.      
     Loving God, it is such a joy and privilege to come and celebrate your resurrection, yet Lord, too, our deepest desire is that we live as Easter people every day of our lives.  May we know the power of your presence.  May we embody the grace that you so generously offer to us.  May we live as a hopeful people knowing that you have overcome all things and are actively making all things new. 
     Today we say hallelujah, for Christ is no longer dead.  The tomb is empty.  Help us Lord to share this good news with others that they too may experience the victory and joy that we do.  We pray these things in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior, the one who has conquered the grave, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
It's my prayer for today too, to live as an Easter person all the time.
We had a wonderful Easter, truly.  The second service was standing room only with people grabbing chairs from the cafe and sitting in the hallway! After the services were over, the choir was invited to take some flowers.  They loved mugging for the camera! 
It's been a good Lenten season for me.  I'm happy to be in Eastertide however.  It feels lighter...thanks to Jesus who shares my burden and makes my yoke easier.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Are You There At the Foot of the Cross?


I am here at the foot of the cross today.  I am here at the cross today because I know that I stand in need of a savior.  I am here at the cross today because I am seeking a love that is unconditional, compassionate, forgiving and redeeming.  I am here at the cross today because it is the only place where I will find such things.  Is that why you are here at the cross today?
     I am here at the cross today because I stand in need of a savior.  I know this because as we read about Judas the betrayer the deep places within my heart where I know I’ve been the betrayer, stir.  Are you a betrayer?  Do you follow Jesus with a skeptic caution, wanting to be in his inner circle yet still wondering what you can get out it?  It was Judas who worried about the money.  It as Judas who thought Mary’s foot washing of Jesus with expensive perfume was extravagant and wasteful.  It was Judas whose kiss could be bought.  To think that an act of affection could be turned into such an act of treachery is appalling, until I consider the ways that I do the same.  I want to follow Jesus and yet I want to follow my own way.  I want the sacrifice that Jesus has given to me and yet I don’t want to make sacrifices in my own life.  The fear that lurks in my soul today is this: if given the chance for selfish gain through the betrayal of my Lord, I am not confident that I would say no.  And so that is why I am here at the cross.  Because on the very night that Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread and the cup, gave thanks and shared it with those closest to him.  He gave them a glimpse of how his brokenness will heal ours, how the shedding of his blood will shed our shame and wash us in grace.  Yes, I am here at the cross today because I need his brokenness to heal mine.
     I am here at the cross today because I stand in need of a savior.  I know this because as we read about Peter’s denial, the deep places within my heart where I know I’ve been the denier, stir.  Are you a denier?  Peter followed Jesus with almost reckless abandon.  Eager to be on the front lines, Peter defied Jesus when Jesus predicted that he would deny him.  Peter felt that such an act of treachery was impossible, beyond his ability.  Peter believed with all his heart that he could never do such a thing.  And yet, later that same day, Peter does deny Christ.  Of course, he’s not the only one, but his is memorable.  I can certainly find myself in this narrative as well.  In my core I want to be a zealous, committed, follower of Christ.  I want to stand out from the crowd with my enthusiasm for our Lord.  And yet, when that causes others to be uncomfortable with me, when they push away because they find it so odd that one would choose Jesus, when they challenge my faith choice, well, then I find that standing alone for Christ becomes quite isolating.  And I choose to tone it down a bit to fit the circumstances.  I am tempted to want to fit in more than I want to profess Christ.  I want to go with the way of the world instead of following the way of Christ because at times I don’t want to be counter-cultural, at times I want to be swept into a crowd who praises me and honors me and lifts me up.  Sometimes it’s hard to relinquish my place of honor for the place of honor that Christ deserves and so I deny him his place as Lord of my live and instead allow the world to carry me on their shoulders.  Yes, Christ’s darkest hour revealed Peter’s darkest side and in most human instances that darkness would’ve hovered forever between them.  But we know that that later Jesus restores Peter and even asks him to try again.  He invites him to feed his sheep and to share the good news of who Jesus is with others.  Yes, Jesus assures Peter of his deep and abiding love for him by asking him to love him once again.  I too need to hear that Jesus loves me and to affirm that I love him and to be restored to a place where I can be empowered for ministry as well.  I am here at the cross today because I am in need of a second chance.      
     I am here at the cross today because I stand in need of a savior.  I know this because as we read about Jesus’ accusers the deep places within my heart where I know I’ve been the accuser stir.  Are you an accuser?  Is keeping rituals more important to you than pursuing the truth?  Are you carefully following the rules while missing the heart of the gospel?  Jesus’ accusers reveal how far away they are from understanding the gospel of grace.  They are trapped in a system where simply performing the ritual becomes much more important than honoring the core value of the rituals.  We see in John’s gospel that when Jesus was first taken to Caiaphas’ house, the accusers did not want to follow him into the Roman courtyard, for this would’ve defiled them and they would’ve been unable to celebrate the Passover.  As if this is the only thing in their lives that is defiling them!  I can’t get over how concerned they are with the ritual of “remaining clean” while clearly handing an innocent man over to be killed for crimes that he has not committed.  Makes me wonder where in my own life I am keeping rituals instead of following Jesus with love in my heart.  Am I reading scripture yet not allowing it to shape me?  Are my prayers simply uttered out of obligation so that I will feel better instead of truly believing that Jesus hears my prayers and longs to answer them?  Am I attending church, worshiping God, going through all of the right motions, yet privately shunning Jesus in my day to day life?  Is my own righteousness rooted in following the letter of the law rather than allowing a spirit of grace to motivate and guide me?  Another compelling detail of the narrative is this: The accusers cannot answer the questions set forth by Caiaphas.  Instead they weave their own story about why they are there.  When asked what charge they are bringing against Jesus, they simply scream that he is guilty, as if it becomes truer if they shout it louder.  When asked to take responsibility for their actions, unable to get the death warrant on their own, the people demand that the governor give them what they want just because they want it, not because it has any basis in justice or righteousness or truth.  We watch as Christ’s innocence is twisted into guilt.  Here I feel anguish as I see myself in this story.  God asks me questions about my own life and I deflect them with answers about others.  God asks me to take responsibility for actions, to justify my demands, but I find myself wanting others to do my dirty work for the  outcomes that I desire, however sinister or selfish they may be.  My business is often so rooted in this world, yet Jesus reminds us His kingdom is not of this world, and that he was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what he says is true.
     I am here at the cross today because I am in need of the truth.  I need to be reminded that Jesus’ kingdom is not of the world, but is about wholly different things.  I need to encounter the truth and have the falsehood in my life washed away.  I am here at the cross today because while the accusers took Christ’s innocence and twisted it into guilt, what I need is for my guilt to be transformed into innocence.
     I am here at the cross today because I stand in need of a savior.  I know this because as we read about how Pilate had Christ beaten and sentenced to be crucified, the deep places within my heart where I know I’ve been the one to sentence Jesus, stir.  Are you the one who has sentenced Christ to death on a cross? 
     We all are.  Yes, we flinch when we read about the flogging.  Of course, we hate the pain and the torture that Jesus experienced.  We know his death is unjust.  We know that those who sentenced him knew that he was innocent and yet when offered a well-known criminal, Barabbas, the crowd still wanted Jesus to be the one killed.  Yes Herod, yes Pilate, you are both right.  Jesus is innocent and does not deserve die.  You are guilty, we are guilty and we are the ones who deserve to die and yet we cannot face that possibility.  So we ask Jesus to do it for us.  And Jesus, all the while knowing that we will die if he does not, chooses to not fight back but instead subjects himself to the worst kind of death.  And Pilate and Herod and all who have gathered to make these accusations against Jesus must now realize that it is Jesus, the innocent man, who stands in for Barabbas and it is Jesus who stands in for all of the guilty ones who  surround him with their lies and their deception and their conniving.  It is Jesus who pays the price for all of the sin that abounds.
     It’s hard to come into this part of the narrative.  It is perhaps against the backdrop of the cries of crucify him that we see how desperate our need really is.  For Jesus, who is sinless, takes on our lies and our deception and our conniving and nails it to the cross so that we ourselves will never have to face the sentence that he has endured on our behalf.  I am here at the cross today because I too am Barabbas.  I am here to face the guilt of my own sin but also to embrace the gift of being set free from my punishment because Christ has paid my sentence for me.
     I am here at the cross today because I stand in need of a savior.  I know this because as we read about the death of Jesus I am standing at the foot of the cross with my sins exposed.  Are you one of the sinners?  Remarkably, Jesus pleads with father to forgive us even as they pound the nails into his hands and feet.  He takes on our ignorance and excuses our inability to understand what is happening.  And the crowd responds with scoffing even as Jesus now hangs on the cross.  Little do they know that their taunts and questions about his being the Messiah, their King have deep truth embedded within.  Even as they badger him to save himself, to save us all, they do not grasp on any level that it is only through his staying on the cross that we will all be saved.  One of the sinners has realized this…his confession from his own cross reveals the depths of Christ’s compassion…the criminal asks to be saved and Jesus assures him that that very day, he shall be with him in paradise.  And so it is that we find ourselves here as well.  No matter what kind of cross we feel we are bearing, no matter the places in our lives we that we feel there is no way out, no matter the places where we feel that it is only death and destruction that await us, we are invited to turn to Jesus and ask that he save us and be granted the promise of a life in paradise with him.  That is why there can be a quiet joy at being a sinner at the cross.  Jesus knows that it is finished.  Jesus knows that he must entrust his spirit into the Father’s hands.  He knows that it is time for him to die.  His death comes, the darkness covers, the mourning begins.
     And here I am a sinner at the foot of the cross.  I am the thief hanging next to Jesus crying out to be saved, but I am also the soldier who sees and believes that Jesus truly is the Son of God.          
     Yes, I am a sinner at the foot of the cross who, with limited understanding, embraces the reality that the death of Christ leads me to everlasting life.  Yes, I am more sinful than I ever dared believe; and yet I am also more loved than I ever dared hope.  Are you that beloved sinner as well?
     I am here at the foot of the cross today because I know that I stand in need of a savior.  And I am one of those who believe that Jesus is my Savior.  Are you one of the believers?  If you are here today in need of a savior as well, then believe that Christ has died for your sins and wants you to live as one who will be with him in paradise. 
     We are here at the foot of the cross in need of a savior.  Thanks be to God for sending his son Jesus Christ to die for us.  Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Love That Lasts

Today my mom's oldest brother Melvin and his wife Dorothy are celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary!  Whew, that's a lot of years. 
That's my mom on the far left!  They were even close then!
And they are both vibrant, happy, and wonderful people still eager to enjoy all they can out of life.  I am blessed to see them on our trips home to California as they live across the street from my mom and dad.  Pretty great that siblings who are 89 and almost 81 end up across the street from one another after all these years!  My mom and her brother are the only immediate family members living from their family.  And even though Mel was the oldest and mom the youngest, they have always been close.  Mel and Dorothy had three sons and my mom was the consummate cool aunt in the years before she and my dad were married.  Here she is with the three boys playing basketball.  She was likely a better player than any of them!  My cousins are quite a bit older than I am so we didn't see a lot of one another on our visits to Galesburg, Illinios from California.  They were out of school, serving in the military or doing whatever they were doing when I was 10 years old and they were in their late teens, early 20's.  But all of the boys moved to California along the way and so our relationships were renewed.  My cousin Mike and I are kind of the resident democrats in the family as well so we have to stick together!  Eventually Mel and Dorothy decided to give up the cold midwestern winters and moved to California as well.  After three moves, they have landed across the street from my folks in beautiful Sahara Park!Love that lasts 65 years is pretty amazing.  I'm sure they've had their ups and downs but I have always loved spending time with them.  I remember as a kid getting  birthday cards from them with a quarter taped to the card and a little note that said, 'Enjoy a coke!"  I loved the thoughtfulness.  And now we always look forward to dropping in on them when we're out visiting.  They always have ice cream in the freezer and it's just fun being around them.  They helped me with my parents 50th wedding anniversary party.  I could not have done it without them.  And the summer my mom was really sick, they provided me with moral support and surrounded us with great love.  I still love playing Bingo on Tuesday nights with my aunt.
The novel I just read said this of marriage: "One must find variety in repetition to have a long and enjoyable marriage."  I believe that.  So much of life is just day in and day out living.  You better enjoy the mundane together.  But every once in awhile there is a big reason to celebrate and well, 65 years of marriage is certainly big enough.
Happy Anniversary Mel and Dot.  We love you and wish you many more years of happiness together!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Club: Middlesex

Last night was one of the most fun, most interesting book clubs we've had.  And dare I say, it even included a surprise ending that left us with our jaws dropped and our bellies rolling with laughter!  The novel was Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.  If you are in a book club, you must read this book.  Even if you aren't, you should read this book!  This is a great novel about immigrating to America, pursuing the American dream by hook or by crook, complex family and social relationships, and one person's quest to find identity and belonging through a complicated maze of circumstances.  You will read things about America that will surprise you and perhaps make you feel a bit uncomfortable.  There are some strange and difficult sexually oriented sections but it's more strange than erotic and they are germane to the story.  You will see the immigrant's struggle and some of the biases that are unfairly attached to immigrants.  You will feel the pain of leaving a homeland because of war and seeking to build a life elsewhere.  You will see how one generation builds upon another to create a better world for the offspring to come.  You will see how a young person navigates relationships, family, school life and friendships.  I was deeply moved by the attention to detail Eugenides pays to just about everything.  Some of my favorite lines in the book include the following:
On marriage:  "To be happy you have to find variety in repetition."
On being the "right" kind of immigrant in America: "It was about Mayflower and Plymouth Rock and everything that happened for two minutes 4oo years ago instead of everything that had happened since…instead of everything that was happening now."
On seeking to adapt to the new world whilst hanging onto the former: The wife packed her husband's lunch filled with Greek delicacies into the new American invention...the brown paper bag.
So many beautifully written moments that will awaken a variety of feelings from within.  It certainly did within each of us gathered around Mary Beth's table last night.
The title of Middlesex is layered with meaning.  Of course, the town is called Middlesex, but more importantly, the main character is a reflection of being a middle sex...the character is a hermaphrodite.  Yes, this lends itself to some odd moments in the story and there are definitely some morally questionable bits as to how this came about...siblings and cousins marry one another, but the author handles these delicacies with such care that the reader is drawn into the complicated web of family life with compassion and interest rather than with disgust.  The coming of age core of the book is in part why critics have lauded this novel as one of the great American novels and it really is quite a poignant story of a young person's struggle to figure out who she/he really is.
So at the end of this lively, wonderful, layered conversation, the most venerated of our book club members, an amazing, insightful and wonderfully articulate woman of 81 years young looks across the table and says, "I want to ask Jodi a specific question but I don't know if I dare to."  Now, I have been asked many things in my life and I have been told many things and I have seen many complicated, messy and painful situations in people's lives so I was pretty confident that whatever zinger this dear friend would throw at me, I could handle it.  Believe me, I've never been so unprepared for a question in my life!
She first established that in hermaphrodites, one sexual organ is usually more developed than the other therefore the ones with well developed female organs can have children whilst those with dominant male organs cannot.  So the big question of the night was simply this: "Is it possible, that the virgin Mary was a hermaphrodite and therefore that is how the virgin birth came about?"  After I picked myself up off the floor and scooped my jaw back into my face, I replied, "Well, I don't think that would preach well on Christmas Eve!"  It was one of those wonderful, unexpected and bizarre twists to book club that we have come to love and appreciate!  To think that the thought had actually crossed her mind whilst reading this book was the most remarkable thing of all to me.  It was a wonderful night.  I always feel so filled with with thoughts, opinions, ideas and friendship when I return from book club.  I'm very thankful for the range of thought this group brings to my life...no matter how nutty, however outrageous it may be. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Finally, Spring

Spring does not arrive quickly here in this Nordic country. 
The tree branches are still starkly naked.  The spring flowers are trying to come out, but the daffodils are mere shoots right now. I think it's a little ironic that some of the first wild flowers to emerge are called snowdrops.  It's like the ground can't quite let go of winter yet.  But the carnival of color that the crocuses and wild blue flowers (wish I knew what these were called) create is worth noting.  The field of blue that dots the park where I take Tanner for his morning business reminds me that the ground is groaning and soon the slumber of a long winter will be broken by the awakening of blooms and color and fragrance.  This year people have really been longing for it.  It's been a long winter and news of the rest of Europe hitting high temperatures and being fully in bloom put me in a pretty good funk over the weekend.  So Saturday afternoon we decided to suck it up, put on warm clothes (grrr) and take a walk along the water front.  We stopped for a coffee along the way and the sun peaked out momentarily.  It was warm on my face. It gave me hope that a new season really is going to burst forth.
And then today, a gentle, warmish air and a blue sky beckoned me to walk Tanner without putting on a coat!  And then I decided to get really crazy so I wore summer shoes without socks!  It was mild and beautiful and soothing.  And my spirits lifted and my load felt lighter and I felt happy and free and refreshed.  
Tanner swam in the Baltic despite the thin layer of ice that still coats those frigid waters.  He's ready for spring and summer and all of joy and frivolity that accompanies both.
Yes, spring takes it sweet time up here in this Nordic land.  But today, finally, I believe that the trees will once again have leaves and the flowers will once again dazzle our fair city and I will sit in the sun and forget how long and cold and hard winter can be.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Midday Bowling Break

I am a member of the American Women's Club here in Stockholm.  This club has provided me with great social outlets, an ability to meet other Americans living here in Stockholm and generally, just an all around wonderful experience.  Once a month the club hosts a luncheon.  I can rarely go due to work commitments but when I saw the April lunch offer I decided to clear my schedule and enjoy.  A new diner/bowling alley opened up here a few months ago.  It's called Marion's Gastro Diner and is really quite a cool place.  We had bacon cheeseburgers for lunch and I must say that it was the BEST burger I've had in Stockholm since we moved here.  The fries were perfect as well...crispy but light, well cooked but not greasy.  Delicious.  Carmel Apple Pie topped off the entire gastro experience.  And then the real fun began!  We were invited downstairs to the bowling alley where we donned our bowling shoes and let the good times roll! 
My good buddy Judy was with me and she was trash talking me all through lunch.  I really thought I would easily beat her, but the last laugh was on me...I was worst in my group of 5, scoring a mere 70 while Judy managed to break 100 with a 101.  Here's the score card with three frames to go!  Not exactly world champion bowling! 
I believe this is the first time I've ever bowled and failed to have one spare or strike.  I just couldn't find my groove!  But we had a great time anyway and it was the perfect midday break in the midst of what has been a busy season.  I will definitely head back to the lanes in search of a higher score soon!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Remembering Rwanda

The Rwandan flag tells a story of its own.

This flag, adopted in 2001 is a symbol of hope after the darkest period in Rwandan history.  The blue band represents happiness and peace, the yellow band symbolizes economic development, and the green band symbolizes the hope of prosperity. The sun represents enlightenment.  It is indeed a joy-filled flag, a symbol of the resiliency of the Rwandan people and the hope for a brighter future that burns brightly today. 
But from 1962-2001 the flag looked like this:
 The colors green, yellow, and red represented peace; the nation's hope for future development; and the people.  In 2001, Rwanda changed their flag as the previous flag had had become associated with the brutality of the Rwandan Genocide.  How sad that a flag that was once born out of a desire to promote peace and development was changed because under it, people were brutally murdered for no good reason at all.
Last night we had our first film of the mini-film festival with films from Africa that we are hosting this weekend.  Given that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 occurred close to this date 17 years ago, we felt it would be fitting and appropriate to feature a documentary on the genocide and share in a memorial service afterward.  The film we chose was called 'Keepers of Memory' and was an excellent way to remember this dark and difficult time in history.  You can get this film on Amazon.com if you so desire.
Rwanda is a beautiful place but the scars of the genocide are deep and vast.  The collective psyche of a nation that has been wounded in this manner is deeply affected.  The grief that accompanies the loss of family and friends who were killed along with the guilt one feels in having survived leaves deep fissures in the way in which people can feel good about who they are and where they come from.  Even so, the Rwandan people fight on, seeking to recreate a life of peace and wholeness.  Many are scattered across the globe now as well, having fled due to persecution and oppression.  Many of these folks find their church home at Immanuel International.  After the film, one member of our church shared from his own experience.  He had fled Rwanda in 1990, seeking asylum in Sweden as a political refugee.  When the war began to turn to genocide, he watched with horror as his country imploded.  His sister and her family were still living in Rwanda and he maintained phone contact with her until sadly, she was killed along with her entire family.  He spoke of the great loss that he felt, the utter lack of hope that overcame him, his doubts in how God could be alive in the midst of such difficulty.  But he also spoke of the healing that comes when you begin to see God's love and compassion even in the midst of such horrors.  God gently wooed him back to a place of hope and he is now a strong and vibrant member of our church community.  A few Rwandan members of our church sang some songs in their native language.  Doug led prayers for those who had died and for those who remain, also imploring God to help us love peace and to pursue that above all other pathways in trying to resolve conflict.  Near the end, he invited all members of the Rwandan community to come forward and join him in singing We Shall Overcome.  To see my husband surrounded by members of the Rwandan community living in Stockholm, singing this great hymn of hope, knowing what the Rwandans had been through was very moving for me.  That they would allow us to journey so close to their stories, that they are still a people of hope and belief and faithfulness, that they want to keep being a force for good and not for evil in our world is a humbling and generous blessing.  The song rang out beautifully as all gathered joined in and lifted up the hope that comes from believing that through Christ's message of redemption and transformation, people's lives can be changed and redeemed. 
One line from the film lingers with me...No one should be killed just because of who they are.  It reminds me of how much oppression has occurred in our world simply because one group of people de-humanized another and found it appropriate to seek to extinguish them.  Our friend who shared in the evening made the most amazing observation however.  He said that those who de-humanize others actually become the ones who are dehumanized.  I believe that one cannot kill others in cold blood and remain fully human.  That is why we need to see one another as God does...each creature created in the image of God and as such, precious and valuable on this earth.
My role in the evening was to deliver the blessing at the close.  I begged Doug to not have me do this as I knew by the end of the evening my emotions would be raw and tears likely.  He said it was OK to be emotional about these things and so with tears streaming down my face, surrounded by the beautiful Rwandan people, I gave the following blessing that is found in the Covenant Hymnal:
The way is long, let us go together
The way is difficult, let us help each other
The way is joyful, let us share it
The way is Christ's for Christ is the way, let us follow
The way is open before us, let us go.
And as we go out into the world in peace, let us go with courage, let us hold onto what is good, let us not return evil for evil, let us help the suffering, honor all, love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
May it be so as we seek to live in harmony and community in our small corners of the world.
I am blessed to have been a part of this evening.  May we never forget the horrors of the past, and may our remembering contribute to not repeating them again.