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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Train Delays...Because of Me

So, for awhile now I've had this great weekend trip to London planned. I wanted to see my running buddies, visit the American International Church in London and get some work done on my project. I booked a nice trip on the Eurostar, leaving Paris at 8.43 a.m. arriving in London at 10.00. Perfect. My good friend made plans with the running group to meet for lunch at a favorite restaurant at noon. A friend from church would meet me at the train station with an empty Oyster card so I could fill it up and get going on public transport in London. So easy. Until I screwed it up.
Perhaps I should've known that this was going to be a wild day when I fell down the stairs going out of the church. In an attempt to not let the huge door bang behind me, I was trying to ease it shut, but in the meantime, my heel caught the stair and I went down flat on my face.  Fortunately no injury and the wine in my suitcase didn't break. Oj. From there, the bus ride to the train station could not have been any easier or smooth. I arrived with plenty of time, and make my way through ticketing and passport control. There were lots of people and I knew that there was a 9.13 train in addition to my 8.43, but somehow missed that everyone for the 8.43 has already boarded so I took a seat in the louge. Eventually I looked at my watch and it says like 8.42 and I am not on the train so I know I am trouble. I decided to make a run for it to see if I can still catch my train. Everything was blocked off but a woman said, go, go, they will open the door. Well, I didn't really know where I was going so ran down a stairwell and out a security sealed door that led nowhere...so I walked back in and up the stairs and finally made it onto the platform, but alas the train was gone. The Eurostar agents were there and I couldn't even speak because I was so out of breath and panicked and they wondered how I had gotten to the platform, which would later become an important question. Anyway...trying to explain how stupid I was, that I had been sitting in the lounge, but missed the boarding call, that I am new to this train station and the Eurostar, and no I don't speak French, I found that they were actually very nice. They got me a seat on the 9.13 and I thought all was well until at about 9.10 an announcement came that said we've had a security breech and we are delayed. Then the customs\police got on and found me and wanted to see my luggage...they said, the blue bag and the black bag and didn't you have a white coat? Obviously, there was video. So of course, I complied and got off and they said, You have made a very BEEEEG Mistake. You opened a sealed security door and you now represent a security risk. Uh oh. Now we have to get French customs involved and we do not know what they will say and now all of the trains are delayed as traffic has stopped. I had successfully stopped all train traffic and created a security risk by opening that sealed door. Anyone not yet on the 9.13 train had to wait and some had to get off. Oops. They took me back into the terminal where the dogs sniffed my bags, they took my passport information, and continued to give me dirty looks. Actually, they were very nice even if serious. They knew I had made a mistake but still, since I breached the security door, it created a huge problem for re-securing the train station. Obviously security is a big deal right now, especially between France and England when a giant metal tube is going to shoot through an underwater tunnel! Then they took my passport and had me go to the ticket agent to get reseated once again, which I feel very lucky about. Then I couldn't find my passport!!! Turns out they still had it so then I got it back. I finally got on the train at 10.45 and and instead of pulling into London at 10.00 a.m. local time, I will land at 12.30, 2.5 hours beyond my original arrival. The lunch crew is trying to change the reservation to 12.30 and I will take a cab up to the restaurant! Thankfully the hour time change works in my favor in this direction!
The French countryside is moving along. The golden fields of rape seed are lighting up the landscape and everything is green and the trees are filling in. Train travel is pretty relaxing except when you miss your train and go through the worst door possible. The French were very patient with me and I want to give a shout out to how great they were. Some of the Eurostar agents even apologized to me for the delay. 
 

I suppose I have a good story in my pocket but believe me, it's not a lot of fun being taken off the train by customs agents and police, walked through a crowd who are delayed because of you and wonder what the next steps would be. Thankfully not many who were delayed know that I was perp who created the stir. We're all just mostly relaxing watching the world go by.
I'm excited about my weekend in London. It's just getting started a little later than I expected and with a bit more sweat equity than I needed first thing in the morning! And it just goest to show that no matter how seasoned you think you are as a traveler, there's always another thing you can do wrong. Just glad it doesn't have deeper consequences than being a bit delayed. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter at the American Church in Paris

The holiest of weeks in the Christian year is behind us. We've journeyed to the cross, entered the anguish of Christ's suffering and celebrated his resurrection. Easter is over but our new life in Christ lives on.
Easter at ACP was one that we will remember for the rest of our days. Services each night of holy week prepared us well for a weekend of meaningful worship culminating with an Easter day celebration that brought great joy and meaning to the day. It all started at 7.00am on the quai across the street from the church with a sunrise service.  
 It was a chilly but beautiful morning and it was a delight to watch people gather as we sang, heard the Easter sermon of St. John of Chrysostom read, and participated in the baptism of 3 people. What a way to begin the Easter celebrations! 
 We were all ready for some warming up and a beautiful breakfast awaited us in one of the fellowship rooms. The community life group really outdid themselves in getting things ready for this beautiful Easter breakfast.      Soon it was time to begin the 9.00 service.  The prelude featured three soloists singing pieces from Handel's Messiah. I was on the platform at the time so was lucky enough to be up close and personal when the soloist and trumpter played The Trumpets will Sound. It was so powerful and moving. I had no trouble being excited to stand and welcome people to worship with the words "Christ is Risen". The entire service got better and better with each element. The opening hymn was a blend of Jesus Christ is Risen Today and Thine is the Glory, a beautiful arrangement that the talented musical director put together. There were handbells and brass, choral music and a kids choir, all of it bringing praise and glory to our resurrected Lord.  These are the days when you are so happy that you get to do the service again! A mere 30 minutes separated the end of the first service and the start of the second. It was equally as joyous the second time around! There was a bit more time between the end of the 11.00 service and the start of the 1.30 contemporary service. What fun to see the transition in style with yet another full sanctuary.   Finally at about 3.00pm the worship services had ended and there was time for a cup of coffee with church members and friends. What a day! So memorable and so meaningful. 
That evening we were invited to join the senior pastor, his wife and two kids along with another couple for a fantastic Easter dinner. The meal was just perfect and beautiful in every possible way. The company was lovely as we relaxed and reflected on life and friendship. It is a true gift for us to spend this abiding time with Kim and Scott, long time friends through International minstry. It was great to connect with the 2 kids they have at home right now as well since we don't get to see a great deal of them due to the demands of their school schedules. They indulged our desire to hear them play guitar and sing towards the end of the evening. So much fun!

 For some time now I have made pavlova for an Easter dessert and it was great fun to put it together this year and serve it up. It turned out really well and we managed to eat most of it!  There was no shortage of good food and drink on Easter. Friends who were with us Saturday night brought us the most elegant, adorable box of delicious Easter chocolates. It is almost too pretty to eat. (Note how I said 'almost'). The box itself was really cool with the top shelf sliding out to reveal an ever more delicious second layer of yumminess.  Easter Monday was a day of rest for us as I'm sure it was for most pastors. It was a public holiday here in France so it was quiet in the church and in our  neighborhood. The joy of the day lingers for sure. And the beautiful Easter lily that we purchased in memory of my parents and Doug's father now adorns our home.   The fragrance and beauty of the plant remind us of the joyous promise of the resurrection, that death does not have the final victory. We miss our loved ones during these high holy days, but we remain thankful for the joy of this church, the ministry that unfolds in this place, the creative energy that leads people in worship and draws them ever closer to the joy of life in Christ, our resurrected Lord. Thanks be to God for his marvelous gifts. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Day with the Dead

One of the truly delightful things about now living in Paris for an extended period is getting to explore many of this city's delights that are often out of reach when you are here as a tourist for just a few days. Touring the Pére Lachaise cemetery on the outskirts of Paris is one of these wonderful activities. Located in the 20th arrondisement, the cemetary was a 45 minute bus ride from The American Church in Paris. We did take the metro(underground) on the way back and it was much quicker but the bus ride took us through cool neighborhoods so it was just fine with us. It was also 18C(almost 70F) outside, the sun was shining and it felt like a summer day!  
The cemetery is a very cool place with flamboyant and impressive gravestones along with many famous dead people buried underground. The most famous American to be put to rest there is Jim Morrison. 
 His grave has been damaged many times so now sits behind a chain link fence. A bust of him used to adorn the grave, but alas, was also stolen so now it's a rather non-descript grave site. Other famous graves include Gertrude Stein, which was interesting since I'm currently reading The Paris Wife, a memoir written by Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson and Stein figures prominently in their journey while living in Paris. Her grave is understated. 
Not surprisingly, the grave of Oscar Wilde is a bit more pronounced with a lovely quote about being mourned by outcast men serving as poignant reminder of all that Wilde suffered in his life.
 
 It is ensconced in glass and many still kiss the glass as a sign of affection and connection. Apparently people used to kiss the grave itself and it was causing more damage than was helpful. Other notables include Moliére and Edith Piaf along with Bernhard Verlhac, a name unknown by most, but upon discovering that he was French cartoonist who drew for the satirist magazine, Charlie Hebdo, it doesn't take long to realize that he was on the 12 killed by terrorists back in January of 2015. 
 
There is always a cartoon on the grave and many notes that state, "Je Suis Charlie." Interesting enough, Chopin, the great Polish composer is buried here after coming to Paris at the tender age of 21 and never leaving. 
 
The last grave we spotted was that of Gioacchino Rossini, the man who wrote the William Tell Overture. 
 
There are many, many more graves to see. Many non-famous people often used their grave marker as symbol of their profession. This camera reminds me of my talented cousin, the photographer. Perhaps the most fitting grave marker for artists is a symbol of their craft.
 
The place is huge, 100 acres and you could wander for days. People are still buried here as was evidenced by a couple of interments we witnessed.  it costs €11,000! Of course, I could not resist this adorable, yet poignant grave marker of a child and his dog. The child buried here was indeed only 9 years old. 
 
One of the most moving aspects of our wander were the numerous memorials devoted to victims of WWII. Always when on the continent and I encounter a memorial to WWI or WWII, it brings it much closer to home since I am often standing on the soil where the lives were lost. Every small village in Europe has a memorial or two to these world wars and the sheer number of memorials that stand in this cemetary alone is powerful. Most of the memorials were dedicated to the lives lost in the concentration camps. 
  
  
 
 
The names of Auschwitz, Dachau, Ravensbruck, Buchenwald, to simply name a few are powerful reminders of the pain suffered at the hand of the Nazis by so many people in so many places. The memorials are graced with powerful pieces of art, sayings, and names. I was amazed to see how they went on and on.
On a more whimsical note, many people, not in the least bit famous, have beautiful graves and the artistry of the cemetery is well worth the wander in and of itself. 
 
I loved our warm and beautiful afternoon here. I thought a lot about these prominent people in history who are now gone, only remembered by their graves and of course, their work that lingers. But death is death and when life ends, well, it's the ground that awaits our earthly shell,  no matter the legacy we've left. I pondered why seeing someone's grave is such an interesting thing to do. And I guess it's rooted in the fact that when you know something of someone's life, seeing where they were buried somehow gives credence to the life that they led on earth. But it's really the living that we do that we are remembered for, not the dying. It's interesting to know where Chopin is buried and see his beautiful grave and see how people come to pay homage, but listening to his compositions is more interesting and life-giving, that's for sure. 
 

Cemetery's are the great equalizers. All are equal in death. A grave plot, a grave stone and some words...that's what often marks our death. It's what we were about while living that truly matters. It has inspired to me to live well for after I die, that's what people will be interested in. No composer nor writer nor artist has ever been given the chance to return after death to write a story or a song or to paint a picture. It's only what we accomplished while living that inspires people to visit where we eventually died. So live well...be inspired by those whose life is now over but whose legacy in words, song, and art live on for us to enjoy and to ponder.       

Thursday, March 9, 2017

French Learning Curve

A bit more than a week is under our belts. Overall, it's been a great week but the onslaught of newness does make one feel a bit overwhelmed at times. That coupled with the butt kick of jet lag with gray, rainy skies can lead to a bit of a foggy brain. But today is day 10 here in Paris and the old adage says that for every hour of time zone change, it takes that amount of days to "switch over" so with those 9 days behind us, I am hoping for more regular rhythms of sleeping and awake will continue to kick in.
I wish the title indicated the learning curve we're on with the French language but unfortunately our knowledge of French pretty much remains at Parlez vous francais? At least we can also say thank you, good day, and goodbye, all of which are important niceties in the French culture. Most of the young people we are hanging with in public settings speak wonderful French so we rely on their finely honed skills. We are learning to read a menu so that is perhaps the most important quest of all!
It is good for our hearts and minds to be back in Europe and the International church. Our spiritual heart soars in the midst of the diversity and joy of the International church and we find that while the French story differs in some ways to the Swedish story, there are also many resonant similarities. Here are a few of our initial impressions:
--Everything in France starts late in the day and many things happen at night. The earliest we ever start anything is 7.30pm. Last night we gathered at restaurant with a group of young adults to discuss life and theology. The evening began at 8.00 and we were not home until close to 11.00. We have not been out that late for a very long time! We are having to bring our retired, early to bed selves out of the woodwork and into the light once again. It's amazing to see how Paris bubbles late into the evening with people arriving for dinner well past 9.00 p.m. Fortunately for us, we don't have too many early morning events to attend to at the moment.
--A smaller refrigerator and bread that tastes best the day you buy it contribute to the notion that you stop by the grocery store at least every couple of days to buy fresh food. The stock up mentality does not really exist. Fortunately for us, there are many close options in our wonderful neighborhood.
--Paris is expensive in some ways, and in other ways not. I also know that our neighborhood is quite highly priced. Beer is a lot more expensive than wine in a bar or restaurant. No big surprise there. We haven't fully explored the cheaper eats like crepes and other "fast food" options but there is time! With working and living in the church complex, zipping home for a quick lunch is not hard to do but at times, the luxurious 2 hour Parisien lunch is a treat. The 1 euro baguette remains a mainstay.
--It is still a thrill to see the monuments that are so well known when simply wandering about town getting something done.
--Have yet to have a glass of wine that wasn't great. We were given a box of chocolates by a fellow staff member that has proven to be an endless box of amazingness. I know that's not a word, but it should be. Chocolate covered cherries with the stem and pit in tact were on the top layer. Little did I know what awaited me on the second layer. Discs of chocolate with nuts and candied fruit strewn on top. Then the ultimate surprise of finding yet a third layer with other delights that I can't describe. I have eaten most everything in the box. It is there for Doug to dig into but he isn't lead to the box in quite the same manner that I am. The onion soup that we enjoyed before an evening meeting was every bit as delicious as you might imagine. I wondered if was considered rude to just pick up the bowl and lick the interior.
Here are some things that I want to get a handle on:
--Truly figuring out how to grocery shop and meal plan and eat well while here. I also want to figure out where the local markets are as I've heard shopping at these is delightful. The famous one, Rue Cler, close to our house, is amazing and beautiful but a bit high end at times. Have to admit however, that the produce is delicious and smells great.
--A trip to Ikea today should help us more fully get our house in order. We need some decorations and some 'touches' to make it feel less like a vacation rental and more like our home.
--We have to learn some French and are working on figuring that out.
--Get a good plan together for exploring the city, especially the lesser known spots of Paris that being here for an extended time will allow. It's really such a beautiful city that to not more fully know and experience it while here would be a great shame.
--I am excited for the warmer, sunnier season, when the daylight lengthens and picnic become a way of life. I might even start running again as the paths that are available are stunning and beckon.
--We plan to figure out ways to jump on a bus and just see where it goes in order to more fully understand Paris.
What grounds us is the church and the wonderful people we are meeting. We are enjoying getting to know the stories of how and why people have landed in Paris. The reasons range from Embassy appointments to fashion and of course, falling in love with a French man or woman and it's quite a thrill to see how the American church in Paris brings all of these diverse threads together to shape a tapestry of connection and relationship.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Paris Beginnings

We arrived on Monday evening and were very thankful for our dear friends from Stockholm days who picked us and our luggage up!
We didn't do any shipments so crammed 7-8 months worth of clothes and personal effects into 3 suitcases a piece along with 2 carry-ons. It seems like a lot but with seasonal changes and not wanting to feel like a tourist the entire time, it really wasn't all that much! It is great to be unpacked and settling into our apartment on the river Seine.
A view down the Seine, not far from where we live
Our friends had also been busy getting the apartment ready for us, with clean bed sheets and towels, along with a gorgeous basket of French delights. Numerous bakeries and grocery stores line the nearby streets so I'm pretty sure we will not starve! To the contrary, I hope I will continue to fit into the clothes I packed!
Having been to Paris a number of times, and attended 2 different pastors' conferences here at the American Church, along with staying here last year when I did the women's retreat, the area is very familiar to us, which is a blessing. Even so, there are the usual feelings of disorientation that accompany a move abroad, especially to a country where we have little knowledge of the language. Working on it, but French is not easy! My favorite phrase of late is Désolé je ne parle pas français! But, I am determined to make progress.
We both love the French grocery stores...what's there not to like? We look forward to exploring the outdoor market scenes as well.
The juxtaposition of the old obelisk and the new ferris wheel at the
Palace de la Concorde
No matter how many times you've visited a country however, it's still a bit overwhelming to begin to figure out how to do daily life. Getting unpacked and re-arranging the furniture in the apartment helps to help us feel at home and not just on vacation. We have successfully run the dishwasher and washer and dryer! The other staff members at the church have all warmly welcomed us and been very helpful with the small but important details. We managed to get sim cards for our cell phones but Doug's doesn't work and mine only partially works! Hope to have that resolved soon. We obtained our Navigo travel cards after only 2 tries! We haven't solved the banking issue yet but think because we still have our account in the UK, we will be able to use that with a Euro account. The bank here was hesitant to open an account for us since we will be here less than a year. Our Swedish (EU) passports make life 100% easier than if we only held a passport that was outside of the EU so that is a great gift indeed.
Thus far the weather has been dodgy, lots of gray and some rain with only a smattering of sunshine along the way. But temperatures are mild and spring is coming. The daffodils are emerging and the trees are showing some buds. Springtime in Paris holds great promise for much beauty!
It's been a good week.
The beautiful altar of the American Church on Ash Wednesday
We attended a worship planning meeting, attended a beautiful Ash Wednesday worship service, met with the senior pastor, shared meals with various staff members and their families, met with the intern for youth and young adults ministry, attended a young adults gathering and met many of the amazing young people we will be working with in the coming year. With each new gathering and new acquaintance we feel a deep resonance with the international church community. It remains the place we feel most at home and are delighted that the privilege of serving this community and being a part of the family of God here in Paris is now ours to enjoy.
The view of the American Church spire alongside of the Tour Eiffel
Tomorrow is a big day. 3 worship services, meeting the parents of the teenagers we'll be working with, gathering with the teenagers we'll be working with and meeting with the leaders of the teenage groups we'll be working with! Cue a nice bottle of red wine around 8.00 p.m. tomorrow! In the meantime, we'll keep fighting through the jet lag, wandering through the grocery store, eating baguettes and croissants, discovering a new place to soak in Parisien beauty, and learning French. La vie est belle.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bonjour Paris!

God's plan for our lives has clarified itself again, at least for the coming months. 5 weeks ago the senior pastor of the American Church in Paris emailed us to ask if we could talk in the coming days.
The wonderful view of the American Church Spire beside the Eiffel Tower
We are good friends with him and thought he just wanted to pick our brains on something. We knew that the pastor to youth and young adults in the church had unexpectedly left and returned to the US so we thought he was probably going to inquire as to whether or not we knew someone in our circles who might be interested in the position. Well, that was true to an extent but much to our surprise and delight, he was actually calling to ask if we'd consider coming over to serve as interim pastors to youth and young adults while they got a search process going.
Sharing a new job once again
Our initial response was that we are neither youth nor young adults but we do consider ourselves both at heart so we were intrigued. Scott expressed that the staff had talked about us in a recent meeting and felt that the combination of experience, maturity in ministry and ability to create and have fun could be the perfect fit for this time period. After talking, praying and pondering over the pros (many) and the cons (few), we said yes! We've signed a contract for March 1-September 30 with caveats for longer or shorter periods should the church find a good candidate sooner or later. As we've lived into the reality that we are moving to Paris, both of us have been filled with joy and excitement over this wholly unexpected yet inviting new call.
We are excited to join a church that we love. We've been at ACP many different times, most recently about a year ago when I was privileged to speak at a women's retreat there. We've so struggled to find a church here in the US that to be a part of such a vibrant and diverse church will be a huge spiritual boost for us. We are excited to join a staff that we respect and appreciate. It will be very good for us as a couple to join a staff and not be the ones driving the overall ministry. The thought of having a specific area of call feels exciting and fresh to us at this point. And we are genuinely thrilled to work with the intern, volunteers and kids, parents and young adults at ACP. We were always closely connected to these groups at Immanuel in Stockholm and look forward to pursuing these relationships with intention.
Being in Paris will still allow me plenty of time and space to work on my grant project with the Louisville Institute. Having just returned from the consultation with other grant recipients, I feel more passionate than ever to work on the topic of the welcoming church and being in Paris will open doors for interaction with others that being based in the US would not provide. Doug and I will share the position which means part-time work for us both. I have moved my deadline for my project completion to June of 2018 which gives me plenty of time once we return to continue the writing and research.
We will move to a furnished apartment that the church provides, so the packing up process will not be extensive. And of course, no canine to transport this time around. We will miss introducing the delights of Paris to Tanner but also know that a season without the encumbrances of a dog will afford certain advantages as well. We are working on some French vocabulary through a website called duolingo.com and will take some courses upon arrival. We know the neighborhood of the church and apartment well so look forward to wandering around our favorite haunts, exploring Paris more deeply, picnicking in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower on the Champs du Mars, which is a mere 15 walk away for us, and digging into church life again.
A few years ago on a previous trip to Paris
We'll button up the house in the desert for a few months so if you know anyone who wants to rent the place for a bit, let us know. We're open.
The timeline is quick on this one. We leave Feb. 26, arrive Feb. 27 and start work on March 1. Our Swedish citizenship allows us to enter the EU and live and work without further paperwork which is a big blessing.
I said throughout the election that I was voting with my right hand, and holding my Swedish passport with my left. Little did I know that the opportunity to return to Europe during this very difficult and sad time in the US's history would be ours to enjoy.
 Please do check out the church's website! It's truly a vibrant, exciting, meaningful ministry and we so look forward to experiencing the ways in which we will grow to love and appreciate the dear folks in the congregation as well as being a part the wonderful staff already in place.
Bonjour Paris. Nous nous réjouissons de vivre dans votre belle présence.