Sunday, March 21, 2010

Punctuality and Pedagogs

We have been hosted so very graciously and well while teaching in Sweden. Particularly notable to me (since I love people being on time)is the impecable punctuality. Since we do not know Swedish and we are being met and handed off to the host at the next diocese or theological institution, we are totally in the hands of the Swedish people. We have a list, and then precisely at the appointed time the next host appears. Likewise I am using a variety of teaching styles throughout the day, interspersed with Fika (coffee breaks...a word they insisted I learn) I am continually surprised and appreciative when the group automatically returns to the room at the appointed time. Now this may seem insignicant, but it coincides with my commitment to mutual accountability. People in Iowa are punctual, too. I'm not comparing. I'm simply appreciative and saying punctuality assists learning community.

Our host in Stockholm is Rune Larsson, from whom I received the invitation to come to Sweden. One would have thought that I as a Lutheran would have been invited by the Lutherans. Rather, the connection is ecumenical. Rune, who is with the Covenant Church had read my book "The Church as Learning Community" which was published by a Methodist publisher (Abingdon). We became acquainted through the Religious Education Association, an international, interfaith professional organization. While in Sweden, of course, most of the participants are Lutheran, part of the Swedish Lutheran Church. So our assocations ecumenically often lead us full circle back to our own communion. On our first Sunday we worshipped with the central Covenant church in Stockholm, which was a wonderful experience, a vital church with mission outreach. In many ways it was very similar to Lutheran worship in the States. The Covenant Church in Sweden may have more in common with the ELCA than with the Swedish Covenant church in the United States.

Thinking about being the church, whether the "established" church in a country, or county, or being the one who is different leads to important questions about being a Christian in the world and in one's own daily life. Nineteen years ago we visited the Lutheran Church in Namibia, shortly after independence, the 20th anniversary of which Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque is celebrating at this time. The question the Namibians posed while we were there was, "How do we be the church when those in ruling power are no longer the enemy, but we can now be in official leadership?"

The Lutheran Church is no longer the officially established church of Sweden. So what is its role now? And what can we learn from the small churches in Sweden, the Covenant,the Baptist, and the even smaller Methodist church? While we are here they are meeting to take the next steps in joining together, along with choosing a name which may be something like "Community Church." What is our calling, our vocation, in the public world as various churches at various points in history?

Meanwhile, we hear news from the States that the Texas school board has passed a series of resolutions to change the curicuulum in Texas schools. This has implications for the entire country since many textbooks for public scools across the nation are published in Texas. The nation is now to be portrayed not as pluralistic but as Judeo
Christian. The nation will be described not so much as a democracy but as a republic with an emphases on capitalistic corporations shaping young people. The USA is to be seen as a exceptional nation in the world with an exceptionalist role to play. There are more resolutions. The role of the Civil Rights movement is to be downplayed.

Although in the USA there is no state church, what do these measures mean for teaching about the nation and about a certaian kind of Christianity's place in the nation?

All of us at each point in time need to continue to discern the church's vocation in the public world.

One more story about teaching and learning. We took a train to Gothenburg. Some (including ours) are still being cancelled because of snow on the tracks. We took a train an hour later (ah, the convenience of public transportation). We were greeted warmly by yet another host, Annika Broman. I sat in the front of a taxi while she and Burton got in the back. They were surprised when a taxi driver popped in the back seat with them. It seems he was the teacher for the new driver in the front. We were glad the teacher was there in the evening traffic. Interestingly, the next day when once again Annika took us by taxi, another man popped into the back seat with her and Burton. This time we discovered the learner was watching while the teacher was driving the cab. He new man told us clearly that before he could be at the stage of driving himself he has to observe his teacher. Annika and I were delighted at this one more example of informal teaching/learning communities all around us in which we daily partipate.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Candles and Cucumber Sandwiches

Just a few brief words about one person's impressions of our experience in Sweden (experience is always personal...and cannot be generalized.)

Not all Swedes are blonds
but I have never seen so many houses painted golden yellow. Against the bright blue sky, they remind one of their flag, and they brighten the long grey days.
Yes, most of the sports we see in our TV in our room are cross country on the snow
Children are well bundled and wear helmets outside our room to play on the hills because the snow is very icy. We watch our step.
Where to put the mounds of snow, one or two stories hight? Not in the sea, they say, so they are trucking it to the woods. One cannot count on it melting soon,

No sweets. Coffee breaks are cucumber sandwiches on dark bread with a little cheese. Hearty food and healthy.

Warm people who care for us well, tending us and handing us off to yet a new person as we go forth to speak and teach...and a new location. This afternoon it will be a train ride to Gothenberg.

There are candles on the table at every meal, including breakfast.
Lit candles to bring the light in a land yet filled with snow.
But, we here, like those at home in the United States, will celebrate the spring equinox together.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bicyles in the Snow

I write from Sweden. We--husband Burton and I--arrived at the Arlanda airport, half way between Stockholm and Uppsala last Monday evening. After our long winter of Iowa ice and snow, we had worried a blizzard might hinder our leaving Dubuque, but it was Sunday fog that caused the plane from Chicago to simply circle overhead and head back for Chicago without landing. Burton quickly rented a car and we, plus two other stranded passengers, took off, making our l0 p.m. flight from Ohare to London.

We were greeted by a taxi which took us to Uppsala. Sweden, too, had had one of the longest, coldest winters in decades. The piles of snow still a meter high everywhere do not stop people, particularly students at the university, from traveling on their bicycles. On Tuesday, guided by our host, Berne Persliden, we walked to the cathedral which he told us is the largest Lutheran cathedral in Scandinavia. Begun in the 12th century, it retains its original beauty. Our eyes rose to the magnificent height; I also noticed out of the corner of my eye as we went by the chapel behind the altar, a woman, dressed plainly, standing there. When the Reformation came to Sweden, the statue for the veneration of Mary had been removed from the chapel. The woman, so lifelike one had to look twice to see she was a statue, is “Mary returned.” In her eyes one can see all women.

I was invited to Sweden to lecture at four locations, primarily on my book, “The Church as Learning Community,” and also on lifelong faith formation, leadership and ministry in daily life. The first was Johannelunds teologiska hogskola in Uppsala. What a amazing joy Wednesday morning at 8:30 to see 170 students (half the seminary) come for the lectures, most studying to be Lutheran priests, and also those who will become diaconal ministers and educators. Their attentiveness all day (we ended at 3:30) for my four lectures, small group discussion in Swedish, and a panel of eight students interacting with me, they in Swedish and I in English, was most gratifying. We dealt with ecclesiology and various images of soteriology. Many said they had not thought before about everyone being a teacher and a learner. They were concerned about ordinary people being intimidated by teaching authority. They wanted to know more about “starting from the other direction,” where people are in their daily lives. I give thanks for them and for that full and wonderful day.

The next day was equally long and challenging when I gave four lectures to priests and educators of the diocese of Uppsala, just six blocks from our hotel. No, we didn’t ride bicycles; we walked. The church in Sweden, of course, had been a state church. My interest in issues of church and state led me to many questions about the Lutheran church now since disestablishment in 2000. Still most Swedes belong to the church, but membership does not translate into regular worship or regular lifelong learning. This day the lectures and conversation were different, but the gracious hospitality of Nina Carlsson Garloev and Bertil Murray and the receptiveness of the group to the topics was no less. They of course know English well, but still it is a challenge to listen all day in English and to stay engaged. I tried of course to speak clearly; I could see connection in their eyes when we dealt with issues of power and partnership and authority, working from the book by Craig Nessan and myself, “Transforming Leadership.” The topics from both books merge when we talk about “setting trustworthy environments for us to be different together.”

Karl-Eric Tysk, a priest and scholar whom I knew when he was a student of ours in a D.Min. program at the University of Dubuque, brought us north to Storvic and Kungsgarden where we have been staying for two nights in his rectory, a very large home built in medieval times and brought up to date in the l9th century. He has a pastorate of two parishes which combined have five churches and l0,000 members. Services are held in each church every other Sunday. Sweden, like Finland and Estonia, is today a very secular country; the church is important as part of the heritage.

We worshipped with some of the 35 staff at the beginning of their Friday work and I told them how the Wartburg community would be gathering for worship also on Friday morning. We attended a small village funeral where Karl-Eric spoke the Word with warmth and dignity to the family in attendance. He then drove us further on to visit a most beautiful part of Sweden with lakes and mountains. The snow itself is piled high like small mountains. But the bright sun promises that spring will come.

Today we go to Stockholm for more lectures at the central event for which we were invited. Burton, also, will give a lecture on the use of media. Later in the week we go to Gothenberg.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chapel with Marilyn

“Lead me, guide me, along the way,” begins the well known hymn. Last Wednesday Marilyn Robinson, a second year Master of Divinity student here at Wartburg Seminary, and I were privileged to lead the Wartburg community in the Wednesday morning communion service. Faculty take turns preaching and presiding at worship and students assist in planning and leading daily chapel. Nothing was unusual in that regard.

I frequently quote theologian Letty Russell, a mentor of mine and many others from Yale Divinity School, when she wrote, that Jesus did not say to the blind person, “You can walk,” nor to the person who could not walk, “You can see.” Jesus met people in their need and also cared about societal problems related to those human needs.

Letty's words remind me that each of us is unique in our need and that our ministry to people should to be specific to their individual needs.

Chapel with Marilyn last week bore that out and took me one step further. Marilyn has problems with sight and I, because I live with the chronic illness CFS, have difficulty standing. So together, and with the guidance of sacristan Gloria Stubitsch, we had to figure out how to lead that day in a way that would honor Wartburg's liturgical tradition, and be possible for each of us. We talked. Because we would be seated in the chancel and the lectern and communion table are down on the floor in the midst of the people, we wondered how Marilyn would move down the steps. I could guide her, walking with my cane, but she suggested putting blue tape on the edge of each of the three stairs so she could see them better. And she would need large print for the first biblical text and the parts of the liturgy she would lead.

I need to sit as much as I can. I could stand with assistance of my cane while she held the large worship book. She would guide the people as to the appropriate times to sit and stand; I said “Just don't watch me. I quietly sit at those times and no one seems to notice if you are guiding them clearly.” Likewise I need a stool upon which to sit to preach and hand out the communion bread. I have done that for years and while I at first thought it would be a distraction to the community, I have discovered, here at Wartburg and other places I preach, that it actually communicates hospitality to those with a variety of disabilities.

So, we were moving along well in our planning, becoming partners. So much so, that soon I almost forgot whose need was which. “Oh yes, I don't need the large print for the Gospel lesson...that's your need.” And Marilyn found that she could easily see the stool I needed at the lectern. “I don't need to sit on the stool but it won't be in my way.” As our needs intermingled, our help for each other intertwined. Soon we were all laughing together!

The day of worship came. With prayer, careful planning and in partnership we were able to lead together. While some may have thought (and think!) that we would have needed others to lead in our stead, the service moved along with grace and dignity. The assisting minister usually prepares the table and pours the wine into the chalice, but I did that since Marilyn was not sure she could see well enough to pour well. I stood while at the altar, but raised one hand in blessing while simply holding on to the table with my other hand. Another team member, a communion assistant, moved my stool from the lectern to the place for distribution while people shared the peace. Marilyn and I took one another's arm, as needed, she to steady my body and I to guide where she could not see. I sang the Eucharistic liturgy and Marilyn, with her rich voice, led from memory the hymns (including also, “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me) from her African-American heritage.

One could say, “No one noticed,” these small measures and be accurate. No one seemed to think the service any different than usual. On the other hand, perhaps it is good if some did notice so that they might conclude, “All the people of God can participate in and take their role in leading worship.” Gloria said afterward, I had tears in my eyes as we sang together, “Lead me, guide me along the way.” I felt Letty's presence too. Christ meets each of us where we are and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” and then calls us to follow him as servant leaders.