Wednesday, March 28, 2007


On our first free day in Stockholm, Phillis and I headed out on an adventure into the archipelago outside of Stockholm. Our plan was to hike across Stockholm to catch the bus to Vaxholm, one of the harbor cities in the archipelago, spend a few hours wandering through shops, cafes, and along the water, and then return on a boat from Vaxholm to the harbor in Stockholm. Alas, we arrived too early... a few days too early. Apparently we were out of season, arriving in March rather than April. When we walked into the ticket office for the ferry on Tuesday morning and asked about the next boat to Stockholm, the response was a big grin and the word "Friday."

We still enjoyed a few hours wandering around Vaxholm. Up on the hilltop was a small tourist set off the main square. In the tourist office we were given a map with a few sites and small parks along the coast. Our first and longest stop was Battery Park.

Set along the ridge on the outskirts of town, the park was lined with benches and a stairway down to a small beach overlooking Northamm, one of the harbors. The name refers to the deserted gun batteries that line the ridge defending the archipelago and most likely Stockholm from enemy ships. It took us a while to figure out that the metal arcs and dials set into the rocks were most likely designed to help position the guns and cannons. The batteries themselves reminded me a bit of the batteries overlooking San Francisco in Golden Gate Park that I grew up exploring.

We settled in the park for a bit of relaxation before heading down to the harbor. Off in the distance was a great fortress set in the middle of the channel.

We wandered along the wharf and then back towards the main street where we found a great cafe for lunch. It was full of young women and strollers (mothers or au pairs? we are not sure), a popular place for the locals. Really, who else was around?
After lunch we boarded the bus back to Stockholm for a leisurely afternoon... Phillis reading in a cafe and I wandering through the streets and stores lining the main walking street. I ran into a few of the students getting shiek new European haircuts in a the department store.
We ended the day over dinner with Chris Peterson, a former student and now pastor of student minitries at the English speaking congregation of Immaneul Church, the large Covenant Church in Stockholm. One more day in Stockholm before our evening flight to Copenhagen and a new adventure!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Wandering through Stockholm

On my recent trip, I had about three and a half days to wander through Stockholm... I rarely return to the places I visit, so it was a surprise how much I remembered, how much was familiar, and how comfortable it was to be in Stockholm for the second time. It is a great city to walk around and explore... wonderful walking streets lined with shops and restaurants, rambling cobblestone alleys on the island of Gamla Stan, beautiful old buildings along the water, churches sitting on hilltops... here are a few pictures from my days there:

Benj, Erik (Norway), Pea (Sweden), and Katie along the harbor at Nybroviken

Square on Gamla Stan, the old part of the city
The Palace on Gamla Stan
Radmansgatan, the T-bana station near Immanuel Church and the place where we stayed in Stockholm
Filadelfia Church, one of the largest and oldest Pentecostal churches in Sweden... The church is attached to an old castle which serves as offices and meeting rooms. The new pastor was previously serving a thriving Covenant church and the denomination is mourning the loss. The service was not what I expected... more like a typical contemporary Evangelical service in the United States than a Pentecostal service. There was little mention of the Holy Spirit and very little praying, yet I know the charismatic gifts are still significant for this denomination. They are just expressed in a different way.

Finally, a fruit and flower market located in the square outside the bright blue concert hall... This is the building where the Nobel Prizes are presented.

Freedom in the Wide Open

Well, I thought I would take a few blogs to give you some highlights on my trip to Sweden! Sorry this isn't in real-time... I was not quite as diligent as my students!

Nine of us flew all night from Chicago to Stockholm... Six students and three professors. Jay Phelan and I are the co-teachers for an exchange course with THS, our sister seminary in Stockholm. The course is designed to build connections between the Covenant in the US and Sweden. In addition, our students are challenged to consider how leadership and mission in the church are uniquely shaped by cultural contexts... particularly the United States and Sweden. In the United States we considered the Willow Creek movement as well as the Emergent Church movement. In Sweden we looked at the Pentecostal movement and the former state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden.

During a conversation with the Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm (who seemed like an amazing woman!) one of our students asked about church planting and church growth. The Bishop didn't have much of a response. Many students assumed that this demonstrated a lack of concern for evangelism on the part of the Lutheran Church. While this may be true, it is a simplistic response to the issue. What is evangelism in a country where just a few years ago everyone was automatically a member of the church upon birth? What is church growth when 70% of the population attends confirmation? How is ecclesiology different in a system that developed as a state church versus the free church market economy of the United States?

I have been re-reading By One Spirit, the history of the Covenant Church in the United States (I know... this is difficult for many of you to imagine!). It has been so interesting to see how the Pietistic renewal movement in Sweden and the revivals that took place at the time changed into something different when translated into the U.S. context. In particular, a movement that emphasized freedom in Sweden developed a denominational structure in the United States. When there were strict boundaries, the emphasis was freedom. In the wide-open context of the United States, the emphasis was structure and connection.

I think about this idea often actually... I grew up in a family with relatively few boundaries. No curfew, few rules. They weren't really necessary. With all that freedom, I created my own boundaries, pretended to have curfews, held myself to pretty strict moral guidelines. Not all kids react this way, but I did. I meet a lot of young people who grew up with relatively strict boundaries. As they get older, they try to push those boundaries and draw them in different places. I have close boundaries in an expansive world. They try to draw expansive boundaries in a closed in world. Often the conversations about these various boundaries lead to judgements of sinfulness or self-righteousness. Context... context is key. As is community... and communication... a love for one another that allows these discussions to focus on the good of others rather than our own needs.

And so, our time in Sweden starts with the need for context, community, and communication.

Friday, March 16, 2007


We finally found an internet cafe! It is hard for me to believe that there were far more options to access the internet in Guatemala than there are here in Europe. I suppose there are hotspots everywhere, but since we did not bring computers with us we are left to roam the streets looking for the gathering places for gamers and tourists in this very interesting city.

Unfortunately I have not found out how to rotate my pictures yet in this program, so you will be left twisting your head a few times...
Phillis and I are staying at a little bed and breakfast right on the Strøget, the walking street in central Copenhagen. See the McDonald's sign on the right? We are the next doorway. Actually, it has turned out to be very convenient! Our room is near the back overlooking a little courtyard and fairly quiet. It is about as wide as our two beds... but it works. And it means we are close to everything.

We spent the first day wandering down this street trying to reach the Little Mermaid... a small statue set on the canal in Copenhagen and apparently the destination of most tourist romps through the city. Alas, we spent too much time wandering, taking pictures, sitting in cafes drinking coffee and watching people. We only made it as far the castle, Amalienborg. There is a large courtyard surrounded by buildings on all sides. Throughout are scattered guards (think Britain... only their uniforms are blue and they are not quite as stoic! But they do have the big fuzzy black hats and all) each next to a doorway that opens for cars to drive into the far reaches behind the buildings. At one end is the large marble church central to the city.

The street itself is beautiful. Large old buildings on either side. Shops, cafes, churches, squares. This is one of the main central squares surrounding the Stork Fountain. Off the left is the Royal Copenhagen shop displaying the porcelain and china that the city is so famous for.

Of course what I enjoyed most of all was sitting in a restaurant along one of the cities many canals... This is a section of town called Nyhavn. Just a short stretch off the main square, Kongens Nytorv, Nyhavn was filled with tourists and city dwellers lining the outdoor cafes seated under heat lamps, bundled in winter coats, with blankets across our legs. Directly across from us was a small trio playing a little music with drums and a bass fiddle. Behind us, once the trio stopped, a jazz duo began with voice and guitar.

It has been interesting... Copenhagen is so very different than Stockholm, yet it is difficult to put it into words. Stockholm is all clean lines and order. People are pleasant and friendly, yet as you walk in the streets there seems to be little interaction with strangers. For me this brought a feeling of safety and predictability. Copenhagen, however, has more of an edge. People walk a little faster, make more eye contact, jostle you a little more. They are still very helpful, but much more direct. I feel that I am making judgements in this comparison, but that is not my intention. It is just difficult to put into words the sublte differences that you feel... which is a bit what this trip has all been about. Learning to look beyond the surface, beyond first impressions. Things that seem so similar can be so different. Copenhagen and Stockholm. So close, so related, yet so diverse. The Evangelical Covenant Church and the Stockholm Mission Church... both from the same heritage, yet very different... and very much akin to one another at the same time. The subtlety causes you to consider your words, define terms, ask questions... if you are looking closely enough. It is a conversation that I find fascinating and enlightening... but of the other that I am considering and of myself. Who are we really? How shaped are we by our own cultures? If we can recognize how the world has shaped us, will we be able to shake loose from it a bit more and allow ourselves to be more fully shaped by God?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Well, I haven´t had much access to computers during my trip to Sweden, but apparently my students have! I´ve spent the last five days with a group of faculty (Phillis Sheppard, Jay Phelan, and myself) and students from North Park as well as faculty and students from the Stockholm School of Theology. It has been fascinating hearing about the church here in Sweden... especially trying to grasp the impact of the Lutheran State Church, a system that was only dissolved in the last few years. Sweden considers itself the most secular country in the world yet 70% of its population still belong to the Lutheran Church despite the fact that it is no longer the state church in which citizenship automatically ensures membership. We visited a thriving Pentecostal church which has been around for over 100 years as well as an emerging church type service of over 100 young adults. We shared class with students who are passionate about the church and ministry. So much to think about... but that will have to wait for later blogs... for now I leave you with links to those students who have been posting about the trip:

Thursday, March 01, 2007

In Denial

The following is a sermon on Matthew 16:13-28 that I preached in chapel at North Park Theological Seminary on Thursday, March 1, 2007:

Who did Peter think he was trying to rebuke Jesus? I mean, really… just a few days before he had been telling everyone that he believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And now he takes him aside and rebukes him.

Jesus is trying to tell his disciples what is going to happen over the next few weeks… it is the first time he’s shared so openly and directly about the suffering to come, the first time he has really clearly stated that he is going to be killed and raised again..

And here Peter takes him aside and rebukes him. “Never, Lord!” he says. “Never! This can’t happen to you! This isn’t supposed to happen to you! You’re the Messiah! And Messiahs are supposed to…”

And here is where the problem is… Messiahs are supposed to what… Come on Peter, finish the sentence… Messiahs are supposed to what…

Peter got in trouble not because he didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. He got in trouble because he believed he knew more about who the Messiah was than Jesus did.

We all have preconceived ideas of who Jesus is. They are shaped by our families, our faith experiences, our churches, and our cultures. Peter was no different. I don’t know what particular type of synagogue he was a part of. I don’t know about the faith of his family. But I know a little bit about the faith of his culture. I know that many were waiting for a different type of Messiah. One who would come with military power. One who would defeat the Romans and restore the kingdom of the Jewish people. And when Jesus started to describe what would happen in the next few weeks, it went against everything Peter thought the Messiah would be. And without thinking, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him.

The response was swift and harsh. Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block to me. You don’t have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns…

I cannot imagine how devastating it would be to one moment hold the keys to the kingdom and then, suddenly, be rebuked as a tool of Satan, a stumbling block to Christ…

Looking back, Peter’s rebuke seems ridiculous. Of course, Jesus had to go to the cross… we’ve built our entire faith around that idea. That is what a Messiah is supposed to be…

What are our cultural images of the Messiah? How do they shape our understanding of Christ’s mission? How, at times, do they cause us to miss what God is trying to do?
Peter was unable to understand the role of suffering in the mission of Christ. The way of the cross seemed to antithetical to who he understood the Messiah to be.

Peter’s concept of the Messiah was limited to human understanding. The rebuilding of kingdom on this earth. The rebuilding of a kingdom with Israel at its center.

We too seem to have a difficult time understand the role of suffering in the church and the mission of Christ. Like Peter, our goal is to avoid suffering at all costs. We avoid conflict. We avoid pain. We seek the easiest path in life. If we cannot avoid suffering, we pretend it doesn’t exist or that we don’t have any part in it.
I wonder how we can claim to look at the suffering of the cross, to claim it as a symbol of our faith, to grasp the depth of what Jesus did for us when we seem to be so blind to the suffering that is all around us?

When I first starting looking into issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice, one of the hardest things was believing it truly existed We can provide statistics about unequal wages, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and racial profiling. We can tell you about the poverty level of women and children around the world. We can show you how the consumption of the United States is destroying economies and the environment. Yet we still have a hard time believing that there is truly a problem… believing it enough to act upon it. How could there be that much suffering in the world? How could I be a part of causing such suffering? How could it be that people would cause me to suffer like that? It was difficult to allow my mind to take it all in because the suffering was overwhelming and problems seemed impossible to overcome.

If we can’t look at the suffering of the world, can we truly say that we have looked fully into the suffering of the cross? Have we truly grasped the depth of love, the sacrifice, the impact of Christ death and dying? And can we grasp the true mission of God?

There are some areas of suffering that we have an easier time accepting than others. In our community, there are certain types of suffering that are socially acceptable. We do a great job of surrounding those who are dealing with grief, those who have lost loved ones. We are very supportive of those who are sick and in need of our prayers. We have a harder time talking about the financial concerns of our community. We have a more difficult time talking about depression and mental illness. We don’t talk about struggles in marriages or domestic violence. We don’t like to imagine that our students of color are experiencing racism or that our immigrant students are feeling isolated and alone.
We are able to talk about those types of suffering that are socially acceptable, but so much suffering goes on behind closed doors.

If we can’t look at the suffering in our own community, can we truly say that we have looked fully into the suffering of the cross? Can we truly say that we grasp the depth of sacrifice and love Christ has for us?

I am not suggesting that we don’t need to be good stewards of our time or set good boundaries for ourselves. I simply want to highlight the fact that so often we are blind to the suffering that is going on around us.

Peter was unable to see that the mission of the Messiah would lead Christ through suffering. Even when Jesus himself told him directly what would happen, Peter denied it, rebuked him…
We are in the midst of Lent… a season to reflect on the sufferings of Christ… we often give something up as a way of denying ourselves and taking up our crosses… but perhaps instead of giving something up we could try to attend to Christ’s presence in the midst of the suffering in our world today… perhaps we could give something up not to deny ourselves, but to bring a bit of salvation to others…

In closing, let me offer one bit of hope… while Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is swift and harsh, Jesus love for Peter never wavers, and his call on Peter’s life does not change. Peter will retain the keys of the kingdom, the foundation of the church will still be built upon the rock. Peter will stumble again, denying Christ… and yet Jesus will offer forgiveness and renew his call on Peter’s life…
Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep.