Thursday, July 27, 2006


A Swedish friend told me once that "Americans see themselves as individuals who sometimes do things in groups, and Swedes see themselves as part of a group who sometimes do things individually."

As I have observed this society for many months, I have never had occasion to believe him wrong. In fact, if anything, I see it more clearly now.

Linda and I have been working in the church in recent days at the Europe Conference. Our job is not overly complicated, but it is helpful to over 300 people who need interpretation to their native language (mostly Swedish to English, but tonight there were 12 languages, not including Swedish). Not very surprisingly, we're part of the Interpreting Services team. It's not called a team, but that is what it is. Within that team, there are subteams doing various things.

There are other teams in operation as well. The usher team, for example, is a well oiled group of probably 40 people who smoothly take care of the practical details.

I groked tonight finally that this approach to working and life is one of the things that I really appreciate about Sweden.

Teamwork makes light work of heavy jobs. It makes burdens easier, and it is more fun, because we are working together. We're social creatures. Why do something alone when it can be done together!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Organization in Sweden

We're back in Sweden for some weeks. It's a delight to be among these friends and family (distant cousins) that we love. We've already had some delightful times in just the few days we have been here. Linda and I lived here in Uppsala for 30 months in the last few years.

This evening I was making arrangements with my cousins to visit them in Södertälje, a community not far south of Stockholm. There are several ways to get there: rented car, bus, commuter train, or mainline train. We've done all three, and our favorite by far is the mainline train.

The train, unfortunately is also the most expensive, but not out of reason. This evening, I decided to be adventurous and order the tickets online. This was adventurous because the ordering system is in Swedish. Fortunately, the system is very, very well organized.

I called up the schedule for the approximate times of our departure and return, and picked the best for us. I then entered my US debit card (Visa check card) number, email and mobiletelephone number. When I pressed the "purchase" button, my mobile signalled almost immediately with an incoming message. It was the confirmation code for our tickets, which we will pick up at the train station from a "ticket automat". A minute or two later, an email popped in with a complete itinerary.

Now I know that we're paying for this level of organization, but it delights me nonetheless when This is not out of the ordinary here; it is normal. Some things work better than others, of course, but orderliness is the norm in society here.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Escaping the pressure of the ordinary

That which takes us out of familiar and comfortable surroundings is often good for us. There were, no doubt, many reasons for Jesus' prayer retreats, but surely one was to escape the pressures of the ordinary so he could concentrate on communication with God.

Religion: A crutch of the weak?

Religion has been accused of being a crutch for the weak. But for the disciple of Jesus, religious faith is no simple crutch. Faith is his strength and shield and comfort. It is the entire platform on which he lives and moves and has his being.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Courts Nix Homosexual Marriages in NY, GA: Good Decisions

Decisions by high courts in New York and Georgia ruling against gay marriage-like unions are a happy punctuation mark in the struggle for reaffirmation of the value of marriage to society. While the courts' decisions were rooted in interpretation of state constitutions, they are still good news. For one thing, the judges did not try to twist the laws according to their own personal beliefs, and for another, alternatives to marriage are not lifted higher.

Families are the bedrock foundation of civilization, and much of the turmoil in society today can be traced to their breakdown. The institutionalization of other civil unions might not seem wrong at first glance, but the reality is that they would be destructive to our civilization in the long term.

An increasing number of organizations and political divisions have granted the rights and benefits normally accorded only married people to unmarried heterosexual unions and homosexual unions. While this behavior is currently popular, I am convinced that we will findthe long term negative consequences to our civilization will be painful.

The value to our civilization of strong marriages of men and women cannot be overstated. We must continue to affirm and lift up this institution for the benefit of generations not yet born.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A marriage blessing

May the oneness of your marriage
and the joy of your lives together
reach through time to bless the lives
of your children and their children after them.

Changing profession at age 100

A close friend and I recently talked about longevity. The topic becomes more interesting for those of us in our middle years, but is well worth anyone considering.

“I’m going to change professions at age 100”, my friend said. The statement would have surprised me had I heard this idea from him for the very first time, but about 20 years ago he had told me that he was going to live to be 120.

This is not hubris, this is goal setting. What my friend was saying, in essence, is that he intends to live his life in such a way as to reach this goal. He is pragmatic, and understands that he may not attain his goal, but what he is saying is that he is going to treat his body and his soul in such a way as to be able to make it if he can.

It’s easy, I am finding from experience, to “dial down the rheostat” of life in the middle years. “This is too complicated.” “I’m too old for this.” “I’ve tried this before and it didn’t work.”

A Swedish friend told Linda and I on the occasion of our first departure from Sweden that she would miss us because so many she knew had “given up” and we haven’t. What she was saying was that so many of her friends in our mid-50’s age group have dialed down the rheostat of their expectations and activity. She certainly hasn’t given up, and one of the reasons she appreciated us was that we hadn’t either.

There certainly is a place of “surrendering gracefully the things of youth,” as the apostle Paul put it. And clearly, sickness or disability may limit our options. However, there is no reason to give up that which still belongs to us. But I have seen in myself just that behavior, and I struggle against it.

For example, I was surprised to find that gaining strength is not just for the young. I learned this in my late 40’s at a time when I had casually assumed that I was unable to gain as much strength as a young man might. But over a period of only two weeks I gained 50% more strength in specific muscle groups simply by training consistently. It turns out that science has now demonstrated that this potential for strength gain exists at every age of life.

Another example: coming down from an early morning hike into the foothills east of Anchorage, my right knee was in agony as a result of an injury 15 years ago. Later in the day, the other knee was on fire because I overused it in protecting the first knee. I was pretty miserable. The lesson was “I’m too old for this.”

But here’s the reality check delivered by my doctor: I can hike all I want, he said, I just have to build up my muscles enough to compensate for the loose knee ligaments. All the flat ground walking I do is great, he said, but it’s not enough to help with descending from the mountains (which is where the pain is).

How many other areas of my life have I ceded when in reality they still belong to me?

Linda and I applied this discussion to ourselves as we drove home from Delta Junction today. While we have thought casually in terms of what we might do in the years ahead, we are now thinking to set a goal date at which we “retire.” At that point, our idea is to have enough funds to work full time in missions or other Christian ministry.

I like the idea of setting a life goal. It will help to focus what we do. I don’t know if like my friend I’m going to change professions at age 100, but I’m sure going to change it about 65!