Friday, December 16, 2011

Kiwanas Presentation

The other week, I was blessed with the opportunity to speak for my grandfather's Kiwanas Group in Sheldon Iowa. Here's my presentation, which offers an overview and a question-and-answer session on my time in Norway. I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sermon on Norway

Dear Friends,
   Back home in the United States, I was given the chance to preach a sermon about my time in Norway at our college's campus chapel. Here is a recording of my sermon and the transcript to go with it.




            Augustana prides itself greatly in the number of students that are able to travel abroad during their studies here. I have been one of those lucky travelers. Many of you know that this last summer, I was given the wonderful opportunity to travel to Norway for seven weeks. I, along with Thad Titze, was incredibly blessed to receive a full-ride scholarship to study at the University of Oslo, and it was, without a doubt one of the best experiences of my short life. While there, I took classes with hundreds of students from about a hundred countries. The cultures and peoples swirled around us in a daze, but the knowledge we gained about the diverse world is truly invaluable.

            I attended dozens of lectures, wandered the halls of many museums, rode countless subway lines, and experienced a country I have come to love. The warmness of the Norwegian people, the beauty of their land, and the inescapable character of their country will always be with me.

            And yet, this is not a travel-log. I'm not here to talk about my day to day life in Norway, although I'd love  to do that at another time. Ask me about it, and I'd be more than happy to share. No, instead, we gather today to apply God's word to our lives and expect the Lord to show us the way ahead.

            Today's readings paint, at times, a very grim picture of how we should respond to sin. And yet, at other points, these passages describe God's overflowing mercy, a longing to reconcile us with Him. This contradiction is troubling and yet necessary.

            For my entire trip to Norway was not a time of joy. This month, we commemorate and remember the tenth anniversary of a tragedy that befell our country. This past July, Norway experienced a tragedy of her own.

            July 22nd was one of those perfect days. The sun was shining and the occasional cloud drifted serenely overhead. It was a quiet Friday on campus. Classes were finished, the weekend was full of promise, and I was free to do as I wanted for the rest of the day. I was walking outside, enjoying the respite from the rain that week and feeling the breeze flow across the dormitory's courtyard. Although I was several miles from the city-center, I still heard the clap as I walked along the gravel path through campus. It was strange to me, this sound. Since there were no rainclouds, I ruled out thunder and decided it was a construction noise instead; one of the city's workers must have dropped something nearby.

            I didn't hear the truth until later. The sound I had heard was not construction. Instead, a man had exploded a car bomb within the city and gunned down scores of innocent youths on a nearby island.

            We sat around in shock the rest of the day. Rumors were flying about the school and people's nerves were, understandably, on edge. International media shamelessly speculated, and we all wondered at who would want to attack Norway, a state known internationally as a bastion of peace. That night, sitting in my dorm room, I waited for an answer to an age-old question. Why did it happen? And what can we do now? And though my tears fell, I don't have an answer; it is a question I have wrestled with for years. But, perhaps the Bible can provide insight where I fail.

            There are many distinct differences between our September 11th and Norway's 22nd July. But in each case, sin caused the deaths of loved ones and the brokenness of our world was once more shown for all to see.

            What can we do in these times? What can we do? At first, we weep. We let the hot tears of grief course down our creeks, and we mourn for God's creation.

            And then, we trust God.

            As King David ran from his murderous enemies, he trusted God and raised his voice in the psalm:

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

            God has the final victory over mourning and death. Even in the midst of suffering and loss, we can turn to Him. And yet, in the face of pain, such promises can seem empty or distant. How can God have the final victory when I grieve for a country I have come to love? How is our pain a victory? In fact, when these promises seem painfully empty, other parts of today's readings seem more appropriate.

            The vindictive part of me listens to God's judgment in Ezekiel and finds solace in God's wrath:

            4 Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: The one who sins is the one who will die.



            My own sinful self rejoices in this. Isn't it wonderful to know that evil will be punished? Isn't it pleasing to know that murderers will receive their due? That people who commit terrible acts, such as the ones on July 22nd, will be punished like they should be?

            My pride, shown in these thoughts, is forcibly stopped moments later though, when God offers the mercy that we love Him for:

            31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Repent, then, and live.

            God cannot place a hierarchy on sin. He is pure, Holy, and longs for all to live without offense. In His judgment, there is no difference between the murderer and me. Under God's command, we must remove all sin from our lives and repent of our shortcomings. When we long to respond to evil with evil, God reminds us that none of us are righteous, blameless... no not one.

            In the days following the attack, our discussions on campus about the role of peace within the world took on new meaning. Elsewhere, it became evident that Norway would not respond to evil with evil. In light of the hate that was so wrongfully shown on July 22nd, the people of Norway responded not with malice, but with a re-commitment to openness and acceptance. In a world becoming more globalized and closer by the day, Norway refused to lash out against those who harbor such hate. I heard over and over from Norwegians, some of them influential politicians, how extremists should be taken in by the people and the system and shown love in order that they might change and offer love in return.

            Isn't this exactly what Jesus came for?

            In normal fashion, Jesus uses a story to depict an even more important point. A father asks his two sons to go work in the fields for him. The first says no; lazy or busy, we do not know, but he won't follow his father's commands. Next, the father asks the second son. He says yes. But he lies and refuses to work. In the meantime, the first son has a change of heart and goes to work in the fields. Jesus asks his followers which of the sons has done the father's command. The answer is easy: the one who actually went to work is the one who has done the Lord's will.

            What we say is say is important, but what we actually do is paramount. When Jesus commands us to forgive those who do us wrong, He doesn't expect us to nod faithfully, say "yes," and carry loathing within our hearts. No, Christ calls us all to do what he asks.

            One of the things I love about the Liberal Arts is the overlap between classes. In several of my courses this semester, we have talked about what justice is. What is this ideal? On the other hand, what is revenge? Do they exclude each other? In one class, a student mentioned that she couldn't agree with the Christian principle of forgive and forget. "It's dangerous," she said. "If we offer others second chances, they are just as likely to hurt us again." History has plenty of examples to back this student's opinion. Martin Luther King Jr. , Gandhi, Jesus: they all forgave and suffered as a result. After hearing her opinion, my professor nodded. "What you say is true," he responded. "But doing what's right ...IS often dangerous."

            What we say is important, but it's what we do that counts. As the world mourns yet another horrible tragedy, how we respond is really what matters. Can we forgive a man who guns down children without a thought? Can we forgive a man who hates with a passion so rarely seen? Can others forgive us when we hurt them? In the end, we're no better than this murderer, so our answer is, must be yes.

            Like his parable of the two sons, Jesus is watching what we do. Even though it hurts, even though we cannot fathom it, even if it's dangerous, we are called to forgive.

            To close, a quote from Gandhi seems appropriate:  "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

            Now, go out into the world, and when others sin against you, don't revenge; don't take their eye. Instead, like Norway, offer them new sight by gathering them in with love and forgiveness.

Amen.

Friday, August 5, 2011

It's Time

The Clock Tower of Oslo's City Hall

   There's rather a lot of clich├ęs about time. Perhaps the most common is that it seems to fly. While I'd certainly agree, time seems to drag as well.

   For seven weeks, I have lived, eaten, breathed, and been European culture. I've sang Norwegian folk songs, laughed amid a sunny, lake-side afternoon, watched a Harry Potter marathon with a pack of Norwegian Sci-Fi Convention-ers, been captivated by Napoleonic sites, sipped wine along the Seine River, worshiped in Notre Dame, waited in shock for news reports, cried in front of Norway's national church, danced as the bass from B-hit music thrums in my chest, been roused frequently at 4:30 by a loud roommate, written for fun, written for academia, drained innumerous cups of tea, stared into the eyes of Holocaust victims, touched stones that have known millennia, and watched in wonder as time is gone.

   Time can seem so incredibly quick, but when we actually take the time to analyze time, there is so much that happens within those silent moments of the second-hand.

   I have been incredibly blessed this trip to live as a Norwegian. While I have not a single drop of Norwegian blood in my veins, I have felt Norwegian these weeks. As I wandered through the Norwegian Resistance Museum, the struggles of those brave souls resonated within my soul, and I felt a kindred to them - a kindred rooted in a national cause in which I had no part.

   But it doesn't matter.

   Instead, I am a human, and attaining those emotions that grab hold of us and never relinquish are exactly why we travel.

   So, on my last morning amid the Norwegian sky, time has again gotten the best of me, but I'm feeling OK about that. I have been shaped, irrevocably changed once more, and it's time to return home. Praying for safe travels, we will leave momentarily, and I, for one, am ready to be among familiar places and embracing and kissing the loved ones I left behind.

   For now Norway, you've been a blessing, and I hope to see your fjords and valleys once more.


Alt for Norge,

Michael Seeley
The Land I Have Come to Love

Friday, July 29, 2011

Strong Tears in Oslo


            In Oslo, one of the major peace capitals of the world, violence has shaken the Norwegian spirit to its core. However, while it is shaken, it will not break, and will not compromise its commitment to globalization and democracy.

            For posterity's sake, I refer to the terrible tragedy that engulfed Norway on 22/7/2011. A man, who desires media fame, and who will thus remain completely unnamed here, exploded a bomb in the city center and murdered dozens of children on an island in the Oslo Fjord. To quote the Charlie Brooker of the Guardian:

"His name deserves to be forgotten. Discarded. Deleted. Labels like "madman", "monster", or "maniac" won't do, either. There's a perverse glorification in terms like that. If the media's going to call him anything, it should call him pathetic; a nothing."

            For Norwegians and all those who love peace, this will be forever marked as a day of greatest loss and sorrow. For me, it has been a harrowing, poignantly painful time to be in this city. I weep for the people whose lives have been forever altered, and yet, as a foreigner, I cannot fully share in their pain. All I can offer is an ear to listen and a shoulder for tears. And yet, I have seen the Norwegian people gather together in fitting and strong solidarity. No act of senseless violence and hateful terror will alter their spirit or crush their ideals. That is not Norway; resilience is.



In Honor of the Fallen

Requiescant in Pace

Monday, July 18, 2011

La France!

The Tomb of Napoleon

            This past weekend saw the completion of a goal I have held since childhood: the visit to the most powerful of cities, Paris, France. Truly, it was one of the best weekends of my life. As I mentioned, the city and its allure has fascinated me from boyhood. First, I became wonderfully obsessed with Joan of Arc. A powerful heroine, the Maid of Orleans saved her country from the oppressive occupation of meddling England and then died at the torturing hands of betrayal - all before turning 18. Joan of Arc's history has filled my head, and I longed to see her idyllic homeland, but another figure fueled my desire to see La France as well.

Joan of Arc
            During my sophomore year of high school, I was tasked to conduct research on a topic that fascinated us. I had seen a book sitting amid a dusty shelf in the classroom. It was about Napoleon, and although I had heard of him and his accomplishments, the particulars of that history were still unknown to me. Thus, I decided to research the man and his government to see if he was the decried authoritarian that many claimed. Rather, I found that he was, at worst, a democratic dictator whose interests were for French success rather than personal empowerment. The research led me to J. David Markham, the President of the International Napoleonic Society. This scholar, one of the most famous in the field, took the time for an interview and then donated a book to our school library and sent a wonderful handwritten note to me. Not surprisingly, I caught his passion for Napoleonic History and have been extensively studying that era for over half a decade now. Additionally, I had taken a year of college French in that hope that I might one day see the city and land of my dreams.

            So, Paris has many layers of significance to me. As such, I was incredibly excited to plan a trip to the city, on Bastille Day no less!
The Eiffel Tower at Night

            For four days, we had bliss. Together, the four of us toured the city and attempted to see everything. I cried at the tomb of Napoleon and museum of the French Army. We stared in wonder at the works of the Louvre. We ate Tiramisu in the rain of a windy night. I gazed around the city's horizon on top of the Arc de Triomphe. We walked under the Eiffel Tower at night. We drank wine and ate cheese on the banks of the Seine River. I attended mass in Notre Dame. We looked through the towering stained glass windows of Sainte Chapelle Cathedral. I practiced my French and could even understand much of the written French placards at museums. We wandered in absolute wonder at the majesty and wasteful opulence of Versailles. We strolled through the gardens of the Tuileries palace.
The Glorious Stained Glass Windows of Sainte Chapelle

            The trip was an absolute joy to me. I am sure that I will return, but the wonder of France was a fitting and wonderful break to my studies in Oslo. In addition, I took many pictures, which can be seen on my Facebook account here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150377147704966.435976.616864965&saved#!/media/set/?set=a.10150377103639966.435948.616864965

            Vive L'Empereur!

The Oslo Center for Peace

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik

            As a state known for its work in maintaining and enacting peace, Norway certainly possesses many institutions designed to continue that work. One such place is the Oslo Center for Peace. Led by two-time former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, the center has done pivotal work in the Middle East, the horn of Africa, and North Korea.

            Situated in a cozy, relatively small home-like building, the Center and its small staff manage to traverse the globe frequently. In North Korea, they helped an American-led law firm gain information on the terrible humanitarian violations occurring within that state. Currently, nearly two hundred thousand political prisoners exist within Kim Jong-Il's state. Furthermore, Bondevik and the OCP were involved in the Middle East in the months leading up to the Arab Spring. As a prolific and successful politician, Bondevik gained experience in establishing coalitions of political parties who all compromise to ensure the state functions well. Based on this experience, Bondevik met with Middle Eastern politicians and warned them of the dangers of oppressing their citizens. Furthermore, he met with dissident leaders and offered them advice on how to establish a successful new government. Thus, those that ignored his advice were overthrown, and the democratic up-risers were better prepared for what followed.

            Bondevik also worked in ensuring a peaceful transition for the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. As a member of the prestigious Club Madrid (an organization of past head of states who band together to offer governments advice on how to establish successful governance), Bondevik was able to offer assistance and advice to the Sudanese for their near future.

            All together, Bondevik and the OCP have done an incredibly admirable job in advocating peace around the world. And we, ten lowly peace students, got to spend an entire afternoon of coffee, tea, ice cream, and conversation with this Prime Minister and his staff on a warm patio amid a sunny Norwegian afternoon.

            Ahhh, this life.

             P.S. Find out more about Bondevik and the OCP at http://visendienable.no/oslocenter/www/

A Terrible and Tragic Irony

The Center

            While irony is occasionally humorous, in this case, it is only painfully fitting.
            We have only recently returned from Norway's Holocaust and Religious Minorities Memorial center. The center, a highly moving and powerful museum of commemoration, displays pictures, diaries, clothing, propaganda posters, and movies from the Holocaust and the Norwegian sufferers of this catastrophe.
           We were welcomed with a short lecture on Norway's involvement in the Holocaust. As was the case until the recent immigration diasporas to Norway, the Norwegian people have been almost entirely ethnically homogeneous. In fact, it has been argued that the Nazis truly didn't want to invade the country; the Norwegians provided an a fitting example of the lauded Aryan race. Yet, an invasion did indeed happen. During a series of night missions conducted by German ships and paratroopers, the neutrality of Norway was viciously violated, and the country was taken over. After only several weeks of resistance, the once-proud Norwegian people were subjugated in early summer 1940. The Norwegian monarchs were forced to flee to exile in England, and bitter long years of occupation arose.
            However, while this occupation was oppressive to some, it proved to be deadly to the small Jewish population of the country. After pre-war legislation opened the country to immigration by Jews, a small group of them traveled to Norway to start their new lives. Thus, when the Germans invaded, 2100 Jews lived in Norway. Since they were such a small portion of the population, discrimination was limited at first. However, by December 1942, nearly 800 Jews were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz; thankfully, the other 1300 had escaped to Sweden. At Auschwitz, nearly 3/4 of the arriving Norwegian Jews were immediately murdered in the gas chambers. The rest were forced into slave labor. Of the 800 deported from Norway, only 26 survived the war.
            Oslo's memorial center does not shirk the blame for this travesty. Although the numbers of Jews arrested and deported was relatively small, the arrests were all conducted by Norwegian police in order to be more thorough, as well as easing the Nazis tasks. After the war, several police commissioners were put on trial for these war crimes; sadly, all were found innocent. However, the museum clearly states the guilt of Norway in her failure to limit the Holocaust.
            Although the entire museum was in Norwegian, images do not need translation. Hundreds of arresting images lie in the museum, and tears filled my eyes as I glimpsed once more this terrible picture:

            Within the victim's eyes, you can see all sadness that has ever engulfed God's world. Although horrifying, it is important to show. Even now, I feel truly sick looking at the image, but we can never forget what happened here.
            The irony I mentioned early lies in the museum's location. It is located in the massive home and estate of Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian Nazi-collaborator and head of the Norwegian Nazi party. Once used for evil, the home has now been changed for good.
            Yet, the museum also focuses on modern tragedies as well. One hall of the memorial was dedicated to the Rwandan genocide. It is also important to remember that the Holocaust is not the only genocide of the world.
            As a student of peace in a nation renowned for its peace work, this memorial was powerful and fitfully unsettling. It reminds me why I study peace and the true need for enacting that ideal around the world.