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.

The Next Forum's Speaker!

De Kirk and Mandela

As a scholar sent from the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, I feel I must make this announcement more public. The keynote speaker for next year's Forum is F.W. de Kirk! He is a truly extraordinary man (of whom I need to research more) who, along with Nelson Mandela, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for ending apartheid. He is sure to share more on his admirable work and provide insight into how obsession can be ended. The Forum will be early Spring 2012 at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and promises to be a wonderful event.
Find out more about the admirable work of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum at: http://nobelpeaceprizeforum.org/

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Academics

The Nobel Institute's Medal

   Sitting once more amid the perfume-scented lounge, sipping tea (which, loaded with sugar, I have recently come to enjoy), my mind turns to academics. While I am experiencing the culture of Norway and melding my own experiences with the lives of others at the International Summer School, I am also here to learn.

   Because of that, I'm taking two courses. The first is Norwegian history, and the second is a small seminar on peace. Both courses have been incredibly thought-provoking and powerful thus far. In explanation, I will start with Norwegian history.

   As primarily a French historian, I have not devoted much time to the Nordic countries. Of course, the expeditions and raids of the Vikings are well known to me, but, obviously, there is much more to learn. This past week, we have delved into the sagas and mythology of Viking-era Scandinavia. It really is interesting to note connections between the Greek and Norse pantheon. For instance, one source mentioned that the Norse gods were sons of Priam from Troy and traveled north to come to Norway. Furthermore, Zeus is often depicted as an old man, full of rage and often in disguise. Likewise, the Norse god Odin is old, bearded, and often disguised. This is done in order to instill the notion of hospitality into society; if the god can be disguised as a beggar, it is better not to refuse hospitality or care to anyone for fear it could be a god. Next, we will enter the later Midieval world. Eventually, we will come to the union of Norway with Denmark. However, the Napoleonic scholar in me is incredibly interested in what follows that: the failed attempt by Norway to escape Swedish dominance under the hated French traitor Jean Baptiste Bernadotte- or King Karl Johann to the Swedes. As you can see, there is much to learn amid the fjords of Norge.

   My next course of study is a seminar on peace. This is conducted with the ten peace scholars and includes frequent excursions into the city to visit museums and other important centers for peace. We have lecture once a week, and while the reading is very intensive, it provides for powerful discussion. What are the best ways to establish lasting peace? It is a very difficult to answer, and the answers themselves are highly varied. Perhaps I will know more by the end of all of this. Our weekly excursion was actually split into two trips this week. The first day we went to the Nobel Institute. We stood amidst the room where the prize's recipient is determined. The faces of great men and women stared around us as we looked as each winner's portrait. Next, we entered the reception hall where the winner is announced; the entire trip was quite powerful.

   The next day, we again took to the metro to study peace. Our destination this time was the Nobel Peace Center. This museum functions as an introduction to the work of the Nobel Institute and also presents various displays on current world conflicts and peace issues. On display was a wonderful photographic collection from modern conflicts around the world. The sufferings in Bangladesh, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Norway were offered to us through incredibly poignant images. Additionally, a collection on Nansen was also shown. It was very fun to see our old friend in Oslo once more.
The Faces of the Laureates
   All told, my summer's academic life is burgeoning once more. I am being challenged in my personal views and stretched in my historical research. The International Summer School is living up to its expectation of providing a venue for international academic growth.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

To Oslo!

The Entrance Arch

   Welcome to Blindern campus!

   As we wander through the yellow painted arch (the same color as all of Norway's nationally important buildings), the ever-present rain trickles through the trees. We have finally come to our trip's final destination: Oslo. The spreading capital holds almost a fifth of the country's population, and while small by American standards, it is still quite large to this Iowan! Walking through the grey gravel towards the dorms, it is easy to see the history of the place. The buildings are many decades old, and the neo-classical facades facing us are magnificent! Between the dorms, a sunken courtyard reveals a fountain and multiple baths leading to other far-off corners of the campus; it is beautiful.

   Dozens of country's representatives mill around as the rain continues to fall. Our group from Lillehammer smiles and greets the others as we slowly make our way to collect keys, information, and directions for our new life for the next six weeks.

   Truth be told, it is a little disconcerting and unwelcome to switch locations. Lillehammer seemed a wonderful place full of country hospitalities and little corners of excitement. The people welcomed us with a smile and boundless generosity. Steiner, his family, and the staff of the Nansen Academy provided such warmth that it is difficult to leave that place. Oslo, the booming capital will likely be less friendly as any city tends to be.
Steinar, the Wonderful Bearded Peacemaker

   As we entered the doors, the change in location was especially stark. The Nansen Academy provided for small, yet clean and homey, single rooms. Here, the decades-old dorm is cramped; my room is meant for one and now houses two. I will even sleep on a cot for the duration of my stay at Blindern. Oh well, it is simply an inconvenience. I am in Norway, free of charge, for seven weeks. Nothing is really worth complaining about.

   Since our rain-clouded arrival, we have registered for classes. Additionally, we have begun to become oriented to our new surroundings. Classes start the day after tomorrow, and I am excited to begin studying the history of Norway in depth. Also, I have selected the weekend excursion that I wish to partake of. The school offers several different excursions out into Norway, including rafting, hiking, and other fun activities. Mine will be a tour of one of Oslo's major fjords. Additionally, we will tour a massive fortress, garnering the history of that defensible place. Furthermore, we will take a ferry out into the fjord, stop in Sweden, and stay in a fancy hotel. All told, it promises to be a very fun event.

   And there are so many more adventures to come! Although the transition has been difficult, we will adjust eventually, and Norway has so much to offer. The next few weeks will truly provide for an epic saga.
My Cramped yet Workable Dorm Room

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Nansen Dialogs

Explorer and Peace Worker

   "You really believe that we poisoned your children? Now I understand why you hate us."

   Lillehammer, a small city of 30,000 north of Oslo and host of the Winter Olympics is home to another world-changing gathering. While most know of the place for its sporting history and welcoming people, peace advocates know of Lillehammer for the Nansen Academy and the Nansen Dialogs.

   This week, nearly thirty students from the Balkans, Southern Caucasus, the United States, and other lands have gathered together for days of relationship-building and attempts to further peace in the world. The Nansen Academy, named after the famous polar explorer and international diplomat, is a place of multi-cultural study. However, in recent years, the buildings and their occupants have concentrated on the Balkans and the establishment of peaceful relations among the states and ethnicities of the former-Yugoslavian lands. This is accomplished through extensive use of dialog.

   Dialog is a little-used form of communication. In popular usage, the word is interchangeable with "conversation," but this is hardly the truth. Rather, dialog is a meeting of different opinions that allows for movement.

   In debate, the participants attack the other side; facts are torn down and the enemy's argument is reduced to irrationality. Often, the participants hope to prove that the other was wrong and seek just revenge.

   This is not dialog.

   In negotiations, each side comes to the table hoping for a win-win situation. Their positions are ardently defended, and the best deal is looked for.

   This is not dialog.

   Rather, dialog is a complex series of talks that don't allow for proving that someone is right or defending a position on an apparent truth. No, dialog in the Nansen tradition is conversing with an enemy to understand them. The quote that began this blog was actually spoken at a past dialog. In the terrible breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbs and Albanians entered into a vicious conflict, and atrocities were committed on each side. The quote refers to a rumor that Albanian school children were poisoned by Serbs in their place of learning. Serbs often believe that the Albanians made the story up and believe that the story is false. Albanians believe that Serbs committed the heinous crime and continue to deny it. Each side possesses what they believe to be true. This belief is wildly important. Each side uses a parallel story that defines them, and the result is violence.

   In the quote, the Serbian speaker finally understood that his Albanian counterpart actually thought that Serbs had poisoned Albanian children. It finally made sense why the enemy actually hated him, even if they believed a falsehood from his point of view.

   Through dialog, each side is allowed to experience and being to understand the enemy. As a result, peaceful connections are established. Furthermore, since dialog is not a negotiation, no one wins. Instead, each side is allowed movement in their previously held stereotypes; enemies become people and not faceless demons. And all of this happens at the Nansen Dialog, who, for the last fifteen years, has been seeking to establish these peaceful connections in the Balkans.

   And this week, I was allowed to experience this. I have met Serbs and Albanians whose lands have been ravaged by war and whose cultures have been shaped through recent violence. The Nansen Academy has truly brought us together in a week of indescribable power. As we leave for Oslo, my heart concurrently grieves for the world and pulses in thankfulness for the work of the Nansen Academy and other institutions seeking harmony in our war-torn world.
My New Friends from the Balkans

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jet-Lagged Arrival Ramblings

The Norwegian Countryside

Friends,
   We have finally arrived! And before this post goes any further, I'd like to apologize in advance for the jet-lagged tone. So, in that rambling mood, I'll just present a quick overview of the first day. It's now 8:39 P.M. here and we're pretty exhausted. The trip was wonderful and went very quickly, but even so, it takes the wind of out you.

   We arrived in Iceland around 7 A.M. local time this morning and stayed in the airport for about an hour before our next flight left. Then, when we got to Oslo, we collected Thad and another girl who came early, as well as several Serbians and Bosnians and traveled to Lillehammer for the Nansen Dialogues. These are discussions that occur among the differing ethic groups from the wars in the former Yugoslavia. We're here to participate and witness these dialogues, and we'll be here all week (more on these later!).

   Next, we moved into our dorms and I have a single for the whole week (Yes!). They're a bit small but just perfect for privacy and sleeping without having to spread too much stuff around. Then, we took a short walking tour of part of the city. Aside from the recent Winter Olympics held here, the city has a marvelous history, including a coat of arms dedicated to a skiing rescue of a prince by his faithful soldiers. I learned that my $50 will purchase two hamburgers at a fast food restaurant in the Norwegian currency; the exchange rate is simply, unequivocally brutal.
   Since they didn't serve free meals on the plane rides (Strange, right? I purchased a minimal amount to save money), we were all very, very hungry by suppertime. We had rich rice with beef and vegetable stir-fry on top with fresh crunchy salad and hot bread bedecked in sesame seeds that I would mug someone to eat again. Finally, well-fed, we all retired to a common lounge to check in with our families. Soon, it'll be definitely time for bed, with the real festivities starting at 8 A.M. tomorrow morning. But, they've mentioned that the sun will be light until about 3 A.M. I'll have to do a short post on the weather next; it has truly changed seven or eight times in the last few hours. For now though, it's time for some relaxation and a bit of sleep.
Skol!
Michael
The Nansen Academy in Lillehammer

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rainy Pre-Departure Questioning


   As I sit, pondering the rain amid a Wednesday morning, the thought that my surroundings will soon change keeps distracting me. What a wonderful blessing and undeserved opportunity this summer will be! While being gone from family and friends for two months will be challenging, I fully anticipate this summer to shape my philosophy and alter my life. Additionally, several, probing questions continue to pester me:

·         Am I ready to experience this?

·         Being an individual, a lowly college student at that, how can I best affect peace?

·         What new adventures will I find there?

·         Was is this Norwegian obsession with fish?

·         Can a person die from eating Lutefisk?

·         What meaning can a Dutch Reformed man, coming out of a Norwegian Lutheran school, find in the homeland of many of his friends?

·         What does "being Norwegian" truly encompass?

   While I ponder some of these in jest, the meaning is still firmly there. I cannot simply and blithely travel to another land without first questing myself. I am not Norwegian; many, including my traveling companion, are. I've received a wonderful opportunity to travel to their homeland, and I feel I must be prepared. Yet, what does this preparation look like? While wonderful, the trip promises to contain an exhausting amount of course-work and research, as well socializing and friendship-building. Should I be reading, researching, praying? I believe all of the above will help me as I begin this journey. And truth be told, I am incredibly excited!

  Even so, the reality of this journey has not fully set in yet. Last year, I again received an enormous blessing in being able to travel to Greece. While we had learned that we would be traveling to Greece a year in advance, the reality of the trip only truly set in as we entered the snowy airport (a true Midwestern March) and boarded the plane. That feeling of disjointed reality is again upon me.

   Realistically, I know that I will be traveling with a good friend to another continent in less than a month (Gracious, that soon?). Yet, I am even now struggling to fully comprehend this. As I research Norway, purchase my Norwegian phrase book (I have studied English, Latin, French, and Spanish. Handy that I didn't glance at or even consider studying Norwegian, isn't it?), and pray for God's guidance as we embark, I trust that my questions will be resolved and I'll be prepared for this life-altering journey.

Welcome!


Dear Friends,
    Welcome! This blog was established specifically to inform and inspire others by a wonderful opportunity I received late in February this year. During that month, I applied and was interview for the Nobel Peace Prize Forum Scholars' Program. The Nobel Peace Prize Forum is a truly wonderful and inspiring event that brings the five Lutheran, Norwegian, Midwestern colleges (Augustana, Augsburg, Concordia in Moorhead, Luther, and St. Olaf) together for a weekend forum advocating, discussing, and preparing for peace around the world. The Scholars' Program of this Forum selects two students from each of the five colleges and sends them to study at the University of Oslo and the Nobel Institute over the summer.
    I was wonderfully excited to receive this fantastic opportunity. Along with my fellow Augustana Viking and good friend, Thad Titze, I will be spending seven weeks in Norway. Together, we will have our minds and hearts stretched as we dive into researching peace advocacy. Additionally, as a student of history, I will be exploring Norwegian history through as course at the University of Oslo. While I will be journaling extensively for my own, personal enjoyment, this blog will allow you to keep track of my journeys, experiences, and thoughts about my travel experience.
    So my friends, welcome to the fjords!
Yours,
Michael Seeley