Apr 30, 2010

Receiving Tools From The Unlikeliest Of Places

I remember when I first came to Norway almost eight years ago, back when I was a strong TBM, I was so turned-off by the Norwegian Lutheran Church. As I was learning the language, I would read newspaper editorials and articles about religion in Norway, the approach of the state Church here, and my impression was that it was simply watered-down Christianity directed by politics that didn't require anything of its members and had totally veered away from the "right" path after ordaining female priests, being open to homosexuality, etc.

On Easter Sunday I went to Lutheran mass with my husband (who is still officially Lutheran, though never attended church regularly) and my Afghan refugee brother Hassan. I certainly haven't been looking to "jump ship" membership-wise, but as I've found it increasingly difficult to go to the LDS Church regularly, I decided why not check out something different.

Last Sunday was stake conference and since I wasn't about to go all the way to Oslo for church even at the height of my TBM days, I told my husband I was going to go to the Lutheran service just for the heck of it. He said he wanted to come with me, so we went. The church was packed (a rarity) because it was baby christening Sunday. At first I was disappointed because I just wanted to be there for a regular service. So we sat there and enjoyed the music and screaming babies, and then a man that neither of us knew got up and held a sermon that totally took our breath away.

He told a story about a friend of his, a doctor in a nearby city who was on his way to a Christmas party one evening last December and suddenly noticed a young man on the street who looked quite distressed. He felt that he should stop and ask him what the matter was, and so he did. The young man replied that he had missed the last bus to the refugee centre where he lived (which is quite a way outside of the city and certainly not within walking distance, especially not in the middle of winter). When he mentioned the word "refugee," my husband and I looked at each other, surprised, since the matter of refugees is extremely central in our lives at this time. And then he mentioned that the man said he was a refugee from Afghanistan, which really took our breath away. (The Afghans are the ones we've gotten really close to and they have such a special place in our hearts. I started to think of Hassan, imagining if it were him sitting out in the cold somewhere with no place to go, and suddenly I couldn't stop my eyes from overflowing with tears.) The doctor decided that Christmas parties will come and go each year, but this was an opportunity for service that he couldn't let go. So he drove the young man home and was invited in for tea. It was the first time he had entered a refugee centre (very few Norwegians ever do) and it was an eye-opener for him. The young Afghan man introduced him to some of his other Afghan friends and they struck up a close friendship, which led to the devlopment of a Norwegian-Afghan support network. In the process, he and some of his friends converted to Christianity and are active in the Norwegian church community in a nearby city.

The man closed his sermon with an inspiring talk about our attitudes towards refugees in Norway. (At worst, some are downright hostile, but most probably view them as a big burden to society that they wish would simply go away.) So he asked the congregation: should we lament about this "burden" of refugees, or should we thank God that they survived the dangerous journey to this country and view them as an asset? He finished with a prayer, specifically mentioning the refugees of our town. My husband and I we were both sort of floored, as this is not a topic one expects to hear at church -- and of all the Sundays that it should be mentioned, when we were actually there to hear it... my husband even felt moved enough to go up and take the sacrament at the end of the meeting, which I had never seen before.

It's funny to think that we should decide to go to Lutheran mass on exactly that day, but I'm sure glad we did. I got in contact via e-mail with the man who spoke and told him how he probably had no idea of the the unlikely impact he would make that day with his sermon. He was appreciative for the feedback and as he thought more and more about it, felt compelled to contact me again about working together in an interfaith/cultural network of people in the area who want to work towards building a better relationship with the refugee community in our town. And who is more prepared to do that than us?

A few years ago, I would have felt it was such a waste of time to get involved in a "wrong" church when I had the "true" one. Now that truth is in the backseat and the welfare of souls (not just in a spiritual sense, but especially in a temporal, humanitarian sense) is in the driver's seat, I'm just thankful for the opportunity to help and for the tools that seem to be finding their way to me, from the unlikeliest of places.


Hassan said...

Your post and accidental church attendance story touched my heart, and it is nice that someone spook about refugee’s life at the church. This may help people in community feel, how the life for a refugee is. I have read some parts of the holy Bible and the book of Mormon, besides that, I have read some of the comments in your blog that mostly talk, how the God blesses people. Lets discus here about; who is the God and what is the destiny? How much he is nice and just? If he plan everything for human beings at the first, so why he treats people differently? I am looking for some answer to give me sense and believe in a religion. I was born in Afghanistan, in a Shia Muslim family that I have never wanted this. I am abused and insulted because of my race, nationality and mostly religion. If I could be born in other place, for sure I could have a different life and different destiny. I feel like a victim of religion, and my belief has always created problem for me. I want a religion to ease my life and help me with the best way of life based on peace and freedom, but now I mostly afraid of religion. If I practice my previous religion, I have to endure abasement and insult in my whole life, if I change my belief, I will be killed, and if I don’t believe any religion still I will be killed. These are all because of being born in Afghanistan, and according to Islam, it is my destiny and the God has planned it for me from the beginning of my life, I don’t know how you believe? FD, MG, MH and other friends :)
Thanks for the post FD

The Faithful Dissident said...

Hassan, these are great questions that deserve further discussion. In fact, I think they deserve a new post. So I will write it and hopefully we can get some more readers involved in a good discussion. :)

h said...

That is great,we will look forward to it and hopefully we will get lots of good views in comments. God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post, FD. I think that tools do exist from the unlikeliest of places. I think that you have experienced a paradigm shift that is due to a healthy and meaningful change in perspective. When you say that truth gets put into the back seat and compassion for humanitarian needs comes as a top priority for you, that's when you begin to effect change in yourself and those around you. That's when the focus changes from self's search for truth (it's all about me and what I believe) to what about another? What can I do for another, truly? (It's not about "service", it's about 'being'. How does my religion support/inform my efforts to live with and love another with depth and meaning? To stay focussed on whether the church is true or not does not get anyone anywhere and it can do something short of driving a person nuts and you still get nowhere. But what if the focus changes as it has for you? You get to feel compassion and understanding from outside of what you're used to and the chance to build on humanitarian needs results. Thank you for sharing your inspiration that led you to contact this spiritual leader and for both your efforts to collaborate and make stronger the work in supporting the absolute needs of others. You were obviously in the right place at the right time! SimplyMe

Mormon Heretic said...

I really need to get some sort of RSS reader so I know when posts on my favorite blogs are posted. Sorry for not noticing this sooner. Hassan, let me try to answer your questions.

"who is the God and what is the destiny? "

I'm not sure what you mean "Who is the God"? I am mildly familiar with the Islamic saying "There is no God but God." As I understand it correctly (and please correct me if I am wrong), when Muhammad was alive, most Arabs were polytheistic. Muhammad's declaration was essentially a belief in monotheism as the only true form of worship. So, I would say that Allah is the same god that Christians call God, and Jews call Elohim or Jehovah. To me, they're all different names for the same god.

"What is the destiny?" To develop god-like qualities and progress to become more like him.

"How much he is nice and just?"

Great question, and one I don't really have a satisfactory answer for. I think God is nice and just, but I think man has interpreted God in a harsh way. "Thou shalt not take the name of God is vain" is one of the 10 commandments. When we fight in the name of God, whether it be in the Crusades, the Holocaust, or Jihad, or Joshua's Unholy War, I think we take the name of God in vain, and I think God is greatly saddened.

"If he plan everything for human beings at the first, so why he treats people differently?"

As I mentioned before, I don't think God treats us differently, I think man misuses scripture and attributes unequal treatment to God. I also agree with FD's comment that God isn't involved in our day-to-day affairs.