Mewing Ohio Passenger Princess

It’s time for another edition of Trendspotting!

An Evening with All Five of Us

I’m fascinated by the evolution of language and culture, and it seems like a few trends or phrases have recently come into my life — on more than one occasion, from more than one source. So, I want to capture these trends here on my website, both for my own reference and for posterity.

Mewing

The first trend that I’ve spotted is mewing. Yes, the word is spelled and pronounced like what a kitten does. But in this case, it’s a human phenomenon that involves making one’s face look smoother and cooler, with a more defined jawline — trying to look good for pictures, especially, it seems. The pictures in this post help to demonstrate the phenomenon. I first learned about mewing from a video on the internet, but my appreciation for the term became more pronounced when my college-aged kids reintroduced the phrase and the action during a family hang-out earlier this evening.

I honestly don’t know how widespread this term or this phenomenon happens to be, but it seems to be mostly tongue-in-cheek: both literally and figuratively. Kind of like a more masculine version of the “duck face” that’s been popular on Instagram for a few years now.

Ohio

When I was interacting with some Middle-Eastern youths in the northwest neighborhoods of Stockholm, recently, they thought it was hilarious when they learned I was from Ohio. “O-Hi-O…” they kept saying, and smiling to each other. I didn’t know if they just liked the sound of word, or if it meant something different in their native languages, or what. But later, one of the Kent State students who was traveling with me explained that middle-schoolers in the United States have also started using the word “Ohio” as an adjective to describe something weird or inexplicable.

An Evening with All Five of Us

It’s apparently building off of a series of internet memes (generally more visual in nature), where it was more typically formulated as an image of something ludicrous or absurd or unsettling happening, with text superimposed saying, “Only in Ohio.” Or something like that. More recently, however, the trope seems to have shortened to just the word “Ohio,” and it’s become more verbal than visual. Like, maybe someone will be doing something antisocial in a group situation, and someone will say “Ohio” (it often seems to be emphasized on the middle syllable) and roll their eyes to their friends.

I don’t know if I’ve got this one completely correct, but it’s an intriguing trend.

Passenger Princess

A colleague (from the Millennial generation) recently used this phrase to refer to a work situation where he played more of a supportive role than a lead role. He said it like it was something positive. A few days later, I saw a different friend (also from the Millennial generation) post a BeReal literally showing her feet on the dash of the passenger side of the car: toenails painted, sunny sky out the front window.

From what I understand, it’s generally understood to mean a woman who always lets her husband do the driving, so she can put her feet up… read a good book… listen to her favorite podcast… stick her head out the window in the breeze… That sort of thing. But the term can be used far more broadly than that. It can mean anytime that a person gets to ride on someone else’s coattails. I think it’s an amazing phrase that prompts an amazing mental image that communicates this concept amazingly.

Isn’t it fun to keep learning and adapting and growing?!? I sure think it is!

Posted in Adolescence, Culture, English, Family, Kent, Language, Ohio, Recreation, The United States of America, Trend-Spotting, Young Adulthood | Leave a comment

Total Eclipse in Kent, Ohio

Total Eclipse in Kent 2024

A month or two ago, our favorite local weather forecaster said that it’s only an eleven percent chance that April 8th will bring clear skies to Northeast Ohio. He told us to brace ourselves for the possibility that we wouldn’t be able to see as much of the Eclipse as we might like. So, we weren’t too upset when we woke up this morning and could hear raindrops on the roof. Even into the middle part of the morning, the cloud cover in our area was quite heavy. But around midday, things started clearing up beautifully. And it ended up being a genuinely lovely afternoon for enjoying the total eclipse of the sun that happened to be passing through Northeast Ohio.

In the morning, while it was still overcast, I went for a run through downtown Kent and the middle part of the Kent State University campus — just to see what was happening. And honestly, it wasn’t much. There may have been a little more foot traffic than usual. Still, it wasn’t like tens of thousands of people had come to camp out in Kent, Ohio.

Total Eclipse in Kent 2024

Later in the morning, around eleven o’clock, I went back to downtown Kent to see if I could scrounge up some eclipse-viewing glasses for my parents so they could watch the Eclipse from the back deck of their condominium. I succeeded in securing the glasses at a big white tent set up at the intersection of Main Street and Water Street, along with a magnet and a sticker (I always love a good sticker!). The volunteers working behind the table at that tent were very friendly and eager to engage whatever Eclipse visitor traffic they might receive. Still, at that point in the morning, there weren’t a lot of people out and about. So, I delivered the glasses to my parents, got some lunch at home, and enjoyed the extra rest from this serendipitous Eclipse Day holiday.

Total Eclipse in Kent 2024

A little after one o’clock in the afternoon, Cor and I decided to walk downtown and see what was happening. We got coffee from Scribbles (I got a Stardust Shaken Espresso!). We talked to friends that we ran into, and learned from some of them that Wendy’s was giving away free Orange Dreamsicle Frosties to anyone who came in wearing their eclipse-viewing glasses. So, we added that to our walking tour. By this point in the day, more and more people were finding their way to downtown Kent by this point. Especially to the fraternity houses on Main Street and the Hometown Bank Plaza in the heart of town.

Total Eclipse in Kent 2024

We found more friends as we kept walking, including Elliot and Rafaella. And it was right around this time that we finally started to see the path of the Moon drifting into the path of the Sun, when we looked up through our eclipse-viewing glasses. At first, it was just one little Moon bite from the Sun “cookie.” Only visible through the glasses; not at all detectable by the naked eye looking around at our surroundings. Still, it was cool to see it start happening.

Total Eclipse in Kent 2024

As we were walking over the bridge back towards our neighborhood, we watched a man in his late-60s or early-70s look up through his eclipse-viewing glasses. We smiled at his enthusiasm when he raised his voice to say, “Oh, yeah… Hell, yeah.” The Eclipse was underway.

Total Eclipse in Kent 2024

Around 2:30 PM, we got back to our house to gather our things and head to the Davey Elementary School Football Field that we had picked as our preferred neighborhood Eclipse-Watching Spot. Marci had made some Eclipse Snacks with circular Rice Krispies Treats representing the Sun, and Chocolate-Covered Ritz Crackers as the Moon. I poured some Eclipse Cocktails, with lighter and denser San Pellegrino on the bottom and darker and less-dense Rum or Grenadine on the top. Then, we walked the quarter of a mile to the field, spread out our picnic blankets, and waited to see what would happen.

Total Eclipse in Kent 2024

We weren’t the only people to gravitate towards Davey Elementary School. There were kids playing baseball and football, adults with lawn chairs and cameras on tripods. The scene reminded me a lot of W.W. Skiles Field, in Shelby, Ohio, on the night of the community’s fireworks display in early-July. Especially in the last five minutes before the Total Eclipse happened, when the scant sunlight slipping past the Moon made the ambient illumination seem artificial. It was surreal. And special.

Total Eclipse in Kent 2024

When the Total Eclipse finally snapped into place, there was a genuine sense of euphoria. We couldn’t not gasp and scream. Honestly, the experience was significantly more dramatic than I had expected it would be. The glittering corona, with an especially bright, reddish spot on the underside… the 360-degree sunset effect… the glimpse of “stars” (which I was told were actually planets) in the middle of the afternoon… the hushed silence of the natural world… It was magnificent. And memorable.

Eclipse Imagery from Others

As the “dimmer” on the sunlight started dialing back up again, the colors still grayer than usual for that time of day, there were two kids who ran by our spot — presumably a brother and a sister, maybe 7 and 5 years old, respectively. The older brother shouted, “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”

His sister responded with equal enthusiasm: “We just witnessed totality, and that is a fact.

I didn’t fully understand the hype about our town being in the Path of Totality until I got the chance to experience it for myself. I’m glad I did get to experience it, though. I don’t expect to ever see it again in my lifetime. But that might just make it all the more special.

Posted in Food, Kent, Ohio, Photography, Recreation | Leave a comment

Older

Older, by Lizzy McAlpine

Lizzy McAlpine has become one of my favorite young artists. She was initially recommended to me — just a little more than a year ago — by my son Elliot, and I ended up listening to her stuff more than any other artist in 2023. She even placed two songs in my Top Ten Songs of 2023 (including the Song of the Year). So to say that I was “eagerly anticipating” her new album would be an understatement.

Since the album dropped, I’ve listened through it three times (four or five listens for some of my favorite new songs). And to cut to the chase: I really enjoy it. Lizzy McAlpine still has an amazing voice and pleasant acoustic instrumentation more reminiscent of her first album than her second album. So, the album could work well as an easy background listen. Still, it also feels substantial enough that I could just sit in a chair and listen to it without any other distraction. It’s clear that the McAlpine has something to say: about growing older… about grieving… about entropy… about the human condition.

One might be able to guess this from the previous sentence, but my overall impression after three or four listens is that the album is mellow and melancholy. That being said, “All Falls Down” is still a bop. And “Staying” — for all of its melancholy mood — is a new favorite. As the fourth and fifth tracks on the album, respectively, they form the emotional core of the album for me. I also really like “You Forced Me To” (I’m always a sucker for a good waltz!). And “Vortex” is especially powerful, both lyrically and musically. There’s only one song from the whole album which I feel inclined to skip: “Drunk Running.” So, it’s really quite solid, from top to bottom.

I also like the fact that a couple of the songs (but especially the album’s title track) sound like they have Gospel influence to me. In saying “Gospel,” I mean the musical genre — not the Good News about God’s Kingdom, fulfilled in Jesus — however, McAlpine’s understanding of the human condition could actually be fertile ground in which Christian faith could grow.

My biggest complaint about the new album is that I wish it was longer. But I love its overall sound and feel. I’m excited to keep processing the music further in the days and weeks to come.

Posted in Introspection, Music, Recommendations, Recommended Listening, Recreation, Young Adulthood | Leave a comment

The Meaning of an Eclipse

Cor: Ready for the Eclipse

Eclipse Fever is spreading quickly here in Northeast Ohio. Kent just so happens to lie within the Path of Totality for the eclipse that’s coming on Monday afternoon. So, “they” are telling us to stock up on groceries and top off the gas tanks in our vehicles. “They” say we could get 100,000 non-residents jamming the streets of Kent just to catch a glimpse of this celestial phenomenon. And while that scenario seems kind of crazy and dubious to me, it also feels kind of exciting.

Online Discussion about the Apparent Size of the Moon and the Sun

We had relatives travel to Ohio from Virginia for the Eclipse, so there’s that. They brought “Buckeye Blackout” T-shirts for our kids. And we’ve all secured our eclipse-viewing glasses from various places over the last several weeks (I got a pair from the Bowling Green State University Recreation Center, when we went there on a college visit with Cor; Cor got a pair from his school; and Marci picked up a couple pairs from the grocery store). We’re just planning to sit tight in Kent, so we’re as ready as we can be.

Recently, though, I’ve been reflecting on the crazy coincidence of the Sun and the Moon appearing to be such similar sizes — even though they’re completely different sizes and distances from Earth — allowing this eclipse phenomenon to occur in the first place. I honestly don’t know why there aren’t more people talking about this! I searched the internet for its wisdom on the subject, and I found a wide variety of opinions about the apparently-miraculous mechanics of the Eclipse. But there were surprisingly few scientific explanations that go anything beyond the idea that it’s just a really, really, really crazy coincidence. The Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun, but also about 400 times closer. And that’s all well and good. But my question is why?!?

It’s intriguing to hear atheists squabble about these things on the internet. I especially appreciated a comment I found on Reddit, saying, “If someone did this on purpose, I’d like to meet them. Just not yet.” Another commenter on Quora noted the following:

So, if you made a bunch of copies of the sun and put them back-to-back, how many of them would it take to reach the Earth? [(93M miles Sun-Earth distance) / (the sun’s 865K-mile diameter) = 108 suns]. Still with me? Now let’s copy the other big object we see in the sky, the Moon. How many back-to-back copies of the Moon would it take to reach Earth? The answer? 108 again! [(238K miles Earth-Moon distance) / (the moon’s 2.2K-mile diameter) = 108 moons]. Equal size-to-distance ratio means that they look the same in the sky. It’s one of the craziest coincidences in the cosmos, if there doesn’t turn out to be some kind of law dictating that it has to be that way to sustain life, or something.

David Hinckley

In situations like these, I think of the title of a book that I once read: “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.” Honestly, I don’t! I think it takes just as much faith — if not more — to believe that an amazing astrological phenomenon such as an Eclipse happens by pure, random chance, than to believe that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” I recently got a book from my mother-in-law called Science and Faith in Harmony, by Sy Garte, and I found its chapter called “Tuning the Universe” to be especially helpful on these questions.

There are a number of constants — fixed, unchanging quantities — in physics that simply are what they are. They cannot be derived from any theory, and they are not contingent on anything else… All the physical constants we know we need to be exceptionally close to the values they have, or a universe that allows us to exist would not be possible. Any change beyond that tiny tolerance in one of those constants would mean there would be no stars or planets, and no life… Physicists have called this the fine-tuning of the universe, and it is often considered a mystery. There are three possible explanations for how such mysterious perfection came to be… If one is looking for evidence… the universe and the constants that govern it could have been designed with a purpose — and that, of course, suggests a Creator who wanted life to be possible.

Sy Garte, PhD, Science and Faith in Harmony

I don’t know. Maybe your worldview determines your sense of wonder at these kinds of things. But I’ve been thinking about it. And I wonder if others should maybe be thinking about it, too.

Posted in God, Introspection, Kent, Ohio, Science and Christianity, Social Issues, The Bible | Leave a comment

Coffee and Tea

Coffee Outreach

The northwest neighborhoods of Stockholm have names like Tensta and Husby and Rinkeby. And one of the most distinctive things about these neighborhoods is that they are “majority minority” communities, where most of the people don’t come from Sweden but from other countries like Syria… Iraq… Iran… Somalia… Eritrea… Ethiopia… They happen to be living in Sweden — one of the most secularized, most individualized, most “Post-Christian” cultures in the world — but the people in these communities are far more likely to claim a Muslim religious identity and a communal identity. And more likely than not, they’ve never even talked to a real Christian before.

So we wanted to pray for the people living in these neighborhoods and then trust God to provide openings for spiritual conversations. One of the ways we ended up meeting people was giving out free coffee, tea, and dates to people passing through the center of Tensta at sunset (the time when Muslims are allowed to break their Ramadan fast). It was a very mixed environment, linguistically and culturally, with an unusual police presence in the area; but it honestly felt way more “familiar” than “foreign.” Its emotional core was quite similar to our Flapjack Friday nights in Kent and the Waffle Outreach we did in Husby. And we got to have some decent conversations, though it’s hard to tell what fruit might grow from the seeds of the Good News that were scattered during our time there.

The most interesting relationship to come out of our Coffee Table Outreach was a guy who first came up to the table with a weird skittishness about him. He put three or four sugar cubes in his little paper cup and then added maybe an inch of coffee — and then he walked away. Five or ten minutes later, however, I went to throw something away in a trash can, and I saw that the guy was standing right there using the top of the trash can like a bar table. I smiled and said, “Hej,” but then returned to our table. Then a few minutes later, the guy walked back over and started talking in pretty-decent English.

He told me that he had only moved to Tensta about a month ago, from Slovakia. He moved because he wanted a change of scenery, saying that his life in Slovakia was too comfortable, too predictable (“too much power” was the way he initially phrased it). I also learned that he had grown up “Christian,” in Tunisia, but he decided to convert to Islam two years earlier. Also, it seemed, to mix things up, to try something new. And because he was attracted to the way that Muslims do community (“as one”). He kept talking about trying to challenge himself, to divest himself of power. So, I eventually asked him why.

“What is the purpose, or meaning, of life?”

He took a while to answer but eventually indicated that his purpose in life is to find peace. And then he asked me what I thought. And I took that as an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus — talking about God’s design for the world (emphasizing peace), our choice to go our own way (emphasizing the human tendency towards self-centeredness), and God’s initiative to redeem us and restore the world through Jesus (again emphasizing peace).

It was encouraging to see my new friend become genuinely energized by what I was saying. He kept smiling widely and patting me on the shoulder and dapping me up, and he said he liked the way I was talking. I told him that I was going to be in Sweden for three more days and asked if he would like to meet up again. He said he would, so we found each other on Facebook and made plans to meet up again two days later.

Mall of Scandinavia with Aymen

For our follow-up meeting, I brought along one of the Kent State students named Ethan. Our new friend was at our rendezvous point before we got there (even though we were also early for our meeting time). He seemed happy to see me again and happy to meet Ethan. We eventually decided to find a place where we could sit down to talk. Our new friend decided that we should go to the Mall of Scandinavia (necessitating a metro ride followed a tram ride followed by a walk over a train platform). We talked as we traveled, but then we got to the mall and decided to stop at a bubble tea spot on the lower level (our friend insisted, even though he was fasting for Ramadan). And just like at the Coffee Table Outreach, our new friend demonstrated remarkable spiritual openness.

He seems like he’s truly seeking God — and his conversion to Islam was largely a reaction to a distasteful version of “Christianity” that he’d observed, where all kinds of money was spent on gold plating for the church building and salaries for the church leaders who seemed to only open themselves and the building up one day a week for parishioners who played the part of “Christian” on Sundays but lived every other day according to their own self-centered priorities. Ethan and I were able to empathize with his perspective but also offer an alternative perspective of Christian community from Acts 2 and our own personal experiences. Ethan shared his testimony in a way that really seemed to connect with our friend.

But then, it was time for us to return to Tensta. It’s hard to know what God will do with our new friend, but I pray that he will experience the truth of Matthew 7:8: “Everyone who asks receives what he asks for. Everyone who looks finds what he is looking for. Everyone who knocks has the door opened to him.”

Posted in Europe, European Missions, Ministry, Prayer, Sweden, Travel | Leave a comment

Waffle Outreach

Waffle Outreach with Husbykyrkan

When I woke up this morning, one of my first thoughts was that this has been a truly Holy Week. Set apart. Distinct. A space of its own for seeking God and expecting Him to work in and through us, both as individuals and as a team. And I’m thankful for that.

In truth, I think God’s work in us has continued to be more pronounced than his work through us. But it may be that we’ll never know the outcome of our missional efforts this Holy Week.

Last night, we got to return to Husby to partner with Husbykyrkan for a Waffle Outreach. It was fun to hear the origin story of the Swedish celebration of “Waffle Day” on March 25th. I’d honestly never thought of it before, but since December 25th is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, some might want to celebrate the immaculate conception of Jesus nine months earlier. Swedish Christians have long celebrated Vårfrudagen, or “Our Lady Day,” on March 25th — but more recently, Swedes have noticed that if you say the phrase quickly, it sounds an awful lot like, Våffeldagen, or “Waffle Day.” So now, everyone in Sweden knows that you’re supposed to eat waffles on March 25th, even though most don’t know exactly why. It’s maybe a little bit like the American phenomenon of eating pie on March 14th because the date can be written as 3.14, like the geometry constant “π,” or “Pi.”

Waffle Outreach with Husbykyrkan

We ended up with way more volunteers than roles, so our team ended up doing a lot of prayer-walking. Still, the whole evening felt remarkably similar to our Flapjack Friday Outreaches here in Kent, even while being continents and cultures apart from each other. It was fun to work together with Anders and Suzanne, Kristian and Madeline, Selma, Sonja, and Jonathan. I admire the way that the Swedish Christians are continuing to maintain an outward orientation, even in a place where immigration and secularization are changing cultural dynamics quite rapidly. And they make a pretty yummy waffle, too!

Posted in Church, Culture, Culture Shock, Europe, European Missions, Food, H2O Kent, Ministry, Prayer, Sweden | Leave a comment

Kola Sås

Kola Sas

Cross-cultural mission trips can be valuable for encouraging local Christians and scattering seeds of the Good News to people who might not otherwise come into contact with local believers. But honestly, the biggest impact of a cross-cultural mission trip is often within the hearts of the missionaries. I’ve already seen it this week, with our team that’s traveled from Ohio to Sweden.

God has been taking each of us through our fears, insecurities, and assumptions about God and the world around us. And there have honestly been some really significant moments, even in our first few days. But there have been some sillier moments along these lines, too.

Yesterday, in the grocery store, our host told us that Swedish people love to eat ice cream covered in “Kola Sås.” Because it sounded so similar to English words, I got it in my head that this was “Cola Sauce” — like, sauce that tastes like Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola — so, I got very excited to buy some of this, along with ice cream, to serve as dessert for a social gathering later in the evening.

Kola Sas

Everyone else on our team from Kent understood that “Kola Sås “was “Caramel Sauce,” based on the color and the picture on the front of the container. But I didn’t know that until later in the evening. It came to light when I sat down with my bowl of Ice Cream and Kola Sås. After taking my first bite, I said something along the lines of, “It actually tastes like cola!” I thought it was a pretty cool cultural discovery.

The rest of the team was like, “What? Are you being serious?” They started laughing at my misunderstanding. And I must confess that I felt isolated and actively ridiculed (though I don’t think anyone else was taking it as seriously as I was). So anyway, I started digging my heels in — hedging enough to admit that I might be wrong, but also saying that the primary flavor profile for both cola and caramel is browned sugar. Isn’t it?

One of the other people on our team was kind enough to try another bite and say that he could maybe detect cola flavoring instead of caramel flavoring. Others were flexible enough to say that it may be as much about one’s expectation as it is about one’s actual experience. But in retrospect, I can recognize that I was operating from a place of shame and anger and insecurity in that moment. I can see that I didn’t handle myself well. So even though I held my ground and claimed “uncertainty” until all the bowls were put into the dishwasher, I quietly looked up the word “kola” on the Google Translate app on my phone and learned that the correct translation for “kola” is indeed “caramel,” not “cola.”

I apologized to the rest of the team this morning, and we were all able to laugh about it together. But I think it really is a good example of what happens in the process of crossing cultures. We make assumptions. We make mistakes. And we have the opportunity to be soft-hearted and learn or be hard-hearted and make fools of ourselves.

Posted in Culture, Culture Shock, Europe, European Missions, Food, Introspection, Language, Recreation, Sweden | Leave a comment

Palmsöndagen

Run between Tensta, Rinkeby, and Spanga

I love to experience everyday stuff in exotic places: grocery stores… coffee shops… nature preserves… churches… There’s something delightful about noticing the similarities and differences. So, it felt really special for our team from Kent to be able to spend start its first full day in Sweden at a church in Husby. Ethan and I walked there with our host, Stefan. And when we arrived, just before the start of the 11:00 AM worship gathering, we were warmly greeted and quickly ushered to our seats.

Palm Sunday at Husbykyrkan

The congregation started with singing the Swedish version of “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,” which is a song that happens to be regularly featured in our own worship in Ohio. After that, there were some announcements about Palm Sunday, the children’s program we were about to see, a used clothing drive (with remarkably explicit instructions about how to get to the appropriate room in the church building and pull up on the latch of the door), and a special recognition of people who were celebrating their birthdays this week (complete with singing, clapping, and a grab-bag gift).

Palm Sunday at Husbykyrkan

All of the spoken words were translated into earpieces that our American team were given. And the woman who translated for us was obviously proud when her son-in-law gave a brief presentation about his work with an organization that seems to be primarily concerned with free speech in the developing world. After his update, we sang a hymn, or “psalm,” with a chorus that repeated the word “Halleluja.” And then it was time for the children’s program to begin.

Palm Sunday at Husbykyrkan

A girl recited Hebrews 13:8, and then the acting troupe played out Jesus’s travels through the countryside towards Jerusalem, healing a blind person along the way and pausing to sing a song about people needing each other. One of my favorite moments was when the congregation was instructed to sing along “Här kommer Jesus” (“Here comes Jesus”), with motions to go along with the words. And I also loved the way that the projector regularly featured children’s artwork illustrating the Easter story, in addition to continued acting out of key events.

Palm Sunday at Husbykyrkan

The atmosphere of the room was lively and interactive. I honestly feel like I learned a lot about Palm Sunday from experiencing the worship gathering with the Husbykyrkan.

Palm Sunday at Husbykyrkan

At the end of the program, everyone was invited to have fika (coffee and pastries) together: free for first-time visitors like us, but for a contribution if one happened to be a regular. I sat with Frederik (who has been helping to host our team) and two older Swedish women: Solveig and Evastina. One of them was from Gothenburg, and when Frederik heard that he made a joke alluding to the fact that “everyone” from Gothenburg is named Glenn — and that got me to wondering if my Dad’s middle name is actually another connection to Sweden (though I’d always assumed it was just a normal American name). Talking about my Dad’s middle name got Solveig excited to tell me about a Swedish reality show called Allt För Sverige (basically a Swedish version of the genealogy shows that have become popular in the USA as well). It seems to be largely centered around Upper-Midwestern Americans learning about their Swedish roots. She insists that I must check it out. And I sincerely hope to, when I get some downtime.

More than anything, though, I just appreciated the opportunity to see how God is working in Sweden, just as He is working in so many other parts of the world. Somehow, it makes the world seem simultaneously bigger and smaller. And I look forward to seeing how the coming week in Sweden will continue to stretch my own heart.

Posted in Church, Culture, Europe, God, Language, Ministry, Sweden | Leave a comment

Tensta

Prayer Walk through Tensta

We’ve made it to Sweden! The Tensta neighborhood of Stockholm, to be specific. I’m exhausted from having stayed awake the last thirty hours (with still five or six hours of waking time before I’m likely to get to sleep) — but things really went remarkably smoothly to get us to this point. We’re now sitting around our friend Sarah’s apartment after some lunch and walking around. Ethan and Davi were just doing a little jam session on piano and guitar, respectively, but we just asked them to pause so people could rest and/or reflect for a little while.

Prayer Walk through Tensta

I’ve been thinking about an interaction I had with a bunch of adolescent boys at a football pitch in Tensta’s Nydalsparken. Our group had spent a good while playing on the concrete pillars and ledges of a parcours playground, and then we took a few creative group portraits. And then, just as we were getting ready to move on, some younger kids (maybe late elementary school aged) came up to our group and started interaction with some of the women. But in that same moment, my attention was drawn to a group of older boys calling out from the other side of a chain link fence.

Prayer Walk through Tensta

“Free Palestine!” was their opening line. And even though I was willing to engage with them on these substantive issues (suggesting that I might prefer a two-state solution, myself) — it turned out that their biggest objective was to get a rise out of me. When Palestine didn’t do it, they asked me for my opinion about Adolf Hitler and the N-word… And eventually, they settled into a lot of aggressive, hyper-sexualized insults. Mahmoud, from Iraq, was especially crude.

His favorite phrase involved some variation along the lines of, “You’re so beautiful, with your big blue eyes. I want to take a picture of your face, so I can I bust a nut all over you.” Sometimes, it was busting two nuts, and sometimes the produce of the “busted nut” would rain down like a storm. But it was always that “bust a nut” language. I could tell that he was talking about masturbation, but I told him that I didn’t think it was a very popular phrase in American English (though my American adolescent sources have since confirmed that usage in the United States is more widespread than I initially believed). In any event, Mahmoud was super-loud and super-crude… But he had an enormous smile on his face the whole time.

I was a prop in an act of performance art for his friends. But honestly, I didn’t pick up on any true hostility.

Prayer Walk through Tensta

They all seemed surprised that our group was spending time in Tensta, instead of Stockholm’s city center. They said that theirs was an “ass neighborhood” (and I didn’t even try to correct them with more common English constructions on this one). One said that he just had a gun pulled on him yesterday. Another claimed to have gotten his wallet stolen just a few hours previously. They said that their families were from Somalia, Kenya, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bosnia. But I didn’t really get to learn that much more about them because the rest of my group started moving towards the grocery store, and I decided that I needed to keep up with them. Still, I hope that I might get to bump into them again. And even if I don’t get to talk any more with those particular boys, I think that this conversation played a valuable role in warming my heart up for the week ahead.

The youths of Tensta might seem like something of a hostile crowd, but they’re mostly just curious — and curiosity is fertile soil in which the Good News of God’s Kingdom can grow.

Posted in Adolescence, Culture, Culture Shock, Europe, European Missions, God, Ministry, Prayer, Sweden, Travel | Leave a comment

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

I recently finished reading Nabeel Qureshi’s autobiography, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity. It was my second reading (or, actually, listening — since I made the rare decision to opt for the audio version of the book this time around). But my first reading was, like, ten years ago, so the book still felt fresh and new. And educational and enjoyable.

"Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus" by Nabeel Qureshi

This book was required reading for everyone joining H2O’s Spring Break mission trip to Stockholm, Sweden. We wanted everyone to give it a read because our group will be spending the majority of its time in the northern suburb of Tensta, where a majority of the population is made up of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. The narrative contains some very practical theology, when it comes to comparing and contrasting Christianity and Islam — but the story feels far more immersive than most textbooks or theological treatises. It feels intensely personal, and compelling. So I’m really glad that our team got the chance to work through this material together.

Throughout the book, the author paints an empathetic portrait of his family. Their devotion to Islam is admirable, honestly, as is their devotion to each other. Qureshi describes everyday scenes of his parents’ love for each other, for the rest of their family, and for the greater community of Pakistani Muslims to which they belonged. There was nothing casual or nominal about their faith. And it was really helpful to see the world through their eyes, including an American Muslim’s perspective on the September 11th terrorist attacks and more general day-to-day cultural tensions.

Consequently, when Qureshi starts to explore the Bible and the historical case for Jesus, it feels all the more impactful for readers to witness him slowly transition from faith in the Quran to faith in Jesus. He considers each faith system on its intellectual merits, historicity, and personal impact. Over the course of the narrative, he becomes more and more convinced that he must follow Jesus. But the implications for his family are by far the most painful, and it paints a powerful picture of the price that must often be paid for following Jesus.

I appreciated the way that the book is well-written and well-researched. And I think it gives our Sweden Team a lot more empathy and insight for how to share the Good News of Jesus with Muslims we meet.

Posted in Church, Culture, Culture Shock, Europe, European Missions, God, Reading, Recommendations, Recommended Reading, Social Issues, Sweden, The Bible, Traditions | Leave a comment