“I’m all lost in the Supermarket, I came here for a special offer – guarantied personality”
The last month I have been working on an address about the role of consumption in modern society. My interest in this stems from the fact that the church in Malmö where I used to work was located next to a shopping mall. Every Sunday I would stand in the church watching how the parking lot outside the mall filled up. Why has shopping become so important in our society? Well, economic reasons alone can’t explain why most people spend a lot of time in shopping malls nowadays. Turns out there are lots of research about this. It used to be we would buy products because of its function. We still do, but now we also buy stuff for its symbolic value. Research in sociology show that we often buy things that are consistent with our identity or the identity we strive to have. We use products to show who we are and what group we belong to. In the U.S.A. it is now possible to be buried in caskets with a Harley Davidson logo. But it goes further some philosophers claim that shopping also is part of our search for meaning. According to them we live in the age of the empty self where it is necessary for us to fill the void with different product. We do our existential choices in the shopping mall. And here is where it gets really interesting – is shopping the religion of modern society? Some anthropologists claim that some iconic brands are implicit religions. That means that the behavior people show when shopping is similar to that shown by religious people. Neurologist in the UK have even shown that the same parts in the brain are active in people having an “religious” shopping experience as in people having a spiritual religious experience. So I wasn’t wrong when I stood in my church in Malmö looking at people driving their cars to the temple of consumption next door. But, to paraphrase a Swedish bishop when she talked about the meaning people attach to brands in comparison to Christian faith– you can certainly build your life around brands, the question is if they are any comfort to you when you are about to die.
“I’m all lost in the Supermarket, I came here for a special offer – guarantied personality”
I couple of times every term I visit KRISS, a Swedish Christian student organization. KRISS is run by students for student and arrange weekly meeting where students meet and talk about faith. Sometimes they invite guests to talk about different topics. There are other Christian student organizations in Lund also – Dominio for Catholics and Credo. They are all doing a really great job. I know that a lot of International students visit these organizations, but, with the possible exception of Dominio, they are run by Swedish students and the language is for the most part Swedish. When thinking about this, it occurred to me that we would really need a Christian student organization run by international students where the common language was English. It should be an organization where student from all countries and all Christian backgrounds should feel welcome. Maybe it should not even be a new organization, but an international group within one of the existing Christian student organizations. Now, I am not a student, so I can’t start a student organization, but I could help out with a place to meet and other practical things. I could also help out with contacts and advice. Lunds Kristna Råd, the organization that organize all Christian churches in Lund, could maybe also help out and I also think that the University would like there to be such an organization. So all we need is a student or a small group of students who also think that this would be a good idea. Could that be you?
A spiritual advice that I try to follow is to give thanks everyday. One of my favorite Christian authors, the Swedish Bishop Martin Lönnebo, recommends writing down one thing one is thankful for every day. After one year one has a book filled with things to be grateful about. To end every day in this way is also, in my experience, a recipe for a good nights sleep. Actually modern science is saying the same thing. People, who focus on thing they are grateful for, instead of thing they are not satisfied with, are more harmonious and healthier. In short, being grateful and giving thanks is good for us, both in a spiritual sense and when it comes to our health. Apart from my children, who are my greatest joy and for whom I am eternally grateful, I find myself most often being grateful for the people I meet everyday through my work as a minister. People often thank me for listening to them. Often I don’t think people realize how much them sharing their experiences with me means for me. I feel truly blessed! To my few things are as rewarding as listening to people talking about their life experiences or their ideas about life. Sometimes I can’t believe I get paid for doing this!
Another thing that fills me with gratitude is all the wonderful people I meet through my work as an English-speaking minister in the Cathedral. Not only is it often the best part of my week to meet them on Sundays, but I am also extremely grateful for their help and their commitment to our little congregation. Without them leading the Holy Communion Service would be much harder and there wouldn’t be any coffee after our Services and no Sunday school. So this week I want to say a big THANK YOU to everybody who helps out in different ways. And most of all – THANK YOU for being who you are and for sharing that with me!
Last spring an international student from France talked with me about having an ecumenical Taizé meeting here in Lund. She had been in Taizé several times and used to attend services in the spirit of Taizé here in Lund. Herself a Catholic, she found it odd that the people who participated in the two different Services (there is one in the Catholic Church and one in the Cathedral) never met. She used to go to both services. So, she approached me and Brother Björn, who works with Domino – the Catholic student group, with the idea to have a Taizé meeting where everybody met. Last fall we had the first one in St Thomas Catholic Church. For me it was one of the highlights of last fall. There was about 50 people present from different backgrounds and different nationalities. We worshiped together, shared a meal and talked our life and our faith in God. It was a truly great experience. The 16th of March between 3.30 in the afternoon and 9.30 in the evening we will have a second Taizé meeting in Lund Cathedral. This time we are also joined by the Pentecostal Church here in Lund. If you have never attended a Taizé meeting before this is a great opportunity. I can really recommend it. There is more information on Facebook – Taizé day in Lund.
Starting on Sunday we will try to make our Holy Communion Service more welcoming for children. We know that there are parents who want to bring their children, but hesitate to do so because we up until now hadn’t done anything special for the children. So starting Sunday we will start to make an effort. We will begin with some simple material to talk about and for the children to color in. With time we plan to expand things with more material and activates. This will be an ongoing process during spring. Very soon there will also be a special table for children at Domkyrkoforum for children where they can “fika” and play with different toys while their parents drink coffee. We have a group of volunteers working with this project. Most of us are ourselves parents and would like for are children to feel more at home in church – maybe you would like to help out? Our goal is to have a fully functional Sunday school up and running before summer. Also -as I have written before on Facebook – there will two baptisms in our Services during spring – a true blessing!. As Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”.
Tonight there is going to be fireworks over Lund. Three Universities are going to compete trying to determine who can put on the best firework show. If you are interested it all starts at 6 pm at AF-borgen. From a Christian point of view the fireworks can be seen as part of the carnival season leading up to Ash Wednesday this coming week. Now is the time to party! Saying farwell to meat (the word Carnival means exactly that) and other earthly pleasures. A very Swedish tradition is to stuff yourself with “fastlagsbullar”, or as they incorrectly say up I Stockholm “Semlor”, this coming Tuesday – Fettisdagen. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent – a period of 40 days leading up to Easter (40 days because one doesn’t count Sundays – resurrection day – which always a day of celebration). It is not all that common to observe Lent these days. I myself have however found it helpful to mark this time in some way. It can be done in lots of different ways. Of course you can do it in the traditional way by fasting, but there are also other ways. Abstaining from treats like candy or cakes. Taking time out from Facebook or staying away from TV. You can also do things you don’t usually do – spending more time reading the Bible, volunteering for different causes. Lent is time for reflection and preparation leading up to the events of Easter. Next week is also Valentine’s day. From Wikipedia we learn that: St. Valentine was a priest near Rome in about the year 270 A.D, a time when the church was enduring great persecution. His ministry was to help the Christians to escape this persecution, and to provide them the sacraments, such as marriage, which was outlawed by the Roman Emperor. He was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed. Before his execution, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing Julia, the blind daughter of his jailer Asterius. The jailer’s daughter and his forty-four member household(family members and servants) came to believe in Jesus and were baptized. In addition to this, Saint Valentine is said to have performed clandestine Christian weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. The Roman Emperor Claudius II supposedly forbade this in order to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. According to legend, in order to “remind them of God’s love and to encourage them to remain faithful Christians,” Saint Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment, giving them to the soldiers and persecuted Christians, a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on Saint Valentine’s Day. There is an additional embellishment to The Golden Legend, which was added centuries later, and widely repeated. On the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he would have written the first “valentine” card himself, addressed to the daughter of his jailer Asterius, who was no longer blind, signing as “Your Valentine. This expression “From your Valentine” is still used to this day. Like so many other Christian days, Valentine’s day have been secularized. Maybe we as Christians should try to re-conquer it – turning it in to a day when we remind people of God’s love and to encourage them to remain faithful Christians! Please join us for Holy Communion Service in the Cathedral tomorrow at 5 pm.
When working as a minister these days you often work with marketing. To be heard in our day and age you have to know how to “market” your product. So if I want people to come to our Holy Communion Service and other activities I have to spend a lot of time getting people to know about them. In the beginning of every term I produce leaflets to hand out, print posters, visit different people to make sure they know about us, blog on our webpage and update Facebook. I also greet students at the General Information Meeting, organize a table at the General Information Market and guide international students in the Cathedral handing out information about our Holy Communion Service. Standing in front of 500 students I often know that less than 10% will listen to what I say. Still, I know from experience that what I have to say is regarded as very important information by some of the students. Reaching people with information about our Holy Communion Services is an important job, because every now and then people who come to our Services say that they have been looking and looking for months – not finding a place to worship until now. So I spend a lot of time trying to reach people with information. However I also know that the best way to spread information is the ancient way – by word of mouth. People telling friends and inviting them to join them – that is how Christianity grew from the beginning. I believe it is the best way even in our high-tech world. So please – help spread the word and bring a friend!
We all need prayer in our life. Sometimes we also need someone to pray for us or for someone close to us. Every year over 100 000 candles are lit in the Cathedral. Each candle represents a prayer or a person close to someone. During my 20 years as a minister the requests for intercession prayer have increased steadily. When I now work nights at the pastoral care hotline, people asking me to pray for them make up roughly 25% of the calls. Because of this, from now on there is going to be a possibility to write down prayer requests at every Holy Communion Service in English. We are going to put a table in the middle with a pen and paper and a box to put the requests in. The table is going to be there before, during and after the service. I’m also going to ask before we begin our intercession prayer if there are any prayer requests for the day. A third possibility will be our new e-mail address email@example.com. Using this address you can write to us asking us to pray for you of someone else. If you want the prayer included on Sunday you should write – please pray for this on Sunday. If you write a prayer request someone will pray for you. Would you like to belong to the group with the responsibility to pray? The Lord has given us all different gifts – maybe it is your gift to pray? If you would like to be part of our group of people who pray for others – please write an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While preparing for my next sermon I read up on the text about the Magis or Wise men that visited Jesus in Bethlehem. The story reads like a legend, but if you read up on it, most facts in it can be verified. There really were such a thing like Magis – they were priests in Persia. At the time the ancient world really was filled with rumors about a coming universal king – even Roman historians wrote about it. There could have been a star – several celestial phenomenons occurred around that time. Herod was indeed very suspicious and capable of murder – he had already murdered his wife and two of his own sons. The only thing that is hard to verify is that children were murdered in the town of Bethlehem. Outside the Bible there is no mention of a massacre taking place. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The same thing is happening in our day and age. Every day thousands of children die without newspapers writing about it. Children getting killed is most of the time not headline news. If there is nothing else going on newspapers might write a few line about children killed by car bombs in Syria or land mines in Afghanistan. Most deaths go unnoticed. The shooting in Newtown were 20 children got killed was an exception. Because the massacre took place in America we got to know the children’s names and see their photographs. Had the massacre occurred in Congo that simply wouldn’t have happened. Don’t get me wrong. The response to what happened in Newtown was extremely appropriate. Every time children die as a result of violence it should be reported all over the world! Their pictures should be shown on every front-page and on every news channel. It should be head line news every time because children are not supposed to be shot or killed in explosions. Every time it happens it is a tragedy that concerns everybody. It shouldn’t matter where it happened – but it does. Sadly, the children of Bethlehem are not alone.
Please join us for Holy Communion Service in the Cathedral at 5 pm on Christmas day. We will sing a lot since I will try to squeeze in as many familiar hymns and carols as I can. Christmas can be the best time of the year, but it can also be the worst time of the year if you feel lonely and are far from home. That’s why I encourage all of you to be extra hospitable this season. The best Christmas gift can be the gift of fellowship! Merry Christmas!