What Does it Mean to Follow Christ Today?
How do I follow “up”?
I spent four days at the Seminar in the SCM house at Haugtun, Norway at the Seminar on Ecumenical Student Work in Europe with the title “What does it mean to be a Christian today?” in the light of the Nordic midsummer. While letting the chilly brightness shine through my heart and mind, I was sharing thoughts and exchanging experience in community with Christian students. The venue was embraced by the wonderful, green mountains and looked like the imaginary house in the story of Hansel and Gretel, with the difference that the cakes and the chocolates were on the table instead of on the fence, and the hosts had much better ideas than the witch had, about filling the discussions with fire.
How a potato and laughter are breaking ice?
Through the usual, cheerful ice-breaking part of the seminar beginning I got know more than 40 names, from eleven countries, jumped in a sack, balanced a potatoes on a spoon, learned through team games about the perfect Norwegian lunch package: three cheese-slices with marmalade between cracker bread – enough to share with friends.
For me the ice – that was not that thick at all, or definitely thinner than the pullovers we were wearing – was really broken and turned into a comfortable “swimming temperature” as the preparations for the Scandinavian cultural night started. As I love flowers I recovered my forgotten talent of making flower crowns for the midsummer evening. With the crowns on my head I found myself later singing a Swedish children song about frogs, while jumping left and right standing on one leg in the circle: our laughter filled the gaps of differences between us.
Learn, understand and change!
The plenary session made a place for many new thoughts and ideas. We cleared first in a silent smiling agreement that first of all “love” is the best word to start the brainstorming list about the question “How do I follow Christ today?” We discussed what kind of actions can we take and how this attitude influences our lives, from the suggestion “Take the train!” – meaning by that, being environmental friendly – all the way to practicing solidarity.
In the Bible study section we had a fascinating discussion on the story of Jesus and the Canaanite women, about the ignorant face of Jesus and the purpose of his behaviour, ignorance about asking a women in need, who belongs to another religion, might mean. At the drama workshop we formed in our group a trustful atmosphere, where there was a place for improvisation, jokes and for experiencing our boundaries.
Tastes of diversity
These experiences enriched and opened new dimensions for conversation, where we could continue the discussions at the lunch table meanwhile getting know the tastes of Norway between the two extremes: the sweet brown cheese and salty black candy. Other tastes are lasting for a long time in my memory too, the tastes of the cultural evenings: A piece of hearty chocolate brought by the girls with the most smiles at the conference from Lithuania, a great dinner made by the funny and enthusiastic Palestinian students, a sip of Georgian wine – as small and tasty cultural ambassadors gave a chance to get know the passion and get an impression of the countries.
For me sharing food and praying together are the most important elements to celebrate my spirituality. We ate together and we prayed together every day; held worship in different denominations. The sacred meanings behind the unknown Arabic, Georgian and Lithuanian liturgy filled the room with the sense that is higher than understanding. Moments I will always remember: when the words transferred faith and resonated in beautiful languages with my soul.
On the path of solidarity and service
The gender and sexuality workshop about tolerance by panel discussion and situation exercises made it clear how we perceive gender in everyday life and what stereotypes and meanings the words we use have. The presentation of the project “LGBT <3 Religion” helped me to understand the ambivalent meanings and hierarchical structure that is covered by the sentence “I tolerate you”. This session made me want to change my vocabulary on the question of the diversity of sexual orientation.
The essential and practical value of the seminar program was to get know, through the Youth in Action program, examples for service. Probably the most concrete and encouraging part about activism was the presentation on the cooperation between the Palestinian SCM and the Norwegian SCM. The humbling personal experiences, which were told, how Palestinian Christians live day by day in danger and repression underlined the importance of the possibilities for peacemaking that is had through ecumenical cooperation. By sharing best practices and getting know other student movements and fundraising methods I took home my folder full of notes, contacts and ideas waiting to discuss them within my movement.
As the conference was over and we hugged each other at the airport, I realized, that the biggest challenge of the conference had not even began yet: namely, to find and integrate the symbolic path behind me – and go on it back in my life, after being in community in Haugtun with my sisters and brothers in faith.
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