Tag Archives | Switzerland

“Translation services” on Easter

 

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Last night a church member called to ask if we would be offering “translation services” to Arabic or Kurdish speaking people on Easter morning. She is tutoring refugee women in her village, and a half dozen or more are apparently interested in coming to Zürich for worship.

She asked the question so casually, like wondering if perhaps we would be receiving an offering on Easter this year. (yes)

But translation services?

I serve a startlingly multicultural church. On any given Sunday more than two dozen nationalities will be in attendance. Most people are English speaking, which is how we advertise ourselves to the Zürich area, but a few members are still very much in the learning stages of the language (as I am, unfortunately, with German).

Misunderstandings due to language are frequent, though mostly minor, and sometimes humorous. Still, getting along is hard work. It is in any church, of course, but it is even more so in a multicultural church. Leading (or even being a member of) a multicultural church is not for the person whose ego is easily bruised.

I should mention that we are decidedly low tech in our worship, at least on Sunday mornings. Morning worship is held in an old Swiss church, practically ancient by U.S. standards. The church has no screens or projection equipment. We consider it a good Sunday when my wireless microphone works.

Translation services (with headsets and translators offering simultaneous translation of worship) have not been discussed, as far as I know, but in the research for my new book I discovered that multicultural churches around the world often provide a list of “available languages” in their advertising. Do you prefer Mandarin? Or Pashtu? No problem.

My church is not there yet, but I recognize that the day is coming, sooner rather than later. My church may seem like an exception, and in some ways it is, but our experience is about to become the norm, even in countries like the U.S. where worshipping congregations are still stubbornly segregated along racial and ethnic lines.

I found all of this very exciting and quickly found a young woman from Lebanon who is fluent in Arabic (and in 2-3 other languages) and who agreed to translate for the refugee women on Easter morning. And then, still excited, I phoned a friend in the U.S. to tell the story.

His comment was discouraging: “Will they be wearing burqas?”

I had not thought to ask what these young women would be wearing, and to be honest I don’t care. My worry now, and with me there is always a worry, is how to present the message in a way that will communicate the good news of Easter.

It’s hard enough to get it right without all of the cultural diversity.

(Note: A reliable source, who prefers that I not use her name, but who is really well informed about these things, has leaked to me that my book is headed to the printer and will be available shortly. I’m excited about that too.)

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My first Christmas sermon

I was 24 years old when I preached my first Christmas morning sermon. I was not the congregation’s first choice, but they had few options.

Between my second and third years of seminary, I took some time to get married and to test drive this thing called ministry. I became what was called then a “student pastor” in a university town in Iowa, where I hoped to learn the ropes from a seasoned pastor.

That seasoned pastor took one look at me and decided to pursue a call to a church in Colorado which, according to his tearful congregation in Iowa, would be a whole lot closer to the ski slopes which he loved. That left me as the best – and perhaps the only – choice for Christmas morning 1977.

With my shoulder-length hair, aviator glasses, and an ill-fitting, three-piece corduroy suit, I must have been quite a sight, standing at the front of that church. Photos from the era confirm that I was tall, disturbingly skinny, and not exactly a charismatic presence in the pulpit.

It was my first Christmas away from home, and it was to be the first of nearly 40 – and still counting – Christmases away from home.

I hope I had the good sense to throw away that first Christmas sermon, but more than likely it is in a box in a damp basement, along with a lot of other old sermons, waiting to be recycled.

The sermon I preached that Christmas morning nearly 40 years ago was titled “The Gleam That is Christmas,” and my main point, rooted nowhere in the biblical text, was that we should be childlike in our approach to the Christmas story. It was best, I remember saying, to read the story and sing the carols and lose ourselves in the wonder and mystery of it all. My congregation was probably relieved that I did not plan to make my sermon the main point of worship that day.

Looking back, I was probably grieving the loss of my own childhood and trying my best to hold on to some part of it, especially the childlike wonder and mystery of it all.

I will be preaching the Christmas morning sermon once again this year – in Zurich, Switzerland, of all places – and I already know what I am going to say. My sermon will be, as I hope all of my sermons over the years have been, something about Jesus. I am glad he was born.

(Photo: That’s my backyard in Holland, Michigan.)

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The annual Christmas letter

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Dear family and friends,

I just googled “annual Christmas letter” for some good ideas about what to write this year and – I am not making this up – two of my most recent Christmas letters appeared on the first page of search results.

So, obviously, no help there, but my blog is getting good SEO (search engine optimization).

For those of you who are wondering, Susan and I are still living in Switzerland. Our third anniversary is almost here, and we are finally beginning to adapt and fit in and find our rhythm in this strange country.

“Strange” may not seem like the right adjective to use for one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but if you’re new and don’t speak the language and don’t know the metric system, starting up here can be quite a challenge. It was for us, and it is for most newcomers. Now, though, as veterans of the expat life, we sometimes give advice of questionable value to other newcomers, exactly what others so generously did for us.

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Every season is a beautiful season for Switzerland, but Christmas time, as you can imagine, is especially wonderful. The Christmas lights are nice, of course, as are the Christmas markets, which seem to spring up in every empty space in the city. And though it’s hard to believe that anyone buys the junk they sell at these markets, sorry, I do like the smell of Glühwein and Raclette and other delicacies of the season as I walk through.

The hard part of winter – and this is as true in the U.S. as it is in Switzerland – starts in January when the Christmas lights come down and the markets are put away for another year. March and April can’t come soon enough. At least in this country you can drive 10 minutes and be on one of the best ski slopes in the world.

In case you’re wondering, I have not yet tried downhill skiing. On the other hand, my bones and joints appear to be intact, and I plan to do my best to keep them that way. Snowshoeing will have to be the extent of my winter sports.

Many of you have been asking me about my progress with language learning – okay, the truth is that not a single person so far has shown the least bit of interest – so I wanted to let you know anyway that I am making the big leap this month from A2 to B1. And if that sounds impressive, it isn’t. Let me just say that no one will EVER mistake me for a native German speaker, the level known as C2.

I spent much of my study leave in Berlin last summer at the Goethe Institut, where they seem to speak an entirely different language from the one I hear on the streets here each day, because it is, in fact, an entirely different language. Everyone here prefers to speak Züridüütsch, and that’s not even one of the four official languages of Switzerland (which, for trivia enthusiasts, are German, French, Italian, and Romansh). I can get by with my beginners’ German in restaurants and most stores, and I can even call to make a haircut appointment (Guten Tag! Ich würde gerne einen Termin machen … am Freitag?), but even after three years of study I am quickly lost in most conversations.

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Susan is keeping herself busy not with language learning, but with reading, painting, traveling, being a grandmother, and tending to our vast real estate holdings in the U.S. And by vast real estate holdings I mean, of course, our summer cottage in Holland, Michigan. But keeping track of a property on another continent requires a surprising amount of effort, as we have discovered. I am always pleased – and a bit surprised – to drive up and see the house still standing where I left it.

Last year’s travels took Susan to London, Amsterdam, and the Alsace region in France, and this year found her traveling (without me) to Tuscany, Barcelona, and Hanoi. Tuscany and Barcelona are easier to explain than Hanoi. Tuscany and Barcelona were for pleasure, and Hanoi was church and mission related. Ask her sometime about sightseeing in Hanoi on the back of a motorcycle.

Since we’re not going to the U.S. for Christmas this year, we’re headed to London after Christmas morning worship for a few days of sightseeing and theater. Unfortunately, Hamilton hasn’t made its way to the London stage, though we both recommend the biography on which the musical was apparently based.

Our kids seem to be doing well, for which we are more grateful than you can imagine. We talk regularly via FaceTime, though not often enough for me. We spent a wonderful week together at the family compound in Edgewood Beach last summer, enjoyed all of our favorite foods, and went to all of our favorite Holland restaurants, including Boatwerks, the Windmill, and of course (my favorite) de Boer Bakkerij. Who says Dutch cuisine is nothing special? And on the lake we used for the first time an enormous raft which was the talk of the beach association (we had to use a leaf blower to inflate the thing). Those memories, and of course time with our grand-daughter, will keep me going until next August.

My new book now has a publication date. I wish it could be ready for Christmas giving this year, but unfortunately it won’t be available until next June. The working title – Journey into the Multicultural Church – seems like a mouthful. Am still at work on a brilliant one- or two-word alternative. Suggestions welcome.

We have the birth of a baby on our minds right about now – two of them, actually – one in Bethlehem (the Savior of the world) and the other in Minneapolis (our second grandchild, a boy). It’s surprising in a way how excited we can get over the birth of a baby. After all, it’s something that happens every day and has been happening every day for a few thousand years. But there is something about the birth of a baby – “for to you a son is given,” Isaiah said – that is indescribably good. I think God knew that something so ordinary and so prosaic could create quite a lot of joy and hope, the most I have ever felt about anything in my life. A baby is born, and then, well, life is never quite the same again.

May the joy and hope of this season fill your lives as well.

Love,

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Photos: 1) Windmill Island in Holland, Michigan, where we went for a family wedding in August; 2) the view of Lake Lugano from the Art Deco Dellago Hotel one morning recently; and 3) our 22 year old Volvo died, after taking us through much of Western Europe, and we replaced it with the older but still charming (like me!) Opel shown here. All shot with an iPhone, not my fancy new camera.

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I still think Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday

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In this country, unfortunately, today is a work day like any other.

I live in a small village near Zürich, Switzerland, with my wife and dog, and on Thursday morning I will be getting on the train, as I do every morning, and will be heading to my office.

The train will be filled, as it is every morning, except Sunday, and so I will stand for the twelve or so minutes that it takes to reach Stadelhofen station, which is a short walk from my office. I will read the tabloid-sized newspaper, 20 Minuten, which is available free on the train platform, or I will listen to German-language podcasts on my iPod. Either way, it is a pleasant enough ride, and I enjoy it.

There’s no need to feel sorry for me for missing Thanksgiving in the U.S. this year. I live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and it is especially beautiful at this time of year, with Christmas lights and markets and something called Glühwein (look it up). Every day from the windows of my top-floor flat I can see Lake Zürich below and the snow-covered mountains beyond. Some days, when I am tempted to take that view for granted, I have to remind myself that living here has been for me a dream come true.

So, am I thankful this year? You bet I am. I am thankful for being able to live here, I am thankful for meaningful and challenging work to do, work I believe in and feel passionate about, and I am thankful for the people with whom I get to do this work.

Beyond that, I am thankful for my family. I look forward to talking with a few of them later today through the technological miracle known as FaceTime (thank you, Apple). And I will study the faces of my daughters, and they will pretend not to notice if I cry when I see them. They are both married and live too far away, but we talk regularly, share photos about our lives on Instagram, and commiserate about election results. I love them more than I can say.

I will also be seeing my three-year-old grand-daughter, via Facetime, and if she’s in the mood, she will sing me a song – maybe “Jesus Loves Me” (which she is learning in the Cherub Choir at her church). I love her too, more than I can say.

And then there is the grandson, who will make his debut into the world early in the new year. I am thankful for him already. (No, the truth is, I am coming out of my skin with excitement.)

I have people in my life who love me and care for me and keep me honest. I am especially thankful this year that we were all in agreement about the election and who should win.

Is there more? Yes, too much to include here, though I will mention my health because older people tend to do that. And you should know that I am thankful for my faith too. I don’t see how I could have made it through the last year without it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! It’s a good holiday, whether you’re a U.S. passport holder or not. It’s a good idea to start the day by remembering what there is to be thankful for.

(Photo: On Thursday night at 6:00 the Christmas lights on Bahnhofstrasse – called “Lucy” for some reason – are switched on, and that’s pretty cool.)

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A day in the life of an international church

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Serving an international church is endlessly interesting.

I really wish I had started at the beginning to list and catalog all of the many curious, fascinating, and sometimes disturbing events in the life of a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-national congregation. With more than two dozen nationalities in worship on any given Sunday, a great deal can happen, often memorable.

Like what happened yesterday.

Some newcomers – we have a lot, which is nice – arrived at the church for worship and noticed that there was a “coffee hour” taking place on the patio in front of the church.

Odd, they thought, that the “coffee hour” would be taking place before church, so being curious or eager to fit in or whatever it was, they approached – only to discover that everyone was speaking French and drinking wine. Even odder – to them – was the fact that worship seemed to be starting inside. They could hear the organ playing, and they could hear people singing. So, what were all of these people doing outside and drinking – at mid-day for heaven’s sake?

At that point, the newcomers did what seemed to them to be the right and decent thing to do. They found someone with a name tag and complained.

They found it “just plain rude,” they said, that everyone was speaking French, and they found it “most unusual” – a slightly judgmental use of those words – that people would stand around and drink wine before Sunday morning worship.

They did not have to supply the question, “What kind of a church is this?”

The person with the name tag turned out to be our “safety officer” for the day, and he patiently explained that the French people out on the patio were most likely members of the French Reformed Church. It was their building, after all, he said. The English-speaking congregation rents the space from them. And, he added, the French speakers were allowed to do pretty much whatever they wanted on their patio, as long as the English speakers were allowed to enter the church by 11:00.

Can you imagine the conversation that these newcomers had later in the day?

(Photo: That’s the front of the French Church where all of the rude behavior takes place.)

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I used to play with guns

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The funny thing is, I used to play with guns.

They were toy guns, of course, but guns nevertheless. Playing “army” was my favorite thing. I remember adding the sound track for all of our battles, making noises resembling explosions or machine gun fire (my specialty). I seem to have had a vivid imagination for fighting, killing, and war.

And I have no idea why.

My parents never bought me a gun, not even a BB gun, and there were never guns around the house, except for my toy guns. My father, a World War II veteran, was not a hunter and showed no interest in weapons of any kind, and so he never taught me to shoot or thought it was his duty as a father to do so. He seemed more interested in teaching me how to throw a curveball.

But for some reason, when I was younger, I nevertheless had a fascination with guns.

I find this funny, I suppose, because I grew up to be a decidedly non-confrontational sort of person. I did play high school football, if that counts for anything, and I enjoyed the contact and the tackling, especially what my coaches liked to call “hard tackles.” And even today when I am threatened, I can easily assert myself, but the truth is that I have been more or less a pacifist. I feel somewhat odd writing those words, but most people, I have found, are content knowing that their pastor has a preference for peace not war.

I write all of this to say, I have no idea anymore what to think about the gun situation in the U.S., except that I find it deeply disturbing. With every mass shooting (the recent one in Orlando, the largest one in U.S. history, was the 133rd of the year, according to my reading), I find myself even more troubled and confused. Is it really such an important matter of personal liberty that anyone – even someone the FBI has interviewed twice for possibly radical views and violent behavior – should be able to purchase a weapon, even an AR-15 assault rifle?

As I type that question, I can think of several friends who will have their responses ready. So, before you write, you should know that I am familiar with all of the arguments. In fact, most people who follow the news know the arguments on both sides.

On one side, for example, there is Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, warning that “jack-booted government thugs” might come one day to take away the guns of decent, law-abiding citizens. This might be described as the fear of an authoritarian government.

On the other side, there is Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, a former congresswoman from New Mexico, who was shot in the head at a campaign rally in 2011, along with 12 other people, including a nine year old child and a federal judge who were both killed in the shooting. Giffords now understandably urges legislation to keep “guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill.”

Maybe for obvious reasons these positions have been impossible to reconcile.

In keeping with the Swiss theme of my blog, I should mention that I have seen several Internet memes recently about the relatively high rate of gun ownership in Switzerland and the low rate of mass shootings here. The argument is that there is little correlation between gun ownership and mass shootings. However, the real story, which doesn’t fit a typical Facebook post, is a bit more complicated.

Switzerland does indeed have a high rate of gun ownership, one of the highest in the world, and though mass shootings occur, they are rare. But there is a high rate of gun ownership mainly because the vast majority of men in Switzerland are conscripted into military service and receive military training, including weapons training. Their personal weapons may be kept at home, but – and this is a fact not often reported – it is generally not permitted to keep army-issued ammunition at home. Further, there is in this country a blanket ban on automatic weapons.

To me the two situations – the U.S. and Switzerland – are not really comparable. A better example, to my mind, might be Australia, which has dramatically reduced gun violence and mass shootings through legislation. But this argument, I know, does little to persuade. Our minds on both sides are already made up.

I am weary at this point and don’t know what more to say, except this: I find it inconceivable that a follower of Jesus Christ, one who reads the gospels and attempts to apply the teachings found there, could support the situation as it exists.

(Photo: That’s the AR-15 … “effective and affordable.”)

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The restroom situation around the world

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The good news of course is that I live in a country without restroom wars.

No local governments here in Switzerland, as far as I know, are getting ready to pass laws about who can use which restroom and, believe me, I’ve been scanning the headlines each night in my Blick am Abend just to be sure.

Back in the U.S., which never ceases to amuse (and horrify) my Swiss neighbors, people are apparently getting all hot and bothered about people in restrooms who, in the opinion of some, shouldn’t be there.

Most of the people who are freaking out, I’m guessing, have never been been to a W.C. in Europe, where female attendants in men’s restrooms are fairly common. You’ll be minding your own business one day, and suddenly a woman will be sweeping under your feet. It’s distracting at first, sure, but you get used to it. Now I hardly notice.

Frankly, if you want to be traumatized by restrooms, you should travel more, not only in Europe, but in other countries as well.

Squat toilets – sometimes called “Turkish toilets” – are the norm in much of the world, not just in Turkey. (Some Swiss like to call these toilets “French toilets,” but I think that has something to do with not liking the French.) What you get are porcelain treads and a hole in the floor about four inches wide. I was puzzled when I saw my first one, I studied it carefully, and then I thought, well, when in Peru, which is where I happened to be, do as the Peruvians do. I was proud of my first attempt.

Less traumatizing, but no less annoying, is having to pay to go. A tip dish by the door? Really? And then, to add insult to injury, the attendants themselves are often incredibly rude, though I suppose I would be rude too if I had to work there day after day.

I might as well go all the way with this post and make a comment about the toilet paper. If you visit me, or travel anywhere in the world, you might want to take your own. You’ll be glad you did, especially where none is offered, and I’ll leave my comment at that. But seriously, if you visit me and leave a roll or two of the good stuff, I will be very grateful.

Look, I could go on. There’s a lot to write about, as you can imagine. I have spent a lot of time in restrooms around the world and have taken a special interest in the topic. But this is probably as much as you wanted to know. Frankly, I now know as much about the restroom situation in the U.S. as I ever wanted to know, and I wish state legislators would turn their attention to a few other subjects which – I apologize for this – have a greater sense of urgency.

Until next time. Tschüss!

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A personal update

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Dear readers,

Instead of the usual post about my latest (and impressive) spiritual insight, or my latest gripe about presidential politics in the U.S., I thought you might enjoy a more personal update:

My next book

It now appears that the publication date of my new book has been pushed back to Spring 2017. I am disappointed, of course, more than you know, but maybe the silver lining here is that interest in my topic – becoming a multicultural church – is growing. Here’s a link to an interesting New York Times article about the subject.

Language learning

I continue to learn grammar and add lots of vocabulary at my village language school, but my German speaking skills are nicht so gut. Schrecklich, to be honest. So, I’m going to do what I probably should have done at the start – namely, attend an immersion class. I’m going to use my study leave this year to attend a Goethe Institut summer intensive in Berlin. I will even be living with a German family while I’m there, enjoying Frühstück with them every morning before class. Sadly, even after attending this class, I won’t have any idea what my Swiss German friends are talking about, since they prefer not to speak Standarddeutsch, the language I am determined to master.

Church Life

My congregation voted in January to extend my contract, a gifted new associate pastor will begin work next month, there are gratifying signs of life and growth, and so I find myself excited about staying in Switzerland a while longer. I occasionally worried about being on autopilot at this stage of my ministry, not being sufficiently challenged, but that worry (like most of my worries over the years) can now be set aside. I find myself fully engaged with the complexity and excitement of ministry in this wonderful multicultural context. All (or almost all) brain cells are engaged!

The Blog

Google Analytics continues to provide me with information about you, my dear readers, and I have no idea what to do with most of it. Here’s an example that you might find interesting. My readers over the last month came from the following cities (in order):

  1. Zürich CH
  2. Wheaton, Illinois
  3. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  4. Ann Arbor, Michigan
  5. Grand Rapids, Michigan
  6. Batavia, Illinois
  7. Chicago, Illinois
  8. New York, New York
  9. London UK
  10. Plantation, Florida

And here are a few honorable mentions:

  1. New Delhi, 34. Paris, 44. Sydney (Australia)

and interestingly

  1. Rio de Janeiro (with three page views!)

Thank you for reading my blog, thank you for your thoughtful comments (on the blog itself and on Facebook), and thank you for encouraging me to do what I like to do – namely, write about faith and life.

Love, Doug

(Photo: That’s me in the reflection, wearing a University of Michigan cap and modeling quite a good photographer’s stance. You can’t teach something like that. It’s a gift. )

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It is spring. The jogger is spitting insects.

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What do I write about today? My ongoing disgust with Donald Trump – or the progress I am making with learning German?

Writing about Trump – again – is more tempting than you know, because my last post, which was about him, received a few hundred page views in the first hour. That’s above average for my blog, and – well – yelling and screaming about stuff I don’t like always draws attention. Like most children, I learned that much in the crib.

But I read something reassuring this morning – namely, that while Trump tends to draw a plurality of Republican voters in the primary elections, his overall appeal is relatively low and not enough to win in November. Among women, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and many other racial-ethnic groups, his popularity is quite low. Maybe now I can sleep better.

So, on to the more pressing issue in my life right now, which is learning to speak a new language.

For my North American readers, I should point out that German is one of four national languages in Switzerland. French, Italian, and Romansch are the others. What’s interesting about this – in addition to living in a country with not one, not two, but four national languages – is that most people I know prefer not to speak the language I am learning – namely, high German (Hochdeutsch). They prefer to speak English or Swiss German (especially Züridüütsch), neither one of which is a national language.

When, for example, I am on a train and listening to a rather animated conversation behind me (strictly for the purpose of language learning, I assure you), I expect to understand a little of what I am hearing. But no, most of the time I have no idea what is being said. And not because my German is so poor – it’s not great – but because these people are not speaking anything close to the language I am trying my best to learn, but a language they insist is not merely a dialect, but something better and more beautiful. (I respectfully disagree.)

Most people around me on the train, in the hair salon, and at the market, are not speaking the language I am required to learn for my work permit. When I respond in high German, they smile (as though learning that I have a serious illness), and they know immediately that I am ein Fremder, a foreigner.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that I am making progress. That’s what my teacher, Frau Zopfi, writes on my report card. I even pick up the evening newspaper for the train ride home – Blick am Abend – and can make sense of most articles. My favorite item yesterday was the Tweet des Tages (tweet of the day): Es ist Frühling. Die Jogger spucken Insekten aus.

It is spring. The jogger is spitting insects.

(Photo: For those new to German, that means “welcome, please come in.” Just trying to be helpful!)

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Under the Meilener Sun

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“Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.”

Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

As you read this, I hope you are imagining me right now in my quaint Swiss chalet, situated charmingly on the side of a mountain, with cowbells faintly audible and towering Swiss peaks visible in the distance. I have just returned, of course, from walking my dog along a winding dirt path and breathing deeply of fresh mountain air. Along the way, I waved to my neighbors, Urs and Jürg, who may come over later to enjoy a hearty lager and soulful conversation by the crackling fire.

I don’t know how to break this news to you, faithful readers, but that is not where I live and that is most certainly not my life. I’m not even sure that place exists – outside my fantasy life which, I confess, has been really, really active over the years.

I would read books like Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun and Peter Mayles’ A Year in Provence, and then I would imagine myself moving to a place like that, and in my imagination I would meet charming, slightly eccentric people who loved life in tiny villages, and I would renovate an old farmhouse (never mind that I can’t change a light bulb without checking a YouTube video first to find out how it’s done), and I would master a new language, and I would discover the meaning of life – or at least important truths about life that were somehow inaccessible to me in my humdrum, American suburban life.

None of this has happened. I did not move to Tuscany or Provence, it’s true, but I did move to Switzerland, which has all of the charm of those other two places (and much more besides). I have not (so far) renovated an old farmhouse and do not see that happening any time soon (unless the movie rights to my new book bring in a tidy sum, and then I will probably hire someone who knows what to do with a hammer).

I have met wonderful people here, also true, but they are not always charming, and they are sometimes more than just a little eccentric. A better word might be “irritating.” Not all the time, certainly, but often enough. For heaven’s sake, they are human beings, and I knew plenty of them where I came from.

And as for the language, I have two comments to make. The first is that there is nothing all that romantic about speaking Swiss German. To be honest, it frightens me to hear it spoken. And the second is that learning a language is hard work. After two years of study I am still far from fluent. In fact, people usually laugh when I work up the courage to say something in German.

I think this idea that moving someplace new to discover the meaning of life is … well, a sham, a fraud. Book publishers and movie producers like the idea, of course, but mostly because people like me buy the books and watch the movies. Eat, Pray, Love, anyone?

I can truthfully say that there is no secret to life that cannot be found closer to home.

Francis Mayes writes well about her experience, but she is wrong. And not just wrong, she is dangerous. She could have stayed home to find out what she needed to know. And lots of other people who have set off for exotic-sounding places could have stayed home too. They could have saved themselves from a lot of headaches (and heartaches).

If discovering the meaning of life is what you want to do, I recommend that you stay where you are, even if it’s a crummy little town, find a comfortable place, close your eyes, and then wait for the voice that will eventually come to you. It’s the voice of God, and don’t ask me how I know. Everyone else who has heard it over the centuries has also recognized it immediately. And there have been large numbers of women and men who have heard the same voice I have.

And then of course listen to it, really listen, as you have never listened before, as if your life depended on it.

The voice sounds pretty much the same whether you are in Tuscany or Provence or my little village of Meilen, which is twelve minutes by train from Zürich. I get up early, while it is still dark outside, and I sit in my living room, always the same place, and listen, knowing that I could be anywhere in the world at that particular moment. It doesn’t matter. Because the voice I am listening for speaks to me of truths deeper than charming village life or mountain views. The voice I am listening for speaks to me of truths worth knowing, truths that are worthy of me. The voice I am listening for asks me how I’m doing, how my week has been, and how I plan to live my life for the people around me. The voice I am listening for tells me that I am loved with a love that is beyond description.

If adventure is what you seek, it’s closer than you know.

(Note: I’ve been away – for a few days in Israel and then for a few days in the U.S. Lots of travel seems to mean less blogging. But we’re coming up on the holiest week of the year for Christians, and I should have something to say about that. Plus, there’s the presidential election in the U.S. Thanks for being patient. Please stay tuned.)

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