Tag Archives | Switzerland

Getting to a more diverse church

(At the invitation of NEXT Church, a network of Presbyterian leaders in the U.S., I wrote something about becoming a more diverse church, a subject to which I have given considerable thought. You can find the original here at the NEXT Church website.)

I’m no longer sure what got into me, but at the ripe old age of 59, after serving mostly white and mostly suburban congregations over the course of more than 30 years of ministry, I accepted the call to become pastor of the International Protestant Church of Zürich (Switzerland).

On my first Sunday at my new church, I looked out at one of the most racially and ethnically diverse congregations in the world. On any given Sunday, more than two dozen nationalities are present in worship at my church, every skin tone God ever imagined. There are also more language groups than I have dared to count. Continue Reading →

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“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. Continue Reading →

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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. Continue Reading →

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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. Continue Reading →

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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. Continue Reading →

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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. Continue Reading →

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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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