By POUL BERTELSEN
Initially the topic seemed like an easy subject, but I have had to change my mind. For it presently is a challenging topic for a Dane trying to live egalitarian values in the USA. Thus note the following slide of a T-Shirt, which Susanna bought in Denmark, and which says it all.
Both Denmark and USA are established democracies, but still difficult to compare. For Denmark is very old and the USA is just getting close to being 250 years young. Also notable, I am not an immigrant to the USA, but instead a resident alien.
I came to the USA to start MSAADA [a non-profit architectural firm] and to follow my wife’s wish to live in her country. That seemed natural, as I was expecting to travel a lot, as has also been the case. Rather challenging, though, is to live out Danish egalitarian values in the USA, as I have learned.
Much easier to follow Hans Christian Andersen’s statement of “to travel is to live.” But, I continue to believe my living and traveling should be based on the values I got as a kid in Denmark.
I have often stated (maybe arrogantly) that Danish Americans live a fantasy. So much has changed in Denmark since your ancestors left the country. And today many young Danes tell me that I have a romantic idea of what Denmark was. Maybe I am now the one getting behind with the many changes in Denmark recently. Further, I see most Danish Americans as naturally being more American than Danish. It was a strange experience years ago, when we saw the film “Der er et yndigt land.” Good, though, to be with so many Danish Americans in a Folk Meeting focusing on what N.F. S. Grundtvig taught related also to present day Danish values.
I thought that such a similar situation realistically might even be somehow difficult to find in today’s Denmark. But, I then saw an article regarding Folk High Schools in Denmark now. It suggested a need for “more Grundtvig” in their courses. The article also suggested need for a new “Grundtvig’s vaekkelse” in Denmark. I assume, though, more like an awakening in English than a revival. Also, there are questionable changes today not only in Denmark, but also in the other Scandinavian countries, and in Finland and Iceland.
However, what the social democratic parties created in Scandinavia in the mid-20th Century seems still to be an ideal. The Nordic model is being emulated in the Developing World and now elsewhere. “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” by Michael Booth tells about why that may be. The author set out to destroy “the myth about the Scandinavian utopia.” But Booth concludes his book with stating how not many countries are as ideal and free of corruption as the Scandinavian (or Nordic) countries. And while many in the USA like to identify those countries as being Socialistic, the reality is more (as I see it) how that ideology has been successfully used to create a balance for capitalism.
Nordic countries usually take top spots yearly among “Happiest People in the World.” And those countries with less inequality still have some of the world’s highest average incomes. The financial inequality in the USA is something I never can or will be comfortable with. But it is also sad to realize great inequality (or disparities) in many Developing Countries.
I went to Africa with the idea that wealth should be better distributed in the World. That was also a goal of the first Tanzanian president (Julius Nyerere) with “ujamaa.”
Pure capitalism and pure socialism are in my opinion both rather limited systems. It seems, though, the USA model is most popular in the world today; it still needs adjustments. Thus, I hope those in USA today being called socialists will also use it to balance capitalism. Similar also to Grundtvig’s idea of a society where “faa har for meget og faerre for lidt.” [Few have too much and fewer have too little.]
African socialism in Tanzania promoted the same idea under Mwalimu Nyerere’s leadership. But, today the situation is different in Tanzania as developed under later presidents. When Nyerere died, it was indicated he was a great politician, but maybe also naïve. So, maybe I am also naïve, as I had a rather high living standard in my early adult years.
Considering that also, how did a rather well off young Dane become a missionary? And how did he end up in the USA, since he also was a product of the sixties in Denmark (which had a strong opinion against the Vietnam War)? That is a story in itself, but you can find it described more in my book “Design & Dignity,” which was published in 2012.
The Birth and Development of MSAADA Architects
In short, I ended up initially as a missionary builder in Nigeria for about a year. After 1½ years in Ohio, I realized Nigeria had started something I had not finished. It is also no secret, how in Ohio I did not know, whether I was indeed fit to live in the US.
Susanna and I then went to Tanzania for six years to serve the ELC-Tanzania sent by the DMS. Those were maybe my best years, and further Susanna’s and where our first two children were born. Tanzania also resulted in the idea to afterwards start MSAADA Architects and to do so in Minnesota.
Getting a lower salary for something benevolent vs. earning a lot and giving a fraction away! MSAADA practices not having a big difference between the highest and lowest paid staff. Doing something meaningful and valuable for fellow humans should involve financial sacrifices. This has also been the practice in MSAADA so far, but it seems not possible any longer. So we have had to accept that the mighty dollar controls almost everything.
I had a situation during my first four years as an architect in Denmark where that was valid. When it comes to social welfare and justice, financial considerations should not control everything. Maybe having to deal with accepting the opposite in the USA more than anything what has made it complicated for me to live Danish values in the USA. In Nordic countries, public monetary investments are made so they benefit as many as possible. Although also questioned by many today in Denmark, I hope the Nordic model will survive. That was a model Grundtvig also prepared for in addition to his many other great contributions. You all know how those were for the Church as well as by initiating the Folk High School movement. The latter is now being emulated in the Developing world, which is most encouraging.
Also note USA & Denmark differences in government funding of projects in the Developing World. That is also something which indicates the different approach to many things in the USA and in Denmark and the other Nordic countries.
MSAADA has so far been blessed to see over 900 projects implemented in close to 40 countries mostly in the Developing World. Those projects have focused mainly on enhancing the lives of “the poorest of the poor,” with better facilities mostly for education, health care and worship.
They also have allowed a travel enthusiastic Dane to visit half the world’s countries. I started traveling around Denmark as a kid, and as a teenager started travel within Europe.
MSAADA Architects has been a non-profit company for four decades serving mostly the developing world. But, changes required now from 01.01.2020, are based on today’s economic reality in the world. Difficulties with the emphasis on “me”, myself and I” in the USA, compared to “we” in Denmark.
President Barack Obama used the term “we,” when he talked about what to accomplish. Obama’s approach combined with Danish values would also mean a better international role for the USA, as after WW II. In the seventies Jimmy Carter was a very popular president from the USA in e.g. Africa. That would then also replace USA as so often seeing itself as the best country in the World. There can be many “best countries,” as I have realized from living in four countries on three continents and visiting so many more.
I often want to live in different places at the same time. For I miss Denmark, as I also miss Tanzania after living there for six years and I enjoyed one semester of studies in the UK. Relate that to how USA is often referred to singularly as “God’s own country.” Some U.S. politicians who are most eager to call themselves Christians often act non-Christian. This is different in Europe, where politicians promote Christian values even as non-Christians.
In the USA I again see Jimmy Carter as the president who lived out his Christian values. Having more Danish values in the USA would also demand initially much stricter gun laws. I do not understand not having such laws because I do not understand the way freedom is viewed here. For while freedom is great, it also means freedom to be poor and to be forgotten. I thus also believe the USA should have a one-payer system for health care for all its citizens.
Having lived in many different countries has taught me much about tolerance, but also about how difficult it is to compare systems with very different backgrounds. That relates not only to different political systems, but also how Christianity is practiced. To me, for example, the Christian message cannot be creditable without social justice.
Christianity, though, has historically been interpreted differently and still is by so many who claim to be Christian believers. In Greece, Christianity became a philosophy, in Rome a form of government, in Europe a way of life and in the USA often a business.
Am I promoting not only Danish values, but also Christian and political values? That is difficult not to do, as I have not been able to vote for years in Denmark nor the USA. Today with a USA administration I am very uncomfortable with, it is hard indeed.
However, it continues to be an advantage to live in Minnesota, which is rather dominated by the Democratic Farmer Labor party. Also impressive is the influence of politicians as Humphrey, Mondale and Wellstone; also it is more acceptable to live in a liberal state with less religious fundamentalism.
But I still hope all of the USA might eventually practice more of the Nordic model. That should include opportunities for all, including recent and new immigrants and relate to other ideas promoted today, especially by some of the Democrats presently running for President.
A surprise article by a Greenlander suggested her country also has been Americanized. So, the US model has also reached Greenland, but mixed there with Danish social benefits. Trump’s voiced interest in the USA “buying Greenland” might, though, change the Greenlanders’ view of the USA.
I did not leave Denmark because I was dissatisfied, so Minnesota has proven to be a good choice in the USA. But, it took an invitation for me to speak here to finally get Susanna and me to Tyler for the Folk Meetings. Since then, Susanna and I have enjoyed the informative speakers and the fellowship here.
Morning Devotions – Folk Meeting Tyler - 8/24/19
By ANDRES ALBERTSEN
Thank you, dear God, for protecting us through the night from all harm and danger. Thank you for the night’s sleep, thank you for the night’s dreams, and thank you for this day, this brand-new, whole and unused day, that you have given us to live in happiness and hope and good company, with faith and trust in life, with curiosity and eyes opened to reality as it is. Thank you for all the people whose good work and dedication make it possible that we can enjoy these wonderful days of folk meeting in Tyler.
We thank you for the delicious food and we remember the hungry. We thank you for our good health and we remember the sick, especially those who are not with us this year because of health conditions. We thank you for friends and good company and we remember the friendless and the lonely, and the friends we met in Tyler who have passed away.
Help us remember how fortunate we are and that we should never take anything for granted. Keep refreshing, invigorating, and stirring us up, so that when we return home we can be even more active participants in our communities, committed to speaking the truth to others with love and compassion and willing to hear the truth from others. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
This summer a church presented me with the following challenge: I could choose the scripture readings that I wanted, but the sermon had to be based on a children’s story. Of course, I chose a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. His fairy tales are emblematic examples of children’s literature not just for children. I have also chosen an Andersen fairy tale for this morning’s devotions, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I assume that you know this story about two weavers who promise the emperor a new suit of clothes that will be invisible to those who are stupid or unfit for their positions. While they in reality do not make any clothes at all, they make everyone believe that the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new “clothes,” no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as stupid. But finally, there is somebody who unmasks the truth –– (spoiler alert!) –– a child who cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
Let us start with a reading from Mark 10:13-16: Some people brought their children to Jesus so that he could bless them by placing his hands on them. But his disciples told the people to stop bothering him. When Jesus saw this, he became angry and said, “Let the children come to me! Do not try to stop them. People who are like these little children belong to the kingdom of God. I promise you that you cannot get into God’s kingdom, unless you accept it the way a child does.” Then Jesus took the children in his arms and blessed them by placing his hands on them.
Let me ask you a question: Do you sometimes put forward a false appearance of who you are or express feelings or points of view different from the ones you have? I do. More often than I would like to admit, I respond or express myself according to the image that I want the others to have of me, or according to what I think that others are expecting of me. We can all pretend and act as if we were strong, confident and, calm, when the reality is that we are weak and uncertain of our own worth, our abilities, and our position. We can act as if we were happy and delighted, when the reality is that we live in sickness and grief. We can pretend and act as if we were relatively wealthy and at the same time hide and cover up that the bank has already put up our home for sale at a public auction, and that we really do not know how we will pay our bills. We can be masters in showing that we are in control of a situation, that our self-esteem is high, and that we have a good sense of humor, when we, in reality, are very sensitive and incredibly touchy and irritable. I sometimes get angry when a friend from Argentina tells me that he or she is happy for me because I am so glad and have so much fun, but of course, if all my friend sees is what I post on Facebook, it is easy to give the impression that I am always doing well. I do not post anything on Facebook when I have an argument with my husband. I did not post anything on Facebook when I did not get a job that I had interviewed for.
There are many reasons why we have become so skilled at pretending. We know that the weak and vulnerable are more likely to be bullied and teased in a malicious and unpleasant way. Perhaps there are disappointments from the past or concerns for the future that will not let us be ourselves. Maybe we cannot accept that it is not any more a matter of course that everybody will be able to retire in a comfortable position or that everybody will have a chance to get ahead if they work hard enough, that it is no longer a matter of course that our children will be better off than we are in our own generation.
Søren Kierkegaard –– a contemporary fellow countryman of both Grundtvig and Andersen –– points out that the life of each of us has many components. We have all grown up under certain circumstances; certain events had an influence on us. We have been gifted with certain possibilities, certain flaws and imperfections limit us, but the human being, says Kierkegaard, has a relationship to itself. That means that the components of my life are not what I am; what I am, the self, is how I relate to those components. The components of my life are parts that I can take over or that I can reject. We become who we are in the relationships we establish with the components of our lives, and this relationship reveals itself as bad and inadequate when we try to hide what is going on in our lives. If we are not able to become ourselves by relating truthfully and sincerely to the components of our lives, we fall into what Kierkegaard calls despair. Kierkegaard claims that all forms of human despair are variations of the despair of a human being who does not want to be who he or she really is.
And now comes something that deeply surprised me when I first encountered it my reading of Kierkegaard, but it makes a lot of sense. Kierkegaard claims that the despair that is the root of all despair, is namely that I desperately do not want to be myself. This form of despair is deeply and inextricably connected with just the opposite, namely that I desperately want to be myself. By comparing myself with others who have more success and better luck than I have, I feel disadvantaged and poorly treated, upset and embarrassed, and therefore I do not want to be myself. But I can build a shield. As a disadvantaged person. I do not want to get rid of the identity that I have created for myself as someone who does want to continue being who I am now, somebody who supposedly has been treated in an unfair or disrespectful way, somebody who considers that he or she has good reasons to be angry.
Our need and compulsion to pretend, and the despair that leads us alternatively to desperately wanting not to be ourselves or desperately wanting indeed to be ourselves, can be revealed and can show up in a hard and demeaning way or in a mild and uplifting way. A reproach can be uttered with a threatening finger that hurts, saddens and discourages, or it can be uttered with a loving and well-meaning look and intention that raises and emboldens.
This morning our need and compulsion to pretend and our despair is revealed in a mild and uplifting way by a little child. Everyone in Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Emperor’s New Clothes was longing to find out how stupid or incompetent the neighbors, the others, were. This is what convinced the emperor to let the false weavers weave the beautiful cloth with the magical properties. Whether on the loom or made into clothes, they would be invisible to anyone unfit for his or her job or to anyone particularly stupid –– that was the promise. The emperor would not only be able to show off a splendid suit; he would also be able to find out which of his people were not fit for the posts and to sort out the wise from the fools.
What the emperor did not imagine is that even his honest old chief minister would not be so honest to the emperor. I blame the minister more than I blame the emperor in this story. When the minister realized that he could not see anything, he kept it to himself. He did not want to risk being considered stupid or unfit to be minister. Therefore, he lied to the emperor that the cloth looked charming. The same lie happened when the other official was sent to see how the weaving was going. He also reported to the emperor that the weaving was magnificent.
When finally the emperor himself went to the weaving room and could not see any cloth because nothing was there to see, he did not accept that he did not see anything either. He thought, Am I unfit to be emperor? What a frightful notion! I mustn’t let myself think it –– nor must anyone else.” Very revealing words. When we pretend, we not only deceive others. We also deceive ourselves.
When the emperor finally began the procession wearing the supposedly new clothes, nobody dared to admit that he or she could not see any clothes at all. Not one of the emperor’s extravagant outfits had ever been so much praised. Everyone was afraid that the neighbor could see what he or she could not. Everyone was afraid to be seen as stupid or unfit for their jobs.
It took a little innocent child to reveal the truth that the emperor was naked. The false weavers had told the emperor that because of the special quality of the cloth he might feel that he was wearing nothing at all; the truth was that he did not have anything on.
The voice of that innocent child is the voice of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus took the little children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. And today and in this moment the little child says to you and to me that we should not pretend to be different than we are. Jesus and the children love us and accept us no matter what. I am experiencing the love of Jesus in the unconditional love of the two little stepdaughters that I have been blessed with at my grandpa age. Probably both your and my lives are characterized by our messiness, conflicts, and contradictions, but this is the context we should accept rather than simulating that we are different, rather than falling into despair when comparing ourselves with others . . . Once we accept our own messiness, it will be easier to accept and make room for the other’s messiness. We will see other people as persons who also have problems and face challenges that precisely you or me can help with.
The little child, that is, Jesus Christ, reveals to us in a mild and uplifting way that it does matter how we live our lives. Only if we stop pretending and abandon the position of being mere spectators of life, will we be able to commit ourselves to something important and meaningful. There are indeed new possibilities ahead—both for you and for me.
Once we let the little children, that is, Jesus Christ, reveal our uncomfortable truths, we gain authority to denounce the lies and pretenses of the authorities. Maybe the most important and meaningful task we can commit ourselves to is to contribute our grains of sand to the building of a society where the leaders and authorities will not lie and where the inhabitants will not be deceived by leaders who pander to our prejudices and fears, a society that will encourage children to speak their unwavering truth.
I will invite you to pray the Lord’s prayer in the first language you learned to say it:
Fader vor, du som er i himlene! Helliget vorde dit navn, komme dit rige, ske din vilje som i himlen således også på jorden; giv os i dag vort daglige brød, og forlad os vor skyld, som også vi forlader vore skyldnere, og led os ikke ind i fristelse, men fri os fra det onde. Thi dit er riget og magten og æren i evighed! Amen. Please rise as you are able for the blessing:
Herren velsigne dig og bevare dig! Herren lade sit ansigt give dig fred!
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine on you with grace and mercy. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. Amen.
October 2019 Highlights
What a busy, beautiful month!
We begin with two presentations from Danebod, the excellent annual Folk Meeting held in late August. First, Pastor Andres Albertsen, who now lives in Northfield, MN and is serving as an interim minister in Willmar, MN while teaching classes at St. Olaf University and Luther Seminary, presents a devotion based on scripture –– and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” a story which has contemporary relevance.
Poul Bertelsen, a Danish Minneapolis-based architect, gave a slide-lecture presentation on a familiar quandary many Church and Life readers experience –– “Living Danish Values in an American Landscape.” The message of his lecture is best summarized in a quotation his wife Suzanne discovered on a Danish T-Shirt –– the theme for a good life –– “We all do better, when we ALL do better!”
Ship models continue to sail into the Church and Life harbor, and we are delighted to publish them. This month we have the ship model from St. Peder’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis and two ships from Emanuel Lutheran Church in Yorba Linda, CA along with a message from Pastor A-Grethe Krogh Nielsen. We also have a ship called the Norwegian Lion from West Denmark Lutheran Church in Luck, WI by Henrik Strandskov with a recap from the builder of the model ship, Erling Grumstrup, who will be celebrating his 100th birthday in January and a ship from the Church at Ejerslov in Morsø Denmark from Marie Sorensen of Roseburg, OR. If you have a photo and description of a model ship from a Danish ship that you have not yet submitted, please send it to the editor! Sail on!
Hanna Broadbridge from Randers, Denmark shares important discussions which are now occurring among laity in Denmark about the Danish Lutheran Church –– regarding liturgy, type of music and sacraments. Is it time for modernization? If so, what changes should be made? How do people here in the United States feel about the same issues?
Finally, we have a photo page from the August 2019 Folk Camp at Danebod, another great family camp success as can be seen from the enjoyment overflowing from the photos. Camp directors this year, were Anna, Sheryl, and Peter Juhl from the Minneapolis area.
This month’s cover also comes from the August folk camp. “The Little Ole” tattoo belongs to the leg of Katie Brogan of Menomonie, who is a granddaughter of Dick and Rita Juhl. Katie is an advocate for victims of sexual assault and violence at The Bridge To Hope and also works with students at the University of Wisconsin, Stout. The photographer is Bill Nielsen from Savage, MN.
Save the Dates
Danevang Texas celebrates 125 years of history on October 19, 2019 from 10 am-5 pm. For information: Website: danevangtx.org
Facebook: Danish Heritage Society of Danevang
Danish Church and Cultural Center, Yorba Linda, CA Saturday October 26, 10 am - 2 pm: Fall Fashion Show and Champagne Lunch. Magnolia Boutique opens 10-11:30 am; fashion show followed by lunch, $25. website www.danishchurchsocal.com.
Call 714-504-1186 or 714-376-3595.
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Bridget Lois Jensen