A couple of months ago, Mark Pierson (pastor, worship curator, writer, and generally lovely person) wrote this travel reflection on Facebook. I’m sharing it with his permission because it starts with everyday nuisances and ends with profound insights.
Read till the end if you are interested in work/not-work balance, the state of the Christian Church, being present in the moment, listening to God, or just the inner world of another human being.
Sunday 17th of April began like any other when travelling – awake unnecessarily at 4.30am ahead of a 5.30am alarm to get to Seattle-Tacoma airport for our (Robyn and my) flights to Stockholm via San Francisco and Frankfurt.
Uber with Mohamed in his black Lincoln Towncar. Nice. Uber is nice. Sad to leave behind the gorgeous Shafer Baillie Mansion and hosts Ana Lena, Mark and Brenda.
The Star Alliance of airlines is wonderful when it comes to lounge access for frequent flyers. It’s meaningless when it comes to seating or other basic services. When not on an Air New Zealand flight we are consistently in the back few rows and in the middle of rows, and sometimes separated. The stars don’t align, they malign. Not complaining – just saying…. First world problems.
After 2 weeks in the USA we are on our way to Sweden. First flight: 11 hours to Frankfurt. Went OK.
The walk from Frankfurt arrival gate to that of connecting flight to Stockholm is a couple of kilometres. Approaching Passport Control I realize I have left my jacket on the plane. I would keep walking, but both passports are in my jacket pocket. Robyn waits with the luggage while I backtrack and try to remember the gate we arrived at.
I make friends with the local constabulary and two armed Swedish police go to the gate on my behalf and return 15 minutes later with news that two passports had been found earlier and are on their way to Lost and Found.
We make our way to a Lufthansa Service desk. Nothing has yet reached Lost and Found (somewhere unknown in the bowels of the airport).
We wait with our next flight departure time rapidly nearing…. The passports have reached Lost and Found and will be brought to us urgently…. 20 minutes later an official ambles around the corner with our passports and my jacket.
Security checkpoint. Guided to front of queue. The hundred thousand dollar woman (knees, back, eyes) is pulled aside for extra security (normal with knees like hers). Takes precious minutes. Security officer decides the carry-on bag requires emptying. Hundred thousand dollar woman’s bag tests positive for explosives.
Police are called. Two large, very fit and intimidating black-clad men from the Swedish Security Service (Sapo) are called. Carrying automatic weapons they stand beside the Security Officer while she empties the bag. I ask them to speak in English so we know what is going on. What’s going on is that our plane is now boarding, and these people don’t care.
One bag is cleared. Sapo departs and my bag is searched. Security Officer proves to be inexperienced (if not incompetent). Unable to make the explosive test swipe read correctly a supervisor eventually shows how to do it. Neither of our bags needed to be searched.
We make it to the gate 3 minutes after it has closed. No, there is no way we can get onto the plane as it was a tarmac boarding and we needed to bus. If it had been a gate boarding we would have made it with 4 minutes to spare. “Were you sitting in the lounge sir?” (Edge of sarcasm detected here?). “No….” (Panting from the jog.)
Back to the Service Desk. Take a number and wait (Europe runs on ‘take a number’, even in electronics and foreign exchange stores. All-gender toilets, are fine, but don’t you dare get served when I was here before you.)
Very helpful staff member. Of course we can reschedule you. Of course that will cost you a couple of arms and a leg. But we’ll see what we can do sir.
41 minutes on the phone to a very helpful Air New Zealand call centre person having a great day in London, and we have another flight booked for two hours time. Cost? We’ll waive the $500…No charge! Thank you very much. We’ll take it. Took over an hour, but a nice outcome.
We should be using our expensive Swedish train tickets from Stockholm Airport at this moment. At this stage of post-cortisol brain-flooding we will pay almost anything to complete our journey smoothly so we book new train trips from Arlanda airport (Stockholm) to Linkoping where the conference is. Email conversations with the conference travel agent in Sweden results in her making a new booking for us. Nice and smooth.
30 hours have passed since we got out of bed in Seattle. Night has not been part of those hours, we’ve been heading East, chasing the sun. 42 years of marriage still holding it together but the pressure is on!
On the flight to Stockholm we share a seat-row with a young businessman. Nice suit. Slim. Good looking. He arrives on board talking in German on his cellphone earset. (Took a while for us to realize he wasn’t talking to us!) He only stops talking when forced to by take-off requirements. His importance means he can commandeer the armrest. He spends the entire flight working on his laptop before resuming his cellphone conversation the moment we touch down.
Opening the milk sachet for my cup of tea I squirt his nice trousers. He isn’t impressed, especially when I attempt to wipe him down.
I drop off to sleep and wake up when my snoring turns to a very loud snort. The people in the row in front turn and look back between the seats, and in my drowsy confusion I start apologizing – not to Robyn as I thought, but to the German businessman. Fortunately he has earbuds in and is engrossed in his work. I’ll never see him again anyway. (The standard fallback maxim of any international traveller – only true outside of New Zealand.)
Robyn decides to help the cabin crew by stacking our empty tea cups. Except mine is only half empty and that half-emptiness empties fully on to my lap.
33 hours since bed. We lost our passports, missed our flight… so, despite my struggles toward an inward journey of contemplation I’m less tolerant than normal. Filters are breaking down. 33 hours seems longer than 42 years sometimes.
But wait…there’s more.
Actually there’s less. Like the story of the African safari guide who set up camp early because, “We have traveled very fast and must allow time for our souls to catch up with our bodies,” we are in Stockholm and our bags are yet to catch up with us. Report, fill in forms, get on the train.
It’s certainly much easier travelling light. 2 ½ hours to Linkoping (link-show-ping). A short walk on rough cobblestoned paths in the crisp midnight air of Linkoping gets us to our hotel.
Tuesday 1am to bed, 36 hours after getting out of ours in Seattle. Both of us wearing matching Star Alliance provided XXL white t-shirts; teeth cleaned compliments of the same provider.
Awakened at 6.30am by noise from the previously unnoticed construction site that adjoins the hotel on two sides and appears out of the darkness with a full complement of hardhats like a revolving stage at a Stomp gig directed by Michael Flatley. How can the sophisticated culture that produced ABBA allow construction work at this time of the day?
No power adaptors means no laptop power which means no preparation for my Museums Conference presentation. And no CPAP machine to keep me asleep. It also means I can’t track our bags online. Messy.
Eventually find a shop selling the correct power adaptor and recharge my laptop. Log in to track bags. “The information you have entered doesn’t match any of our records. Please contact your airline!”
Incoming email from my naturopath working with me to sort out chronic fatigue issues. “Remember to ensure that you are getting enough rest and restoration, and having boundaries with work”. Not a problem!
Tuesday 7.51am. Email that bags have been located and arrived at Stockholm Airport. Bags will arrive at Linkoping via Copenhagen at midnight. We should get them delivered to the hotel before we check out at 10am Wednesday. Should.
Bought some undies, socks and trousers. Ahhh the relief. Conference opens this afternoon and my presentation is tomorrow. All I need now is a presentation.
Wednesday: Presentation Ok. Museums fabulous. People interesting.
Luggage delivered 1.30pm Thursday. We accessed it at 4.30pm. An hour later we are on the train to our next destination.
In the light of the problems our world has with injustice, violence and displacement of people, missing a flight and wearing the same undies for 4 days is insignificant.
But I can only make sense of my life in the context of the part of the world I occupy. I’m trying to make sense of all this.
For more than a year God has been teaching me about being fully present in the moment; and about being before doing. It’s a tough road, not always easily shared.
In particular I have been asking why I am in Sweden, doing what I have been asked to do – an hour long presentation on curating sacred spaces and worship at the Swedish Museums Annual Conference (!). Surely I can’t have spent all this money, time, and most importantly, energy to travel to the other side of the world just so I could experience powerlessness more acutely?
For some months I have been repeating the prayer, “Wake me to your presence Lord, that I may not waste my times of trial” (from Common Prayer I think). Rather than major issues, I understand the “times of trial” to be the usually very minor and almost imperceptible reactions and self-talk I find myself having that demonstrate my ego is in full unredeemed flight.
Its through listening to myself/my reactions when: the driver in front is travelling at 40km on a clear street, being seated at the rear of the aircraft, queueing at security behind someone who hasn’t taken their laptop, liquids and gels out of their bag, a negative tone is perceived in Robyn’s voice, that God is speaking and shaping me.
Recognising the level of my putrid self-talk is humbling stuff. It’s also the only way to begin to journey toward being who God wants me to be. “A long and lonely road…”
Following my presentation at the conference the host asked me publicly the two questions every presenter was apparently being asked, “What courageous thing would you like to do?” and “Why have you not done it yet?”
I responded to the former with “Open a centre for innovation in Christian worship and spiritual formation”, and to the latter, “I have made too many excuses. I don’t really know what it would achieve. I don’t have the funds. It somehow feels arrogant to suggest that I am some kind of expert. Definitely not very Kiwi-at-the-bottom-of-the-world stuff.”
It was a half-hearted, “say something that sounds meaningful”, response.
But it has stayed with me. Over the 3 weeks of travelling and the new conversations and time for reflection that came with it, I have gained the strong sense that the future of the Church in the West depends on what we do with our worship events in the next 20 years.
Bringing it home: the future of the church in New Zealand depends on what we do with our corporate worship events in the next 20 years. Consequentially this affects what our future society will be like.
[I can barely let remain what I have just written. It sounds so arrogant. I do my thinking by writing, and putting it out there helps clarify my thinking. I may retract everything in a few days!]
A “network for innovation in Christian worship and spiritual formation” rather than a centre. Not an answer but a conversation, a resource, a way of sustaining the scattered and often isolated individuals who have a deep sense of dis-ease about much of our current corporate worship.
Like my own questioning of why I was in Sweden, questions don’t always need to be answered – but they do need to be asked. As Socrates reportedly said, “The unexamined life is not worth living” (that he said it at his trial for impiety and corrupting youth, and still received the death sentence, isn’t important here!).
Perhaps Jesus – channeled by Eugene Peterson – expressed my situation best when he said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Mt 11)
We’ll see. Today I need to deal with jetlag, travel insurance, unpacking, and writing a sermon for Sunday. Reality bites. She moves in mysterious ways….
Mark doesn’t have a website of his own at the moment, but you can see more of him here and here. He is also the author of The Art of Curating Worship, and the producer of the Advent in Art reflections I have often blogged through.
You can also see him speaking about getting started on curating worship here: