Sunday, August 21, 2011

There and Back Again (borrowed from Tolkien)

...and on the fifteenth day, he blogged again. When I said "a few days," clearly I meant over two weeks.

Since returning, I have been busying working at two jobs in Watertown, starting work at Augie's International Programs Office, and spending time with family and friends at Lake Kampeska. Monday, August 8th, at 7am, I found myself once again bouncing down the fairway of Prairie Winds golf course on the mower and thinking to myself that Norway seemed like only a dream, like nothing had changed. Here I was at the same job, doing the same thing, cutting the same blades of grass that needed cutting in early June. Huh.

At that moment and in the time since I've thought a great deal about discussions concerning the end of a pilgrimage that our class had with Dr. Looney and Dr. Blank-Libra in January. The whole idea of a pilgrimage is that you go, and then you come back to where you began; come back to this place changed by what you have seen, heard, and received.

a misty walk in the Jotunheim mountains

I shared the following thoughts in my letter to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum scholarship donors:
Like any good pilgrim, I came away from my 7 weeks in Olso with an abundance of new ideas and personal challenges. Jewish philosopher Martin Buber describes the “sphere of the between” as a crossing point where people with different backgrounds can use their similarities as a basis to discuss and bridge their differences. While I found it easy to enter this “sphere” with new friends at the International Summer School, it is now my challenge to engage in dialogue in a similar manner with people whom I encounter more regularly and disagree with. In our study of peace and conflict, I also saw more clearly how easily we tend to look outward when we want to offer aid, but there are many within our own borders who face serious humanitarian needs such as those in America’s inner cities and on our Native American Reservations. For seven weeks I was able to be more mindful of others and more aware of myself. In school, in a career, and in life, my experiences offered by the NPPF Peace Scholarship will be an invaluable asset. I look forward to discovering where I can invest what you all have invested in me.

Now that I have had a chance to share pieces of my trip with the many who have asked me about it, I've been able to reduce my final thoughts and conclusions to a few main points:
  • The great irony of the Norwegian terrorist is that he targeted the Labor Party--both the Prime Minister and the Labor Youth--for what he felt were their overly liberal policies on immigration. In the aftermath of the explosion and shooting, the Prime Minister has gained tremendous support and will likely win an easy victory in this fall's election. This will ensure at least another four years of Labor leadership and influence over all areas of government, including immigration. Aside from being crazy, Breivik seriously miscalculated the immediate political effects of his decision.
  • Norway is not a fairytale place. In the Midwest, where many people have ancestral ties to Scandinavia, we tend to create a very folksy image of this area and its people. In fact, they do not eat lefse, lutefisk, or rømmegrøt with any regularity. They do spend more time outside in their picturesque cabins dotting lush hillsides and fjords. BUT, these places are simply the typical escape from jobs and lives in an extremely busy and highly productive economy. They know how to work hard, relax, exercise, and enjoy the good life.
  • Norway is having to confront issues rooted in globalization like many other developed countries. The politics of the welfare state and growing immigration may soon reach a critical climax as Norwegians decide just who should and shouldn't benefit from a way of life they have worked so hard to create.
  • Unlike much of the rest of Europe, Norway has never been a historically wealthy country nor has it often found itself at the center of international political, literary, or philosophical thought. It is from the value of Norwegian "modernity" that the rest of the world should learn. Their work as a "peace nation" gives them more relevance than ever before--both considering international affairs and internal conflict.

Suffice it to say that the trip was transformative and will continue to make impressions on how I think and study and what I do next. A big thank you is owed to the donors and coordinators at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum and at Augustana College. As Executive Director Maureen Reed says, the work of these groups truly does "inspire peacemaking."

This blog has been an interesting thing. The short version of my thoughts on it are that I am happy I kept up with it reasonably well and could share some reflections with a broader audience of family and friends. Of course, these thoughts will be around for me just as long as Google's California servers aren't attacked. The longer explanation for my thoughts on the blog are that it creates kind of this unnecessary pressure to write and think of writing all of the time. I suppose this is a good thing, and I tried to temper this instinct by writing more thoughtfully less often.

In closing, I share with you this quote from T.S. Elliot found in Pastor Paul Rohde's And Grace Will Lead Me Home:
"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."

a foggy summer morning back at Lake Kampeska

Click here to view pictures of my time at the University of Olso.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant post, Thad! Your comments on the nature and purposemof blogging are interesting. Even though I can count on a few regulars looking at my daily blog, I have always felt that if no one read it, I would still gain a great deal from doing it.

    I hope we can get together before long.