One war to remember, and one to forget

One hundred years ago, a force of Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed on a beach in Turkey, as part of the Middle Eastern campaign during World War I. Kemal Atatürk’s army wielded fierce resistance, and between them the two armies successfully killed more than a hundred thousand people at Gallipoli.

For the young Australian nation, losing 8,709 soldiers was a massive tragedy, and the event was a strong unifying force. Ever since, April 25 has been celebrated as Anzac Day commemorating the tragedy.

As with WWI in its entirety, many have wondered what, exactly, they were fighting about. Thus, while Anzac Day can serve a patriotic purpose, it should also be a reminder of the atrocities of war. Eric Bogle’s chilling song “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” captures it well:

“And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore.
They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, what are they marching for?
And I ask myself the same question.”

Today, 10,000 people, mostly Australians are gathered in Anzac Cove in Turkey for a memorial service. Turkey and Australia became friends and allies soon after the war, and they acknowledge a shared tragedy in Gallipoli.

It is ironic that modern Turkey welcomes today’s commemoration, but vehemently opposes the one yesterday: the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Same war, same empire, different enemy. Across Europe, Turkey’s envoys raise the same objection whenever the massacre of the Armenian people is remembered: “hey, we didn’t do it”.

The foundation of peace in Europe is built on forgiveness between neighbours who readily acknowledge their previous mutual aggressions. It would become Turkey if it could live up to its atrocities towards neighbouring people, and not only those on the other side of the world.

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Sydney is a State of Mind

The summer that never was finally ended. Never mind that last weekend was exceptionally warm for October, setting records all across Europe. When I got up this morning it was much darker than yesterday, colder, and raining. There are still limits to global warming, apparently.

So sitting on the train, watching my umbrella dry, my mind wandered south. To another world, another hemisphere where summer should now be approaching. A world in which rainy days are an exception, where the wind doesn’t threaten to blow you over, where people smile and welcome you, where everything is beautiful year round, where you don’t exclaim “Oh, the sun!” as if it’s a rare visitor. A world of beaches, surfers, barbecues, friendly people, world-class business and dining, kangaroos and koalas, possums and kookaburras. A world down under, but in most ways coming out on top.

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Walking in the dreary Danish autumn twilight, I can smile and think of that other world. I can relish the hope that lives on in a dream which will never die.

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But Australia is not just a dream world. It is for real, and even after many visits and the extended stay of a year the passion never waned. Does that mean the place is perfect? No, of course certain downsides could be mentioned (long travel times to the rest of the world, poor traffic planning, minor xenophobic sentiments), but only the first one is a real discouragement. Too good to be true? I have still not come to that conclusion.

So often, and in so many ways, I still call Australia home. It has been two and a half years since we left, and we are still in the process of settling in as Copenhageners. I wonder if I will ever settle in, or settle down. Is it just wanderlust? Or is it the frustration of having to choose between two countries with no obvious compromise available?

Gratitude

Oz 14-107It is with mixed emotions we celebrate Thanksgiving today.

We have a lot to be thankful for: each other; family and friends in close vicinity; job, house, material needs fulfilled; an opportunity to spoil ourselves and others with loads of great food. This is our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, and the first in our new home region of Greater Copenhagen. We live in a home with plenty of room for occasions such as this, and I’m looking forward to tonight’s festivities.

On the other hand, I look back to last year’s first and only Thanksgiving in Sydney. And this very week, my parents have left Australia for good, moving east to the U.S., the home of Thanksgiving. While this will give me a chance to return once again to my childhood home and doubtlessly bring countless new experiences, I’m leaving a big part of my heart down under.

A year ago, we were thankful for the good experience of coming to Oz to live, and for good friends that we were able to spend time with. And with eight visits over the course of nine years, Australia has given me much more than just an accent. It has been my home away from home, a source of constant joy, an always-welcome refuge, an endless summer, a wide new world, a spring of inspiration, and a never-ending dream.

Australia was where I proposed to my wife, and where we did much of our wedding planning. And especially this time of year, with Denmark turning dark and cold and wet, my heart wanders south. To a place which, in one sense, is no more. But in another, it still lingers. We are not done with Australia. The dream never dies, but more than that, we will return – somehow, someday.

My parents may have moved on, but – to quote Peter Allen – I still call Australia home.

So Far Away

Once again, I must say: what a difference a year makes.

One year ago today is when I left Denmark to go to Australia. Countless experiences and 10½ months later, I returned to my native country on April 1st. Denmark looks the same, but everything is different:

  • I am engaged to be married in less than a month. This will change my life forever – for the better.
  • I have finished my education.
  • I have a job – working for the Adventist Church in Denmark. The position is a new one, emphasising new initiatives in communication.
  • I live near Copenhagen again, not in the West.
  • We will be living in a house, provided by my employer.

… to name a few.

But a more subtle difference is that my bond with Australia has been further deepened. The experience of an everyday life in Sydney, working for an aussie employer, developing and deepening friendships there has been truly life-altering.

I have seen good and bad sides of Australia, but even after such a long period the good by far outweigh the bad. The main problem is that Australia is just too far away – but then again, that’s also part of the attraction.

Good things are definitely happening in my life. But it is sad that the Australian adventure is over – for now, at least.

Where Are You From?

It is a most fundamental question, and one of the first questions we ask when meeting someone new. (Second only to: what do you do?) But recently I have come to see that question as somewhat of a challenge. For some people it’s easy. They grew up in one spot, their family probably still lives there, and they call it home, even though they have since moved away. For others, like me, the world is not nearly as simple as that.

Born in Denmark with a Danish father and Norwegian mother, I usually felt mostly Danish. The four childhood years spent in the U.S., and subsequent moving around within Denmark didn’t inflict on my nationality, but I still never had one place to call home. The city of Aarhus was my home for nine years, but whenever people would ask me: where are you from? I would reply with a lengthy explanation, almost an excuse.

When my parents moved to Australia, Sydney became another home, as impossible as that may sound to people who have never lived in more than one country. I visited once each year and took pride whenever someone mistook me for being a ‘real’ Aussie. Never mind that this is a country of immigrants, and a lot of people here weren’t actually born here. But now, having been here for seven consecutive months, I still struggle with answering the question.

I live in Sydney, but I’m from Denmark. I’m here on a holiday, but I also have work and a home. I have a Danish passport and student ID card, but an Australian bank account and mobile phone number. When I try to get a student discount, I answer that I’m from Denmark. When clerks ask for my postcode, I reply 2076. So where am I from? Sydney? Denmark? Previously, one of my favourite answers has been: “Well, my passport says Denmark.” But while here, I’d rather be a Sydneysider, and while in Europe, I’ll settle for being a Dane.

What am I trying to say here? That geography isn’t everything. Where I am from does not answer the question of who I am. Identity is a whole lot more than that.

It’s Beginning to Look… a Tiny Bit Like Christmas

It’s the second day of December. And it’s the second day of summer. And here in Australia, the latter is more evident. I am approaching my 7th holiday season in Sydney, and while this is now the single location in which I have celebrated Christmas the most often, this year is not quite the same.

Usually, I have been in Denmark for the build-up period, experiencing autumn and winter and rueing the dark and rain. The joys of travelling to the middle of summer at an instant (if 24 hours of flying time qualifies as an instant) are obvious: no more cold, getting wet not from incessant rain but from gentle waves at a sunny beach.

This time, though, I have been in Australia all through winter and spring, and summer feels quite in place. Christmas, however, does not. Sure, Christmas trees are up, both in our home and on streets and plazas. Holiday shopping is well underway for a lot of people. On Sunday, we’ll be going the Messiah at the Sydney Opera House. Things are gearing up for the festive season, but it does seem a bit awkward in the heat.

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Which once again highlights the brilliance of early church fathers when they chose to merge the pagan midwinter’s feast with celebrating the birth of Jesus. Light is best appreciated in light of darkness. Grace is best appreciated in light of condemnation. It’s easier to see a great light if you’re walking in darkness.

I will enjoy a long and warm summer. And don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to Christmas. But I’m finally beginning to see that more distinct seasons have at least one advantage: it gives you something to look forward to. For now, living in the moment seems almost too easy.

Speaking in Tongues

Despite the title, I’m not about to embark on a thorough account of the different theologies of spiritual gifts. I do not deny a more supernatural meaning, but I also believe that a spiritual gift can be when God chooses to use a seemingly simple personal skill to the benefit of his church.

In this understanding, I have come to see excelling in translation or understanding different human languages to be an aspect of “the gift of tongues”; the gift of languages. Calling this a gift is not trying to make myself sound better. It is saying that, while I would certainly call myself proficient in English, using it for the glory of God is only possible through his power. As is the case with any type of work for the kingdom.

So yesterday I preached in English for the first time in my life. I accepted the invitation to stand in for someone who wasn’t able to make it, and delivered a sermon in Fox Valley Community Church‘s “Opal Room service” (the more traditional-style worship service). From the ensuing remarks, I think it went pretty well – language was never an issue, and more importantly I believe the message was well received. If anybody is interested (which I’m doubting ;)) they do put recordings of all sermons on the website.