Monday, January 16, 2017

Unexpected excitement in Bern, Switzerland

My wife Esther and I decided to go by public transportation to attend a concert in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. By not driving, we hoped to avoid the hassle of traffic and parking, in spite of needing to ride two busses and two trains to get there, along with a bit of walking to our final destination. The difference in time was only about 15 minutes. Are we glad we did not drive!

As we walked toward the concert hall after our arrival by train in Bern, we discovered that the street we wanted to take was overrun by police and blocked by barricades. We took an adjoining street, even though it wasn’t the most direct route. Approaching the square near the national government building, we began to hear a loud roar which increased in volume as we drew nearer. Suddenly a fierce gale-like wind hit us, even though we were under an arcade. We could see people in the open square ahead of us hanging on to their hats, and others pointing their cameras skyward.

Source (Jürg Spori): Berner Zeitung Online
When we came out on to the open square, we saw a military helicopter overhead, hovering just above the tallest buildings. The noise and wind were overpowering. I had to hang on dearly to my ubiquitous beret if I wanted to continue my signature look. We continued on our way, beret intact, soon out of the reach of the turbulent noise and wind. We still had no idea what was going on.

After walking several more blocks, we turned a corner and saw the outline of the concert hall; our destination. The closer we got, the more worried we became. The barricades and the police presence continued right up to the front door of the concert hall. Would the disruption, for whatever reason, prevent the concert from happening?

We were early enough to linger along the barricades to hopefully figure out what was going on. A large group of Asian-looking people were lined up against the barricades, many waving flags. We assumed they were tourists—there are nearly always groups of Asian tourists to be seen touring Switzerland. We were a little too shy to ask other bystanders what was happening. Soon an escorted motorcade of very official-looking limousines drove past. Whoever, or whatever caused all the commotion was probably leaving at the very moment.

As the noise from two helicopters droned on in the distance, we saw that
there was a side door available for concert goers. People were streaming in to find their seats when we arrived. We entered, and soon the din from the streets was forgotten, and the reason for our being in Bern unfolded before our eyes. The sublimity of Mendelssohn’s Oratorio Elijah in the beautiful surroundings of the concert hall, dismissed from our minds whatever had taken place outside.  

When the concert was over, we headed to catch our train. A light snow was falling. The barricades were still up, and although fewer in number, security was still evident all along our walk back, but no more helicopters. As soon as got home, we turned on the news. Apparently the president of China was making an official state visit to Switzerland, and there were fairly massive protests, by Swiss standards, against China’s oppression of Tibet. The escorted motorcade we witnessed was probably the president of China, Xi Jinping, being shuttled from the capital building to where he was spending the night.

I wonder how long it would have taken for us to find parking, had we driven? Or how far from our destination would we have been allowed to park, considering the thigh security? Although expensive, I am forever grateful for the availability and efficiency of Swiss public transportation.

Now an interesting footnote to this story. When we boarded the first bus in Aarberg, there were two women at the front of the bus chatting merrily away. Nothing unusual. We noticed that the same two women boarded the train to Bern. As we neared the concert hall, we spotted the same two women lingering at the barricades to see what was happening. Sure enough, they entered the concert hall just before us to attend the same concert. Indeed, we saw them on the same trains home. Excitement, glorious music, coincidence, and just another day in our year-long adventure in Switzerland.

Source of picture and news: Berner Zeitung Online

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas gifts: A book for children, for personal growth, and for your small group

Comments from reviewers on each book: 

“Great read! It gives the reader a feel for what life is like living in Mexico, and through the eyes of a child. I appreciate it being based on a real life experiences as it adds a layer of authenticity.”

"This book paints a beautiful picture of life in Mexico through the eyes of a curious and kindhearted little girl. The simple stories help children gain a better understanding and appreciation for another culture in an engaging way."

"For those looking for books for children who have spent significant amounts of time living in another culture, the book Malinda in Mexico is an excellent set of stories for igniting conversation. Clymer's depiction of the complexity and simultaneous beauty of living "among worlds" captures the truth of this experience in ways that are accessible to adults and children alike."

“Whether you are four or eighty-four, Malinda in Mexico is a wonderful book to read, enjoy, and learn more about our southern neighbors.”

Available at
“The Spacious Heart is a book of short love stories that weave the masculine and feminine energies of God into a lovely medley of ‘doing and being’ experiences, which is the fabric of every life. The result is a beautifully written mosaic of page-turning stories that live and breathe a “truly authentic Christian spirituality” that is available to each and every one of us. Highly recommended for truth-seekers of all religions and stripes.”

“As I moved into the book I tried to slow down so it would last longer. Reading The Spacious Heart became an important part of my morning reflection. I will not wait too long to begin it again, waiting for new applications and insights.”

“Drawing on the work of their own teachers, including Richard Rohr, Marva Dawn, Nathan Foster, and Ronald Rolheiser, these two Mennonite pilgrim siblings tell the story of their quests for mercy, inner peace, justice, and love as they share stories of others they have helped along the way.”

Available at
“Clymer's stories from Latin America frame the Beatitudes in a context that more closely resembles the time of Christ. Injustice and horrific suffering were commonplace when Christ gave these powerful words, and it's all too easy to forget that fact until the reader relives the experiences of Clymer's Latin American friends and coworkers.”

“Through storytelling and reflection, the author challenges us to read Jesus’ teachings from the perspective of the poor and disenfranchised, or, in the words of the book’s subtitle, from the margins. I found some of the stories quite moving without being overly sensationalized. They’re evidently personal, deriving from the author’s own experiences over many years of working, living, and serving in Latin America. Clymer is very transparent about how these stories have challenged and shaped him. This helped me as a reader to reflect on how they might impact me. These stories don’t just illustrate; they’re meant to embody the Beatitude in question. They gave me a better interpretive lens to understand the Beatitudes than some commentaries I’ve read on the Gospel of Matthew.”

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Give us this day our daily bread

Traditional Swiss holiday and Sunday
bread available in every bakery and
Supermarket. This one baked by Esther. 
“Give us this day our daily bread” from the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:11), takes on a whole new meaning for me in the Swiss context. Perhaps it is true of all of Europe, but most of my experience comes from the German-speaking countries.

Normally when bread is eaten, it is the main feature of the meal. It is eaten with cheese and cold cuts and/or jams and other spreads like Nutella. And for many families, bread is the main part of both their breakfast and supper. I remember some students on their European cross-cultural programs complaining about how much bread they had to eat.

The main meal in Switzerland, which is at around noon, is very similar to dinner in the USA, with salad, meat and accompanying vegetables or pasta. Bread is almost never eaten during this meal. For many people in the USA, however, bread is often only an accompaniment, not the main part of the meal. Toast at breakfast with eggs or cereal; a sandwich at lunch where the bread holds together what we’d rather eat; buttered bread with jam eaten along our main meal at dinner. Bread is an accompaniment in each case, not the main part of the meal.

Because of how important bread is in the Swiss diet, there are bakeries everywhere. There are three of them within a 10-minute walk from our apartment, and 10 that I am aware of to serve the 5,500 inhabitants of the small town of Aarberg. They are the ONLY business open on Sundays. It is of utmost importance to have fresh bread available at all times. I am always surprised when we want to buy bread near closing time, how the most popular kinds are already sold out.

One of several shelves of bread at a local
In addition, all grocery stores have a large bakery section, usually
baking their own breads. We have three such stores in our town. Recently, many larger grocery stores in the US feature delis with many European-style breads available. The only difference is that in Switzerland, there are NO shelves lined with loaves of spongy breads like in the USA.

Some modern versions of the Bible in English give a more general translation of this verse, like the NLT: “Give us today the food we need” or The Message: “Keep us alive with three square meals.” These definitely contemporize the meaning when bread is not the main staple of the day’s food, and are appropriate in English for the US American context. I was disappointed to find, however, that a popular German version does the same thing, rendering the verse something like “Give us again today what we need to live.” This is so general that it doesn’t even include food, unlike the modern English renderings.

Earlier I wrote a blog post on how this verse should be translated “Give us this day our daily tortilla” in the context of Mesoamerica (Central America and Mexico) because of how often they eat tortillas, and how important corn and tortillas are to their diet. In the context within which I now live, this verse in the Lord’s Prayer gives Jesus’ message much more significance. “Give us this day our daily bread.”